Writing While We Learn

 We wish to:

  • understand the many uses to which this cloth has been put
  • identify the materials and methods used to create the embroideries
  • identify the species represented by the embroidered motifs
  • locate potential sources for the designs
  • understand the meanings contemporary viewers would have interpreted in these patterns
  • learn about the people who created, commissioned, used and re-used the fabric

We began by studying our own images of the cloth, then examining contemporary printed sources that the embroiderers might have used for their designs such as pattern books, herbals, and bestiaries. We are endeavouring to independently categorise and interpret the motifs rather than relying on published descriptions. We write about our observations, unanswered questions, attempts at recreation, and evolving understanding of the Bacton Altar Cloth in the posts below.

Like the members of our research group, our goals in studying the Bacton Altar Cloth are diverse.

 

 

Mar
21

First Impressions

By | Our WorkWhat We See

Through previous research I knew about the embroidered treasure of St Faith’s, but I had not yet had an opportunity to travel to Bacton. As soon as I knew the altar cloth had been moved to Hampton Court Palace for conservation, I just had to have a close-up look.   In October 2018, I was granted access to the cloth to take images for study. I was not prepared for what I saw. As one who has spent quite some

Mar
16

Prick, Pounce, and Paint

By | How It Was DoneOur Work

Techniques of the Ancient Masters Although we can’t be positive, we think the embroiderers who made the Bacton Altar Cloth method used to transfer the botanical designs was a time honoured prick and pounce technique. This method was employed by Italian masters such as Raphael and Michelangelo to transfer their large design drawings, known as cartoons. Pricking the Cartoon For our experiment, I drew a small motif based on the sprig of Marigold from the Bacton Altar Cloth. Placing it on

Feb
20

Plant Symbolism in the ‘Rainbow’ Portrait and the Bacton Altar Cloth

By | Our WorkWhat It Means

Flowers in the Elizabethan and Jacobean eras could mean lots of things, some of them quite complex. Many portraits from these periods depicted sitters holding or wearing fresh flowers and plants, and/or wearing clothing that was decorated with floral designs. Some scholars have looked at their meanings and interpretations, and the way that the imagery of flowers generally, and even of specific species of plant, can relate to the sitter. If we apply these ideas to the embroidered plants that

Feb
04

Also Daffodils?

By | Our WorkWhat We See

My previous post (First Motif: A Daffodil) about motifs 1, 58, and 61 on my map of the Bacton Altar Cloth explained our thought that these were daffodils. As we studied the embroidery more we noticed two general rules that made us doubt the species identification:   Although motifs repeated, sometimes with slight variance in colouring, no species seemed to be represented by different shaped motifs. While flowers might be exaggerated in size, both the flowers and the leaves seem

Jan
29

The First Motif: A Daffodil

By | Our WorkWhat We See

One of the great pleasures in studying the Bacton Altar Cloth, even from afar mostly via photographs, is that so many intriguing questions present themselves. What materials were used? Who stitched the designs? How was the fabric and embroidery used before it was an altar cloth? How would contemporary viewers have interpreted the work? To answer such conundrums clearly will take considerable time devoted by many people with diverse expertise. One question seemed easy enough, but has dominated our initial

Jan
22

Introducing the Bacton Altar Cloth

By | Our WorkWhat We See

The Bacton Altar Cloth is an extraordinary example of what appears to be very high quality English late 16th or early 17th-century embroidery, in polychrome silks and gold wrapped threads worked upon a cream-coloured silver chamblet silk (or cloth-of-silver). This textile, which may once have formed part of a garment of some kind, has been cut and reworked at some point in its long life into the form of an altar cloth, which for many years performed its service at

Jan
19

First MEDATS Presentation

By | Our WorkWhat We See

On Saturday 9 January our little study group held a public but relaxed and conversational online meeting about the Bacton Altar Cloth as part of a lockdown-inspired series of more smaller, more accessible events hosted by the Medieval Dress and Textile Society. We shared our photos – ok, mostly my photos – of the Bacton Altar Cloth taken last winter when it was on display at Hampton Court Palace, answered queries from some of the nearly 120 people who joined

Jan
08

Bacton Altar Cloth “Map” of Floral Motifs

By | Our WorkWhat We See

  Before the first MEDATS Study Day I needed a “map” of the Bacton Altar Cloth so that I could communicate with others about which of the original floral motifs we wanted to discuss. I have not assigned numbers to the secondary embroidery that was added later – the animals, insects, trees, and other smaller figures squeezed between the original motifs – only to the professionally embroidered flowering and fruiting plants. Here is the same image without the numbers over