Author: Katherine Diuguid

In celebration of the fourth annual New York Textile Month, members of the Textile Society of America will author Object of the Day for the month of September. A non-profit professional organization of scholars, educators, and artists in the field of textiles, TSA provides an international forum for the exchange and dissemination of information about textiles worldwide.

Biblical narratives were a popular theme choice for embroiderers stitching 17th century raised work pieces in England. This Embroidered Picture which depicts the “Judgement of Solomon” beautifully captures the mixtures of stitching techniques while rendering the characters in contemporary dress. As told in 1 Kings 3:16-28[1], this story was used as an illustration of motherhood and Solomon’s wisdom[2] as he threatened to kill the living baby to decipher its true mother when confronted with two women, one of whom had lost a child and both of which were arguing that the living child belonged to them.

Of particular interest to me in this composition is the fullness that the slips forming the clothing have been given as it speaks to the miniature, sculptural quality that many of these raised work embroideries embodied. Consider the skill and manipulation required to fold, tuck and tack the drapes of the needlelace of the male characters. These slips were worked flat over another pattern on a less precious fabric, lifted off, and then sculpted to the final ground fabric into place—a little bit like miniature dressmaking!

Let’s breakdown the pieces on King Solomon as an example. There is a separate piece of needlelace stitched into the shape of the crown and embellished with tiny pearls. Two pieces of needlelace with special edging form the jabot-style neck piece. Three different scales of detached buttonhole needlelace create the sleeve, in the part above the sash, the part below the sash and the cuff. The piece of needlelace forming the actual robe would have needed to be much oversized to achieve the amount of fullness that this piece does. Finally, King Solomon is holding a sword that is rendered in needlelace and embellished with tiny pearls. Considering the number of pieces, the fullness and fine scale of the detached buttonhole stitch used for the needlelace, this piece has a very lavish feel to it and hints at a very skillful embroiderer behind the needle.

Even more complicated is the female character’s gown. Upon close inspection, one can see that the gown has been created using a technique called “Or Nué”. In this technique, metal threads are couched down with colored threads forming a pattern over the metal threads. The ground fabric is totally covered by the metal threads. The pieces are worked in the same “slip” manner and appliquéd into place once all the or nué is complete. For example, notice how her bodice has been worked in separate pieces. You can see the turned edges of the metal threads at the bottom of the jacket edge and at the top of the cuff on the right hand.

The technique of slips is often used in 17th century raised work but this piece truly shows off the fullness and sumptuousness that can be achieved by using it to render the clothing. By so extravagantly filling the clothing with fullness the characters definitely hold a very regal feel.

Katherine Diuguid is a studio artist specializing in embroidery with a special focus on metal thread embroidery. She teaches embroidery workshops nationally and internationally and lectures. For more information, please see her website at: www.katherinediuguid.com

[1] “BibleGateway.” 1 Kings 3:16-28. Bible Gateway, n.d. Web. 10 Aug. 2018.

[2] Morrall, Andrew, Melinda Watt, and Cristina Balloffet. Carr. English Embroidery from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1580-1700 ‘twixt Art and Nature. New York: Bard Graduate Center for Studies in the Decorative Arts, Design, and Culture, 2008. Print.

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