Sunday, April 24, 2005

Rurik's Ducal Scroll, or the 1390 Quilt

The finished quilt, sans signatures of Their Majesties.

When I first saw the original in the book Medieval Craftsman series Embroiders, I knew I wanted to make this for a scroll. This is one panel from a huge quilt, which is part of a set made for the Guicciardini family in 1390/1395/1398 (depending on the reference) in Sicily. It was a wholecloth linen quilt embroidered with linen floss with pictoral scenes from the Tristram and Isolde series from the King Arthur tales. The other is in the Bargello Museum in Florence, and is not in as good of shape. There is a third that is very similar from the same time period (same technique and theme, but pictorially different) that is held by a private collector in Spain. The figures and letters are stuffed - the plain areas are heavily quilted without batting.

I contacted THL Maria P. and she sold me linen and floss and linen thread. I chose off white fabric, mainly because I knew I would dirty it over the several months I would work on it, and that’s nicer than pure white to get clean. The picture in Embroiderers was black and white, and the original looked white. The descriptions I found in my research suggested “brown” and “light brown” as floss colors with the darker brown for “more important elements”, but I could not find a color picture until I was almost done. So I went with two colors that Maria had a lot of, so I could buy them in one lot. Weight of linen was chosen on what felt like it would be an easy weight to work, and not with consideration to proper threads per inch of what is there- again because I could not get a good close up detailed photo of the piece. Descriptions of quilting at that time and of that piece and particular tended to favor the wording “cotton wool” for the stuffing, so I took that to mean wool was the material used, unspun but carded. Dame Aoife Finn was kind enough to provide me with the wool I did use, though others did offer wool as well. I will confess to allowing myself one cheat in the piece in that I used pre-made wool batting for the figures, as it made it much easier to have uniform stuffing, and I may start using wool batting more often for my mundane quilts! It is simply a joy to use.

Here's the supplies gathered.

To create the pattern, I took the inset picture of just this scene from the Embroiders book, as it was the largest version of the picture I had in the 4 books or so I found pictures of it.

I took it and expanded it to about 36 by 29 incheswhich is close to the original size of that fragment of the original. I traced this with tracing paper (Colin helped) and altered the original at this stage. The original translates from the Sicilian from "How Tristram smote Arnold." It now says, "How Rurik won a crown for his Angelik" - the other alterations I made to the original pattern include the simplified heraldry on the shields- as Rurik's device includes three dogs, and the opponent he defeated had bunnies on his shield. I added a small dangling frog to the lower right to sign the piece. Then I conned my local needlework shop to let me tape the pattern to their front window and then tape the fabric over that, so that I could draw the pattern onto the fabric with a chalk pencil. It took me about 2 hours to finish just that part. I did not feel like like stretching out a frame and using a candle underneath for a period light box, and my own modern light box is much too small to do the piece easily.

I read here of someone’s visit to the Bargello museum and their visit to one of the sister quilts, and they were permitted to view the back. There was no cutting and repair of the stuffed bits on the back or the front, as is commonly done in Trapunto. I thought over my options of how one could stuff such a piece, and I opted for what I felt was the easiest. I chose to do the embroidery first, and as I embroidered an area, I stuffed it, then sealing in the area of stuffing by finishing the embroidery of that part.

One must work from the center out, so the first bits done were letters in “HIS”. Because the original didn’t have a messy back or obvious knots, I realized I would have to do loop starts and weave in the ends. Normally, I just go ahead and leave the back messy on embroidery. In this case, I’d have to do it the neat way. So everything has been done with loop starts and attempts to hide the loose ends. Particularly if it was to be used as a quilt, and not just as a wall hanging, it would look better with a neat back.

Here it is with just the embroidery.

I could not find a detailed enough picture to determine quilting patterns, just a descriptive of closely quilted in rows. So I did that, and chose direction based on ease at the time of working. The one book that was rumored to have a close up pic, Valerie Harding’s Faces and Figures in Embroidery, upon examination, I determined that this close up pic was of someone else’s copy of the piece, as there were details that did not match the original. Quilting direction can be very difficult to determine from a photograph, particularly any variation of stippling, because if the stitches are out of sync or in sync, one will have a different pattern of raised bumps appear on the fabric, even if the rows of stitching are along the same line. No picture I found showed more detail than just some of the bumps.

The embroidered words of the scroll appear at the base, below the frame. They are not a part of the original at all. But I did work them in backstitch to keep the style harmonious.

The edges were finished by tucking raw edges in and sewing it shut with a whip stitch. There is no evidence of which I am aware of any other form of binding for quilts at this time, and again, I could not find detailed pictures of an edge, nor did I ever see a picture of the back. The other alteration from the original when it is completed included a sleeve for hanging.

The real artist caught at work.

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