Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A smocked apron: Some things I've learned along the way

One of my plans for this holiday, was to finish my apron, but …. something went wrong and I ended up with a Barbie-sized apron.... :-) I'm going to give smocking another try, by making a small sampler first. That way, I can practice the stitches, and I can use the sampler in workshops and demonstrations.

Here are some things I've learned along the way:

The final width of the apron is determined by two things: the stitches used, and the depth of the pleads.

If you only use honeycomb stitch, my seventies craft manuals indicate that 1,5 or twice the length of fabric might be enough. Other smock stitches are less flexible, which means you probably need 2 or 3 times the length of fabric. (In my case, that would mean using about 200cm fabric for my apron, that's quit a lot).
But, to make matters more complicated, the depth of the pleads is also important. The deeper the folds, the more fabric you will need.

Christina did a very interesting experiment to see what happens when you vary the depths of the pleads:
And this is one of her beautiful aprons:
Christina, thanks for posting this! ( And Trude, thanks for pointing Christina's blog out to me)

Below is a smocking tutorial from the book Clothing For Women: Selection, Design, Construction, A practical manual for school and home, Laura I. Baldt, 1916, J. B. Lippincott Company. You can read this on-line here and/or go directly to the smocking part here (and scroll down)

First, make the pleads.

Then, start stitching. They make it look so easy :-)

Friday, December 03, 2010

Heraldic pouches revisited

Image from Gomez-Moreno, M (1946), El panteon real de las Huelgas de Burgos, Madrid: Consejo superior de investigaciones cientificas, Instituto Diego Velazquez.

Images taken by me in November 2010 in the V&A textile study room.
1. Parts of a lectern-cover. The Annunciation, with angels censing, German, 14th century. White linen thread in chain, split and buttonhole stitches on linen. From the Bock Collection. 7029-1860.
2. Panel. Adoration of the Kings. German, late 14th or early 15th century in brick and knitting stitches. From the Bock Collection. 8308-1863.
3. Apparel of an amice, with inscription SANCTA ODILLA SANCTUS KYLIANUS AVE REGINA CELO(UM) MATER REGIS. German, 15th century. Coloured silks in lon-armed cross stitch on linen. Said to come from the Cathedral of Halberstadt. From the Bock Collection. 8311-1863.

Some time ago we had a discussion on the blog concerning the type of stitch used on some Spanish purses. Were they knitted or embroidered? The pillow (also made in Spain) in the top image of this post pointed in the direction of embroidery: specifically the long-armed cross stitch. This stitch does slightly resemble knitting, and also explains some elements in the pattern that could not (or hardly) be achieved by knitting.
When I was visiting the V&A museum in London last november I got the chance to study the embroidery collections up close. I was there to visit the first Fashioning the Early Modern workshop at the V&A but got some time to visit the collection as well. (Oh and do look at the photos of the workshop, there are pretty pics of fabulous pieces of knitting).
I found several pieces containing stitches that resembled knitting. However, of all I found the type from image 3 comes closest. This also is a long armed cross stitch. When comparing it to the Spanish pillow it's almost identical.

I have loads of other treasures to show you from my visit to London, but that will have to wait a little bit. I'll be posting them in portions as I have time available.
Machteld already told you all that I have a new job. I started working as a phd researcher at Antwerp University on a project concerning the material culture of the Low Countries during the Long Sixteenth Century. I - oh lucky, lucky me - get to spend four years researching clothing, fashion and textiles of this period and region. Mainly from a written sources perspective, but off course I'll also include visual sources and extant textiles.
This is off course about the most exciting job I could have ever wished for, but it is very intensive, and that means a little less time for blogging... I hope you won't be angry ;-)

PS.: We recently reached 200 followers to this blog! Thank you all for being the best/coolest/sweetest followers in the world!

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Embellishing the seams of a pouch with gold thread

I'm finishing the seams of a pouch in pink silk and gold thread. It's slow work, and I still need to finish the seams at the top. I really like doing this type of embroidery, but I'm not always concentrated enough :-).

