Posts Tagged goldwork

Blackwork and Plaited Braid Caul: 16th. Century Embroidered Headgear

9 January 2012

My Embroidered Caul

I’m pleased to report that I have finished my blackworked and plaited braid caul. I had the pleasure of displaying and wearing the caul the first time two days ago at 12th Night! It looks really lovely and I’m very pleased with it. Many thanks to Countess Ianthe d’Averoigne, author of The New Carolingian Modelbook and member of the Order of the Laurel, for the use of two of her charted botanicals which appear as fills in my design. I charted the rest of the fills from various period extant pieces, which you can read all about in my documentation below! If you’re interested in making your own caul, cap, or other blackwork/braided item, I refer you to my tutorial booklets on Blackwork Embroidery and the Elizabethan Plaited Braid Stitch. All I ask in return is that if you make something that was inspired by something I did or wrote about, please send me a note and a photo!

Photos of my blackwork and plaited braid caul, both in progress and completed:

Documentation for my blackwork and plaited braid caul:

Blackwork and Plaited Braid Caul

by Genoveva von Lübeck

Documentation Summary
Linen coifs and cauls were de rigueur attire for most women in 16th century N. Europe. I had already created several simple linen cauls, but wished for a more sophisticated, decorative head covering. My research showed that coifs and cauls could be elaborately embroidered, and blackwork and plaited braid stitches were employed. After studying examples in the Victoria and Albert Museum, I used the backstitch and Holbein stitch in green silk thread, as well as the plaited braid stitch in gold metallic thread, on 32-count linen. All of my blackwork fill patterns are based on historical sources found in th Victoria and Albert Museum, photos of extant pieces in Patterns of Fashion 4 by Janet Arnold, and historically-based patterns in The New Carolinginan Modelbook.
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Blackwork and Goldwork Embroidery

3 September 2011

Five days ago I came across a painting of a German woman from the early 16th century. I was instantly drawn to her smock, and I decided I wanted to make it — and likely her gown, or something like it, as well. Here is the painting of Dorothea Meyer by Hans Holbein the Younger:

Dorothea Meyer (1516) by Hans Holbein

The smock has hearts and trellises embroidered around the collar, with actual smocking in the very front below that. I think it is just gorgeous!

So, having some linen and yellow thread handy, I thought I would try my hand at embroidery the design. I looked up embroidery techniques and learned about blackwork and the Holbein stitch, called that because you can see it in so many of his paintings. Then I dove right in and embroidered this:

Original painting on left, trellis embroidered with the Holbein stitch on the right

My stitches weren’t terribly even (it’s been like decades since I did any embroidery), but I was still encouraged by how it looked so I kept at it. I discovered that I should probably be counting my stitches based on the threads in the linen itself. So I counted how many threads were in my linen, and came up with 44. Yikes. Most linen that you would embroider on with counted stitches would be in the 22-28 range. I couldn’t see the holes well enough in my linen and I kept losing my place. So I went out and go some 14 thread waste canvas to put over my linen — this would be the size equivalent of a 28 thread linen embroidery as typically you would skip every other thread anyway. Then I tried again and got this:

Original painting on top; my embroidered heart and trellis pattern on the bottom

My stitches are much straighter now. And I was happy with this and ready to continue on to embroider the rest. But the next morning I was thinking about it, and how the stitches in my hearts were so obvious in comparison to the hearts in the painting. Then I began to think … what if this was blackwork-style embroidery with the Holbein stitch but rather actual goldwork?! Specifically the type of goldwork that uses small lenths of gold coils that are stitched (couched) onto the fabric. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that must be it. Dorothea was the wife of a bargomaster, a member of the Patriarch, and as such the sumptuary laws of the time would have allowed her to have gold on her clothing. A chat with Mistress Melisant confirmed my suspicions. So I ordered a book on embroidery, Royal School of Needlwork Embroidery Techniques, which has a chapter on goldwork. Once that arrives and I learn more, I will order some gold and couching thread and try again. I want to eventually enter this smock into an A&S competition, so I want to do it right!

After all this, I found I was still in the mood to embroider something. All my research into blackwork made me curious to try my hand at that. So I got out some green silk thread, some waste canvas, and the canvas cover of my packbasket from Pennsic. I drew a heart onto the canvas and jumped into the project. As I went along, I added some blackwork patterns from the 16th century — a sort of three-dimensional wall along the bottom of the heart (like the embroidery on Mrs. Pemberton’s collar, another 16th c. painting also by Holbein) and a flower motif above. Then I added on wings, basing their design off a 16th century pilgrim badge. The lettering is just block letters, and I don’t think it’s period — but I wanted my name on my basket cover, so there it is. Here is the finished embroidery:

My First Blackwork Project: A Winged Heart

By no means perfect, but I really like it! I definitely got better as I went along. Putting beeswax on my thread, which I did about halfway through, made a huge difference in how often my threads got knots. Here is the basket so you can see the size of the heart on it:

My packbasket with the embroidered canvas cover

It took me about a day to embroider this. And now I want to do more. I bought some 28 thread count linen at Michaels today, and if I used that I wouldn’t need the waste canvas and I believe I could make straighter lines. Perhaps I could make an embroidered coif!