Identifying, Quantifying, Measuring, and Mapping

When we first began preparing to present our collected photos of the Bacton Altar Cloth at a MEDATS Chat, we naively assumed that, with some effort, we could name the species present and thus have some clear nomenclature to employ during our online discussions. Months of work later we still cannot name all the motifs, although we have learned a great deal during the process about the availability and uses of pattern books, herbals, bestiaries, and about early modern understanding of the natural world.


Our reflections on what we see, and what the patterns might represent, is recorded in the posts highlighted below.

Hand-coloured woodcut from Conrad Gesner’s history of fish and aquatic animals, Historiae animalium liber III. Qui est de piscium & aquatilium animantium natura. Cum iconibus singulorum ad vivum expressis… Continentur in hoc volumine, Gulielmi Rondeletii… et Petri Belonii Cenomani… de aquatilium singulis scripta. Published in Zurich by Conrad Forschauer, 1558




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


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


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


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


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


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