the West Kingdom Needlework Guild

This article was a companion piece to the article on Whitework and first appeared in the Guild newsletter, the Filum Aureum, Summer 2000


The Henricus Secundus Panel

by Aldith Angharad St. George

Henry Panel by Aldith

This panel is based on a 13th century German altar cloth, one that was probably used during Lent, as was much German whitework during this period.The original is stitched on a semi-transparent linen, using linen thread in a variety of "chained" stitches, and it depicts Pontius Pilate ordering the arrest of Jesus?). It appealed to me because it is unusual among German whitework:there are no dark outlines or counted white fillings (as in Opus Teutonicum), and it has a drawn-thread background.

The design. Since I planned to use the finished panel as one end of a table runner for my feast gear, it occurred to me that a depiction of Pilate was in bad taste. I therefore changed the style of the crown and added a dais to the throne, so that I could add HENRICUS SECUNDUS to the dais, effectively changing the scene to Henry the Second sending his knights to murder St. Thomas a Becket ("...will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?!"). This seemed to me to be, if not strictly in good taste, in not-as-bad taste.

Detail of Henry's Dais

The design was drawn directly onto the ground fabric using a blue fabric marker (the type that disappears in water). If I had wished to draw the design in a period manner, I would have used charcoal.

The ground fabric.The ground fabric of the panel is semi-transparent handkerchief linen, in a tabby weave. I had gotten it from the Herrschnerr's catalogue about 10 years ago - Herrscherr's doesn't carry it anymore, but Britex Fabrics in San Francisco sometimes carries it. Cotton batiste and cotton organza are visually similar substitutes for handkerchief linen.

The thread. The entire panel was worked with white DMC embroidery floss, becauseI couldn't get the result I was after with the linen thread I had available at the time I began the panel. (However, I have since found a couple of varieties that would have worked better!) The outside edge of the panel was worked with 3 strands of floss, the background and the lettering with 1 strand, and the figures with 2 strands.

The stitches. Since the source did not give the names of specific stitches that were used in the original panel, I had to determine the stitches to use from the photograph in the book.

Running Stitch was used to outline the outside edges of all the figures as well as the outside edge of the panel, prior to stitching them with Closed Square Chain Stitch.

The eyes on all three figures were worked in Eyelet Stitch.

The border of the king's mantle is worked partly in Braid Stitch, which I don't now believe is correct - the lower part of the mantle edge is worked in Plait Stitch, which is much more period and looks more correct. The ermine spots are worked in Detached Chain Stitch.

All the rest of the details on the figures are stitched in Chain Stitch.

The lettering on the dais is worked in Brick Stitch, counted over 2 threads.

Detail of Henry's Face

The background. The outside edge of the panel and the figures were worked first; the background was worked last. Every 4 threads were cut and withdrawn (cut 4, leave 4) from both the warp and the weft, leaving a grid of threads. This grid was whip-stitched from the back (important!) with one strand of floss, in both directions.

Finishing. When the stitching was complete, the entire panel was first soaked in water to remove the fabric marker, then washed with Orvus Paste. (Orvus Paste is a pure soap that is ideal for washing delicate fabrics, and it's available in many hardware stores, feed stores and some art stores.) Once dry, the panel was pressed by placing it face down on a thick white towel, then pressing it from the back with a warm iron. Since the panel was worked in a frame, no blocking was necessary.

The completed panel is the first of three, to be stitched to a dark blue linen table runner - dark blue will emphasize the whiteness of linen, and show the stitching more clearly.

13th Century German Altar Piece

Original 13th C. piece.


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