Today I completed an embroidery in which I was experimenting with the process of working ‘in the negative’. I am not happy with the embroidery itself enough to put into kits, however the process was incredible. As I was sketching from the original tile, I found myself quite spooked by the face of the person on the original tile. This image of the original tile has been brought across from the following website:
As I continued to sketch, I thought how remarkably witch-like the face was and my mind wandered the corridors of Halloween in my musings. These ‘witch thoughts’ led me to the idea of the image being female (which judging by the clothing the figure is male) – then, as if a light went on deep within – I thought of the bent old woman from Luke 13:10-17. The old lady, bent over was healed on the Sabbath by Jesus.
The more closely I sketched the figure, the more I thought of the old lady, bent – and her own pilgrimage to the presence of Christ whereupon she received her healing and liberation. Could this bent, ugly old pilgrim be reminiscent of the bent old lady found in Luke 13?
What incredible implications there are if this is so! The implications regarding the close correlation between ‘place’ and Presence. The old lady journeyed to Jesus, the medieval pilgrim journeys to Canterbury. As I continued to sketch, my mind marveled at the depth and richness of medieval consciousness of the spirituality of place – Presence within place – the theology of the landscape. Canterbury Cathedral was a very important site of pilgrimage, and remember the dating of this tile is placed after the murder of Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Becket – Saint Thomas, placing Canterbury as an important destination for pilgrimage.
This tile has new significance for me. I no longer see a frightening face worthy of a good Halloween spook. Now, I see a figure reminiscent of the bent old lady who found liberation and healing at the end of her own pilgrimage to Jesus – such richness for the tired medieval pilgrim soul on his/her arrival at Canterbury – and also offering much richness to my own soul.
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.
I have started to vlog on my YouTube channel. I have an excessive fascination with all things medieval so have decided to vlog on interesting things that come up!
I will provide links to this Kerry’s Medieval Embroideries website when the vlogs are directly related to the embroideries. Otherwise, they can be found at: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCyXvGmqS0Loq3AvRKpZc96w?view_as=subscriber
I have posted an introduction in Vlog #1 and looking into medieval cats in the ‘How Medieval is Your Cat’ Vlog #2. We are currently making Vlog #3 where we will put our cats to the medieval qualities test… hee hee hee. It has been a lot of fun.
I have a fantastic 1330 cookbook from the kitchen of King Richard II – I will be cooking my way from the front cover to the back cover adhering as closely as possible to the original recipes, however throwing it all straight into the 21st century kitchen pot. No wood fires, and certainly no room to first catch my chicken (not to mention the recipes that call for blood!). I will be sharing fantastic books I have found; music; mead making; and my ongoing research.
I will also be filming working at the embroidery frame – the Vlogs are a space to share my medieval reflections, musings and amusements with you as well as inviting you into our family and work space. I hope you enjoy this broader aspect of connection. This website will remain embroidery specific. All the best – Kerry.
I am working on another design alongside my 2 metre illuminated border (which is in the corner in disgrace – I am cranky with it right now, not sure if my colours are right). I fell in love with the cover of St Cuthbert’s gospel, also known as the Stonyhurst Gospel.
This picture is found on the British Library blog site: http://blogs.bl.uk/digitisedmanuscripts/2011/07/the-st-cuthbert-gospel.html
The book is extraordinarily preserved, taken from St Cuthbert’s coffin (whose body was also extraordinarily preserved!) and is thought to have been made during the 7th Century.
Ink pigments of yellow and blue remain in part in the cover. My original intention was to reproduce the embroidery design with the same dimensions of the book cover in mind. When I put needle to linen, I used brown linen and colours according to the ink pigment. I also researched illuminations produced from the two leading contenders where the book may have been made: Wearmouth-Jarrow and Lindisfarne.
I came across this extraordinary manuscript from Wearmouth-Jarrow – look at all of those red skinned books in the cupboard, so similar to the St Cuthbert Gospel! Looking at the illuminations produced and searching for those pigment traces, I soon became lost in a vast world of incredible richness, colour and design. Contemporary book designs were indeed staggeringly beautiful. I am in awe at the craftsmanship and artistic That dddgenius of the period.
I wanted to present in my embroidery design, an attempt at what the original may have looked like, a poor offering I am certain. I spent 8 hours carefully stitching – it was not going to work! I gave up.
That night I had a dream which caused me to accept that I was dealing with fragments of a cover. As far as the cover was concerned, fragments is all that is left for us to see… I felt my stitching come to a new place, a deeper and more profound place. All I could do was to adorn and lovingly attend to the artefact that was left.
I have felt such content and a lasting peace. I am going to stitch the design in simplicity, humbled, and lovingly restore in full knowledge that I am only seeing in part. I need to do the design larger than the original book and I am still musing on the colours. Some aspects I am thinking of grafting in from manuscripts produced at the same time and place. I have such a deep affection for this design – more than my original attempt at its physical beauty could ever have held.
