I have been reading a wonderful book, ‘Medieval Craftsmen Embroiderers’, by Kay Staniland, British Museum Press, 1991. In it are the earliest formal regulations (that we are aware of) for an Embroidery Guild in Europe. The regulations were drawn up in Paris, during the height of English embroidery (opus anglicanum). I am struck by the professional integrity and honesty reflected within the articles to protect and promote the exceptional high quality of the embroidery craft. There is also a vivid presence of male embroiderers. Daily life regarding candlelight and the observance of Feast Days provide those little glimpses that are so tantalising. Oh how much I would absorb in my learning if I could be apprenticed! Here are the articles: Paris 1292-1303, enjoy!
- Firstly it is ordained that to be an embroiderer or embroideress in Paris a person must know how to practise the craft of embroidery according to the uses and customs, which are as follows:
- Firstly it is ordained that no man or woman in the said guild may have a male or female apprentice henceforth until the last of those currently retained by them enter their last year of service, counting all defaults.
- Furthermore no man or woman can henceforth have more than one male or female apprentice together at one time, nor may they take another until either the male or female apprentice enters the last year of his or her service, as stated above.
- Furthermore no guild member, man or woman, can henceforth engage a male or female apprentice for less than eight years’ service, whether they have money for this or they have none at all, but they may take them for a longer them as they wish.
- Furthermore, no man or woman may work at the said craft by candlelight, but only as long as daylight lasts, for work done at night cannot be so well or skillfully done as that done by day.
- Furthermore, whoever is found working at night will pay a fine of 2 sols, ie. 12 deniers to the king and 12 deniers to the wardens of the guild.
- Furthermore, no man or woman may work at the said craft on Sundays, on the four feast days of Our Lady or on the six feasts of the Apostles as decreed as fast days, and whoever is found working on any of these days will pay a fine of 2 sols, of which 12 deniers to the king and 12 deniers to the wardens of the guild.
- Furthermore no man or woman can engage a male or female apprentice unless he or she owns a workshop and unless he or she is a worker at the craft.
- Furthermore it is ordained that no man or woman guildmember should use gold in their work that costs less than 8 sols the rod for one cannot do embroidery of the appropriate standard with cheaper material, and whoever contravenes this will pay a fine of 8 sols, 5 sols to the king and 3 sols to the wardens of the guild.
- Furthermore it is ordained that no man or woman may go to work in the house of anyone who is not a guildmember, since it is unseemly that workers should go to those who know nothing of the craft, and great inconvenience arises from it, since, when masters have contracts for work with rich men, they cannot find their workers and through their fault they cannot fulfil their contracts with the rich men. And whoever goes to work (in a non-guild establishment) will pay a fine of 2 sols, 12 deniers to the king and 12 deniers to the masters.
- Furthermore it is ordained that anyone doing gold-thread work shall sew with silk.
- In the above-named guild there will be four qualified people sworn to oversee the ordinances of the guild, whom the Provost of Paris will appoint and dismiss as he will, and they shall swear that they will report truthfully and faithfully the malpractices they find in the guild, and what is reported on oath by all four or by three of them will be believed.
This Tuesday, on the Feast of St Barnabas (11th June), in the year 1303 were elected by the corporation of the guild Jehan de Largi, Jehan d’Argenteil and Ysabel, wife of Guillaume Lebreton.