Note Bene – this is a preliminary upload of the documentation for my Elizabethan Sampler project. References and figure need to be added. Formatting needs substantial editing.

Elizabethan Sampler Documentation

What is an Elizabethan Sampler?

A sampler is a compilation in thread of embroidery stitches and designs for the reference of current and future embroiderers. These ‘libraries’ were an  efficient means of remembering and forwarding the knowledge of these stitches and designs before the advent of published collections of these items. Samplers have been found across the world over the centuries. Early examples include those of Islamic Egyptian origin extending to the 10th century. “Sixteenth-century samplers had been broad linen rectangles stitched with a collection of motifs often drawn from herbals or bestiaries. “l

This challenge is to create a sampler in the style of Elizabethan samplers. The only complete such English sampler known is the Jane Bostocke sampler (Fig 1), dated 1598, as well as several fragments. We know of other samplers that were bequeathed in wills of the time, indicating how valued these works were. These were collected into libraries of examples. An inventory of Joan the Mad, Queen of Spain, dated 1509, lists 50 (or more) samplers, some worked in silk and others in gold thread2 . Three of the fragmentary samplers are in the Carew Pole collection. Two are small scraps of linen while the third has three large patterns in primarily tent stitch and five or six other smaller motifs3 . I have found references to late 16th century German4 (Fig.2) and just post period (1611) Dutch 5 (Fig. 3). These samplers are visually very similar to the Bostocke sampler. The random embroidering  of individual motifs seen in these samplers characterized sixteenth-century samplers.

All of the Elizabethan and contemporary continental samplers I have seen are composed of primarily counted work in geometric forms. However, the vast majority of Elizabethan embroidery was composed of figurative and curvilinear designs. These uses are discussed later in this paper. I have observed some use of counted work on collars and cuffs, but these are in

1 Parker, Rozsika. The Subversive Stitch. New York. The Women’s Press Ltd. 1989. Page 85 2Staniland, Kay. Medieval Craftsmen: Embroiderers. University of Toronto Press, 1991. Page 62 3Digby, pg 90

4Staniland, Kay. Medieval Craftsmen: Embroiderers, page 64

5Meulenbelt-Nieuwburg. Embroidery Motifsfrom Dutch samplers. Page 18

6Parker, Rozsika. The Subversive Stitch. Page 98

the minority. I am forced to wonder at the actual purpose of these samplers. Creating a vast library of designs that do not appear to have been widely used is a conundrum. However, we know that many of these samplers have vanished, and perhaps they contain examples of the figurative work that was more popular.

This challenge is to create a sampler in the Elizabethan style. My research indicates that these are composed of primarily counted work and this guided my choice of designs to include in my sampler. I will have to construct another common format of Elizabethan embroidery to practice the other styles used, the coif. (Look for such an entry coming to an A&S display near you, but not immediately.)

The Jane Bostocke Sampler

According to Digby, the Bostocke sampler was worked “in silk, and metal thread, with some seed pearls and black beads on linen; it includes a great variety of stitches: satin, chain, ladder, buttonhole and detached buttonhole, coral, two-sided Italian cross, couching, speckling and french knots.”

The description from the Victoria & Albert Museum on-line collection states:

“Sampler Jane Bostocke, England, 1598

Linen, embroidered with silk and metal thread

Width 42.6cm x length 36.2cm

Museum no. T.190-1960

This is the earliest dated British sampler to have survived, and its inscription commemorates the birth of a child, Alice Lee, two years earlier. Its maker, Jane Bostocke, who is known to have been a distant cousin of Alice’s and was buried in the village where she lived, may have lived in the Lee family household. The motifs at the top of the sampler relate to their family crests. The sampler is from a period of transition in the practical use of such items between the 16th century and earlier, when they served as a reference piece for a more or less experienced embroiderer, and what gradually became their nature in the 17th century: a method of measuring and recording the maker’s skill.

The embroidery is worked in cross stitch and back stitch but there are examples of work in more complicated stitches showing that the back stitch was intended to be a grounding for further elaboration. Other stitches include satin, chain, ladder, buttonhole and detached buttonhole filling, couching in patterns, coral, speckling, two-side Italian cross, bullion and French knots and beadwork.

(http://www.vam.ac.uk/collections/textiles/features/embroidery/objects/object

.php?action=view%20alI

0/0200bjects&id=8&id2=O&hits=&page=&pages=&object_type=&country=&st art_year=&end_year=&object=&artist=&maker= )

Examining an image of this work, enlarged to approximately life size, reveals that the bulk of the work is done in some sort of outline stitch, back stitch or double running, and cross stitch. While Digby indicates two-sided Italian cross stitch, my admittedly imperfect examination showed more plain cross stitch. The other stitches mentioned are used sparingly, apparently for highlights. In other Elizabethan decorative articles such as coifs, and other pieces of clothing and household furnishings, these stitches have greater prominence. From my examinations of extant pieces, I feel that in samplers the goal was to record designs more than techniques.

