new project

noah out topnoah out bottom

Sigh – I see wordpress is still acting up with pictures and putting them at the top instead of where I ask it too. I had to take this as two separate photos as I just couldn’t get the whole thing in. It’s two different pens because the first one ran out and I ended up with a slightly thicker marker.

I’ve been wanting to start on this for well over a year, but made myself wait until the antependium was done for two reasons – the frame was in use, first of all, and also because I wanted to use the same veg dyed wools but wanted to prioritise the antependium. This was envisaged as a way of using up the leftovers.

It’s based on Beatus commentary on the apocalypse( not sure which apocalypse, exactly, since there seem to be so many knocking around these days) of 970 AD. I couldn’t find the exact version I’m using as inspiration on the net, though, so you’ll just have to take my word for it. I did try to sneak the book illustration into the top corner of one of the photos, but I’m not sure if you’ll be able to see it very well.

It’s going to be much smaller than the antependium, about 21×28 inches. A size which was primarily dictated by the size of my embroidery frame – it will be a very long time before I consider working on a giant frame again.

I love this image on so many different levels – the colours, the way the artistic style is part way between that of the Lindisfarne Gospels and the Bayeux tapestry, the way it looks nothing like a boat but more like a child’s dollshouse with the front taken off.

But mainly I love that I’ve been looking at it for over a year and I am still WTFing over what some of the animals are meant to be.

And even the ones I can work out look like they’re the bastard offspring of chinese whispers and pictionary.

For all the time I’d been thinking about this I’d assumed it would be executed in the same basic style as the antependium – wool laid and couched with silk faces, and with the entire ground covered. I had also assumed the ground fabric would be linen. Yet all that time this bothered me , the antependium was c13th/14th, far later than this illustration I’m using as inpiration, and that combination of silk faces and wool ground seems very much of its time and place.

Ok, so laid and couched work was used for the Bayeux, and silk split stitch was used far earlier on the St Cuthbert embroideries, but still the combination was bothering me in this context as being entirely possible but just a little bit too conjectural to feel right.

Then I remembered the big mistake I made with the antependium. Well, maybe not a big mistake, but maybe a niggling regret. You see, I read the limited literature on the Reykajlid antependium more times than I can count before I started, but somehow the ground fabric just didn’t register.

I think it’s just a modern thing, but we sort of assume that the natural choice for embroidery ground is linen, there are even some in British reenactment who will insist that linen is the only authentic choice of ground, despite evidence to the contrary (the example that springs immediately to mind is St Cuthbert again, which were a silk ground, and ever since I’ve been noticing more and more examples of wool grounds from pre and post conquest – its not a stretch when you consider that it was the most readily available fabric for all classes of society). So it wasn’t until I was halfway through the antependium that I finally realised I should have been working on a wool ground – it’s described as “tvistur” a home spun and tightly woven .


The more uncomfortable I became with the conjectural nature of silk faces with wool in a pre-conquest context, the more I began to think of the Bayeux and it’s use of voided space/plain cloth background.

I didn’t want this to be all voided background. Part of the original illustration’s charm is the different coloured backgrounds on every floor of the dollshouse.

But a plain fabric sky would really throw the dollshouse into the foreground, and voided faces similar to those on the Bayeux would work far better than woolly ones, which I was worried would look too fuzzy.

Except that I had only a very bright, bleached, finely woven linen – ok to be covered up, but too harsh a contrast to the veg dyed wools if left exposed. It’s three months til the market and my next chance to buy linen and I can’t wait that long. I’m not daft enough to pay what they charge for linen at my local embroidery shops – they must think I’m made of money!

Which brought me back to thinking about tvistur.

Except that I haven’t got any tvistur.

I have got a rather spiffy unbleached manx tweed though, which is the closest thing I can think of.

If nothing else it will be interesting to see how a wool ground behaves under tension on an embroidery frame.

~ by opusanglicanum on January 11, 2013.

19 Responses to “new project”

  1. Wow. I have no idea where you get your energy from! ^_^ Straight in with the next one, right?

    I look forward to seeing how the embroidery progresses – and your opinions on the tweed ground.

  2. Hmm, what *are* those animals? Looks like a fabulous challenge! Will you sell this when you’re done?

  3. In normal circumstances, I would suggest backing the wool with calico, but I don’t know whether that would be historically accurate.

    • I’d considered linen (cotton not being very period) but decided to just go with the wool and see what happened. So far it’s a bit coarser than I’m used to, and a little bouncy, but not too bad

  4. Your consideration of the technical details, choices made and results thereof is very familiar. There is far more “head-work” involved in creating than meets the eye, thus your per/hour cost for your labor. Most people have no idea what really goes into this type of work and when they find out don’t want to (or couldn’t possibly) pay for it.

    Your discussion sent me to google images to check out the Beatus commentary. I look forward to following your progress.

    • I did once meet an academic at the International medieval congress who was happy to pay a figure in the thousands for the double sided opus anglicanum almoner purse that I use in my gravatar image, but I really did want to sell.

      I was reading some figures recently that discussed how the wealthy in the middle age were quite happy to pay craftsmen and women a generous living wage for many years in anticipation of the completion of a piece of embroidery, but alas, its not the case now.

      I know I shouldn’t because its a question born of ignorance rather than anything else, but I have a sort of knee jerk grumpy reaction when people ask me if I’ll sell things.

  5. People have lost touch with what goes into handworked goods; perhaps in the middle age there was more awareness, because they were able to witness firsthand the intensity of labor and care that went into completing a project.

    I don’t feel grumpy, I feel embarrassed… as in uncomfortable in having to divulge the premium I put on my own work.

  6. You deserve every penny you charge for your work. I just wish your embroidery had a larger audience.

    • its does though, every piece I amke become part of my display on the history of embroidery, which is seen by thousands of people every year

      well, it is unless we ahve a wet wet summer like last year, when nearly everything got cancelled due to flooding

  7. do you ever think of yourself as an experimental archeologist? Never mind Tony Robinson eatlng spelt porridge, I think this is fascinating.

    • technically it is experimental archaoelogy, yes,

      you know, ever since I went to uni to study archaoelogy I’ve had to make an affort to spell it right, its such a hard word!

      and I eat spelt everything since I firgured out what was causing all my agonising stomach pains. I don’t think I could have managed the no whaet thing without spelt – doing without yorkshire puddings would have killed me

  8. And that bird at the top is super-gorgeous.

  9. […] For those who missed it, better pics of individual panels and tentative identification of beasts can be found by clicking – bird, captain’s cabin, top deck, amidships, lower deck, border, setting up […]

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