[HNW] Welsh needlework?

Ipsley1@aol.com Ipsley1 at aol.com
Fri Mar 21 18:04:32 PST 2003


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Gerald to the List, greeting,
The one extant piece of Welsh needlework from anywhere near your period is
the Llangorse Textile.  Llangorse is in Powys, near Cardiff, and it's dated
to 916, when the crannog in which it was found was burned down.  The pattern
is an inhabited vine, which would be appropriate for the time--inhabited
vines were being done in England at the time as well.  Hero Granger-Price and
Frances Pritchard wrote it up in Pattern and Purpose in Insular Art, Mark
Redknap, ed.  Their belief was that it shows substantial influence from
Persian textiles, but I doubt this.  In the first place, there is no direct
trading link.  The "roundish spots" on the joints of the "lions" are cited as
evidence that motifs were being used that are not typical of Welsh, or
Insular design, but in fact, the spots are square, they aren't on the joints,
and the quadrupeds are not lions--they have triangular heads and hold their
tails up like beagles.  I won't assert that they are actually beagles, or
Corgies, but they are definitely canines and not cats.  With the Saxons in
the next county and substantial cultural links, and the Irish a short day's
sail away,  I have little doubt that Saxon or Irish influence would have
swamped any Persian ideas.  The textiles recovered from the period in English
graves, ibid, are from tomb burials. They cannot be regarded as typical of
English fabrics, as a tomb burial is high-status (in fact, these would have
been kings and bishops).  Moreover, if you're in the church on a daily basis,
you're seeing the inhabited vine carvings reused from the old Roman temples.
Even if you know that the bishop was buried in nice vestments,  the tomb is
opaque, and you never see them.  Which design would you have copied?

The technique of embroidery on the Llangorse tunic is called counted stem
stitch--that is, it goes over two or three threads and back up under one.
The scale of the embroidery is amazing--thread counts are 50 to the inch,
both warp and weft, and the embroidery covers at least 790 square centimeters
associated with the neck opening.  Although we have not yet determined the
cut of the tunic, my best guess is that the embroidery recovered represents
less than a third of the embroidery associated with the neck, and it may have
had broad cuffs as well.  The ladies who made it (and there are at least two,
judging from the workmanship) evidently had a very different sense of time
than we do--or were marvellously insane.  The ground fabric is linen, and the
embroidery is carried out in silk.  Only one color can be guessed at--some of
the silk has deteriorated, but not in ways that look like wear.  It is
theorized that this may be a corrosive dye, possibly iron, that is, black.
However, it represents only some of the outlines, and since the tunic was
preserved by being carbonized, it's a uniform charcoal black.  Research
continues to see if any residues of the dyestuffs remain, but it seems
unlikely. Interestingly, each of the seams is covered by a tiny fingerlooped
cord, in silk, and the embroidered parts are lined.  There is some question
as to whether it's a soumak (the silk never pierces the linen) or an
embroidery (the silk changes direction by 90 degrees every so often, so that
if a soumak, it would have to wrap over the weft in some areas and the warp
in others).

Extrapolating to Gwynedd, and a hundred years earlier:  Viking influence is
stronger in the North than the South of Wales, but this would be the very
beginning of the Viking Era. Irish influence would still have been a great
deal stronger. The Books of Kells and especially Durrow would be closer in
place and time, and so you might think in terms of spirals and interlace.
Triskele designs would be appropriate.  Stem stitch, split stitch and
couching are all attested from the North of England before 800 CE, but I
would avoid  laid and couched work in the manner of the Bayeux Tapestry.

Gerald of Ipsley, OL, OP

Touch the earth and kiss the sky
Flow with the times and yet stand a beacon
That you may walk with grace and live in joy.



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