There are references to continental samplers. There are Dutch samplers

(example Fig. 3) from just post period. Another is of German origin[1] (Figure 2). Although the caption does not indicate the estimated date, it is mentioned as being pre 17th century. I take some exception to the comment that it is unfinished. The Bostocke sampler is jam packed with motifs, but there is space between some figures. As this German sampler has motifs extending to the edges of the fabric, I suggest that it was merely more widely spaced as opposed to unfinished. I maintain that my speculative ancestor who stitched this particular sampler inherited a German sensibility and left somewhat more space between her figures.

History and development of Elizabethan embroidery.

Elizabethan embroidery can be divided into two broad categories; professionally produced and domestically produced. As samplers appear to be primarily in the domain of domestic work, this article will focus on that

area.

Briefly turning to professional embroidery, the Broderer’s Company is recorded as receiving its first charter on 25 October, in 1561, but is extrapolated to have existed in some form for centuries 9 . The Great Fire of London in 1666 destroyed all records, which limits our knowledge of the scope and details of their duties. Later chronicles of companies (1890 and 1904) describe the quality control of embroideries for public sale and their power to enforce this. Some professionals are recorded as working for prominent patrons such as Mary Queen of Scots and Bess of Hardwick10. Their duties included drawing the designs and overseeing the details of the execution of the design.

Elizabethan embroidery is often thought of as being synonymous with blackwork in various counted and geometric forms. There are numerous examples of other surface techniques on garments, as well as many other household textiles worked in tent stitch, which we today may call needlepoint. While the surviving samplers appear to be primarily monochromatic counted work, I hypothesize that other techniques may have been worked on these reference cloths; such as the plaited braid stitch. There are embroidered dividing lines on the Bostocke sampler and plaited braid stitch is a commonly observed technique.

There are numerous surviving examples of every day items which were embroidered, including coifs, chemises, shirts, jackets, bed hangings, pillows and other items of clothing and home furnishings Il 12 13. Much Of this work was domestically produced, rather than exclusively from professional workshops. Noble ladies and all affluent young girls were educated in needle arts and stitching in company was a well thought of pastime14 15 16 17 The rising merchant class provided a larger population with leisure time and

8Bromley, John. The Armorial Bearings ofthe Guilds ofLondon. Page 3 1 9Digby, pages 29 – 30

10 King, Donald and Levey, Santina. The Victoria & Albert Museum ts Textile Collection: Embroidepy in Britainfrom 1200 to 1750. Page 17.

I I Gostelow, Mary. Blackwork. Page 21.

12Synge, Lanto. Art ofEmbroidery, History ofStyle and Technique. Page 68

13 Warner, Pamela. Embroidepy.• A Histopy. Pages 66, 82-84 14Digby, Page 26

15Synge, Lanto. Art ofEmbroidery, History ofStyle and Technique Page 67..

16Wamer, Pamela. Embroidepy: A Histopy. Pages 69-70.

17Wardle, Patricia. Guide to English Embroidery. Pages 12-13.

resources available to devote to this kind of domestic decoration (Synge, 67) (Gostelow, 24-25) .

Some surviving clothing articles of this time feature both polychromatic and monochromatic embroidery. The embroidery style of many of the existing coifs, caps, and other household furnishing has primarily realistic figures, a feature that coincides with the publication of books of decorative designs, such as are reproduced in Flowers of the Needle and Embroidery Patterns from: The Schole-house of the Needle by Richard Shorleyker.

These books of illustrations lend themselves particularly well to monochrome embroidery. One of the earliest such book of illustrations was A Neawe Treatys as concernynge the excellency of the Needleworecke Spanishe stitche and Weavynge in the Frame, appeared circa 1530 published by P. Quentel (Gostelow, 29). The publication of herbals and floral books such as The New Herball published by William Turner in 1568 along with images of various animals from around the world helped inspire an interest in realistic depictions in decorative work, including embroidery (Gostelow, 31).

