saturday morning ramble, the Maasiek embrodieries and how they changed my life.
Because I got up too early this morning, that’s why.
Gather round children, and I will tell you a story. A very long time ago, well, a little more than twenty years or so, which is a very very long time, as I’m sure you’ll all agree, my re-enactment group made a collective decision to grow up. This meant that things like this…
were no longer acceptable. (My stepdad still has the disembowelled remains of my bad early costumes cut up and rearranged onto a tunic for wearing at village fetes – witness the shame, children, witness my dark dark shame. although in my defence I was a teenager when I did it, and we all did very bad things as teenagers, I chose violence against the art of embrodiery)
Which I’m not ashamed of at all, in fact it still gets compliments whenever I wear it. I started taking things seriously.
Unfortunately there was a lot of “embroidery” in other groups done with four ply nylon knitting wool, skillfully executed with four inch long satin stitches. I don’t have pictures, I will leave these horrors to your imagination. Therefore, with the zeal of youth, I began to preach the gospel of pride in one’s work and the joy of tiny stitches to anyone who would listen, or anyone who simply stood still for long enough, or anyone I could corner in the bar with no viable escape route.
At the time I had a book on historical embroidery with a full page picture of part of the maasiek embroideries, a pre-conquest english piece now held in Belgium.
I would gleefully wave this picture under the nose of anyone with a nose, squealing, “See! See how tiny the stitches are, four millimetres, look!”
Then the Laing art Gallery had an exhibition on Anglo Saxon Northumbria, star of which was the Maasiek fragments, specially borrowed from Belgium, Obviously I went.
And those things blew my little mind.
See, my book had no measurements, I’d thought the photo was roughly life sized, but it was massively magnified. They were tiny. the stitches I had thought were four millimetre long were one millimetre. I stood there for hours until a guard came and told me off for drooling on the glass case.
I don’t think they would have made such an impact if I’d seen the real thing first and known how magnified the picture was, but I think that moment changed my life as an embroiderer. It made me realise that even the most accurately described museum catalogue cannot give you a true impression of the real dimension of an object. It hit me again last weekend at the British museum, where supposedly familiar viking jewels becames things I saw in a whole new light.