I must note that the language of the dream involved a lot of animals in relaying the understanding to me – and I was amazed to find that St Cuthbert was a great lover of animals to such an extent that a duck was named after him – the Cuddy Duck.
I have experienced something very profound with this design. Rather than trying to resuscitate something dead and suggest what may have been – I sense that I am about to stitch with great humility and love – and carefully attend to something that is very much still vivid and alive. I am deeply grateful.
The evenings are growing colder, the cats are growing snugglier and we are getting very near to lighting evening fires here in Toowoomba, Qld. The rain has been coming in a steady patter all day and I have delighted in the simplicity of sipping rosehip tea, pencil in hand, sketching out my next medieval embroidery design these past two evenings.
The 14th century manuscript I am working from is quite small, and I am only taking a border of it for my design. So I am often pausing to gaze through my magnifying glass to see if I can get that leaf, or twist, or bird’s beak, just right. What a joy it is to look at the marvellous medieval illumination through a magnifying glass. I can see ink smears and oddly enough, found a duck amongst the vines I had not noticed at first glance. Each bird is doing something unique, one is preening, one is pecking at one of the decorations on the vine. I never cease to be mesmerised by medieval design.
I am surrounded by my glad-mess, bits of music, empty cup, a bowl of pine cones, a tin jug of drooping flowers, paper, books, and all the bits of mess that accompany drawing. I have taken over the kitchen table and the family will probably not get it back until I have finished sketching out! It is wonderful to be designing again and will track the progress of this new project on the current works tab of this website.
It has been a long time since I have been able to settle in front of my embroidery frame. For a variety of reasons, we have been homeschooling our children this year. Whilst that is fun, rewarding and means a much easier way of life time-wise – I find that I am throwing wistful glances towards my embroidery.
We have had two wonderful additions to our family as well – Merlin, a rag doll cat and a little Siamese kitten who is still waiting for a name. They spend much time wrestling each other at the base of the embroidery frame and Merlin has even been in trouble for testing the back of the St Chad embroidery for a scratching post! Amidst these huge family changes and additions, though I try to snatch moments of embroidery time – something incredible has happened. My two daughters have learned the 11th Century style of stitching used in these kits and have become addicted! So while I am lesson planning for school etc. they spend many merry hours at their embroidery hoops.
I will devote this year to homeschooling and preparing for a return to school next year – in the meantime, I will be stealing those fantastic moments to work on my St Chad design (found on current works tab of my website) and another design called On the Making of Mead. I do check online on a daily basis… and I will continue to snatch moments somehow amidst a house full of cats. Doing embroidery with a Siamese – well that is a whole other blog entry!
I began painting medieval illumination in my youth. It is relatively recently however, that I began expressing through medieval embroidery. For me, it is a relatively seamless experience. Medieval illumination and medieval embroidery are all too often treated categorically and independently. English embroidery during the Middle Ages reached its zenith – Opus Anglicanum (English Work) – being highly prized, including by royalty. Embroidery was as glorious as the richly decorated illuminated book pages. I discovered an article by Valentina S. Grub called A Needle’s Breadth Apart who ventures into uncharted territory by exploring the relationship between medieval embroidery and illumination from a historical standpoint. A historical understanding is an essential one, however, it can all too often eclipse so much more!
I think it would be very valuable to consider the relationship between embroidery and illumination from a theological standpoint. For the medieval mind, liturgy, religion, theology and spirituality had much more cohesion than our contemporary perspective. The divorce between religion and spirituality we have today would have been unrecognisable. Liturgical artefacts at the MET Museum (online resource) visually demonstrates a consistency between liturgical embroidery, illumination and liturgical artefact. I think a theological (thereby encompassing liturgical, spiritual and religious) exploration of the world of medieval embroidery would be a fascinating study that could potentially bring us closer to understanding the soul of medieval embroidery. I often ponder whether to continue my studies and do a PhD, and I think this would be a fascinating and revealing study.
Reflections at the Embroidery Frame
Medieval embroidery is a very deep and personal process for me and is a time in which much reflection occurs. While my hands are industrious, the mind, heart and soul is stilled. Sharing stitching time draws people together and I feel it is intrinsically human. This blog space is a time in which I invite you to – so to speak – pull up a chair, pick up your stitching and join me at the hearth, where we can reflect, natter and share.
I am a country girl far from home. My heart and soul is restless and yearns for the green, the simple and quiet life. Sitting at my embroidery frame, my yearning is infused with great hope, memories are cherished and the present moment absorbs me into its wonder. As the medieval designs grow, they somehow become independent from what my hand is creating, taking on a life of their own, and I become lost in their colour, their story and the people and places they represent.