In addition to counted embroidery work, a design form common in

Elizabethan embroidery is a less structured style of embroidery, often seen in garments. Coifs, or example frequently had a scrolling stem forming small compartments filled with a multitude of flowers and embellished with insects, butterflies and tiny animals, with no particular regard as to scale (Warner, 66). One of the dominate design forms of the time for noncounted work was a scrolling stem forming small compartments filled with a multitude of flowers and embellished with insects, butterflies and tiny animals, with no particular regard as to scale (Warner, 66). The love of emblems, allegory and narrative was strong in the 16th century, and was not limited to embroidery, but in portraits and paintings as well (Warner, 66-67) (Gostelow, 24). There are examples of embroidery where an array of motifs were used in the design. One is described as “There is a very sophisticated blackwork panel in an upper gallery of Parham Park in Sussex. This embroidery, 18cm x 126 cm, consists of individual blackwork motifs embroidered and then applied to a ground of white silk, the whole garlanded in a border of folded ribbon. These applied design include, sheep, a lady with baskets of fruit and bread for sale, snails, a deer leaping from behind a tree, a cherry tree, roses, pears, camations, caterpillars, and lions. ” (Gostelow, 25).

Historical Construction

What few samplers have survived have been stitched on linen with silk thread. Embellishments such as pearls and beads are found on the

Bostocke sampler. The Privy Purse expenses of Elizabeth of York state that in 1502, “en eln [45 inches] of lynnen cloth for a sampler for the Quene was obtained” (Staniland, 62). All samplers I have found references to have been worked on linen.

There is evidence that 16th century linen was much finer than that available today. As stated by Mistress Isobel Gildingwater of Ditchingham (L. Mellin) (personal communication and livejournal post – http://attacklaurel.livejournal.com/91719. html#cutidl ):

“Embroiderers prefer the evenweave linens, in part because of the slub free texture, but also because the threads are far enough apart that the fill stitches show nicely. This is not the case with the period ones – I have done thread counts on a number of pieces, and they are frequently 75-100 threads per inch (or, incredibly, more. I found one that was (sorry, I fail) EDIT: 150 120 t.p.i.). The linen they use is very fine – in at least one case, almost transparent – which supports the really delicate nature of some of their fill stitches and speckling. The period “blackwork” (i.e., monochrome silk embroidery) is often embellished with gold stitching, but even with heavier polychrome sticthing, the thread count of period linen remains remarkably high. It’s easier to do delicate curls and free-hand style embellishments with a finer linen – the thread doesn’t slip through the weave, and the tighter threads support the needlework better. ”

In part, the finer period linen allows for the fine free embroidery of the polychrome flowers and animals used in a great deal of general Elizabethan embroidery. An area of investigation would be to determine if the thread count of extant samplers differs significantly from that of other extant pieces. Additionally, what was the effective count of the fabric – i.e. the designs were stitched over how many threads.

The silk used had to be imported to England from the eastern

Mediterranean through the Netherlands, making this an exotic import item.

The rising middle class along with the existing nobility had the financial resources to afford this expensive item and used it extensively in the surviving embroidered items (Gostelow, 24-25). Cheaper, undyed silk was also available, and could be home-dyed. The dye used to create the black thread came from oak galls or sumac and iron salts. These colors were both somewhat fugitive and corrosive, leaving some surviving pieces more brown than black and sometimes in poor condition (Gostelow, 25) (Warner, 66). Various colors (black, red, blue and green) were used in the Bostocke sampler. Black predominated both in this sampler and other counted work, leading to the term ‘blackwork’ to refer to this type of embroidery.

According to Schuette (pg. Vlll), only filament or reeled silk was used. Filament silk is of a high quality, but I would think that spun silk was also available, although of lesser quality. Spun silk is made from the cocoons of silk worms which have hatched, rupturing the continuity of the silk fiber. The final product does not have the shine or tensile strength of that which was reeled off in a continuous filament. Spinning also introduces the potential for a slubby appearance. The availability of various types of silk thread is an interesting area for research, but beyond the scope of this paper.

Metallic thread was also used in this period’s embroidery. Apparel was frequently embellished with metallic thread, both silver and silver-gilt (Gostelow, 25) (Wardle, 13). The silver gilt thread – the gold seen in surviving examples, is described as being made of silver wire which is hammered very thin and flat and coated with a film of gold. This is cut into fine strips and wound around a yellow silk core (Saunders, 83). Spangles, (round flat pieces of gold with a hole in the center for affixing to the fabric) were popular for enhancing embroidery.

Needles were either made from drawn wire or steel (Digby, 10; Warner, 66). Originally imported from Germany and Spain, by the end of Elizabeth’s reign these were domestically manufactured. A company producing drawn-wire needles existed during the reign of Henry Vlll.

I have not found any pictures of embroiderers using anything other than a rigid frame to work the embroidery. The tension provided by working with what is currently referred to as a slate frame makes any potential difficulty in maneuvering the frame worthwhile. There are effectively saw horses used to support these frames as seen in Staniland, Medieval Craftsmen Embroiderers (frontpiece, pgs. 7, 32).

