A historical study of British Embroidery, Strapwork pattern and Structure
I have begun this study with a Wikipedia definition of Strapwork
“....a type of ornamentation imitating pierced and interlaced straps or bands, usually forming a geometric pattern.”
I’d never heard of this design format before so have had to refer to this definition regularly to make sure I knew what it was, but having looked at a lot of variations of geometric patterns lately, it’s sometimes difficult to see if the design actually has it’s roots in strapwork.
I’m basing a lot my research on my visits to English and French gardens and country houses/chateaux as this has given me such a great source of first hand research.
Although this is ultimately a study of English embroidery in which I have selected the Renaissance period, there was a lot of cross over of design influence at that time due to much European and English political marriages of the aristocracy and also a general rise of interest in foreign design in England.
The Renaissance was a time of conspicuous sumptuous decoration amongst the aristocracy and the newly developing merchant classes.
There was also influence from exotic Eastern locations as a result of far reaching trade routes, which were navigated by Elizabethan adventurers who brought back beautiful Turkish carpets with their intricate geometric patterns, which replaced the unhealthy and unfashionable rushes.
Elizabethan Woodcarvers “...revelled in grotesque figure work , in intricate interlacings of strapwork, borrowed from the Flemish, and ribbon ornamentation, adapted from the French.” The Project Gutenberg EBook of Chats on Old Furniture, by Arthur Hayden
Both the French and the English were also heavily inspired by the Italians at this time in all manor of ways, from Architecture, to garden design, which filtered through to interior design, encompassing textiles, fashion and even poetry.
Having studied the textiles in some of the Loire’s most famous chateaux I have been interested to see just how many similarities in design there are to the English textiles of the same period.
Harwich Hall in Derbyshire is a wonderful example of the change in fashion and is particularly interesting as it combines a marriage of aristocracy, with Lord Salisbury and the new merchant class with Bess of Hardwick, whose father was a farmer. There are so many examples here of household furnishings that exemplify Elizabethan tastes, particularly strapwork designs that were so popular at the time.
For the first part of this study I have composed 2 composites, the first is a collection of English inspirational images, and the second is french.
My first real study of a textile has been from a piece at Chenonceau Royal chateau. I was captivated by it as soon as I saw it, not only by it’s faded colours but the design and the effect of years of deterioration. I found it in the Louise de Loraine, wife of Henry 111’s bedroom.
This was a very atmospheric room, with low lighting giving a strong feeling of gloom even before I knew its significance, which was where the queen learnt of her husband’s murder. She became a recluse in this room, having it decorated with funereal symbols, silver tears, widows’ cordons, crowns of thorns and and the Greek letter lamda (an upside down v) initial of Louise intertwined with the letter eta (H) of Henry 111, and very dark colours.
The embroidery piece was draped around the fireplace, probably not it’s original position and most likely dates to the 19th century when the castle was restored to its original decoration of the early 17th century.
As this piece was so large I just concentrated on the central panel, especially as the room was so dark, this brochure photo has been taken with the curtains open. I was dodging very large tour groups too, so had to pick my time when I could get up close and really examine the cloth, but I was determined not to miss this wonderful opportunity. Added to the difficulties was that there was a no flash rule inside the chateau, so all my research photos were taken at almost impossible hand held shutter speeds.
This is the first shot of the area that I wanted to use.
In this second photo I was looking for the detail in the raised lozenge shape and also trying to work out the construction of the applied shapes.
￼As you can see from the on site sketch it’s a little manic, due to the conditions I was working under. However I did mange to work out that the upside down V shape consisted of three layers applied to the velvet background. These were in order of bottom to top, silk linen and lace.
In picture 6 I could see very small remnants of something black and shiny in a block shape, and have subsequently cross referenced this with a photo of gold lace in Santa M. Levy’s book, Elizabethan Treasures The Hardwick Hall Textiles, and I think that the top layer of lace may have been silver or gold.
￼ I was also keen to see how one of the lozenge shapes had been been decorated with 2 rows of couched thread in a brick style pattern.
The last photo is of the whole piece which I took to put the centre into context.
The second phase of this investigation was to make more detailed sketches of the textile while I still had it fresh in my mind. For this section I used Sian’s September drawing project as my guide and tried to become familiar with the shapes I was studying and also make careful notes on the finer details.
My investigation here was to record the remaining structure of the piece starting with what was left of the top layer of the applied motif. I then made a careful study of the raised lozenge shape and finally looked at the fleur de lis as the remaining lace looked quite different in structure to that of the Initial letters. I included a soft Anchor thread, medium weight that I thought would be a possible suitable modern alternative, for working the lozenge.
Next I looked at the overall shape of the design and tried to get a feel for the different elements.
As Sian had suggested that the next step could be to try a looser approach I got out my watercolors and worked the shapes just in paint. I paid particular attention to where the darks occurred and to the feeling of sweeping curved lines.
I decided that the painting needed more form so I completed the other side of the line drawing and copied it onto the background, and added more colour and texture.
I felt that this was approaching something of my first impressions and response to the textile.
Part 2 will be English embroidery