From the moment I first saw Anna Meyer’s dress in Holbein’s Darmstadt Madonna, I knew I wanted it. It wasn’t just because the warm white of the dress stood out against the muted colors of the rest of the painting, or that I was lacking in close-fitting garments. It was mostly because the dress was trimmed with three different bands of blackwork embroidery on the sleeves, as well as a fourth that ran around the entire neckline. It was an amazing challenge I knew I had to try.
But it was not until I met Marsaili ingen Andrais that this desire finally took steps toward becoming reality. I cannot sew to save my life, but Marsaili is an amazing seamstress. I showed her the painting and she said that it was easy. Easy! And to prove it, she made me a daily-wear dress in the style of Anna’s with commercial trim in the place of where the finished hand-made trim would go. So I got started on my end of the project: the embroidery.
Marsaili gave me width and length measurements for all trim pieces which I cut out of 32-count white art linen. Although the fabric is most likely less dense that what would have been worked on in period, it was what I had and was comfortable working with at the time. In order to make the size of the end pieces come out right, I am working in over-two stitches. I decided to use black Splendor silk thread #801 because silk is period and Splendor is fairly sturdy stuff.
For the patterns, Catherine Lorraine was kind enough to send me the patterns from Margaret Pascoe’s Blackwork Embroidery: Design and Technique. Pascoe’s drawing, however, only had the three sleeve bands patterned out. The trim on the neckline would have to be made from scratch. Working with both Pascoe’s drawing and close-ups of the original painting, I came up with a design that looks well enough like what Anna was wearing.
Anna’s embroidery bears a resemblance to several patterns in Nicholas Bassee’s New Modelbuch of 1568 (see below). The rick-rack action of the lines and the overall wave-like organization of the pattern are common to the German style of the time. Although the fleur-de-lis is often thought of as a French motif, pattern books like these were popular in most European countries and patterns traveled freely across borders.
My only hesitation was on the pattern on Anna’s cuff, which Holbein portrayed to look like bells. Although it is not impossible that the cuff actually had a bell design on them, according to the pattern books I’ve seen, the acorn is a far more popular motif. This and the single bare sketch of embroidery that Holbein repeated on every sleeve band in his sketch of Anna (above) made me wonder if he made the pattern up. I have not begun this one yet.
Although I am only working on this project between other projects, it has been great fun taking steps towards a long-held desire of mine. I look forward to the day I can hand the finished bands over to Marsaili to be made into the final product.
For further progress reports on this project click: Here
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This particular web page last updated on September 14, 2008.