Friday, 5 June 2015

Hand embroidery: How the Griffin came to life.

The medieval world is full of monsters, imaginable and unimaginable mysterious creatures. One can find them especially in illuminated books and architectural decor.

Since I started taking an interest in Middle Ages culture and art, I was fascinated with the great imagination and creativity of the artists who were designing, drawing, painting and sculpting forms of animals which they have never seen, and some of them... which existed only in their thoughts.

From this fascination came to me an idea of embroidering a series of monsters.

Here is my first work: a Griffin.

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An inspiration for the Griffin was a sculpture of a capital from the ambulatory of the 12th century church of Saint - Pierre de Chavigny in Vienne - southeastern France.

A griffin usually is depicted as a creature with a body of a lion, with head, wings and talons of an eagle. But this one is unusual: it has a human face, with diamond-shaped mouth, a mane, a mustache and a strange beard - quite unique !

Pic. 1: Samuel Sadaune: "Le fantastique au Moyen Âge. Créatures imaginaires et mondes merveilleux", Edition Ouest-France, 2012, page 123.

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  • Fabric - silk and wool blend, very dark navy blue.
  • Threads - various silver metallic threads (vintage silver thread with dark core, bright matt Czech silver thread, Japanese Kreinik silver thread), vintage Corticelli silk embroidery thread - 8 colours.

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Step 1 - Drawing and transferring the design onto fabric.
I usually copy the image I want to work on onto printing paper, with a pencil. You can do it by printing an image (in this case I scanned a photo from a book), then sticking the image on a window with sellotape and placing blank printing paper over it. Then you can follow more easily the contours of the image, drawing with a pencil.
After - I work on the image contours by drawing until I am happy with the design; with the Griffin the main thing was to transform a 3D sculpture into a flat form. I wanted the Griffin to have a Byzantine-like form with its head 'en face'. And I wanted it to look at me!

When the design was ready I transferred it onto fabric using carbon paper.

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Step 2 - Face

Pic. 2. Embroidering the face of the Griffin.
If I have a project of a human figure or a creature, I always start with working on its face first: it is usually the most difficult part of a project, so it requires special attention and focus. And... I like my embroidery to look back at me

The face of the Griffin is embroidered with very fine silk thread. The eyes, brows and cheeks are done in split stitch; the forehead and the nose - in satin stitch. The lips and mouth opening are worked in perpendicularly laid satin stitch.

Step 3 - Mustache, beard and mane.

Pic. 3: Hand stitching hairy parts 

The hairy parts of the Griffin are done by placing lines in couching stitch (with vintage silver embroidery thread) alternately with lines in split stitch (done with a very dark brown silk thread). 
A very important thing: I followed the picture of the sculpture to place stitches in particular directions, so the mane, the mustache, head hair and beard are a bit separated from each other.
The two ends of the beard are done in satin stitch, in bright silver thread, which gradually blends with the vintage one. How did I manage to make it smooth? I was couching them alternately.

The ears are done in silk thread, in satin and split stitch.

Step 4 - Wings and tail with a hand.

Pic. 4: Embroidering wings and tail.
The wings were a bit tricky: they have three distinctive pieces, The colourful end is done in satin stitch (5 different colours, 8 segments), and the segments are divided with bright silver thread - in couching stitch. The middle part of the wing has four segments made of bright silver thread - satin stitch. The smaller end of the wing is embroidered with vintage silver thread - couching stitch, and on the top of it is placed Japanese silver thread in form of zig-zag (couching stitch). 

The tail with hand-end I embroidered with silk thread, which gradually changes into bright mat silver thread - all in satin stitch. There is as well a contour made in bright silver thread - couching stitch.

Step 5 - Body and talons.
Pic. 5: body and talons
The body of the Griffin is embroidered with amazingly lustrous Japanese Kreinik thread - in couching stitch. The talons are done in satin stitch using both bright and vintage darker silver thread. The contour - as usual - in couching stitch.

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For those who are curious, how the project looks on the other side. As my excellent student, Clara, calls it..."the dark side"...

Pic.6: The dark side...

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It is very difficult to take a good picture of the Griffin with showing how it reflects light. By using mainly silver thread I made him very lustrous and shiny and by applying three different types of thread I managed to get a various quality of luster in different parts of the Griffin.

Pic. 7 The Griffin is done.

Here is the picture I have managed to take, which shows the Griffin closest to its real look (in a sharp angle to show reflection the best)... But still it doesn't give it a justice!

Pic. 8: the Griffin in artificial light, from an angle.

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More monsters to come!

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