April 2010 – This past fall I wanted to try a new embroidery technique which has been growing in popularity amongst re-enactors and embroiderers, namely brick stitch. It was a common technique for surface covering during the 14th and 15th centuries, and most often done using silk floss on linen ground, and in the Germanic parts of Europe. It is a counted technique, and thus the patterns are all quite geometrical in nature, although figurative motifs do occasionally occur.
Most of my information on brick stitch I have gleaned from five online resources. First of all, Master Richard Wymarc’s excellent site A Stich Out Of Time, which for a good long while was the only place I knew to find such information. But lately I have also been following along with the blogs of some particularily talented people, all of whom have taken the time to draft brick stitch patterns from images of textiles of the period. I highly recommend all five links if you want to read up on the history, and find period patterns.
My brick stitch projects
My very first attempt at using the “brick stitch”-stitch was in 2006, when I wanted to try a little embroidery on a needle book. But the design was 16th Century inspired, and used a plain brick stitched background to make the motif stand out a bit more. I remember I found it rather an unwieldy technique, but that was because I did not know what I was doing and in what order to tackle things.
After that encounter with the technique I laid it aside, until the fall of 2009, when I needed something to do with the silk floss I had since acquired. The first thing I started on turned out to be a little rectangular piece, just large enough to get a sense of the pattern, but not large enough for me to get bored. I ended up making it up into a pincushion, stuffed with bits of left over wool. The embroidery pattern is one of the more common ones, and I think several of the gentles listed above have drafted patterns for it, Kathy’s pattern from Medieval Arts & Crafts being the one I used. The colours were chosen by what I had on hand. The purple was a gift and that was what I based it all on, then brought in the other colours as accents.
On the second attempt I started to get a little more experimental. I used three different patterns from Medieval Arts & Crafts in combination to make a square design. The knot in the middle is ringed by a series of S:s, or Zeds, and the entire thing is surrounded with the woven strapwork design as a sort of background to bring it out to square. The result is quite close to a perfect square, although the ground fabric was not an even weave it was as close to it as I could find in my stash.
For the finishing of the actual pincushion I went a step further this time, surrounding the embroidery with chain stitches to make hold it all together, and also continuing the chain stitches down the four corners, to help keep the fabric together. I also stitched those sides together exactly on grain to make sure that I made an exactly square “box” of fabric, which I then stuffed with more left over bits of wool. In the second image, you can see how the pins are stored when in transit – stuck in at the sides. When in use the pins of course go in through the embroidery at the top.
Having done those two small items, and promptly given them away as Chistmas presents, I put the whole thing out of my mind, until I visited a weaving cottage where they had some fantastic wool yarns in lovely colours. I thought I could combine a few of those lovely colours and make myself a sturdy, warm, woolen seat cushion. Having also found a piece of quite large even weave linen I combined the two and a pattern from the Medieval Silkwork blog and started on the embroidery.
May 22, 2010: Seat cushion embroidery done – Since I brought the wool embroidery with me on a daily commute of 40 minutes times two, I progressed quite quickly on this brick stitch project, and on May 21 I finished the work and steamed and pressed it a little for good measure. The result is rather large and overstated, but nice. Hopefully making it up into a cushion will also go well. I intend to back it with wool fleece. The pictures to the right shows the front and back of the work.
June 2011: For Mistress Katheryn’s Laurel elevation I stitched a little napkin for her, with her device in the centre in brick stitch technique. I first oulined in stem stitch, and then filled in the colour fields with Elizabethan brick stitch, that is to say each stitch is taken over four threads, and the second stitch is offset one thread to the side and two threads vertically from the first one, so it looks like a brick wall.
September 17, 2012: V&A brick stitch embroidered bag – This project was started (first picture) around the same time as the wool seat cushion embroidery above, but once the silk parts were done (second picture) and I started on the linen things slowed down and ground to a halt. I eventually picked it back up again, and after Visby Medieval Week in 2012 I needed something repetitive and brainless for my fingers to do, and I finally finished this embroidery in a matter of a couple of weeks. It is based on a fragment which is in the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. I did see the original in person, but when I started the work in May 2010 I went to the charted version that Richard Wymarc has published and used that for my pattern.
So, after picking it up again I worked with waxed linen thread, 50/2 doubled, to fill in the bits that were not silk (third picture) and eventually I finished the embroidery. In a handful of places I miscounted the arms of the red pattern and while it is basically impossible to spot with just the silk done, once I started filling in with linen the mistakes become obvious. For a couple of mistakes I spotted it before I came to the discrepancy and was able to make my stitches go over 6 threads rather than four, but in other places I had to fill in voided areas with stitches going over two threads. These are things that I notice now, and when working on it, but once it is made up into a bag I will have to look specifically for them to find them.
You will also notice in the image below of the finished embroidery that the red dye from the red silk floss did not stay entirely in place. I washed the piece after finishing it and this was when I noticed that the red thread was not colourfast. There was some swearing, but I rinced it out as best I could and then decided to go ahead as if nothing was wrong. In low-light situations nobody will notice – or so I hope. This should be a lesson to everyone – check that your threads do not bleed before you start working with them. You do not want to disocver this after dozens of hours of work and a finished piece.
The embroidery made up into a bag. Lined with dark blue silk, the top edge is made by simply folding in the linen twice, and the drawstrings pulled through holes opened up by an awl, but not stitched around.