My Construction

My sampler is stitched on 40-count Ricano linen. The color is off-white as the needlework shop was out of white, and the order time would have left me with too little time for stitching. A variety of commercially available silk flosses were used, including Eterna, Splendor, and Au Ver au Soie. I had a small amount of Au Ver au Soie Platte – a flat silk, and used it in the turtle motif. I wanted to use some of a red flat silk that I had ordered from China on Ebay, but discovered that it was not color fast and I wasn’t sure I would be able to remove all of the fugitive dye. I used a red Eterna silk instead. Most of these flosses are composed of spun silk and I used them due to their availability and cost. My intention was to create a reference of the appearance of each type of silk by using different types of different motifs.

The Eterna and Splendor silk is a spun silk and slightly twisted, which has a similar appearance to that used in existing examples. The gold I have used is Japanese imitation gold thread and available from the Japanese Embroidery Center, (http://www.japaneseembroidery.com/) and is constructed similarly to that in period. This is imitation only, not actual gold foil wrapped around a silk core, but a gold colored metal. I used a few gold spangles for the peas in the pea pods for a bit of show, similar to the pearls used on the Bostocke sampler.

Images of period embroidery show that work was done stretched on frames (example shown in Fig. 4, Staniland, frontpiece, pgs. 7, 32 ). This process of placing the fabric under substantial tension enhances the embroiderer’s ability to make consistent stitches, creating a more pleasing and symmetric final product. This type of frame is currently referred to as a slate frame. Although I do prefer to use a slate-type frame, I was reduced to using a scroll frame for this project, lacing the sides of the fabric to the frame to maintain tension. I used it as the planned project was large, and I needed a portable format to be able to transport the work and work when I had time. A scroll frame is less suitable as it is difficult to keep the tension constant (slipping in the rollers) and hard to get the fabric aligned on the straight of grain.

In the past I have more commonly used picture frame parts to create an equivalent slate frame, and stitched all sides to the frame for tensioning. The use of picture frame parts for framing is inexpensive, and the mitered corners keep the work square.

Design Elements

As non-professional embroiderers did during the Elizabethan period, I used designs found in several period model books. I am particularly fortunate to own a copy of the New Carolingian Modelbook (now out of print), which has many of these reproduced in a clear and easy to read format. To bring my experience closer to that of period stitcher, I also used a copy of an extant modelbook La vere perfettione del disegno; Giovanni Ostaus, 1567 (Morven and Goodwyn, 165) to experience working from the period source directly. I designed an original turtle border repeat myself. A chart is included in the Images section identifying where each element was derived. (Note: this may be incomplete as this is at this moment a work in progress).

Pattern books began appearing about 1523 (Staniland, 64). This discussion describes numerous pattern books being produced, some in series. I am making the assumption that this large number of publications indicates that there was a demand for these books. I also suppose it was possible that a household could have a collection of such books. Thus I am using motifs from a variety of sources.

Specific sources of my design elements

Alphabet from pg. 25 Flowers of the Needle – Zoppino, Niccolo, called Aristotile, Esemplario di Lavori … 1530 (text section to also include: Janina Krakowska, AS 43 (or whenever I finish) and “Non curamus quem regem sit etiam conbibabimur”

Plaited Braid Stitch

New Carolingian

Modlebook, Plate 11

New Carolingian Turtle border repeat Peas and Interlaces
Modlebook, Plate 58 designed by me,            New Carolingian border – created by
Strawberries and inspired by snail below Modiebook, Plate 37 – Kim Salazar Brody,
Violets Meandering and woodcut on pg. 52 Rabbit. Siebmacher, inspired b English
Border Repeat. of Flowers of the Johann. Schon Neues strapwork patters, circa 1560-1590.
Charted by Kim Brody Needle – Tagliente, Modelbuch. Nurnburg:
Salazar from photo of Giovanni Balthaser Caimox, I used this motif as I
Jane Bostocke Antonio,Esemplario 1597. needed pea design,
sampler, England, nuova … 1531 a and did not have time
1598. to design my own.
New Carolingian New Carolingian
Modlebook, Plate 55 Modiebook, Plate 37 –
Snail border Owl. Siebmacher, Johann. Schon Neues Modelbuch. Nurnburg: Balthaser Caimox, 1597.
pg. 165 Flowers of the New Carolingian
Needle, La vere Modlebook, Plate
perfettione del Pelican Siebmacher,
disegno; Giovanni Johann. Schon Neues
Ostaus, 1567 Modelbuch. Nurnburg: Balthaser Caimox,

1597.

