I pulled together some notes on early tapestries for SENEA and wanted to share. They're not quite sourced to the point of being good class notes (too many web pages, not enough books) but it's a good overview.
You know that dreadful feeling you get when you start to wonder if you will actually have enough yarn to finish a project? And then the really happy feeling you get when you realize that you do? That was me and the embroidery. That white yarn is probably old enough to be filling out college applications, so I'm glad to finally use it. It's all stem stitch. Upon reflection, a design of three roundels with my primary charge and my two harps-in-chief in them would have been super cute and a bit more in keeping with extant embroidery. Ah well. Incorporating the arms I designed before I got all Anglo-Saxony into early period re-enactment is always dicey.
I did put a patch of linen behind the embroidery to protect it:
And that's about it! Check out the links up top for all of Lady Amie's wonderful research on the Haithabu finds.
This hat is in the Coppergate or Dublin cap family - simple rectangles. It's silk like Coppergate, but pointy-headed like Dublin. It's "inspired by" rather than a direct reconstruction.
The fabric is an old silk shirt. The decorative braids are silk. The ties are linen whipcords. Stitching was done with silk thread.
I left in the existing flat felled seam that was used to construct the shirt - it runs up the back of the hat. I also left the original hem around the bottom, but turned it up, tacked it down and covered the edge with one of the blue silk braids. I did this because the fabric of the original hem was fraying in places at the edge.
The hat got made twice. The first time, it was too large. I repinned it and resewed it, and now it may be a touch too short. The front edges were originally rolled, but had to be double-folded to take in more fabric and even things out. The top seam is a modern French seam. Sewing was all done by hand.
I whipcorded four lengths of thick linen thread together to make the ties. I used Shaker pegs for the bobbins - they are shown below, used for braiding. I was able to suspend them from a short rod held under my arm and manipulate them with two hands to do the whipcording. They are sewn on with red silk thread, and the ends that are attached to the hat have a sort of aglet made from buttonhole stitches. The free ends are knotted.
I used a closed cell foam pillow, two pins, and six Shaker pegs to do the braiding:
The silk is secured with a half-hitch at the top of each bobbin to keep them from unraveling. I found that this method kept my fine silk threads well-organized and under more constant tension. The braid came out much better than when I try to free-hand it.
For the first braid (around the bottom of the cap), I stuck a pin through the braid when I had to secure the work. This distorted the braid and left it wiggly. The second braid, used for the two lines around the face opening, was secured just by wrapping the free end around two pins in a figure 8:
You can't see the cross-overs, but those are figure-8s. This was surprisingly secure, even when carried from room to room. I might have been lucky, and if I were taking it in the car, I would have definitely secured it with something stronger than friction.
It is sewn onto the cap with a running stitch (with a backstitch here and there).
This might be my first selfie.
The silk looks much nicer in-person. The shape and fit of the hat are pretty much as-shown.
Review sources before beginning work, even if not interested in officially authenticating the work.
Use bobbins for making long braids.
Careful pinning and ironing makes a nicer finished pieces, yes really!
Wash face before taking selfies!
(These are some notes I took. I didn't make them into a blog post because omg, Facebook people might come by to read it and this isn't very interesting, is it? I should save it and make a final write up! ...but then I realized that no, I really want to keep all the fiddly details and pondering, even the ones that wouldn't make it into a final report.)
Comparing the various threads and yarns I have, I decided to go with the thicker linen thread. (Is it 20/2? 40/2? It's not labeled, but a similar hank is.) I did a whipcord sampler, then decided I liked how the thread looked when they twisted together. I did that, knotting both ends, and the thing promptly (mostly) untwisted. Rather than go into an extended search to find out why this was, I just went back and whipcorded instead. The ties are going to be mostly behind my head, so how they look isn't really of utmost importance.
To do the whipcording, I used two double-length pieces of string. I folded them in half and used a larks-head knot to secure them to that hand distaff I was wondering what to do with. :) Then each of the (now four) dangling thread ends was tied to a shaker peg, wound onto the peg, and secured with a half-hitch. I rolled the whipcord onto the distaff as it got too long. Worked great! I also found that the whipcording went faster and more cleanly when I leaned forward a bit as I sat.