This technique involves braiding two loops together while at the same time stitching them over a seam. We wrote tutorials about it here. Most examples of this type of braids were done in two different colors of silk, but I also found some examples in which both silk and gold thread were used:

Staufer, A. (1991), Die mittelalterlichen Textilien von St. Servatius in Maastricht, Bern: Abegg-Stiftung Riggisberg, p 158, a Spanish 135th century pouch, with a braid in green silk and spun gold thread (a metalic strap wrapped around a core)

Schmedding, B. (1978), Mittelalterliche Textilien in Kirchen und Klöstern der Schweiz, Bern: Abegg-Stiftung, p 190, a 15th century Swiss pouch with a braid in spun gold thread and green silk, p 288, p 230, “Reliquienhülle” with braids in gold and blue and gold and red (long strips of brick stitch embroidered cloth, I don't know what they were used for...)

Some notes on gold thread

I think chapter 3 of Nancy Spies' Ecclesiastical pomp and aristocratic circumstance is a nice basic introduction to the different types of metal thread that could be used in the Middle Ages. She gives quite a number of references, and she also included some interesting pictures.

This is another great book, because it describes, among others how, “thin” metal thread used in pouches could be, e.g. around or less than 0.2 mm in some cases: Ceulemans, C. (1988), Tongeren. Basiliek O.L. Vrouwe Geboorte. I. Textiel van de vroege middeleeuwen tot het Concilie van Trente, Leuven: Peeters

In my pouch, I' m using 4 parallel strands of spun gold thread of less than 0.2 mm thick each. It's a metalic strap wrapped around a core. I do think it fits the picture described above, but I don't know what it's made of. I bought this thread at an antiques fair, last summer. The vendor told me it was French, but didn't know more about it. (it's the one on the left)

Here are some on-line shops which sell spun gold thread, with a % in gold or gilded silver:, e.g gold, 2 % wm smooth passing thread nr 4

I must confess that the Benton & Johnson website is a bit of a mystery to me. Has anyone ordered there yet? Does anyone know if they have the type of thread I described above?

If you know of other shops/vendors which sell spun gold thread, we'd love to hear from you! And, if you know other interesting references, we'd love to hear that too :-)

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Anjou Bible c 1340: fully digitalized and accessible

Museum M in Leuven, Belgium, presents an exhibition which features the Anjou Bible, c 1340. In their own words:

Image via Museum M

The Anjou Bible - Naples 1340 – a royal manuscript revealed presents the superbly illuminated pages of a little-known manuscript created at the unruly Royal Court of Naples in the turbulent fourteenth century.
The fourteenth-century Anjou Bible, was created at the court of Robert I of Anjou, King of Naples. After peregrinations in royal circles, in 1509 the book ended up on Brabantine soil. During the course of the next 500 years, this unique manuscript fell into oblivion. Until 2008. On March 10th the bible was officially recognized by the Flemish Community as 'a Masterpiece' and that year a major project was launched which involved researching and conserving the book and making it accessible to the public.
The Anjou Bible - Naples 1340 – a royal manuscript revealed comprises over a hundred sublime miniatures which are being shown to the general public for the first but also for the last time. The precious parchment folios of the Bible have been carefully taken apart to give the public the chance to admire them ‘in the flesh’. Once the exhibition is over, this fragile gem will be irrevocably re-bound and returned for safekeeping to the strongroom at the Maurits Sabbe Library of the Theology Faculty (K.U.Leuven). After that it will only be possible to view the bible online.

The entire manuscript is put online. Go to this page and click on the Book Viewer link to browse the folios. The zoom function works incredibly well!
I really appreciate this gesture. In the past, I've had some bad experiences with exhibitions of manuscripts: too crowded, too many people trying to elbow their way to the displays, not being able to get a closer view... Now I can see the manuscript while sitting in my comfy chair and drinking hot chocolate, much better!!