New Carolingian Modlebook, Plate 68 Boxed New Carolingian Modlebook, Plate 63 Ribbon,

Rose All-Over Repeat. Charted by Kim Brody Flower, and Twig Meandering Border Salazar from illustration of Jane Bostocke Charted by Kim Brody Salazar from illustration sampler. of original artifact. Spanish blackwork sampler of counted thread pattems done in very late 16th century / early 17th century.

What stitches are used and how is this stitched?

Historically

The Bostocke sampler, according to George Digby in ‘Elizabethan Embroidery’, “includes a great variety of stitches: satin, chain, ladder, buttonhole and detached buttonhole, coral, two-sided Italian cross, couching, speckling and french knots.” Other very common stitches used in blackwork for outlining and in linear designs include the double running or Holbein stitch and the backstitch. The Holbein stitch is reversible (same on the back of the design as the front, while the backstitch is not. The Holbein stitch is so named because of the incredibly detailed portraits Holbein painted. It is possible to copy the blackwork designs from these paintings. The clothing is occasionally turned so that you can see the reverse of the design. The reverse appears to be identical to the front and the stitch needed to produce this effect is then referred to as the Holbein stitch. According to the description of the item in the catalog of the Victoria and Albert Museum, the primary stitches used were the back stitch and the cross stitch. I do not know if the Holbein stitch was used or not, and it cannot be determined from an examination of a life size image of the Bostocke sampler. These stitches are still commonly used. Instructions can be found online at http://www.needlecrafter.com/Stitches/stitches.html

My Sampler’s Stitches

I primarily used back stitch, double running stitch and cross stitch. Other popular stitches of the time included the detached buttonhole stitch, the Ceylon stitch and plaited braid stitch; along with a number of others as detailed in the Bostocke sampler. I have used detached buttonhole (in red and light green) in my strawberries to add a strawberry-like texture, the Ceylon or ladder stitch (in green) for the peapods to provide a structure for the spangles, red for the snail border, green for the turtle border and the plaited braid stitch as a dividing line. These are similar to those used in the Bostocke sampler.

While examining images of extant samplers, I noticed that the majority of the motifs were stitched with either double running or back stitch, with sprinklings of other decorative stitches. I believe that the purpose of these samplers was more to record designs rather than different stitches.

Future Plans and Lessons Learned

This has been a very interesting exercise in embroidery. I wanted to learn blackwork, and I have a new appreciation for the style. I found that double running stitch was more useful for following a complicated counted design, but back stitch allowed me to have better control over my tension. The availability of period design books is amazing, and I found that some designs were repeated in different books. The study of the progression of these modelbooks is a topic unto itself. I created an original design myself in the Elizabethan style (the double row of turtles), inspired by the line of snails included in this sampler. I will be incorporating this into an Elizabethan outfit that I intend to create some day.

As a work in progress, I have a number of elements that need to be completed. I plan to include at the top of the work an interesting dragon border panel from Johann Siebmacher, Schon Neues Modelbuch von allerley lustigen Modeln naczunehen Zuqurcken vn Zusticke. 1597. The text portion will include (in addition to the alphabet itself) :

 

The plaited braid stitch divider, several small animals, some additional reversible blackwork designs and a strap work design were included in my original layout and I will be including them. I have included the rough draft of my design, which has been modified during construction.

I encountered a number of challenges while working on this project. I did not have a solid grasp on how long stitching this work would take, and did not allow enough time. I had to modify my intended design so that I would include enough design elements to illustrate the variety of stitches found in period samplers. I also included designs from several sources, including facsimiles that I had to redact myself. Splendor silk has a particularly noticeable grain, and must be threaded as it comes off the card. Once I resolved this issue, I had no more trouble with it than with any other thread. What I would do differently? This is an introspective section of any documentation. There are the obvious aspects – get linen that is even

closer to that available in Elizabethan times, use filament silk for the entire project, and allow sufficient time to complete my original design. My technical skill has been growing throughout the production phase, and having that level of expertise would be better from the very start. I have some difficulty still with starting and stopping a thread. I have followed the common advice, but it still looks messy and I would not like that appearance in reversible work. I have since learned where I can arrange to see the backs of some period embroidery. When possible, I will be traveling to New York so see these. I have not had access to any images of the back side up to now. I believe that this will be very instructional and I will improve my technique in this area.

I would like to use a slate frame to get closer to the period experience. Commercial slate frames can be expensive. An example in the U.S. (online) and for the size of my work would have cost about $120 and one from the Royal School of Needlework appears to be about $100. The picture frame pieces for a piece this size would cost about $10. We are fortunate that Miguel Estevan de Cabra who merchants as the Spanish Peacock (www.spanishpeacock.com) is now producing slate frames for approximately $50 – $75. In my opinion these are of very high quality and are a very good value.

