This needlework piece is part of my ongoing exploration of different medieval embroidery styles. A full explanation of the project can be found here.
When I think of Couched and Laid work, I think of the Bayeux Tapestry. This tapestry is a very long rectangular tapestry that depicts the story of the Norman Conquest and was embroidered sometime in the late 1000s! Legend suggests it was embroidered by the Queen and her ladies, but it was probably the work of professional embroiders and commissioned by Bishop Odo (William the Conqueror’s half brother). It is made of plain weave linen with wool embroidery. But it is not the only example of this technique, just one of the biggest.
The tapestry was originally embroidered in 8 colors: terracotta, blue-green, dull gold, olive green and blue, and small amounts of black, dark blue and sage green. Repairs have also been made to the tapestry over time, and the yarns that were used to make these repairs have faded substantially. This leads to lots of the striping or off colors you might see upon close examination of the tapestry.
And just in time for my April embroidery, the Bayeux Museum put a full panorama online so you can see up close and personal the stitches, and frames and every inch of the tapestry:
I have decided to recreate this little Lion. Isn’t he cute? He uses several colors. One of my favorite things about him is that the stitches go in different directions along his torso and bum.
I have ordered Appleton Crewel Wool from the Wooly Thread for this project in the following colors:
Terracotta 124, Dull Gold 855, Mid Olive Green 343, and Dull Marine Blue 324
I think 1 skein of each will be more than enough for this project. But whose to say I won’t need more little Bayeux animals, so I bought mid blue 157 for a dark blue, black, and Early English green in 542 for some future projects!
How to stitch?
There seems to be two schools of thought on this one, the outlines were either done before or after the laid and couched fill. Tanya at Opusanglicanum says that the Bayeux was done outline then fill, but says that she has seen later pieces that fill then outline. Outlining second can hide some mistakes.
For the sake of my attempt to replicate a real bayeau lion, I will be doing the outline then fill method. I think its easy to see on different sections of the tapestry that the fill is done after the outline because of the shape the fill takes (ex. the lion’s mane).
The shapes are outlined using an outline or stem stitch (According to the Textile and Research Center). You can see that it is stem stitch in the way that the two plied yarn seems to twist along the outline giving it a rope like appearance. They also note that some split and chain stitches are used, but I do not see any in these images. Another source I found mentions split stitch being used to write the text.
Then the laid and couched method is used to fill in the shapes. These stitches are new to me. I have done some crewel work in the past, but it has largely been satin or split stitch, or some fun chains, rather than laid and couched. The idea is that you lay down a bunch of long threads, like in a satin stitch (but you do not go back and forth across the back of the work). Then you lay more stitches down perpendicularly to these stitches. Then you couch (using the same size thread) those threads down using tiny perpendicular stitches. The idea is to do these couching threads in a randomy brick pattern to make sure to not create divits in your laid threads. For a great diagram of this stitch click here.
The fun thing about the Bayeux Tapestry is that its SO BIG that you can see different hands working the same stitches, and also how the stitches used the technique to create contours to boats, animals, and people!
If you would like to download my pattern you can find it here:
Some Notes on the Pattern:
It is difficult to know for sure, just looking at pictures, how much of the lion is original to the tapestry and what might be a repair. Many of the little characters on the edge have been repaired, and you can see some degradation of the fabric and threads around the lion. I labeled stitches on the the lion on the pattern as close as I can tell to the picture. Please let me know if you stitch along!
Update: To see my finished Lion click here.
Importantly, the Bayeux Tapestry is not the only piece that uses this technique. Tonya at Opusanglicanum recreated the Altar Frontal from Draflastadir Church in laid and couched work, wool on linen, 16th Century which uses this technique beautifully. She talks about this piece and later period couched and laid work in her youtube video on the subject.
For a tutorial and sample pattern on the Laid and Couched stitches at Opusanglicanum. Tanya also goes into details about different colors of dyes and stitching grounds while she is stitching. The sample is adorable! Lil baby chicken dragon!
Pictures, information and more of the Bayeux Tapestry at the Bayeux Museum.
The Bayeux Tapestry by The Textile Research Center
The Embroiderers Guild Bayeux Stitch Worksheet
Bayeux Broderie Stitch diagrams
Appleton Crewel Wool Color Chart
Wooly Thread (My Source for Appleton Wools)