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Thursday, September 16, 2021

Viking Samples


I've been doing quite a lot of research this year around Viking Embroidery. This is partly a result of the folding of the British Embroidery Study Group of the SA Embroiderers' Guild a couple of years ago. I promised the last couple of members of the British Group that the World Embroidery Study Group would incorporate British topics into our program.  My own particular interest, which goes back to my university undergraduate days, is with early English history, literature and language, so I have been scouting around Viking and Anglo-Saxon embroidery. I have a presentation on Viking Embroidery ready for the World Embroidery Study Group in October and have been asked to repeat it for a Certificate Course workshop in February 2022.  The latter means having a project for the group to work on.

Our knowledge of this era is largely built on the work of Margarethe Hald, textile historian and curator of the National Museum of Denmark whose definitive work was published by the Museum in 1980. Margarethe Hald died in 1982.

Subsequent books in the field acknowledge and draw on this work, which is, of course, out of print. When I looked, several months ago, there was only one copy on offer for sale in the world. There are four copies in Australian libraries, one here in South Australia at Flinders University. A Guild friend and alumna of Flinders, generously applied for an alumna borrowing card and borrowed the book for me. We are immensely privileged to have access to it.
Fortunately for us, there are numerous relevant excavated burial sites in Scandinavia and a couple in England, many containing textiles. In the acid soil of Scandinavian burial sites, animal fibre survives while plant fibre deteriorates faster, We know that Vikings were weavers and stitchers, who constructed clothes, mainly from wool but also skin and fur. The pieces were shaped and joined using running or back stitch, and the seams reinforced, either inside or outside the garment with a range of stitches. They also valued textiles and those wealthy enough imported silk, linens and embroidery from their trade routes to Baghdad, Constantinople and England.
For the workshop I procured just over a metre of dark brown woollen twill from the Historic Fabric Store in Sweden. The popularity of Viking re-enactments in many countries provides a supply of products attempting to replicate or imitate. It is not always easy to tell the difference. 

My plan is to provide students with a roughly A4 piece and the pattern, on printed solvi, for a reconstructed design from the Mammen Cloak, one of the few surviving  embroideries agreed to be Viking, along with some Appleton's wool in the colour range thought to have been used. It is believed the cloak was originally covered with embroidery, mostly in linen, which has not survived in the acid soil of the Swedish burial. The embroidered fragments that survived were all embroidered in wool. All are stem  stitch. 

I've worked my sample as a pouch. I used the Viking method of running stitch seams, reinforced on the outside by the stitch believed to have been used on the Mammen cloak.  

This is what it looks like inside - not very tidy, but it does hold the seam folds down, out of the way.

On the back of the pouch I decided to applique a sample of this design from a 10th century embroidery of spun silver on red silk in the Valsgarde burial. It isn't clear to me whether this part of the design was worked in couching or stem stitch. From illustrations it looks like stem. 

I located some red silk scraps in my stash. I chose one that was russet and stitched it on to some cotton fabric so it would fit in a 6" hoop. I then created a cardboard template of the design. I thought it might be easier to trace around a template than use other methods of transfer on the coloured silk.  It worked.
I've sourced some silver French gimp bullon perle wire that I thought might work for couching. It is not, however, even remotely close to spun silver in look or function - a much later thread design. In the end I settled for a silver metallic thread.

Initially I tried a softer, darker metallic, to outline the design in stem stitch. It was hard going and not the right colour or look. I  tried the silver metalic couched, then unpicked the dark outline.

The result isn't brilliant, but passable, I think, to give the idea of the original, which is thought to be the decoration on another cloak, probably imported to Scandinavia from Byzantium - either whole, or as pieces that were appliqued on locally.                
It seemed appropriate to appllique it to the back of the pouch. It's a bit wonky, but then, so was the original. I'm thinking that the woollen embroidery and the seam join will be the basis of the workshop. These are both directly attributable to Viking workmanship (or perhaps workwomanship). I will prepare some silk strips on calico backing that students can take home and work if they wish to try the example of silk work valued and imported by Vikings.
 I will eventually line the pouch and add a (very non-Viking) zip, but I will leave it unfinished for the workshop, so students can inspect the inside to see the seam neatening.