In an ideal world, I would have an actual artist create my design. If there were free-style elements to my project, I would have the artist draw the design on my fabric. Or, as Mary Queen of Scots petitioned the Lords of the Council from her imprisonment in Lochleven Castle in 1567 – “an imbroderer to drawe fome such worke as she would be occupied about”. I am not an artist, and my drawing skills are seriously lacking.

Bibliography

Bromley, John. The Armorial Bearings of the Guilds of London. London. Frederick Warne & Co., Ltd. 1960.

Elizabethan Embroideries. London, England. Victoria and Albert Museum.

  1. PDF file available at: http://costume.dm.net/lizembroideries.pdf

Ellis, Marianne. Embroideries and samplers from Islamic Egypt. Greenville, South Carolina, USA, Curious Works Press. 2001

Embroidery Patterns from: The Schole-house of the Needle by Richard Shorleyker. Falconwood Press – This is apparently a private publication of at least a portion of this 1620 book of embroidery patterns, with the original frontpiece

Gostelow, Mary. Blackwork. Mineola, NY, Dover Publications, Inc. 1998 (orig. published London, England. B.T. Batsford, Ltd. 1976) ISBN 0-48640178-2

King, Donald and Levey, Santina. The Victoria & Albert Museum’s Textile Collection: Embroidery in Britain from 1200 to 1750. New York, NY. Canopy

Books. 1993.

ISBN 1-55859-652-6

Lemon, Lane. Metal Thread Embroidery: Tools, Materials and Techniques. London, England. B.T. Batsford, 2002. ISBN 0-7134-8758-5

Mistress Elspeth of Morven and Mistress Kathryn Goodwyn. Flowers of the Needle. Boston, MA. Self published, 1985. This is a compilation of seven late 16th century decorative books published in Venice. Several others are referred to but not reproduced.

MeuIenbelt-Nieuwburg. Embroidery Motifs from Dutch samplers. Holland, B.

  1. Batsford Ltd. 1974. Library of Congress Catalog Card Number 73-13367.

Parker, Rozsika. The Subversive Stitch. New York. The Women’s Press Ltd. 1989. ISBN-10: 0704344785 ISBN-13: 978-0704344785

Salazar, Kim B. The New Carolingian Modelbook: Counted Embroidery

Pattems from Before 1600. Albuquerque, New Mexico. The Outlaw Press. 1995. ISBN 0-96429082-2-9

Saunders, Sally, Butcher, Anne, and Barrett, Debra. Royal School of

Needlework: Embroidery Techniques. London, England. B. T. Batsford, Ltd.

  1. ISBN 1-57488-2694

Schuette, Marie and Sigrid Muller-Christensen. The Art of Embroidery. London, England. Thames and Hudson. 1964.

Staniland, Kay. Medieval Craftsmen: Embroiderers. University of Toronto Press, 1991. ISBN 0-8020-6915-0

Synge, Lanto. Art of Embroidery, History of Style and Technique.

Woodbridge, England. The Royal School of Needlework. 2001. ISBN 1 85149 359 x

Vinciolo, Federico. Renaissance Pattems fro Lace, Embroidery and Needlepoint: An unabridged facsimile of the “Singuliers et nouveaux pourtraicts”of 1587. New York, NY. Dover Publications, Inc. 1971. ISBN O486-224384

Wardle, Patricia. Guide to English Embroidery. London, England. Her Majesty’s Stationery Office. 1981. ISBN 0-11-290030-5

Warner, Pamela. Embroidery: A History. London, England. B. T. Batsford, Ltd. 1991. ISBN 0-134-6106-3

 

 

 

Elizabethan Sampler Summary

Note Bene:

This is an extract of the documentation for this sampler. Complete and detailed information with citations is contained in the following sections. For this extract, I have left out most of the citations for the sake of keeping this a manageable length in a display setting, I apologize for the still substantial length.

If you, the gentle reader, have questions about the origin of some of my statements, I believe that they will be resolved in the extended documentation.

What is an Elizabethan Sampler?

A sampler is a compilation in thread of embroidery stitches and designs for the reference of current and future embroiderers. These ‘libraries’ were an efficient means of remembering and forwarding the knowledge of these stitches and designs before the advent of published collections of these items. Samplers have been found in numerous places over the centuries. Early examples include those of Islamic Egyptian origin extending back to the 10th century (Ellis, Marianne. Embroideries and samplers from Islamic Egypt).

 

This challenge is to create a sampler in the style of Elizabethan samplers. The only complete such English sampler known is the Jane Bostocke sampler (Fig. 1), dated 1598, as well as several fragments. There are numerous others mentioned as being bequeathed in wills.

