The image that started it all
Over the past 18 years or so, I’ve been fascinated by a selection of textile pieces in the Swedish and Finnish museums. They are all pieces of intarsia, or wool inlaid applique/patchwork, with gold or silver gilt leather work couched over as embellishment details.
In January 2016, I decided that I had finally pulled enough background information to work on the technique for myself, with an initial goal of presenting in my Baronial Arts and Sciences Championship as well as for Kingdom Arts and Sciences in 2017. The piece would be a coverlet in the style of the Skepptuna coverlet, but with the blocks rotated like the ones in the Dalhem coverlet – so that they would all be facing up when laid on a bed, rather than only in one direction
. Skepptuna Coverlet (photo by Catrijn vanden Westhende)
While trying to figure out what wool would correspond to vadmal or frieze, I let Nayeli help determine what types of creatures she wanted in the 30 blocks for her blanket. She chose many that represented family or friends within the SCA – a wolf and peacock for my device and badge, gryphon for her brother, dragon for her uncle, horse for “her” Knight, goat for someone she adores, a lion for An Tir, cat and corgi for her pets, rabbit for my Arcos, and unicorn and stag because they were on the original and pretty. We used some of the wool remnants from gowns and cloaks that were in my stash for the blocks, allowing me to not only save a bit on the budget but test a couple of different weaves on how they would hold up to the technique. It ended up with a couple of extra colors instead of only the two to three high-contrast colors in the originals, but again, saved us a bit of necessary money and made her very happy. The blocks were cut out in February and started traveling everywhere with me to be stitched together – work, SCA events, conventions.
Block Layout before adding the wool applique and couched silver detailing
Along the way while working on this coverlet, I also made two cushions – one for a prize tourney at June Faire and the other using more specific historically accurate materials or process documentation for Kingdom A&S (which ended up being the month prior to my Baronial A&S competition due to a rescheduling on the calendar). The cushions were both made in the Dalhem and Masku Pall styles, with an elaborate circle surrounding the central motif. The prize cushion used Latin to say for the most inspirational at the Honor Tourney, June Faire 2017, and my name, with the front of the cushion showing the black lion populace badge and the back having the reverse with the gold lion head.
The white work was done with a white wool blend felt, and the yellow wool also ended up being a blend, which meant they did not hold up as well to the technique – fraying a bit more than I was happy with. So I backed them with white muslin while I did all of the couching with the gold DMC floss, for better stability.
The peacock cushion uses the inspiration of the peacock found on the Masku Pall in Finland, and is made using three pieces of vadmal purchased online from Europe. The 50-51 cm pieces were fairly pricey for me, being $55, and the roundabout method to obtain it at the time (paying a friend in Finland to order and have it shipped to him, who then mailed the swatches to me) not ideal. I used gilt leather strips cut 1-2 mm wide for the couching on the cushion, having made several trials on how to gild pieces of calfskin along the way. This allowed me to narrow the focus for a Kingdom level presentation, and have fewer steps aside from an original inspiration based upon budget or washable considerations as the coverlet. It also let me have a *finished* item to display.
The peacocks were begun after discussing the project with Mistress Laurellen at Collegium in November, with the goal of taking the advice I was given and using the knowledge from the new judging forms to better present my documentation and oral presentation. I was able to assemble both blocks, and have one completely embellished and turned into a cushion for Kingdom A&S, with the prize cushion, the partially embellished peacock and the coverlet top as part of the display. (The other two entries, since I had set myself the goal of entering as a full entry, were Gilt Leather Embroidery and Marzipan.)
I met and indeed exceeded my goal of competing at Kingdom A&S. I was able to do my oral presentations more confidently, with less stuttering or forgetting of my details. I had a lot less modern distractions in my display set up and I was better than almost all of my scores from the first time I attempted this task. To the point of being stunned in Court as I was called up along with 3 others (two of whom were the finalists for Kingdom Champion) to become one of the first for Scholars of An Tir, for getting a high score on one of my entries.
But on to the last part of my intarsia primary goal – the coverlet and the Baronial A&S competition. With the coverlet needing to be washable, I gave Nayeli the choice between gold or silver DMC embroidery perl floss – and to my delight, she chose silver. So I added in basic detailing to all of the blocks, not adding the white work yet, and pieced the blocks into rows and then the large central portion to add the border on by Kingdom A&S. She was adamant that the border needed to be purple, and wanted a lighter purple for the back – which wasn’t available, so she went with a brighter raspberry color instead – not wanting red, green or black.
The two pieces are being stitched together without a center batting, which is more in-line with the period examples like the Tristan and Isolde blanket, and wool or linen were used as backings to intarsia coverlets according to inventories from places such as Turku Castle in period. While I am still doing that stitching/quilting (I’m only about 300 hours into the coverlet by now, and likely have at least 100 more to go to finish it), which has been while it is stretched out over a table or on the floor while rebuilding a quilt frame, it was shown at our Baronial A&S this past weekend at Embers and Ambrosia. I had re-written all the documentation, using the feedback from Kingdom to make several changes and noting more information shared online from Mervi Pasanen and others who just recreated the Masku Pall in Finland, as well as a couple of minor additional examples of gilding leather or historically accurate fabrics and dyes.
I have not yet received copies of my judging forms for the feedback yet, but I must have done even better, as I was judged worthy to become the next Baronial A&S Defender.