Monday, December 24, 2012

Face to face with the Royal Heirs

(Picture by me, 2012)

My friend Sir Thorvaldr, inspired by his beautiful consort Lady Tofa, won the Drachenwald crown tourney this last Autumn. They were in need of some spiffy garb for their time as Their Royal Highnesses and later after the 12th Night Coronation in January. I offered my embroidery services and Lady Alyna would do the sewing.

For the embroidery on the first set of garb we produced I was given free hands. I got to choose the pattern and colors myself. Their Hignesses have viking personas, so I got to do something I have had my eyes on for a while now: The Mammen embroideries.

I have based my work on the embroidery fragment found from a burial at Bjerringhøj, in Mammen parish, in northern Denmark, dated to the end of the 10th century (Hald, 1980, 102).

The original fragment and the pattern based on it drawn by Heather Rose Jones (Jones, 2005)

The original embroidery is in a staight line, so in order to fit it on a round tunic yoke, I had to change it a little by making the smaller faces on the pattern even smaller on one side of the pattern. For Tofa’s Apron dress embroidery I used some artist's freedom and asked Baroness Estrid to design a more female face to be embroidered instead of the very masculine original face.

I transfered the pattern on the tunic/apron dress fabric by first copying the pattern on a thin paper and sewing it on the fabric through the paper with small running stitches, after which I tore the paper off leaving only the sewn pattern on the fabric. This is obviously not the original method of doing it, but I have found it very practical to have the pattern durably sewn on the fabric, not only lightly sketched after the pricking and pouncing method, which works better with smooth surfaced linen or silk fabrics (Staniland, 1991, 31). I usually carry my embroidery work with me and work on it wherever I happen to be when I have time to stitch, so durability is essential.

Pattern on paper ready to be stitched and the pattern on fabric ready to be embroidered 
(Picture by me, 2012)

The original embroidery is done with wool thread on fine wool entirely with stem stitch (Hald, 1980, 104). My embroidery is also done with stem stitch like the original. I decided to make my embroidery with spun filament embroidery silk threads, because not only do I find them more beautiful, but I also happen to have them in stock. Silk was also found in other textile fragments and threads on the same burial site in Mammen as well as in other sites (Hald, 1980, 106). Hence, the material could have been used by the original artesans. 

I chose the colors according to what coloured threads I happened to have. I tried to keep the colors as close as possible to the shade of the wool threads in the original embroidery. Unfortunately, my selection of colors was quite limited, so some of the darker black embroidery is hard to see against the black and dark green wool of the tunic fabric.

Still not finished... (Picture by me 2012)

Because the embroideries had to be done in haste, I’m not totally satisfied with them. In the future I would use thinner thread, although the original embroideries were done with wool thread thicker than my silk. I’m not used to this style of embroidery, so the whole work was learning by doing.

When the embroideries were sewn on the garments by Lady Alyna, they looked much better than on their own, and I could be satisfied with my work.

Finished pieces! (Pictures by me 2012)

  • Hald, M. 1980, Ancient Danish Textiles From Bogs And Burials, A Comparative Study of Costume and Iron Age Textiles, Publications of the National Museum, Archaeological-Historical Series Vol. XXI.
  • Staniland, K. 1991, Medieval Craftsmen - Embroiderers, British Museum Press, London, 4th Ed. 1997, ISBN 0-7141-2051-0

Picture of the original embroidery found on:
  • Historical needlework resources - Mammen Finds, (last visited 24.12.2012).

Pattern drawing:
  • Jones, H.R. 2005, Embroidery from the Tenth Century Viking Grave at Mammen Denmark, (last visited 24.12.2012).