Three of the fragments are in the Carew Pole collection. Two are small scraps of linen. The third has three large patterns in primarily tent stitch and 5 or 6 other smaller

motifs. I have found references to late 16th century German (Fig.2) and just post period (1611) Dutch (Fig. 3) samplers which are visually very similar to the Bostocke sampler.

Physical Process

Elements and Construction

Period samplers are all described as linen based, stitched with silk and gilt thread. Gold spangles (a type of period sequin composed of a flat metal disk with a central hole), beads and pearls could be added. Household accounts include references to linen being purchased for the purpose of creating a sampler by Elizabeth of York in 1502. Silk is the only thread mentioned in the literature and, to my current knowledge, found in artifacts. This was filament silk – continuous fiber – and not spun from the broken filaments of the hatched silk worm. It appears to have been softly twisted before stitching. Various colors (black, red, blue and green) were used in the Bostocke sampler. Black predominated, leading to the term ‘blackwork’ to refer to this type of embroidery. Unfortunately, the black used to dye the fibers is very destructive to the fibers, and in some cases, all that remains is the holes the stitches created. By this time, steel needles, produced in England as well as Germany, were used.

My sampler is stitched on a commercially available needlework linen called Ricamo. It is an even count linen of approximately 40 threads per inch. There is evidence that 16th century linen was much finer than that available today. Mistress Isobel Beddingham has viewed a number of extant examples and says that the count is often 75 to 100 threads per inch. I have used the finest I could find; which also appears to be the limit that I can see to count with aging eyes. In part, the finer period linen allows for the fine free embroidery of the polychrome flowers and animals used in a great deal of general Elizabethan embroidery. An area of investigation would be to determine if the thread count of extant samplers differs significantly from that of other extant pieces. Additionally, what was the effective count of the fabric – i.e. the designs were stitched over how many threads. I used an off-white linen as the pure white linen was out of stock and the reorder period was too long for me to wait.

I used commercially produced steel needles, size 28. A variety of commercially available silk flosses were used, including Eterna, Splendor, and Au Ver au Soie. I had a small amount of Au Ver au Soie Platte – a flat silk, and used it in the turtle motif. I wanted to use some of a red flat silk that I had ordered from China on Ebay, but discovered that it was not color fast and I wasn’t sure I would be able to remove all of the fugitive dye. I used a red Eterna silk instead. Most of these flosses are composed of spun silk and I used them due to their availability and cost. My intention was to create a reference of the appearance of each type of silk by using different types of different motifs. I also included some spangles with the peas.

Images of period embroidery show that work was done stretched on frames (example shown in Fig.4). This process of placing the fabric under substantial tension enhances the embroiderer’s ability to make consistent stitches, creating a more pleasing and symmetric final product. This type of frame is currently referred to as a slate frame.

Although I do prefer to use a slate-type frame, I was reduced to using a scroll frame for this project, lacing the sides of the fabric to the frame to maintain tension. I used it as the planned project was large, and I needed a portable format to be able to transport the work and work when I had time. A scroll frame is less suitable as it is difficult to keep the tension constant (slipping in the rollers) and hard to get the fabric aligned on the straight of grain.

Stylistic Considerations

Stylistically, the surviving examples are of the spot motif variety as can be seen in the attached images of extant samplers (figs. 1 through 4). These are individual, self contained design elements arranged generally side by side. Such an arrangement creates a useful reference ‘document’ or library of styles and counted designs, as these need to be carefully reproduced to duplicate the design. This is in contrast to the picture designs popular today. The origins of some of the designs can be traced back to Spain and the Mediterranean, especially the Islamic influence. Some of the strapwork designs are called ‘arabesque’ designs. During the Elizabethan era, books of elements of nature such as herbals and collections of animals were popular and sources of inspiration for design. Some of these arabesque designs were included in these books (Ellis, pg. 8). Also during this era, printed books of patterns (‘modelbuchs’), were becoming popular, primarily printed in Germany, home of the Gutenberg press. These ‘modelbooks’ included designs suitable for both counted work and free embroidery. Some surviving copies of these design books have pin pricks through the design, indicating that these designs were directly copied to create a design [Warner, 66]. In the several extant samplers I have seen images of, an alphabet was included, sometimes apparently incomplete. This is because some letters, such as the ‘W’, are easily created from other letters.

My set of motifs were derived from facsimiles of several such books, along with designs redacted by Kim Brody in ‘The New Carolingian Modelbook’. I also created a new design of a double line of turtles, inspired by a similar linear design of snails. I selected turtles as one was included as part of one of the free embroidery designs. I used the alphabet from P. Quentel (circa 1530) ‘A Neawe Treatys as concernynge the excellency of the Needleworecke Spanishe stitche and Weavynge in the Frame Copies of my design sources are included in the figures.

