(un)finished on time

This was a comissioned piece for heritage learning for the English Heritage site at Conisburgh Castle


It’s deliberately unfinished as it’s meant to be a work in progress belonging to the lady of the castle. The patron wanted a knight because this is a handling artefact for children and knights are exciting. I think it works because it will also allow discussion about the role of women in chivalric culture, and you could also use it as a springboard to discuss troubadours in Norman society.

It was actaully quite challenging to set out upon a piece I knew was to be left unfinished, for many reasons. Firstly, with this technique I would normally block all of the colour before working on the outlines. Instead with this I had to decide which bits to colour in and which to leave, and I decided that rather than leaving a line drawn upon the canvas to indicate those areas yet to be filled I would outline those areas in stitch (normally I advocate doing the outline afterwards as it’s much easier). So some of the horse’s mane is coloured in, but all of it is outlined, half the shield is filled, etc.

Leaving large areas of laid work uncouched wasn’t an option if children are to be allowed to handle the piece, as they would be too quickly pulled out of focus, but I did leave one tiny portion of the horse’s hind leg uncouched, which should be enough to illuminate the technique to those who are interested, but hopefully I’ve not left enough that is will get shredded!

I liked leaving his armour unfinished. At the Weald and Downland course one of the ladies (I am terrible with names) was working on a knight from the Bayeux, and we were talking about how the armour is shown using little circles of stitches on the canvas background. It wasn’t until I came to flick through and decided which knight to use for this that I even noticed they’re not all circles. Some are cross-hatched like this little chap, and yet others have an upright grid. I quite like the way this looks unfinished.

And yes, I deliberately chose a blue horse, because if this is used for children to talk about art in the medeival era it shows that realistic colours weren’t always used. To be fair though, I think the blue horses in the Bayeux are meant to be greys, after all we still call grey cats “blue” and proper grey is a devilishly hard colour to achieve with natural dyes.

Anyway, he’s off in the post now!

~ by opusanglicanum on April 23, 2014.

18 Responses to “(un)finished on time”

  1. Oh I like this lots and I like that the horse is blue. I had a close-up look too and I’ve just spotted where I’m going wrong in my own meagre attempt at the same stitch you used for the horse body. Thanks for that! I’ll now begin again.

    • You should come to one of my courses. Or maybe you already have. Trouble with tinternet is that no one properly introduces themselves, it’s like being at a masked ball sometimes.

      I like the blue horsey too, I’m glad I went with him

      • No, I haven’t been to one of your courses and living in Gloucestershire makes attending one a major undertaking. For the time being I’ll settle for your most enjoyable blog!

      • It’s actually been really hard for me to find suitable venues that aren’t in the south of England, so if you have any suggestions feel free to send them my way.

        I’m not even going to make it your part of the world this year, I can’t cope with Tewkesbury two years running and I’m a bit gutted that Berkeley has been cancelled, it was one if my favourite events

  2. That’s lovely. I hope Conisbrough display it outside the castle, last time I was there it was too dark to see anything, let alone admire handiwork like this!

  3. That’s fascinating. I hope I find it the next time I visit so i can have a proper look!

  4. This is really interesting, the concept of creating an unfinished piece, the handling aspect, and the reasons for your choices. As a primary teacher I know there are so many things to consider when preparing a rounded learning experience and so many small aspects which one child in ten may get, but it may make a world of difference to that one. I think you’ve done a great job and I hope lots of people benefit from your thorough preparation of this piece!

    • It’s interesting, I’ve been visiting primary schools for nearly twenty years, and at least once a year I get a ks2 kid who asks a graduate level question that I simply don’t know the answer to, often because they’re interested in some downright obscure things at times.

      Mind you, I also had one eye on the destructive power of children as well

  5. We were at Conisburgh only the week before Easter, but they hadn’t finished the renovation of the Visitor Centre, so it wasn’t open. Next time we are in the area I shall go there again – I might be able to report on how well your knight on horseback is surviving!

  6. He (and his horse) are lovely!

    I love how brightly coloured these are, and how tiny the stitches are — it’s nice to know that museums, teachers and children are going to get a little taster that will properly show the workmanship that went into medieval embroidery.

    • One of my pet peeves is reproduction of things like the Bayeux where the thread colours are carefull y matched to how they look now. I think it’s far more accurate to use the same dyes fresh, otherwise you’re perpetuating the old Monty Python trope of “ere, he must be king cos he isn’t covered in shit”

      I could get quie ranty on the subject but you’ll be grateful to hear I had a long day at Harrogate flower show and am ready for bed now

      • *grin* You and I both.

        Glad to hear you had a nice day out.

      • we did, save that theres a local farmer who makes the worlds most delicious pies who attends the flower show, and I am no longer allowed one due to a rather violent gluten intolerance. I had a day of sever pie envy watching happy people with thier pies, including gareth.

        so I came home and made some of my own with spelt flour.

        Btw, you’re a sceintist, aren’t you? have you heard this new study that says people like me with adult onset gluten intolerance are actaully allergic to the chemical buildup of organo phosphates in modern wheat, so spelt is ok cos its all grown organically? gareth, the organic sceptic biologist, thinks it has some credance. am seriously considering trying some organic wheat to see what happens

  7. he’s gorgeous and I am glad to see another of Gareth’s excellent frames in use!

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