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Northern German frilled veil Part II

Last week I did 10 metres of hemming for Maria's new kruseler. It will be based on a veil depicted on a candelier from Lemgo, Germany, dated shortly before 1400. You can find other examples of this style of frilled veil here.
The next step will be making the pattern for the veil itself. I'll probably get round to that only in two weeks, since the fabric I'll be using is still in Holland (and I am back in Belgium), my bags were already so heavily packed yesterday that I couldn't fit in the linen.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

An exhibition dedicated to the memory of Olaf Goubitz

The Archeological Museum in Haarlem, The Netherlands, hosts an exhibition dedicated to the memory of Olaf Goubitz. He was a Dutch archeologist who specialized in medieval leatherwork, such as shoes and purses. The exhibition is small and shows a number of original shoes, pouches and scabbards, and some of Goubitz' replica. It is prolonged till 10th october 2010.

This bird shoe was found in Haarlem, and is dated ca 1300-1350. I love the bird and flower design, and the lace-like pattern of holes. According to the information card, this type of design was rare in the Netherlands, and it is not known whether this was a shoe for men or women. Anyway, it must have looked fabulous with bright contrasting stockings in red or yellow.. :-)


-I went to the exhibition with the Deventer Burgerscap. Bertus wrote about it here.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

New outfit planning

I've been waiting for samples from, to pick a fabric for a new fancy dress, and yesterday they arrived! I will be choosing this pretty madder red fine twill. It goes so well together with the purse I'm working on now. The blue silk will be used for tassels on the purse. The red dress will have brass buttons on the front and on the lower arms.
I am also keeping my eyes open for a pretty light blue wool, to make an over-dress from. I have been wanting an over-dress with buttons all the way from the neckline to the hem for some time now (five years or so?), so it's getting about time I do something about it!
This new outfit will also involve a new frilled veil with gold thread edges, a new belt with gilt mounts, a chapelet with mounts, some jewelry, new shoes, a pair of pattens... Oh well, a girl can dream, right?

Saturday, September 11, 2010

New spools

When we were in Nijmegen at the end of August, I bought five little boxwood thread reels from Bikkel & Been. Monica, who made them, told me they were based on a London find, that was originally in bone. They are perfect for fine embroidery silks, because boxwood has a very smooth surface, that won't damage your silk.
Have a look at Monica's website, they make lovely things. For now they only have a Dutch site, but when I last spoke to her she told me they are in the process of building a new site that will also have English pages.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Eyelet stitch embroidery I

Recently my attention was drawn again to this purse from Tongeren, Belgium (see more info and images here). It is dated to 1276-1300. It exists of a woollen ground fabric - as does this purse I posted about earlier this week - with silk and metal thread embroidery. The embroidery is a mix of brick stitch and eyelet stitches. Tristan from Taschen did a pattern redaction of this purse, with which I do not fully agree (I have been wanting to do a redaction myself for some time, I promise I'll do it soonish). You can find it here. His finished piece is gorgeous too! Also have a look at this detail shot.
For a long time I have thought this was the only piece of embroidery with eyelet stitches from the medieval period in Europe. Apparently not!

Just this week I was browsing the website of the Needleworkers Guild of the West Kingdom, where I bumped into this fabulous piece of eyelet embroidery here. As opposed to the purse from Tongeren this embroidery pattern is built up from eyelet stitch only. The colour photo by Catrijn shows that the piece was done in red, blue and yellow/green silk, and metalic thread. It is situated in the Uppsala Cathedral Museum. Has anyone got more information on this piece of embroidery, or interesting literature about it? Recommendations are always welcome.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Frilled veils final thesis is online!

I kind of forgot to tell you all that my final thesis has been accessible online for some time now! You will find it here, at the website of the Ghent University Library.
For your pleasure I also made pages on the blog where articles, tutorials and embroidery patterns will be grouped. That way it will be more easy to find the information you need! You will also find a link to my thesis on the articles page.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

New pattern

This very small embroidered pouch was found in the Eglise Saint-Vincent in Soignies, Belgium. It dates back to the 13th or 14th century (alas I couldn't find a more precise date). It is embroidered in silk on a woollen tabby weave canvas. The colours now appear to be dark red, white/yellow and orange/brown. The drawstrings in finger loop braiding are made using a green silk. In the tassels red and green silk have been combined. The tassels are embellished with red silk turk’s head knots. The opening of the pouch has been decorated with loop braids.