In February, I collected some information on Anglo-Saxon seat cushions. I wish I'd left myself a breadcrumb about where that document I made is, because it doesn't seem to be on my hard drive or in my Google Drive. I was thinking back then of weaving the fabric for the cushion, but in the run-up to Pennsic I found a pretty diamond-weave upholstery fabric remnant:
And I made a seat cushion cover out of it:
Folding stool with cushion
The side seams are covered with an attempt at herringbone stitch (first time I've tried it) - I recall those being mentioned as a cushion seam treatment, maybe in conjunction with the Sutton Hoo burial, but I confess I didn't go and find my source first. If I were keenly interested in authenticating this pillow, that would be a bad mistake.
However, I did remember a historical pillow that was shaped - it had oval/teardrop side panels. I wasn't interested in try to do that, so I'm already ahistorical. Add my fold-over flap on the bottom (to keep the pillow from crawling out of the seat cover) that I can't authenticate at all, and I'm pretty firmly in ten-foot rule land anyhow. (Oh, and it feels like it's polyester, like upholstery fabric usually is.)
I handsewed the edges with a blanket stitch to prevent fraying, using white linen thread. The fabric is so thick, I didn't want to fold over the edges. I handsewed up the sides with running and backstitches. I placed the herringbone stitches in blue silk over the seams. I did fold under the edges of the pillow-keeper flap - I had to, or else they wouldn't line up with the outside edges of the pillow (which had seam allowance folded in). I thought about putting some trim along the edge of the flap, but found it hard to justify decorating a piece of the cover which will always be underneath the work. If it starts to fray, I'll revisit that.
I think it looks really good, actually. The edges are neat and even, the embroidery adds just a subtle splash of color, and the fabric is way better than the cushion cover I had been using.
Not that I need more things to do, but I found Bayeux Broderie, which sells kits based on the Bayeux Tapestry. I'm kind of grooving on their starter kit (because the book promises more patterns, mostly) or maybe a griffon? I think it makes sense to resist a temptation to jump straight to the large panel reproductions - it'd be good to get a little practice before splashing out $100+ on a kit.
Why a kit? Because graphic arts are not my strength. I find the idea of working with figures someone else has drawn onto the fabric to be appealing - a way to get them 'under my fingers' without disfiguring them by myself. Then in the future, I have this notion of doing my own 'tapestry,' maybe showing scenes from the Volsungsaga or Beowulf or something. (At 16" wide, I think this linen/cotton MARKNAD table runner is narrower than Bayeux (20") or Overhogdal, but it's already nicely hemmed!)
Wulfstan Goes to War: Items belonging to an 11th century Anglo-Saxon thegn
It is time.
The bishop and the notable men of the county have assembled. Wulfstan charters a nunnery, something his daughter has been petitioning him for, and presses his seal to it. The bishop and the others witness it.
“As long as they are here,” he thinks to himself, and declares his intentions for the disposition of his worldly goods after his death. The bishop takes up a quill and writes what he says. He reads it back, and the men agree it is a fair record of what they heard.
He had sent for a wandering scop to come this evening, to provide song and story for his distinguished guests. He requests the old tale of Beowulf, the mighty hero who conquered an unbeatable monster. A monster is coming to England, and he will need a hero's strength to fight it alongside his king.
In the morning, he departs. His wife presses a small banner into his hands. All made of gold and silk, it is a rich token. “I am going to war,” he protests. “A plain ensign is all I need.”
“Well, you know what this is worth,” she says. “I will need for you to bring it back.” Her eyes convey the gravity of this task.
“If God wills it,” he replies, and smiles for her sake.
There is just never enough time to see all the things! It is always so inspiring and humbling to see the beautiful things the artisans of Atlantia can do. His Majesty even admitted that they may have convinced 'this old stick jock' to take up some art as well.
Performing Arts Demo
Lady Sophia the Orange arranged a PA demo to highlight all the various kinds of performance that happen in Atlantia. I had been signed up for poetry (Beowulf + an original piece). I whittled and trimmed my intro stuff to get down into my ten-minute slot.
