Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Ladybug's Aumoniere (Or the stupid embroidered bag)

When I made the boys their viking pouches, I wanted to make something for Ladybug as well, Since she's doing the 14th century princess deal, it seemed like an ideal time to make a stab at one of the delightful little embroidered pouches common to that century, and have a try at opus anglicanum at the same time.

I started my project with a beautiful extant bag, a little research, and a lot of talking to people who'd done recreations. I'll list some sources for good information on these delightful bags at the bottom, other people have done the research far better and more organizedly than I have!

These little bags feature as a group: a foreground worked in split stitch, with a limited color palette, that is, only two shades in each field with which to work the shading. Details are frequently worked in some sort of running or back stitch, and outlines worked in stem stitch. The backgrounds are worked in couching or laid work with metallic threads. The drawstring area typically is couched, and then has eyelets worked over the couching. The bags could be decorated with beads along the edges, bobbles, bells, or tassels. Most commonly these bags depict "scenes of courtly love" or romantic stories. Tristian and Isolde for instance, or patient Griselda.

For Ladybugs bag, I chose to not use a scene of love, but to draw inspiration from the styles of the
bags, and other period artwork, and draw a scene with a princess, which included her badge, the magpie. I drew the tree direct from the romance of alexander, than drew a scene around it trying to stay true to the period artistic feel, which included a unique scaling that enlarges items to make detail visible or give them more importance. I transferred the design with ink to the linen, then put it on my rolling slate frame. This was my first time using a slate frame, and I really loved it, although next time I will take more care with dressing it. I didn't hem the edges of my fabric, and I feel that as a result, the tension across was not as even as I would have liked.

With everything prepared I began to work. Using two colors of DMC cotton floss for each field (yes, cotton. Ladybug is 7. I'm not using silk.), I first outlined with stem stitch, then filled with split, I found that it was helpful to use a colored pencill to  lightly work the shading before I started embroidering an area, that gave me an easily followed guide, but I didn't risk smudging the work by shading it all at once. it was a time consuming process. The stitches are very VERY small, and the back of the work gets quite built up as you go. Each leaf on the tree took more than an hour to work.

When I first started I had some trouble getting the threads started without making an even bigger lump. I found that if I made a couple stitches on the surface, it would temporarily secure the end. after I'd worked a row over it, I could come back and cut it off. When I finished a thread,I just ran it through a little of the backside of the work, then clipped it off short. I discovered in short order that it was really important to have no loose threads on the back of the work, because they cause knots, and knots make the work really difficult. There's enough bulk in the back of the stitch as is without any knots. if I had a little end hanging out for some reason (maybe the thread knotted and I didn't notice, etc) I found I could hold it out of the way with a straight pin until I 'd worked over it, then cut it short.

The face was really difficult to do well. I'm still not 100% happy with the outcome. I had some trouble with the shading in such a small area. it did turn out acceptable,but I think that it would have been better had I used a slightly higher contrast in my flesh tone threads. I used a tight backstitch to make the small details, and to differentiate between fingers, and help the hand stand out from the flesh of the neck. I think if I'd picked a better contrast in the flesh tones I may not have had to do so much of this. This technique does appear in period examples though, so I don't feel too badly about it.

With the face done it was on to the underside couched background. I used Krenik #5 braid for this project. It was a stab in the dark picking thread, because I have no frame of reference for it. Doing the couching was easy enough, although getting the turns nice was very fiddly. But the thread I chose wasn't ideal. Even though I spaced the thread very closely, the springyness of it, along with the relatively small size, meant that I just didn't get good coverage. it's ok. but it's not great. it would work fine for standard front side couching. but it wasn't a good choice for this application. I'm keeping some of it on a card for reference. As I continue to use gold threads I will keep building a little library of these cards, and hopefully in future have a small library to help me make better thread choices.

I worked over the top of the gold with standard couching in purple, then worked eyelets over that to make the drawstring area. Then I applied a silk backing and made it into a pouch, which was somewhat fiddly. it was hard to decide the best way to do it. Original pouches were embroidered on both sides, and then put together with a narrow woven band at the sides, but I decided to embroider only one side of Ladybugs pouch, because the back side would just get destroyed rubbing against her dress. I ended up wrapping the back of the pouch around the front, and hand stitching it down right along the edge of the embroidery. Fiddly but it didn't risk getting the embroidery caught in the bag proper.
I don't know why it won't let me put these pictures right side up.
You can see the failure in coverage for the goldwork here though. 

It was really hard to get photos of this project, the gold was so sparkly it seemed to throw the focus off on my camera.

I did enter this in our local Arts and Sciences competition at a recent event, Wars of the Roses. I didn't win the championship, but I did win the populace vote. I was too busy to get good pictures myself, but the lovely Catherine de la Broderesse took these.

Over all this was a great experience. I'm not 100% happy with the outcome, and I'm sad I didn't win the championship, but Ladybug is over the moon about it, and I learned a lot, so I'm going to call it a win.