You can find a pattern redaction and information sheet here.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Progress, part IV

It's been a while since I last posted about this project! I am now a little over half way with the embroidery (I made some more progress since these photos were taken).
I want to finish it this winter, because I want to start a new embroidery project next season wich will involve naturally dyed filament silk, hopefully, when I get round to dyeing this winter. I have been wanting to work with naturally dyed silk for long, but couldn't find filament silk in naturel dyes readily available, only spun silk it seems. But after seeing this wonderfull purse by Miriam of Diu Minnezit, I decided to dye my own.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Gebroeders van Limburg Weekend, Nijmegen

Isis is finishing the seam of a pouch

This weekend, Isis and I were at the Gebroeders van Limburg Weekend in Nijmegen, The Netherlands. The weather was terrible, but the public was friendly. We met some nice new people and caught up with some old friends. We even met some people who read our blog and told us they liked it. This made us very happy, thank you!!

I only managed to take one "normal" picture because, yes, the weather was THAT bad...

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Last week, I was in Brussels where I visited the Jubelparkmuseum/Musee du Cinquantenaire

They have a lovely piece of 14th century whitework on display:

Images from

You can find these images and more in the Kikirpa database, searching for object nr 20016337

While I was browsing this database, I also found this supercute 14th century mermaid pouch. It's in the same museum, but not on display (too bad!!) (clichenr A50420):
Image from

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

13th century lace embroidery

Images from Seven centuries of Lace, here and here

It's such a nice surprise to see something you haven't seen before (at least, in the embroidery department :-) I found these images of 13th century lace/embroidery while I was browsing through the book Seven centuries of lace by Maria Margaret Pollen (1908). You can download or browse the book for free here. The site allows you to zoom really well, so it's better to view these images from the site itself.

For those of you who are interested in smocking: the armpits in the Alb attributed to st Francis(third picture) appear to be have been smocked in a way similar to those of the Alb of St Hugo. Chris Laning, thanks for uploading this picture, and the picture of your wonderful reproduction. ! Additional note: Chris just pointed out that the reproduction was made by her friend and that it's not smocking as such but a technique called ""Italian shirring."

This type of ecclesiastical clothing always makes me wonder: Would this type of embroidery have been used in secular clothing, and if so, how, when..? I would love to know more about this!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Heraldic pouches continued

Thanks for all your comments! It's nice to know that we're in a community, doing research and craftwork together!

I really do not pretend to have the “definite” answer, but I'm inclined to think that it's embroidery rather than knitting. Chris L., thanks for pointing the Spanish pillow out to me and dropping the word “long-armed cross stitch! This reminded me of some sources that were “sleeping in my archive”. I happened to make a scan of the Spanish pillow some time ago, which clearly shows the changes in direction you refer to. The changes are not only at the edges of each square, but also occur within the heraldic motives. With my knowledge of knitting, I think it's technically not possible to change directions like this.

Image from Gomez-Moreno, M (1946), El panteon real de las Huelgas de Burgos, Madrid: Consejo superior de investigaciones cientificas, Instituto Diego Velazquez

There are two papers on long-armed cross stitch by the Westkingdom Needleworkers Guild. Do take a look at them, because they also contain pictures of the Spanish pillow and a close-up of a purse in long-armed cross-stitch which looks very similar to that blogged by Racaire (this close-up also shows the surface “ridges” which surprised me so much)
Westkingdom Needleworkers, thanks for these papers!!!

So, it may be long- armed cross stitch (or a chain stitch?), which allows you to changes directions

Racaire also suggested the technique might be similar to that used in a “Codex Manesse” pouch. I saw this pouch a few years ago, fell in love with it instantly, and made a copy myself :-). This pouch is made using “versetzter gobelinstich” and couched goldwork.

