Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Another Jewelled Headband

Recently, I completed another jewelled billiment/headband for use with my Italian SCA clothes.
This was made in a similar way to the last one, except that I used grosgrain ribbon on the back rather than velvet ribbon. It will be interesting to see whether it holds onto the hair better. Also, I added tiny delica glass seed beads around the outside edges. These may catch in the hair, making placement and removal difficult. The 'jewels' are made from elements of a bracelet and some jewellery making findings that I got from Spotlight ornamented with glass seed beads.

Sewing the wig clip to the grosgrain ribbon before sewing the ribbon to the velvet

The finished band:

Portrait of Isotta Grumelli by Moroni
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File:Follower of Francesco Salviati del Rossi Portrait of a Lady.jpg
Portrait of a Lady by A Follower of Francesco Salviati del Rossi
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Thursday, June 19, 2014

Jewelled Headband and Italian Hair style

I made this headband in April to go with my Italian gowns. It is meant to be worn with Italian style-hair; i.e. the rolled front swept back into a bun or hair taped or hidden in a caul. The band sits subtly behind and slightly under the rolled part of the hair.

This band was a bit of an experiment, based on Italian sixteenth century female portraits. Unfortunately, I can''t find any extant examples (they were probably broken up and elements re-used when fashions changed.) I used velveteen ribbon as the base and chose brown so that it would blend with my hair. The jewels are taken from a costume jewellery necklace I got in a sale, and the circular decorative elements came from the beading section of Spotlight but were purchased some years ago. I actually bought them to go on a Tudor under kirtle, but had to shelve that project.

The jewelled necklace was broken up. I clipped the hooks off and filed the edges flat and smooth with a tiny file.

I sewed the elements on to the ribbon after I had determined what the best length would be. I doubled the ribbon over to cover up my stitches and knots. I whip-stitched the edges together, tucking the raw end edges inside so they didn't fray.

My totally un-period but eminently practical method of securing the band? Wig clips. I love these babies. They make bobby pins (and the constant checking and adjusting that goes with them) redundant. I sewed four wig clips onto the underside of this band and it holds the band in place perfectly.

To do the style, I part my hair from ear to ear straight across my head (not down the middle as usual.) I pull the back section back into a bun or braids with hair tape. Then I move to the front section and part down the middle. Different types of hair and levels of cleanliness will affect how well the style sits and whether it needs teasing to improve the look. Bear in mind that the Italians usually didn't go to the extremes of Elizabethan hair do-s (of course, I am not including fabulous Venetian hair horns in that statement!) Reviewing Italian portraiture shows quite thin twists or rolls at the front, ranging to fatter, rounder ones in the second half of the sixteenth century. I prefer my hair curled or slightly teased for this style. It holds together better and is easier to do. Curling mouse etc. applied to the hair when damp and then styled and left overnight also makes the style easier to do on my hair, but it is a personal thing and you will have to experiment to find what works for you. I would recommend that you experiment well prior to a big event too. Something always seems to go wrong for me at the last minute, and preparation and experience can help you be ready with disaster minimisation strategies!

The next step is pinning the band evenly on your hair, near the line where you parted from ear to ear. Again, you will have to experiment as to just where suits you best and where is most comfortable. Make sure the band is sitting evenly on your head with the same amount of ribbon on either side. You may also find that your hair is thicker on one side than the other. Practising the style can help you to overcome this by teasing one side up more or using smaller curls etc.

Take the front piece of hair on one side and start rolling, gradually adding more hair in as you go along. You should end up with a little roll or sausage of hair that you can pin back into your bun or braids and which sits over the ends of the jewelled band. Do the same with the other side, trying to keep the placement of the rolls even. You can then add jewelled hair pins, bows, or even fresh flowers that were popular in the Renaissance (like pinks.)

This Portrait of a Lady by A Follower of Francesco Salviati del Rossi was an inspiration for the hairstyle-
 File:Follower of Francesco Salviati del Rossi Portrait of a Lady.jpg
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I am going to make several more of these bands. They add a bit of sparkle and I enjoy the gratification of these quick and easy projects. Bring on the bling!

Portrait of the Artist's Sisters Playing Chess by Sonofisba Anguissola 
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Wednesday, June 18, 2014

New Leafy Collar Piece

I am starting to feel much better after a bout of the 'flu, and have spent my leisure time this week adjusting patterns for the IRCC4.

I also managed to complete a quick shirt collar piece for a friend. The base fabric is linen and the blue thread is Anchor cotton floss. The design is adapted from Modelbuch Aller Art and is worked in split stitch and double running stitch with a double thread.

