Blackwork Embroidery – Sargentry Entry

This is the documentation for a blackwork embroidery entry I did for my Sargent Trials as a Courtier.

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This is the documentation for a blackwork embroidery entry I did for my Sargent Trials as a Courtier.

Hans Holbien the Younger - Darmstadt Madonna (detail)
Hans Holbien the Younger – Darmstadt Madonna (detail of Anna Meyer in her wedding gown) 1526-1528

Origins

Blackwork embroidery is common on all classes of undergarments.  It is seen on hem lines, collars and cuffs.  Periodically, blackwork is displayed as trim on an article of clothing, as seen in Hans Holbein the Youngers Darmstdat Madonna c. 1528 (above).  Depending on the wealth of the owner, different materials and colours could have been used for the stitches.  Embroidery is almost invariably done on a linen base. It is thought the lower classes may have used blackwork to emulate the much more expensive lace trimming. Blackwork is often done as silk thread on a linen base, but the upper class may have used silk thread on a silk base.[1] Blackwork was common on both male and female undergarments.

The stitch type I have used is modernly called “Double Back” the style is often referred to as “Spanish Work”, presumably after Catherine of Aragorn who popularized it in Tudor England, it is documented much earlier as shown in Chaucer’s “Cantebury Tales” of the Miller[2]:

52   White was her smock, embroidered all before
53   And even behind, her collar round about,
54   Of coal-black silk, on both sides, in and out;
Hans Holbein - Jane Pemberton Small circa. 1540
Hans Holbein – Jane Pemberton Small circa. 1540

It is also called the “Holbien Stitch” due to its regular occurrence on the garments of Holbien’s subjects.  It is generally accepted that the style of small straight stitches on evenweave fabric, often counted, was brought to mainland Europe in the 14th century from the Moors and Arabs after the crusades.[3]

Patterns were often geometric or floral[4] in design and until the influence of the printing press, they were often guarded and treasured passed through generations of women.  Samplers exist of these designs, showing various motif and fill patterns in different colours and stitches.

Ground fabric would be stretched on a wooden frame[5], and a design could be counted, traced or prick & pounced onto it.  The design could then be stitched onto the ground fabric with an even tension.  There were ordinances in some cities that embroidery could only be worked during daylight hours as this type of fine work would damage the eyes.  Blackwork was likely a woman’s craft done by the ladies of a household, but men of the embroiders guild could be commissioned.[6]

This piece of blackwork embroidery will become the waist band of a pair of fitted drawers.[7]

Linen Drawers C. 1600
Linen Drawers embroidered in silver and silver-glit thread. c. 1600 The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Materials

5.3oz 100% linen – white

100% silk Gutterman sewing thread

Wooden stretcher frame

Small embroidery needle

Pattern

The pattern is from Zimmerman, Jane D. The Art of English Blackwork. Zimmerman: USA, 1996. Print. It has 2 elements, the larger and small flowers connected by a straight base line.  I have attempted to design a stitch pattern below for one arm of the large flower and the small flower.  The alternating colours denote different directions.  I teach a class on the doubleback or Holbein stitch and will post the handout in another blog article.

Process

I cut the linen 4” wide and 49.5” long. The linen strip was zig-zagged on a sewing machine to keep it from fraying during the embroidery process.
Period Practice: In period the edges would have either been selvage because the fabric was woven to width, or possibly waxed to prevent fraying.  Most often embroidery was done on a larger piece of fabric with selvages intact and then cut out and used in its final garment.

I then sewed the linen with a whip stitch onto a stretcher frame and tensioned it by wrapping the long ends around the stretcher bars until I had a taught working surface.

Beginning with an away knot, I began working the design with a double thread of black silk and weaving the working end back under the pattern at the end of a thread.

As the pattern moved to the edge of the frame, I loosened it off and rolled it to the next un-worked section to make a continuous design.

When the design is complete, I will go back through the away knots and weave them back under the pattern.

Note: This item has been in progress for a number of years and recently through a drastic weight change. I now have sufficient embroidery to complete the drawers, which will be another post at another date.

[1] Zimmerman, J. 2

[2] Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales. The Miller, http://www.canterburytales.org/canterbury_tales.html

[3] De Holacombe, C. 1-3

[4] Mikhaila & Malcolm-Davies, N & J. 43

[5] Arnold, J. 5

[6] Watt, M. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/broi/hd_broi.htm

[7] Arnold, J. 51

Resources

Victoria & Albert Museum. 29 July 2014. South Kensington, London, England (http://www.vam.ac.uk/)

Watt, Melinda. English Emberoidery of the Late Tudor and Stuart Eras. Met Museum http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/broi/hd_broi.htm

Arnold, Janet. Patterns of Fashion 4: The Cut and Construction of linen shirts, smocks, neckwear, headwear and accessories for men and women c. 1540 – 1660. London: Macmilan, 2008. Print

Mikhaila, Ninya & Jane Malcolm-Davies. The Tudor Tailor. London: B T Batsford Ltd, 2006. Print

Wilkins, Lesley. Beginners Guide to Blackwork. Search Press Limited: Kent, 2002. Print

Zimmerman, Jane D. The Art of English Blackwork. Zimmerman: USA, 1996. Print

Web Gallery of Art. 29 July 2014 <http://www.wga.hu/welcome.html

De Halcombe, Christian. “The Roots of Blackwork Embroidery” Filum Aureum, Spring 2008, Electronic

 

 

 

Aprons – A Historical Overview

Aprons can be seen everywhere, on everyone in the 15 and 16th Centuries.  Worn by both men and women at work and at play, they appear to be a standard attire throughout the early modern era.