A picture and a description of the original can be found in:
Schneider, J. (1975), Textilien. Katalog der Sammlung des Sweizerischen Landesmuseums Zurich: Zurich: Verlag Berichthaus

The Cloisters Museum, New York, owns a similar purse, see here: Hoving, T., Husband, T., Hayward, J. (1975), The secular spirit: life and art at the end of the Middle Ages, New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Thursday, June 10, 2010

14th century heraldic pouches: what type of stitch is this?

Racaire just posted a picture of a 14th century heraldic pouch on her blog. It reminded me of these images from the Bildindex I downloaded some time ago. Does anyone know what type of stitch is used here? I have no idea, and I even thought of knitting, but that's probably not true.. We would love to hear your ideas on this!

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

A gift from Quakenbrück

Mr. B. brought back home a gift for me from the event in Quakenbrück last weekend: two sets of veil pins. The one has lapis lazuli beads, and the other cut garnets. I just love them, and can't wait to wear them with my frilled veil soon!

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Smocked apron tutorials

Last weekend, I was at the historical festival in Quackenbruck, Germany, where I demonstrated smocking. I think this might become the latest fashion in living history groups: when I told people I was working on a smocked apron, they told me they were either wanting one or working on one :-). This is my apron so far: (it's not stretched out yet)

There are several very interesting tutorials and resources online, so I won't be writing one myself :-). The first place to start when you're interested in aprons is Larsdatter's picture archive:
Tutorials can be found here:

Catrijn, Louisa and Matilda, thanks for the tutorials! In each of the tutorials, honeycomb stitch was used. I was told there are two ways of making these: a) fold the pleads first and then stitch on top of the pleads, or b) make the pleads while stitching at the same time. I used method A (see picture above), click here and scroll down:
A tutorial of method B can be found here:

A technical note based on my experience so far: My needlecraft encyclopedia recommended using 3 times as much fabric as the required length of the finished piece. This means that an apron of 50 cm would require 150 cm of fabric. However, honeycomb stitch is very stretchy, so if you use only honeycomb stitch, you might need only twice or 2,5 times as much fabric. The other smock stitches are not quite so flexible, so if you plan to combine honeycomb with other stitches, it is probably a good idea to use more fabric. It's really important to take the time to figure this out, because I've seen some reproductions of smocked aprons which were too small, and that's a pity for all the hard work!

The aprons from the Lutrell Psalter (see Larsdatter above) seem to be embroidered with different stitch types and probably require a rather extensive length of fabric. This makes me wonder: using 150 cm of linen fabric for an apron seems quite “decadent” for such a basic, working class item, especially when you can also make a plain apron using only 50 cm. Where these types of smocked aprons really part of the working class wardrobe or were they a nice, decorative addition to the wardrobe of more afluent social groups? I don't know, but it would be interesting to read more about that...

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Preparing for Quackenbruck (part 1)

This weekend, the Deventer Burgerscap will join the historical festival in Quackenbruck, Germany. So, there's still time for me to work hard on some much needed last minute costume adaptations :-)

I decided to make a liripipe with an open front, in cream wool and white linen. And, to complete the summer feel, I decided to embroider the seams in yellow and aqua. I still haven't finished it, so there's more work for me to do :-)

I was inspired by Isis' post on this type of liripipes here. It's in Dutch, but the pictures and links are very interesting!

I will be demonstrating how to make a smocked apron, but I haven't got pictures of that yet (so that will be part 2)

I think some of you might go to Quackenbruck as well, so I'm really looking forward to meeting you!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Finished: Swedish frilled veil

Finally I got round to finishing this project (I started it in the fall of 2008, oh shame on me): Maria's Swedish frilled veil is ready to wear! Bertus will take it with him to Morimondo (an event in Northern Italy) this weekend to hand it over to her! You can see the progress in these posts:
1. The sculpture from which the inspiration for this veil was taken;
2. A sketch of the pattern I used;
3. The sewn veil without starched edges.

I (with the assistance of mister Bertus himself) have been cutting and sanding wooden setting sticks and applying the starch to the frilled edge.

Starching a frilled veil is fairly easy.