  I knotted the back of my threads off very securely because I think the shirt this goes on will be under a lot of wear and tear.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Split stitch Collar Panel - Pelicans

I wanted to make a gift for a friend who was elevated to the Order of the Pelican. Originally, I planned a matching set of embroidered collar and cuffs for a linen shirt. I finished the collar,but the project stalled before I got the cuffs underway. The recipient recently mentioned to me that he preferred no cuffs on his shirts to reduce bulk under his doublet. This revelation meant that I had the project already finished and I hadn't known it!

‘Blackwork’ was a popular style of embroidery in the later part of the SCA period, although the term ‘blackwork’ is misleading  as it implies that the embroidery was only done in black thread. Classic black on crisp white is certainly striking and was very popular in the sixteenth century, but extant monochrome embroideries  in red, green(Carew-Pole nightcap), blue (1610 waistcoat, V&A: 179-1900), purple and pink (1630s woman’s smock at still exist. Linear monochrome embroidery (often worked in double running stitch) was popular throughout Europe during the sixteenth century. In fact, this type of stitchery is so common in Holbein portraits from that time that the double-running stitch is often called ‘Holbein stitch’. 

Monochrome embroidery (‘blackwork’) is also found in earlier periods in Middle Eastern textiles, and the geometric shapes found in Tudor blackwork echo similar designs and shapes found in Middle Eastern embroideries. This fact may have contributed to the story that Katharine of Aragon brought monochrome embroidery (‘blackwork’) to England when she arrived to marry Prince Arthur Tudor in around 1501. It is believed that the occupation of Spanish territories by ‘the Moors’ influenced design and embroidery, and that ‘blackwork’ or ‘Spanyshe worke’ was introduced to England by Princess Katharine. Although references to this story are discussed in ‘Blackwork Embroidery’ by Geddes and McNeill, I have not found any firm documentary evidence that this story is true. Geddes and McNeill also quote a line from Chaucer  “..embroidery repeated It’s pattern in the collar front and back, Inside and out…” (p. 25) which does sound like blackwork, but could also be many other types of embroidery and so therefore does not clear up the issue. Examination of English portraiture from the reign of Henry VII and Henry VIII show a marked increase in blackwork embroidery on clothing during Henry VIII’s reign but we cannot know if this is due to the introduction of a new stitch technique, copying of a fashionable Royal or just a new fashion craze. After Henry’s reign, the Elizabethans took blackwork to a whole new level, with the development of polychrome counted and non-counted blackwork and the introduction of spangles, metal threads  and raised elements.

The appeal of blackwork was not restricted to England. Examples of blackwork and similar techniques can be seen in sixteenth century male and female portraits from around Europe.

File:Ladyhare.jpg This early sixteenth century portrait of A Lady with Hare by Borgona shows blackwork on the chemise sleeves and neck edging. This was painted circa 1505 in Toledo. Image from:

The book Moda a Firenze has some wonderful close-up details of blackworked body linens of Italian nobility.

Blackwork can be done in non-counted form, or in counted form. In counted blackwork, the design is marked out on the background fabric (traditionally linen) by counting threads and working the design over a set number of threads, often filling the interior of the design in with a pattern or repeat. Non-counted blackwork is more free-flowing and involves stitching over a pre-drawn design. I prefer non-counted blackwork because I dislike counted work. Double running-stitch is the most common stitch used for blackwork because it provides an even line that (if done well) is neat and clean on both the front and the back. A good example of this is shown in the chemise cuffs of Jane Seymour (next page) as painted by Hans Holbein. Although this particular example is of counted blackwork, the principle is exactly the same for non-counted blackwork, and makes the technique ideal for items of clothing where both sides might show. For example, cuffs, ruff edges, collars etc. Queen Elizabeth’s Wardrobe Unlock’d contains ‘The Stowe Inventory’ – a list of clothes , silks and personal jewels remaining in the Royal residences- which gives a fascinating and detailed inventory of the types of fabrics and clothing items that were embroidered, and includes details of colours, jewels, aiglettes and spangles.

File:Hans Holbein the Younger - Jane Seymour, Queen of England - Google Art Project.jpg
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I generally prefer not to do a straight copy of an extant embroidery or period design, and this time I decided to combine some designs found in the design book Modelbuch aller art c. 1527. The designs (birds and scrolling floral motifs) that I combined are from plates 2, 3, 7 and 63.

 These birds represent ‘Pelicans in their Piety’. This is a religious motif that was very common in the Middle Ages and Renaissance and shows the pelican piercing it’s own breast to feed it’s young with it’s blood (a symbol of the Passion of Christ and the Eucharist [Wikipedia]). In the SCA it has no religious connotations but signifies the sacrifice and dedication to extraordinary service demonstrated by those elevated to the Order of the Pelican, and is a symbol of the Order (and thus a very fitting motif for a gift for a new Pelican!).