Stitches

The Bostocke sampler, according to George Digby in

‘Elizabethan Embroidery’, “includes a great variety of stitches: satin, chain, ladder, buttonhole and detached buttonhole, coral, two-sided Italian cross, couching, speckling and french knots.” Other very common stitches used in blackwork for outlining and in linear designs include the double running or Holbein stitch and the backstitch. The Holbein stitch is reversible (same on the back of the design as the front, while the backstitch is not. The Holbein stitch is so named because of the incredibly detailed portraits Holbein painted. It is possible to copy the blackwork designs from these paintings. The clothing is occasionally turned so that you can see the reverse of the design. The reverse appears to be identical to the front and the stitch needed to produce this effect is then referred to as the Holbein stitch. According to the description of the item in the catalog of the Victoria and Albert Museum, the primary stitches used were the back stitch and the cross stitch. I do not know if the Holbein stitch was used or not, and cannot be determined from an examination of a life size image of the Bostocke sampler.

I primarily used back stitch, double running stitch and cross stitch. Other popular stitches of the time included the detached buttonhole stitch, the Ceylon stitch and plaited braid stitch; along with a number of others as detailed in the Bostocke sampler. I have used detached buttonhole (in red) in my strawberries to add a strawberry-like texture, the Ceylon or ladder stitch (in green) for the peapods to provide a structure for the spangles, and the plaited braid stitch as a dividing line. I also used a green flat silk for the turtle and red on the snails. These are similar to those

used in the Bostocke sampler.

While examining images of extant samplers, I noticed that the majority of the motifs were stitched with either double running or back stitch, with sprinklings of other decorative stitches. I believe that the purpose of these samplers was more to record designs rather than different stitches.

Future Plans and Lessons Learned

This has been a very interesting exercise in embroidery. I wanted to learn blackwork, and I have a new appreciation for the style. I found that double running stitch was more useful for following a complicated counted design, but back stitch allowed me to have better control over my tension. The availability of period design books is amazing, and I found that some designs were repeated in different books. The study of the progression of these modelbooks is a topic unto itself. I created a design myself in the

Elizabethan style (the double row of turtles), inspired by the line of snails included in this sampler. I will be incorporating this into an Elizabethan outfit that I intend to create some day.

As a work in progress, I have a number of elements that need to be completed. I plan to include at the top of the work an interesting dragon border panel from Johann Siebmacher, Schon Neues Modelbuch von allerley lustigen Modeln naczunehen Zuqurcken vn Zusticke. 1597. The text portion will include (in addition to the alphabet itself)

 

The plaited braid stitch divider, several small animals, some additional reversible blackwork designs and a strap work design were included in my original layout and I will be including them. I have included the rough draft of my design, which has been modified during construction.

I encountered a number of challenges while working on this project. I did not have a solid grasp on how long stitching this work would take, and did not allow enough time. I had to modify my intended design so that I would include enough design elements to illustrate the variety of stitches found in period samplers. I also included designs from several sources, including facsimiles that I had to redact myself. I intend to extend this work, and to include more of my originally planned design selections, including an interesting dragon border panel from Johann

Siebmacher, Schon Neues Modelbuch von allerley lustigen Modeln naczunehen Zuqurcken vn Zusticke. 1597.

 

Splendor silk has a particularly noticeable grain, and must be threaded as it comes off the card. Once I resolved this issue, I had no more trouble with it than with any other thread.

What I would do differently? This is an introspective section of any documentation. There are the obvious aspects – get linen that is even closer to that available in Elizabethan times, use filament silk for the entire project, and allow sufficient time to complete my original design.

My technical skill has been growing throughout the production phase, and having that level of expertise would be better from the very start. I have some difficulty still with starting and stopping a thread. I have followed the common advice, but it still looks messy and I would not like that appearance in reversible work. I have since learned where I can arrange to see the backs of some period embroidery. When possible, I will be traveling to New York so see these. I have not had access to any images of the back side up to now. I believe that this will be very instructional and I will improve my technique in this area.

 

In an ideal world, I would have an actual artist create my design. If there were free-style elements to my project, I would have the artist draw the design on my fabric. Or, as Mary Queen of Scots petitioned the Lords of the Council from her imprisonment in Lochleven Castle in 1567 – “an imbroderer to drawe forthe such worke as she would be occupied about”. I am not an artist, and my drawing skills are seriously lacking.

 

[1] Staniland, Kay. Medieval Craftsmen: Embroiderers. Page 64.