Saturday, 10 March 2012

Module 4 chapter 1a

The historical part of this module is all about the use of flowers in Elizabethan embroidery, so to start with I have taken a broad overview.


The fashion for highly decorated embroidered clothing and household textiles was at an all time high in the Elizabethan era.

It was used as an indication of class and only those in the highest echelons of power were allowed to express their wealth and power through their elaborate dress. Only the Queen and her relations could wear clothes that used gold or gold fabric, as dictated by the Sumptuary Law.

Sumptuous embroidery was now being used by the upper classes as a status symbol, which was a very different use to previous times when it had been exclusively used for the church vestments.

At the same time there was a rise in printing after the invention of the printing press in 1476 which allowed the upsurge of interest in all things artistic and educational, to be readily accessible to the wealthy middle classes.

Flowers were a very popular subject for Elizabethan embroidery. There were 14 known herbal or gardening books published in the 16th century.

The following flowers were known to be used in their embroidery designs.

Roses – including the rosa alba (white rose) and damask rose
Carnations (also known as gillyflowers)


Red peony
Pansy (also known as love-in-idleness and cupid’s flower)
Daffodils (also known as narcissus)


Wild hyacinth (also known as bluebell)
Honeysuckle (also known as woodbine)
Cornflowers (also known as blewbotles)

Other design sources included emblem books and bestiaries, as well as charted design books.

The flower designs were often worked as slips which were then applied to a background fabric, sometimes linen and often the more sumptuous velvet.

Flower designs were also interpreted in the popular blackwork technique. This is usually thought to have been popularized by
Catherine of Aragon, having introduced it to England from her Spanish origins.

There are also lots of surviving examples of work containing, tent stitch, double running stitch, couching and detached buttonhole stitch.


In the above composite, I've concentrated on Blackwork plus black and white design sources.

1. This is a pillowcase design from the V&A collection, the original is in storage.
Museum number:T.82-1924


2. A piece of a painted cloth, possibly used for a wall decoration. This is displayed at The Weald and Downland Open Air Museum at Singleton in Sussex

3. Smock in the V&A collection


Place of origin:
England: Great Britain (embroidered)

1575-1585 (made)

Unknown (production)

Materials and Techniques:
Embroidered linen with silk

Museum number:
T.113 to 118-1997

Gallery location:
British Galleries, room 58d, case 1

4. A Coif in the Platt costume gallery, Manchester Art Gallery


5 A Coif in the V&A collection

Place of origin, Great Britain, United Kingdom (made)

1570-1599 (made)

Unknown (production)

Materials and Techniques:
Linen, silk thread, linen thread; hand-sewn and hand-embroidered with hand-made bobbin lace

Credit Line:
Given by Mrs M E Grubbe

Museum number:

Gallery location:
Textile study centre panel G15

6. A facsimile page from A Schole house for the needle by Richard Schorleyker, published in 1624, but containing typical motifs. (from the V&A Museum)

With the exception of the Coif in the Platt Museum I have viewed all the other pieces in person.


This next composite concentrates on the colours and types of flowers that were used in Elizabethan embroidery.

1. This is part of the Uvedale Monument at St. Nicholas church at Wickham in Hampshire. The details on the jacket are beautiful and look as if they feature pansies and cornflowers.

2. This is an octagonal slip that was stitched by Elizabeth Shrewsbury (Bess) , synonymous with Harwick Hall in Derbyshire. It matches other slips that were made by Bess and Mary Queen off Scots which were mounted for a set of hangings that are now displayed at Oxburgh Hall in Norfolk.

3. The Margaret Layton Jacket

Place of origin:
England, Great Britain (made)

1610-1615 (made) 
1620 (altered)

Unknown (production)

Materials and Techniques:
Linen, embroidered with coloured silks, silver and silver-gilt thread

Credit Line:
Acquired with the assistance of the National Heritage Memorial Fund, The Art Fund and contributors to the Margaret Laton Fund

Museum number:

Gallery location:In Storage

4. A corner of a large linen cover, worked with red, blue, green and black silk, mainly in stem, chain, speckling, knotted and double running stitch.
V&A collection, scanned images from Elizabethan Treasures, The Hardwick Hall Textiles, Santa M Levey

One of the most interesting areas of study for me was discovering a recreation of a Layton style Jacket that was made by members of the Plimoth plantation Museum

It was an amazing achievement to recreate a jacket from the 1620'2, the style and cut of which was chosen from the Layton Jacket, in the V&A collection. The pattern was taken from another jacket, also at the V&A museum, this one was considered to be more beautiful.


This sketch is a vey small section of one of the motifs on the Layton Jacket, there are 27 on the Plimoth jacket.

Many of the materials had to be specially made, including gilt sylk twist thread and a special hand made needle from Japan.
Nearly 1000 spangles were made by the museum blacksmith, and lacemakers had to discover how to make the silver and gold bobbin lace. The lining for the jacket was hand dyed and hand woven.

During the construction process all the seams were covered in plaited braid, an amazing achievement in itself.

The project took a staggering 3,700 hours to complete.

There is a beautiful reveal video here

And a lovely PDF brochure of the whole manufacturing story here.

I've just found Vivienne Westwood's Elizabethan inspired collection for Autumn/Winter 2012, I love it, particularly the pieces at the end of the collection



Elizabethan Treasures, The Hardwick Hall Textiles, Santa M Levey


  1. much research and it fascinates me. You already know how much I love your mood boards....and the information here is wonderful, thank you!

  2. Thank you for stopping by my blog and for your lovely comments. You have been doing a lot of research, it's very interesting to read...x