Showing posts with label A&S. Show all posts
Showing posts with label A&S. Show all posts

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Laid and Couched Griffin Embroidery

For today's post, I'd like to present a decorative embroidered griffin, worked in a laid and couched stitch commonly referred to as the Bayeux stitch. I created this piece to practice the stitch prior to the first time I taught the stitch at Warriors and Warlords, an event in the Kingdom of Northshield, where the griffin is one of the populace badges. The embroidery has since been framed for display in my house. Overall, this project took approximately 25 hours to complete.

Historical Context

Laidwork embroidery, where the threads are laid across the surface of the work and then couched into place, has many forms throughout the medieval period. Bayeux stitch is so-called because of the particular Anglo-Saxon variation that was used by English needleworkers in the late 11th century to produce the Bayeux Tapestry commemorating the lead up to and Norman victory in the Battle of Hastings in 1066. Although few other pieces remain from the medieval period demonstrating this stitch in use, the skill of execution seen on the Bayeux tapestry suggests to me that the stitch was already in common use by the time that work was created. Its sturdiness and economic use of dyed thread would have made it an ideal choice for decorating a wide range of items, potentially even clothing. 

Bayeux Tapestry, Everyday Life - Bayeux Museum

An almost identical stitch called refilsaumur or refil embroidery was seen in use in Iceland in the 15th and 16th centuries. Several extant items are decorated using this technique, including several altar frontals and a large wall hanging. (Gudjónsson, 14-19). Here again, the use of laid and couched stitch seems to be primarily focused on decorative items, although Gudjónsson does mention that the cross orphrey on a chasuble is seen using this style (14). It’s interesting to note that artistic style in refilsaumur is visually quite similar to the artistic style in the Bayeux tapestry, despite the centuries dividing these two cultures.  

 Altar frontal from Hólar, Iceland, mid 16th century. Gudjónsson, p. 19

Note that both the Bayeux Tapestry and the Icelandic works in refilsaumur use stem stitch to outline the designs. This covers the edge of the laid and couched work, and was typically done in an alternate color such as black to provide a contrasting outline to each element in the design. On the Icelandic works, some elements were also outlined using metallic gold thread, notably the crozier heads in the image above.


The embroidery was worked using:

  • 100% linen fabric. The Bayeux tapestry and refil items from Iceland were also embroidered on linen tabby fabric.
  • DMC purl cotton floss in a variety of colors. Period items were typically worked in wool crewel yarn. As I was new at this stitch and am mildly allergic to wool, I used cotton floss. This was also the material I was planning to use for my class, for reasons of cost, so I used the same thread for this sampler. If I were to work another project in this stitch, I would consider using wool yarn instead.


The design for this embroidery was a cartoon hand-drawn by me, inspired by a number of medieval bestiary entries for the griffin. The griffin was often depicted holding and eating horses, but I excluded that design element for this work. The image was transferred onto the linen fabric, and then I was ready to start embroidering.

For each section of the image, I used Bayeux laid and couched stitch to fill the area. The laid stitches were laid down in parallel rows along the longest axis of the area.  The couching stitches were then laid down perpendicular to the laid stitches and tacked down in rows about 5 cm apart. The couching stitches in period works were typically in the same color as the laid stitches, but a few areas can be seen where the couching stitches are in a contrasting color; as such, I experimented with this option in a few areas (e.g, the griffin’s chest). In the griffin’s tail, I used a period technique to work the embroidery around curves. The laid stitches are placed in wedges still following the direction of the curve. The couched stitches for each wedge are perpendicular to the laid stitches, resulting in a “fan” of radial couching lines. A similar approach was used on the Bayeux Tapestry as well for curved areas. The colors used are used more to show contrast between adjacent elements, rather than with a slavish attention to realistic depiction, as was also common in the Bayeux Tapestry.  The background of the work was left mostly bare, as was also done in the Tapestry.

One lesson learned in this piece is that the use of perl or crewel yarn makes the embroidery rather dense and thick. I was using hoop frames at the time, and found that when I had to move the frame, the thickness of completed embroidery could make tensioning the frame difficult for unworked areas. This resulted in the waviness seen in the border around the griffin. For future items, I would use a scroll frame or slate frame instead, which will better handle tension for larger items like this that are larger than a typical hoop frame. 

I liked the final result and have taught Bayeux stitch now at several events in Northshield and East Kingdoms since completing this item.


--. “Bayeux Stitch.” Bayeux Broderie,

--. “Bayeux Tapestry.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 3 Jan. 2019,

--. “Embroidery.” The Bayeux Tapestry, 13 May 2008,

--. “Griffon.” Medieval Bestiary,

--. “Laid Work.”  Textile Research Center, Leiden,

--. “The Bayeux Tapestry.” Everyday Life - Bayeux Museum,

Gudjónsson Elsa E. Traditional Icelandic Embroidery. Elsa E. Guðjónsson, 2003.

Wilson, David M. The Bayeux Tapestry. Thames & Hudson, 2004.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

A&S Documentation

I spent the last several days writing up A&S documentation for two items I plan to exhibit at an Athena's Thimble panel later this month at Birka, an event in southern NH.