A sketch of my combined, simplified design: 

These types of design are very common in the existing sixteenth century modelbuchs. Close inspection of many of the books show that designs were probably lifted from one book and reprinted in another, often with little or no adjustment. This would suggest that many of these designs were widespread in use in the decorative arts across Europe.

Once my design was ready, I chose my fabric. I used a cotton/linen blend due to budgetary concerns and availability of pure linen. Similarly, I used DMC cotton floss rather than silk. Pure linen base fabric and silk embroidery thread would have been used in period, based on wardrobe accounts and many extant examples. Although cotton-linen blends were known and used in period (e.g. as a cotton-linen blend called ‘fustian’) it was heavy, not as commonly available or as cheap as it is today and was not used for body linens (Tudor Tailor p. 37, Tudor Child p. 61). 

Extant linen examples held by the V&A Museum such as the one below
(Queen Elizabeth’s Wardrobe Unlock’d, p. 273) show that embroidery designs were commonly drawn onto the base fabric in ink. I am not confident enough for that so traced my design out in dissolvable pen ink over a light source. I used a hoop frame and used two strands of floss. The design is worked in double running stitch with the addition of decorative knots and maroon detached buttonhole stitch for the blood drops. Stem stitch or backstitch could have been used, but I like the neatness of double running stitch and like knowing that it was used for this type of embroidery in period as evidenced by Holbein’s portraits. I knot my work on body linens because I tend to throw them in the washing machine, so I work on the expectation that it is likely that others will too.

Once the embroidery was complete, I washed it in lukewarm water and wool wash, rinsed it, dried it and gently ironed it. I have given it to the recipient to be made into a collar piece for his next shirt.
Here are some images of the front and back of the panel:




Arnold, Janet, 1985. Patterns of Fashion, Pan MacMillan Ltd, London, UK.
Arnold, Janet, 1988. Queen Elizabeth’s Wardrobe Unlock’d, Maney and Sons, Leeds, UK.
Arnold, Janet, 2008. Patterns of Fashion 4, Pan MacMillan Ltd, London, UK.
Bassee, Nicolas, 1994. German Renaissance Patterns for Embroidery- A Facsimile Copy of Nicolas Bassee’s New Modelbuch of 1568, Curious Works Press, Texas, USA.
Beck, Thomasina , 1995. The Embroiderer's Story: Needlework from the Renaissance to the Present Day, David and Charles, Italy.
Catesby, Prudence; 2002. Wrought with flowers of black silk, Complete Anachronist #115, Spring 2002, SCA Inc, California, USA.
Geddes, Elisabeth and McNeill, Moyra, 1976. Blackwork Embroidery, Dover Publications Inc, Newy York, USA.
Hayward, Maria, 2007. Dress at the Court of King Henry VIII, Maney Publishing, Leeds, UK.
Huggett, Jane and Mikhaila, Ninya, 2013. The Tudor Child, Fat Goose Press, UK>
Mikhaila, Ninya and Malcolm-Davies, Jane, 2006.  The Tudor Tailor,  B.T. Batsford, London, UK.
North, Susan and Tiramani, Jenny, 2011. Seventeenth Century Women’s Dress Patterns, V&A Publishing,, London, UK.
Nourry, Claude and Saincte Louie, Pierre, 1999. Patterns Embroidery:  Early 16th Century, Lacis Publications, California, USA.
Orsi Landini, Roberta and Niccoli, Bruna,2005. Moda a Firenze, Pagliai Polistampa, Florence, Italy.
Schartzenberger, Johan, 1534/2003. Patterns Book of Embroidery: 1534, Lacis Publications, California, USA.
Wardle, Patricia; 1970. Guide to English Embroidery, V&A Museum, Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, London, UK.
Modelbuch aller art (an 1880 reproduction of a 1527 Modelbuch found on the web, link broken)

Web References

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

IRCC4 and stash is all ready to go...

I am still not up and about yet, but my bag of fabric and notions for the IRCC 4 is waiting for me, all ready to go.

The only problem is that I keep wanting to change my mind about which dress to make!

More information on the sewing challenge can be found at

Sunday, June 1, 2014

New necklace

Today is the first day of The Fourth Annual Italian Renaissance Costuming Challenge
( I am very enthusiastic about the challenge, but I have had a really nasty virus for the last couple of days which is making me extremely tired and miserable. Just so I could have the satisfaction of imagining that I started the challenge in the way in which I want to continue, I spent twenty minutes or so beading a new necklace in my heraldic colours. The purple beads are glass, and the pearl beads are baroque freshwater pearls. The beads are strung on tiger-tail beading wire, which I like for its strength and durability. All from stash, too.

Pearls go with any sixteenth century ensemble, so will be useful for the styles that I usually wear; mainly English and Italian.

Now, back to bed for me!