At a recent two-day workshop with Claire Thornton at The School of Historical Dress I learnt about the re-use of embroidery on luxury textiles from the sixteenth century onwards.
Claire was very knowledgeable and she explained the historic ‘zero waste’ principal of re-using ‘guards’ to protect the edges of textiles, as well as adding luxury decoration. In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries textiles were part of conspicuous consumption, worn by the royal court and gave the wearer a status.
Textiles were precious commodities and it was common for wealthier women to occupy themselves with needlework. The work is very fine, and it’s extraordinary to think that the examples we saw from the school archive were worked in candlelight conditions.
Claire showed us examples of a range of embroidery techniques, which we subsequently learnt how to apply. We were each given a piece of stretched linen to work on and were taught a range of techniques, applying different types of silks and metal threads to historic motif designs. I had not done any needlework since my twenties, and even then I was not very proficient. We learned different skills, the most impressive was the laying down of golden threads with an invisible couching stitch.
The reason for my interest is that I am currently researching a textile fragment from Worthing Museum investigating its provenance. I have also been evaluating the symbolism of incorporating a grasshopper and butterfly to flora and fauna designs, as well as researching the possible country of origin and stitch types.
This fragment, shown below, is an example of re-use, probably as a cuff on a ladies coat in the nineteenth century. This example shows a whole range of embroidery techniques including the ‘Forbidden Knot’ and laying down of gilt metal threads.