Worn by the lowest classes as working garments to offer some protection for their dearly owned clothing underneath, aprons were also worn by the highest classes as a show of status in extravagant embellishment and fine work.  Even women of the gentry would need some protection of their clothing when doing the various household tasks not trusted to the staff.

Clothing cost money.  Lots of money.  The poorer classes would have 2 maybe 3 outfits.  One for church, one for the rest of the time. They ate, drank, worked, and even slept in the same small wardrobe.  In order to maintain the best condition of their clothing, protective layers (both inside and out) were made of cheaper materials. Items such as the hemd (English: smock, Italian: chemise) and the schürze (English: apron) were generally made from linen and served this purpose.  I believe there are some records of wool aprons, but I am lacking a citation at the moment. It would make sense, since wool was nearly as cost effective as linen, although harder to clean.

Aprons in 16th century Germany are standard to a few different styles.  I will explore these designs in detail in future posts.  For now I will refer to them as “Front Aprons”, “Full Aprons” and “Shoulder Suspended”

Aprons
Image 1, Center: Full Apron, Right: Front Apron
download
Image 2: Left: Shoulder Suspended Apron

Aprons were often smocked with either basic or elaborate embroidery, displayed cutwork and pulled thread work. The colours ranged from undyed to black, reds, blues, greens and yellows can be found in imagery of the time.  Most often, aprons were white presumably for ease of cleaning and re-bleaching for reuse.

Like head coverings, aprons are something we often neglect in our portrayals of persons in history. In our modern recreations of historical dress, we go for the flashy, big picture. Accessories are the details that blur the lines and make our garb more authentic and feel more real.

Image 1:  Costumes and moral images of the 16th century from Western and Eastern Europe, Orient, the New World and Africa – BSB Cod.icon. 361

Image 2: The Sächsische Stammamuch – Mscr.Dresd.R.3

 

Apron Research

Melancholia I – Albercht Durer – 1514
Melancholia I (Apron Detail) – Albrecht Durer – 1514

Aprons, ubiquitous to all stations throughout history, serve both functional and frivolous purposes.  Made of wool or linen, ranging in colours from black to white to green to blue, they were used to protect clothing and as a status symbol.

This is the beginning of my research into aprons in the German Cities in the 16th century.  I’ll be looking at the range of colours displayed in art and trying to extrapolate a difference in social class in relation to apron colour.  I will also try to identify different styles of aprons; pleated, smocked, flat, partial coverage or complete.

I like aprons, I find them useful every day.  I cook, clean, work, and relax in garb over the course of an event.  Having useful functional clothing and accessories assists in maintaining my kit as well as lending authenticity to it.  The devil is in the details. I’ve had a simple pleated apron made of midweight linen for 5 years and it’s finally time to cut it up into wash cloths.  I need some basic functional aprons, but I’m also working on some fancier ones similar to the apron depicted in Durer’s “Melancholia I” shown above.

Welcome to my Rabbit Hole!

Welcome back…. and WAY back!

I haven’t posted a blog in a VERY VERY long time.  I shall begin to remedy this promptly.

Since my past post in 2009 I’ve grown enormously in my research and knowledge of both clothing and life in the 16th century.  I’ll try to get a few diaries and patterns up as well as complete photos and progress shots.

But, let me start with the start.  This is me in 2009 in the first thing I ever made (beyond that one bag in sewing classes when I was 12).  It was at Montengarde 12th Night (photo courtesy Falashad on Flickr) and inspired by Hans Holbien’s painting.

Me. 2009. First Garb!
Portrait of Dorthea Meyer – Hans Holbein the Younger (1525)

Iain Gutherie patterned the bodice for me, and I did it NO justice in the end.  Lemme tell you, this was an optimistic first try.  I have yet to re-attempt the gown.  Its a great attempt though, I am pretty proud of this all things considered!

Smock Constrution

Materials
100% Cotton

How I did it
A bunch of triangles and little tiny cartridge pleats around the neck…. maybe?

Hat Construction

 ?? Your guess is as good as mine.  It doesn’t look too bad though eh!

Gown Construction

Materials

Lining – 100% cotton
Interlining – Jean denim
Red Fashion – Questionably 100% cotton drill
Black guards – Questionable content plain weave “wool”

How I did it
This was a VERY long time ago.  So I don’t have many details on my process other then a LOT of tea, frustration, and seam ripping.

I started with zigzagging all the edges of all the pieces… so I had some good direction!

The lining and interlining on the bodice is sewing good side to good side then flipped right side in and pressed.  Since I used inappropriate materials, and didn’t know about clipping allowance, I ended up running a stitch along the neck and front to minimize bubbling along that edge.

The bodice was WAY too big around the waist and fit funny so I ended up  putting a little pleat in the back where it attaches to the skirt to make it look better.

The sleeves are probably unlined and sewn in right side to right side then flipped over.  I didn’t know much about seam finishing, so they are all bulky and raw inside.

The skirt is a vague approximation of a knife pleat. The neck guard runs down the length of the front of the skirt and then into the  hem guards.  I liked the look at the time, but totally undocumented.

It is closed with hooks and eyes.

Take Away
Ok, this is pretty redundant since it’s my first ever sewing project.  But I really DID learn a lot from both those helping me, and my own mistakes.  I guess it wasn’t too bad, since I haven’t stopped making stuff yet!