Minutes before I was to go on, Lady Sophia quietly asked me if, perhaps, I might have something in the 'voice and instrument' category, as her performer for that had needed to cancel. O.o But the show must go on! I dug 'Yo Me Soy la Morenica' out of memory, figured out where the notes were again, and led with that. Considering that I have not practiced it in years, it came out okay! (Objectively speaking, it was uneven and my accompaniment blew chunks, but I can't be too hard on myself as I had literally just minutes to practice it.)
Beowulf went well. So, so well. The audience even laughed at my little ending ("...the distinguished one delivered this response... And we will have to hear Beowulf's reply at another time, perhaps after I have been given a drink!") Feedback from the Penathalon judges in the audience was mostly on my vocal control, breathing and projection, and that was totally fair and dead-on. I really feel like in the past year or two, I've finally discovered how to use my singing muscles correctly - but it takes conscious effort, and I hadn't been doing it for that performance.
And that was it, out of time! So 'To Put the Devil into Hell' went unperformed, which considering that I think there were children in the audience, was probably just as well.
Beowulf - By far the best scores, as it should have been. It was by far the best piece among my display. Aside from the breath control, a third judge said that if I'd only included some work in Old English, she'd have awarded me all 10s. I'd come to a similar conclusion in my documentation (which I will post later) - I need to understand how the Sievers types actually work in the original context before I can judge how to set them to music in translation.
Banner - Not too shabby! The major objections seemed to focus on the high/low contrasts of humble linen and gold and silk. The Maaseik embroideries were on a linen ground, but they also covered the linen ground, and I had exposed fabric. So, legit. One of the judges gave me contact information - she has resources for Carolingian goldwork she can share, and I want to take her up on that.
Will - I think two out of the three judges were far too generous on the quality of this one. It wasn't bad, but I don't think it was anywhere close to journeyman work. Advanced beginner, maybe.
Seal - I got some very good advice from one of the judges. He had some critiques on my docs - too many examples not directly related to my item. Friday night, I'd even said to myself, "That should probably be an appendix," but I elected to sleep instead. So, he was right on. Also, good advice for future casting endeavors.
Quills - I had to laugh - one judge gave me a complexity score of 2, with a note hastening to add that this wasn't a reflection on me, it was just that quills aren't very complex items. Totally true, and I appreciated the thoughtfulness of that little note.
Overall Reflections - Considering that I waited until a month before KASF to start, and that I did not want to stress myself out over it, I'm pretty happy with the results. My display was much better this time, although I am questioning my decision to put my documentation in a folder rather than on the table with each item. If I want to be 'in it to win it', I need to start much earlier and select categories that play to my strengths. (Such as, do two performances.)
Speaking of performances - my Beowulf ended up being not in Category 5, Performance, but Category 7, Miscellaneous! It turns out that the new judging forms just didn't fit it. Vocal Song looked for elaborate melody - I didn't have that. Instrumental Performance looked for complex tune - I didn't have that. Dramatic Performance assumed an ensemble, with costumes and props. Nope. Poetry was for original compositions - no. I expect Storytelling would have assumed a complete story, rather than an excerpt. Mistress Jessamyn was very sympathetic to my dilemma and suggested the Cat 7 solution.
William of Malmesbury, an early 12th century chronicler, writes (c. 1125) that on the morning of Hastings:
The king [Harold] himself on foot, stood, with his brother, near the standard; in order that, while all shared equal danger, none might think of retreating. This standard William sent, after the victory, to the pope; it was sumptuously embroidered, with gold and precious stones, in the form of a man fighting. (276)
Gesta Regum Anglorum, trans. John Sharpe, ed. J.A. Giles. "William of Malmesbury's Chronicle of the Kings of England," Henry G. Bohn: London, 1845.
It's supposed to be referenced in this work by William's priest, too, but I can't find it. And Bede says King Oswald had a gold-embroidered banner, but that's way back in the 7th century. Should still find the citation, somewhere in Bede's book 3 (possibly chapter 11).