Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Embroidered Illumination from 12th century

I have embroidered this sad Gardener a few years ago. I still consider it the best piece I have ever done.

The inspiration for the embroidery was an illuminated French miniature from a medieval manuscript: Fécamp Psalter, dating back to c.1180. The manuscript is currently stored in Koninklijke Bibliotheek, The Hague.

It is one of those strange illuminations I love: looks like the poor man is working in the middle of the night, pulling out huge weeds to save his wee crop. And what a strange hat he is wearing!

Pic.1, from:

I chose a dark blue dupion silk to work on. The embroidery is done in cotton, silk, silver thread and incorporated silver and red coral beads.
I applied stitches: couching, satin, split and chain.

Pic.2: My interpretation of the illumination, photo by Bartosz Kolata
I started the embroidery process with working on Gardeners face: it is always the trickiest bit, as you want to keep the expression from the original illumination. It is a bit like painting with extremely fine pain brush,
But when I had the face done the way I wanted, I found it very rewarding and motivating! There is this strange feeling of presence, like you embroidered a company of somebody to be with you for the rest of your work on the piece!

Pic.3: Sad face and funny hat! Photo by Bartosz Kolata
Then I embroider hands and legs. You have to be still careful, where you put your needle into the fabric, but after embroidering the face everything is so much easier!

The next step was embroidering the Gardener's tools and his tunic. Very time consuming process, as I used split stitch for it (splitting a single thread from the skein of cotton floss). What is great about this technique: if you consequently lay down the split stitch in the same direction in part of the tunic, it plays nicely with light, giving your work a subtle 3D effect)

Pic.3: Combining different directions of split stitch in parts of the tunic, photo by Bartosz Kolata
When I had the whole Gardener embroidered, it was time to work on the frame. In the original illumination there is two frames: inner, painted in gold, and outer in two colours: grey blue and pale salmon, with a white zigzag ornament.

I decided to embroider the inner frame in cotton mat golden thread, in couching stitch, with a silver inner line in chain stitch. I chose different colours for outer frame than in original illumination: I wanted a better colour correspondence with the background and other threads I had used.
What is very important: the metallic thread should be incorporated as the last one, otherwise it gives you a lot of grief when you try to work around it with cotton and silk thread.
Pic.4: Inner frame in cotton yarn - couching stitch; outer frame in satin stitch with the zigzag ornament in silver thread - couching stitch. The grains are done over couching stitch of the inner frame, in silver thread (in couching stitch as well), and their heads are done in single stitches placed along the stalks. Photo by Bartosz Kolata

The last thing was applying the beads in the background, for starry night sky. I used German silver beads and red coral beads, with single stitches in silver thread for gleams.
Pic.5: The stars and planets embroidered in beads and silver thread, photo by Bartosz Kolata

The piece has found the best home: it is now in rural France, in the house of my very good Friends. The best place for it: Beth and Steve are both Gardeners! 

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