The first was the write-up for the pouch and goldwork I created last month. (See my blog entries in December for the Or Nue Heraldic Bee project.) 

The East has a very nicely codified rubric for judging A&S projects that gives entrants a clear expectation of how their project will be judged, and also helps ensure consistent judging from one project or event to another. I found a useful write-up with suggestions about how to write documentation for the East Kingdom A&S rubric. 

It had been some time since I last wrote up a paper like this, so it took me a while to get into the swing of things. But, based on the rubric and the article I mentioned above, I eventually came up with a documentation format that includes:

  • An introduction, describing the item
  • A picture of the item, in case the item and documentation get separated
  • The historical context, describing the historic precedent for the item or methods used in the art project
  • A list of materials used in my project, including description of they are similar to or replace period materials, and why any substitutions were made
  • The methods of construction, basically a description of how I created the item
  • The bibliography of works I consulted or quoted in this project write-up
Based on this, I created this documentation for the pouch project, and was pretty happy with the result.

Once that was done, I felt I was on a roll, and decided to write up the griffin embroidery sampler I created a number of years ago. This recently got a very warm reception in the populace vote at Autumn's Inspirations, but the A&S score on it was a bit low because I had no formal documentation accompanying it. I decided to enter the display at the last minute at that event, so I hadn't brought any documentation with me. 

The format I created above leant itself well to describing this project as well. I was able to write this up pretty quickly, as it was quite a bit simpler in A&S scope. It wasn't really ever created with the intent of entering it into an A&S competition, so I'm not terribly concerned about that. But, as I am planning to panel this for competency in Laidwork, the write-up will be useful. My documentation for this project can be found here.

It will be interesting to see how this documentation is received by the judges at Birka. I'm sure I'll get feedback that will allow me to improve both my future projects and future papers.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

A Mid-Winter's Celebration

Although we live in the Canton of the Towers, which is part of the Barony of Carolingia (Boston area), we're on the far north-eastern edge of the canton. This means that events in Maine and New Hampshire are sometimes closer to us than our own Barony. Back in October we visited Malagentia in ME to attend Autumn's Inspirations, and had a great time and were warmly received. Yesterday, we attended an event in Stonemarche (New Hampshire), called A Mid-Winter Celebration. As it was our first time attending, we weren't sure what to expect, but it was only 40 minutes away from us, so we decided to attend and find out.

And, I'm glad we did! The event was attended by about 90 people, which was apparently larger than expected. The day was very sunny but very cold, but the main hall stayed comfortably warm. We were immediately greeted at gate and given a warm welcome. The event was of the "gather and visit for the day" type with a midday feast, a small area for heavy fighting, an Arts and Sciences display table, and a well-orchestrated series of activities for the kids attending. Feast was yummy, and at the short baronial court after feast, all of the children were given presents - from what I could see, a number received Nine-Man's Morris boards, and others received some fun stuffed dragon toys. The younger children who were sitting near us seemed perfectly delighted with their haul.

We were happy to be joined at our table by milady Kathryn and her husband Brian from Stonemarche. We met Kathryn last month on our scribal field trip to the libraries at Harvard to view some of the medieval manuscripts there. It was fun sitting with them and getting to know them better. Kathryn showed me some of embroidery in progress, which was quite lovely. She later entered it in the A&S display, where it seemed to be well received in the populace vote. Lady Rachel of Rochester and her family were seated next to us, and I had fun chatting with them as well.

While at the event, I was particularly pleased to meet Lady Astriðr Sægeirsdottir (the event steward) and Lady Amalie von Hohensee (running the A&S display), who are also both needleworkers. I hadn't really intended to enter anything into the A&S display at this event as I was still working on my goldwork and hadn't any formal documentation for it. But, Lady Astriðr positively squeed with pleasure at seeing that someone else was interested in Or nue, and eventually brow beat me into submitting my work. I had a nice discussion with the A&S judging panel about my work, and they gave me some positive feedback on it. I was also able to discuss it briefly with another artisan gentleman at the event who also does goldwork (his name, unfortunately, escapes me). He was busy working the feast so we didn't get to chat long, but I look forward to seeing him again. Definitely by far the best entry at the A&S display was a very extensive project someone (again, I wasn't able to determine who) was doing to illuminate, callig, and bind several books. He had his work on display, along with much of his supplies and equipment, so it was a great exhibit of the entire process. He seemed to be winning in the popular vote when we had to leave, and it was well deserved.

The event was a lot of fun, and we were very glad that we attended. We made a number of new friends, and it's good knowing they're just north of the border from us. I'm looking forward to seeing everyone again at Birka next month!

I broke out my boyar coat and hat for the event, since it was so cold that day. The hat was popular and got petted. I had to stop quick at the grocery store on the way to the event, and the coat elicited a question from a confused local as to whether I was wearing my bathrobe. Sigh. The jacket turned out to be quite warm. I may need to make some gloves/mittens before Birka, however. It was really cold walking to/from the car that day.

Folks sitting around and visiting.

They eventually had to commandeer more tables to accommodate all the attendees for feast. The event was more popular than the event staff had expected. 

Our new feastgear, including the mug I won at Autumn's Inspirations.

A small area was set off for heavy combat.

Action shot!

The children were gathered in court and given presents.