  1. You need a clean surface that is large enough for the size of your veil to work on;
  2. Take your dry starch and prepare for use according to the instructions on the package;
  3. Apply the starch to the veil by dipping it in the starch bath completely (you can also choose to only starch the edge);
  4. Put the wet veil on the clean surface and put in the setting sticks in the openings of the frilled edge before the starch dries out;
  5. When you're finished putting in the setting sticks, flip over the frilled edge and make sure everything looks fine on the down side of the frill as well, then flip back;
  6. Let dry over night;
  7. In the morning you can iron the veil and the frilled edge with the sticks still inside. Heat setting of frilled veils is not documented for medieval times, but it was used to starch/stiffen from the 16th century onwards. It does help to keep your veil in shape longer, which can be very welcome at events.
That's all!

I hope you enjoy your veil Maria!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Northern German frilled veil Part I

A selection of Northern German frilled veils for Maria.

1. Lemgo, Candelier with female bust, shortly before 1400
2. Lemgo, Effigy of Otto zur Lippe and Ermgard von der Mark, late 14th century (a nearly identical one can be found in Mariënfeld)
3. Hamburg, Meister Bertram vom Minden, Der Buxtehuder Altar, ca. 1400
4. Hirschhorn, Effigy of Margarethe von Erbach, ca. 1383
5. Hamburg, Meister Bertram vom Minden, Der Buxtehuder Altar, ca. 1400
6. Master of the Golden Panel, Golden Panel from Lüneburg, ca. 1431-1435
7. Conrad von Soest, Niederwildungen Altarpiece, 1403
8. Conrad von Soest, Niederwildungen Altarpiece, 1403
9. Hamburg, 1379

Peter also posted some images on his blog here and here.

There is one dominant style in this region: the frilled veil with thick frilled edges both surrounding the face and hanging on the shoulders. (fig. 1-4, 6, 8-9)

Another, seemingly less popular among the depicted nobility and saints, and maybe more common among ordinary women (it's a much less elaborate style), is a veil that it frilled at the edge that is worn around the face, and at some occasions has frilles all around. It is worn loosely over the head in a more casual way than the first style. Sometimes the frills are on the thick side, but mostly there is only one layer of frills (fig. 5 & 7)

So, Maria, make your choice!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Turk's knot tutorial

Just a quick post to tell you about a very nice "animated" tutorial about making turk's knots:

I'm still trying to make good knots, that's how I found this. Knots like these were used to embellish pouches, such as this one

Wish me luck :-)

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Embroidery for a friend

Lea from Deventer Burgerscap made my daughter a beautiful hand-dyed (!), hand-sewn (!) liripipe. Her head will never be cold :-) As a thank you gift, I made her this embroidery. It's going to be a purse, of course! I used different silks from my stash: Madeira silk, Au ver a soie (my personal favorite) and Devere Yarns. The pattern, 14th century German brick stitch, is taken from the wonderful collection by Wymarc.
I'm thinking about a light blue and purple braid to finish the seams. Lea, what do you think?

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Swedish frilled veil Part III

Read part I and part II.
Finally I finished the sewing portion of this project. I last blogged about it last april, and I'm so ashamed I have let it sit in a drawer for all these months. The veil is presented in these photo's on the wrong shape of hairdo, so please don't pay too much attention to that. I did find it funny though to see it arranged this way.
The veil still needs starching, and finishing touches. I will wait with that until I have the second veil I will make Maria is finished as well. This one has to be based on a northern German example. So now I am finding myself in the middle of two stacks of books. If anyone of you it familiar with frilled veils from this region, you're always welcome to share the info's you have here in the comment section. It will be greatly appreciated!
I will show some of the examples I tracked down on the blog next week.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Embroidered baby coif

I couldn't resist making an embroidered coif for my 8 months old daughter :-). It's a woolen coif, with a single row of interlacing stitches embroidered in linen. The embroidery is inspired by
Birgitta's cap, studied by Isis. I'm not quite sure whether children actually wore embroidered woolen coifs like this, but it was fun to make.

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