I have also purchased a set of Naalbinding needles and briefly tried them out, along with a lucet (which at the moment I have mislaid). Naalbinding, practiced by Vikings, predates both knitting and crochet and uses a needle to create fabric.  Certificate Group students may like to try these out and incorporate them in some way.  As I have indicated, my presentation to the World Embroidery Study Group does not include a project, but it will be useful to get their feedback on what I have planned.  There may be a later post around braiding, Naalbinding and weaving.

A friend from my university class in Early English Literature and Language commented that our studies were entirely based on the history of largely male activities - mainly fighting and writing - and that knowledge of textiles may go someway to redress the balance. We do know that there were Viking women warriors. There does seem to be agreement that the work of gathering, preparing, weaving and constructing garments, sails and furnishings from wool was executed by Viking women, perhaps not exclusively, but there's a way to go before we have a thorough knowledge of Viking women's lives. Someone, somewhere, I'm sure, is working on it.

In the meantime,  I can return to my knitting!

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

395 Bulgarian Samples

This is the first post since Feedburner ceased sending out email notifications. If their information is accurate, those with an email subscription will not receive this post via that service. I am trying to test that the automated service is, in fact, finished  before sending out manual emails to those who were subscribed. If, by any chance, you receive two copies. I apologise.Please let me know if there are any problems.

I have been working over the past week, on a couple of samples for a workshop I will be running in September 2022 on Bulgarian embroidery. I realise this is a bit absurd, when there are plenty of projects with shorter timelines that I  could prioritise. This one is a bit of a challenge for me, because the focus needs to be on counted work, and I need to chart the samples - and I don't have much practice.

I have written about this collection elsewhere and the links here and above provide the background. Suffice it to say, the workshop is to be based on a collection of embroidery by Vala Georgieva, a Bulgarian woman whose son and daughter-in-law live here in South Australia. The tree of life motif above is from one of her runners. 

The issue I had with charting for use by others is around the clarity of coloured pencil once photographed, and the need to show both stitch and colour. I know I could use software or an app to do this - I have done that many years ago, but no longer have the software, which is, in any case, more useful when working from photographs.  I'm hoping my manual effort will be sufficient for this exercise. I'm hoping to get a friend to try it out for me - another reason for working well in advance.

This is a second motif from Vala Georgieva's work. The shape, I believe, derives from a figure of the Great Goddess, evident in Bulgarian embroidery since Thracian times. One of the distinctions of Bulgarian embroidery is the persistence of symbols from pre-Christian times, often incorporated into Christian practice. Recently I have been making bookmarks from Aida bands and I decided to chart this motif and incorporate it into a bookmark. It worked quite well, I think, and students at next year's workshop can decide if they want to use it that way or not.

I lined the back with silk. The earlier bookmarks I made were lined with felt, but that's a bit thick to use in a book.

I worked the Tree of Life motif on 14 count Aida. I did look for other fabric, but decided that this is closest to the texture of the fabric in the original, which is, I think, hand-woven hemp.

I folded the piece I had used various ways to find one that worked as a bag or pouch, settling, in the end, on an almost square shape.

This called, I thought, for another motif on the back.  Two Bulgarian motifs I had not examined in my original reading were these, known respectively as Elbetica and Celestial Turtle.

Elbetica is a symbol of the four directions - North, South, East and West and of the whole world, linked through a single point. It also represents the four seasons. The Celestial Turtle symbolises wisdom, moderation, perseverance, moderation and longevity.I chose a simple version of Elbetica.

I lined the piece with a remnant of linen from my stash, picking up on the red which is a feature of Bulgarian embroidery.

I'm very pleased with the result - and with having two sample projects which I think will work for the workshop. I can now check the instructions with a couple of friends and relax into some of the other projects on my list!

I hope I've done justice to Vala Georgieva's beautiful work, and her  commitment to Bulgarian embroidery.

Monday, August 9, 2021

Anglo-Saxon Horse

I thought it worth writing in detail about the Anglo-Saxon Horse kit I bought from Kerry's Medieval Embroideries Etsy Shop,  Medieval by Kerry .  Kerry is a medieval enthusiast in Toowoomba, Queensland, and has a range of interesting kits based on medieval manuscripts, artefacts and treasures.  Her website is well worth a visit. She has tutorials there as well as a blog. It's well worth a visit.

