When I joined the SCA back in 2019 the first class I took was on needle lace and at my third event I paneled that needle lace at the Keepers of Athena’s Thimble guild meeting.
At this meeting, I was surrounded by embroiderers and they Oooed and Ahhed and told me they hated me: a most treasured compliment. Then, that Yule Elizabet Marshall reviewed more of my embroidery and said to me, “Why are you handing me Machine Embroidery?” Another incredible compliment.
Soon after, during the Pandemic, Elizabet became a Laurel. In Spring of 2021 she asked me to be her student and after a year she asked me to become her Apprentice.
What does it mean to be an Apprentice? I get to wear a fancy green belt. I have someone to go to about all my problems, to ask questions and advice and someone to whom others can report on my projects, my failures, and my progress on my journey to becoming a Laurel myself.
Elizabet asked me to think about a focus for my work and this was hard. Mainly because my interests are broad. Her focus was “All things String” which is broad as well, but I don’t necessarily want to do all things in a particular media, and I don’t want to tie myself to only one art. While I love embroidery, it is not the only thing that I am interested in. Nailbinding for example holds little interest, but fingerloop braiding is a skill I admire. I kept coming back to the same word over and over: Precision.
In Embroidery often artists are separated into two categories: those who like to count and those who don’t. But I love both, and I have found that there is something beyond counting that defines different types of embroiderers. Certain embroidery styles often achieved through perfecting tension and precise stitch placement. And I love the precision of hand sewing, beading, hat making, etc. I also want to make shoes, weave trim, bind books. All of which require three things: Precision Tension and Accuracy.
So I have devised a list of goals based on this focus:
- To create garb head to toe which creates a historical impression directly to a precise period, time and place;
- Recreate historical embroidery using period techniques and materials;
- Learn historical techniques and skills that would have been used to create garb and household items in western Europe from 1100-1600;
- Teach a complex historical embroidery techniques from this period;
- Be supportive and encouraging of the art of others with particular focus on primary object based research.
While I cannot tie myself to one particular area of research, I think focusing in the areas of Western Europe, particularly England (and the aisles), France, Germany and the Low countries from the time period of 1200-1600 is a good bracket to find myself in. I love the 1300s in particular as the plague years were a fascinating time period producing an amazing collection of medieval art including secular pieces in abundance.
As for goals I would like to continue my studies in headwear and make some pointy toed shoes. I would like to make more garb including Houpelands, surcoats and some later period pieces. I want to learn narrow weaving and continue learning fingerloop braiding, and complex woven hems. I would also like to recreate one of the extant gowns from the Herjolfsnes excavations.
In addition to teaching Embroidery techniques, I would like to teach more lecture oriented classes focusing on detailed looking at specific extant pieces. I would love to create a bibliography or other such document which attempts to pin down some of the earliest uses of different embroidery stitches and try to pin point regional themes.
Elizabet’s persona is from the 12th century so I decided to make at Bliaut to wear specifically for my apprentice ceremony. Bliauts were the popular dress for women in this time period in western Europe. They are characterized by tight fitting in the waist with long flowing skirts and large sleeves. They are often decorated with wide bands of embroidery along the neckline, sleeves and hems.
These dresses were likely worn by the highest classes of society and made of a finely woven silk which creased easily when roushed.
This example from Chartres includes beautiful decoration around a deep neckline. This embellishment was likely made out of a combination of narrow woven braid, fingerloop braiding and embroidery.
I watched a video by Daisy Viktoria on a simple construction and I sketched out a pattern. My pattern drafting method for rectangular construction relies on lots of math. I then transferred my pattern pieces to a different paper where I sketched out the fabric cutting layout in order to best conserve my fabric. My goal was to create the largest dress with the biggest sleeves with the fabric I had. I chose a purple linen from my stash that I purchased from Destash.us.
Because I used a straight grain linen fabric, I decided rather than cut my pieces free hand, I would use the grain of the fabric. I painstakingly pulled out a single thread and then used that thread as my cutting line for all the rectangular pieces.
For this piece and another dress I made this year, I machine stitched all of the straight seams and then finished them by hand with a felling stich.
For the center front and back gores, I followed Handcrafted History’s tutorial to insert them. First, I cut open a slit by following the grain of the fabric. Then, I folded in the edges about 1/4 an inch and pressed them down. I then positioned the front piece right side facing up and pinned the center gore inside.
This dress has deep V neck in the front and back hemmed using a small felled hem. I trimmed the sides of the gown to provide better shaping and folded them in about a half inch to provide ample fabric for the lacing.
By the time of the event, the hem was yet to be sewn and eyelets remained unembroidered, but many of the interior seams were finished, and I deemed it all “good enough” to go.
Elizabet gave me a green belt, a piece of fabric to practice my stitching, a scrap of velvet from her original apprentice belt, and an acorn broach to wear signifying our relationship.
And then at court something happened which I did not expect, I was welcomed into the Order of the Maunche, the East Kingdom Order of High Merit for Arts and Sciences!
Becoming a Maunch was an incredible surprise. It was something I didn’t imagine I would obtain for many years and I felt a good deal of imposter syndrome for a bit. But, I was reminded by a peer or two, that I have an eye for medieval craft and have spent hundreds of hours working on medieval research and projects (all in this blog!) which goes a long way toward what it means to be a Maunch.
I cannot express in words the gratitude I feel for my friends and supporters in this. Your support means the world to me and I am so thankful to have you and the SCA in my life. Exploring medieval life and culture has been my passion since I was a freshmen in College and I am so happy to have found a community that is as passionate about it as I am.
More work to do
For now, I have lots of things to do. Many secret projects and a few less secret. the first of all will be putting the final touches on this dress. As you can see in the photo below, it suffered quite a bit during its first outing.
I also need to finish the interior seams and hem (I am about half way done with this). I would like to also add decoration such as that shown in the sculptural references, to give the dress a bit more flair! The real struggle is finding a color scheme that I am happy with. I have a selection of Pink linen that I could add and embroider, or I could stick with gold. I will update the blog when I make a decision!
Bliaut – Wikipedia
Images of Chartres Cathedral sculptures depicting the Bliaut
How to put in a Gore — Hand Crafted History
Daisy Viktoria Bliaut Tutorial