I ordered her Anglo-Saxon Horse kit as part of my follow-up research from the presentation I am giving next month to the World Embroidery Study Group on Viking Embroidery. I have started reading in detail about Anglo-Saxon and Celtic embroidery - in the historical context. Margarethe Hald's foundational book Ancient Danish Textiles in Bogs and Burials is my basic guide.

Kerry's design is really lovely. It comes on black linen with two shades of gold perle 5 thread and a hank of DMC metallic gold.

I backed it with black cotton before beginning.

The design is from a gold filigree fragment in the Staffordshire Hoard,  dated  AD 570-60.  There is a possibility it is a water horse with fins, but thought more likely to be a horse with stylised hoofs.

The stitches used are from the later Anglo- Saxon period, around 11th century and relate to the Bayeux Tapestry, stem stitch and couching. Most of the work is in the perl thread, with touches around the eyes in metallic. 

The swirls require care, but are not onerous - in fact quite fun to work.

I used magnification for some of it, but the threads are easy to work with.

Once I got into the swing of it, it moved along quickly.

I like the result a lot. Most of my presentation (when it eventuates, next year!) will be on embroidery of the early Anglo-Saxon period. While this is not embroidery from that period, it is a design from that period embroidered in a very clever and effective way.

I folded the fabric to form a pouch and found some gold dupion silk to line it.

It shows up rather nicely when the zip is opened.

And the front looks fabulous.

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Catch up on projects since April

 The last time I posted here was after Di Kirshner's workshop in April. I have continued to post weekly to my England2020 blog. I am continuing that blog until we emerge from Covid. I had not imagined that would take more than a year! For the moment I continue but hope that one day I can return to this as my main or only blog. 

This is a summary of my projects since April.

The other reason for posting here now is to inform those of you who have an email subscription to this blog, that Feedburner, the service that sends the emails out automatically after posting, is being discontinued in August 2021, with no replacement. I have downloaded the email addresses of all those who have subscriptions and have created an email group. I intend to manually send an email to the group each time I post, using bcc so email addresses are not shared. If you do not want to continue receiving notification, please let me know, or unsubscribe to emails before the end of July. I will check the list of subscribers again on 31 July and adjust my list accordingly.

The top photo is a panel on the Aesop Frame. At the moment that project is on hold. The second photo is a sample I worked up to show how the 16th Century Icelandic couching style of narrative embroidery could be applied to a modern narrative.

I constructed this bag from some pinwale corduroy left over from a smocked dress I made some 15 years ago. The design is the result of a Certificate Course workshop on layered fabric. 

I also finished the blanket I was working from the pack of Sheepjes tiny sample yarns - a cotton/acrylic mix. It is very cosy and soft.

This is a bag for a friend's birthday - honeyeaters appliqued to an Ink and Spindle linen with Indigenous Spirit Figures on the side for protection.

And this panel, also Ink and Spindle,  has gone into another bag with a little bit of embroidery on the circles.
I did another Fisherton-de-la-Mere 2-day class with Christine Bishop. A few years ago I did this class and made a green version. I keep jewellery  in it and like it a lot. I also made the needle book.
I had bought a couple of bundles of remnants from Ink and Spindle, amongst them were two of bag size. and a a distinctive repetitive pattern. I've been embroidering around the pattern. 

One has made its way into a bag and the other one is still in the making.

I also worked a shawl using 10 ply Noro Ito wool and Nightshift pattern. I enjoyed and liked it so much that I bought enough wool to make 2 more, one for my other daughter and one for myself.

I'm working on the second one now.

Last weekend I attended the first day of a two-day course on Melissa Walker's Madagascan Moon Moth. I'm hoping to have the embroidery done by the second day of the course in a month's time, when we will work on construction. I'm making good progress because we are currently in lockdown triggered by a Covid Delta outbreak.

The other thing I did a few days ago was to make a photographic record of my unfinished projects, and unstarted kits. There are far more of the latter than the former.  I have included the composite photos at the end of this post.

I will do a trial run of another post in August, to test the manual email notification.  I hope to show progress on the Madagascan Moon moth, the next shawl, and another bag. Don't expect progress on the projects below!