||First, depending on the
complexity of the pattern, either the embroiderer herself or a special artist
known as “znamenshchik” (usually
male) would draw it onto the chosen fabric with chalk, coal, or ink. Since I am
not certain of my drawing, I begin by making a pattern on paper and
transferring it to iron-on interfacing, which I use to stabilize the fabric. In
period, according to Iakunina (p. 45), flour paste was used for the same
purpose. Experienced embroiderers
prepared the paste using secret recipes, now lost (the paste they made was not
prone to be eaten by bugs), though it was basically just flour mixed with water
or kvas and simmered until
ready. The paste was spread on the back
of the embroideries by hand while still stretched tight on the frame, to
prevent it from puckering after removal.
Since my embroidery is not subjected to such treatment, it does pucker a
||The next step in this project was transferring of the
pattern to the front of the work. This
was done by sewing through it with white thread in running stitch. That thread becomes completely covered by
||Before laying out the pearls, period
embroiderers usually laid out a foundation of white cord or thick threads, in
single or double line (Iakunina, p. 35).
A shroud “Cross at the Golgopha” from Zagorsk Museum
collection, dated to 1550, clearly shows the lines of couched white cord where
the pearls had been removed (from Manushina). Such linen or cotton
cord or threads, known as bel’ was
used since at least early XVth century as foundation for pearl embroidery, as
evidenced from documents. For example, Iakunina (p.35) quotes a 1509 will that
listed pearl embroidery on various items made “na beli” (over the foundation).
For this project, I used white 100% cotton yarn, doubled. After the pattern was prepared, the yarn was
couched down with strong white thread everywhere there was to be pearl
|| In period, pearls meant for
embroidering were sorted according to size and quality and gathered on a long
thread using a needle. The thread was
then wound around a special wand (“viteika”)
which was used to store the pearls and to keep the thread taught during
embroidering (Iakunina, pp. 37-37, fig. 15).
Most readily available were freshwater pearls from Russian rivers, but
the most valued were imported Persian pearls (Iakunina, p. 26). Most surviving embroideries were done with
relatively small, oval or potato-shaped pearls drilled horizontally. The hat used as an example
here was made to fulfill a promissory, and due to time pressure I had to use
the fresh water pearls that were easily available at the time, which were
rice-shaped pearls drilled vertically.
||Once a viteika
with the pearled thread was prepared, the end of the thread was taken with a
needle to the back of the fabric at the beginning of the foundation, and
secured there with a knot (Iakunina, p. 38).
Then, it was laid along the pattern and couched with a different white
thread, silk or linen, with stitches after every single pearl going into the
foundation. The pearled thread and the couching thread were pulled very taught,
so that when pearls on some embroideries were lost or removed later, one could
count how many there were by indentations (Iakunina, p. 41). I used this technique for the presented
headdress as well, though without utilizing a viteika. Instead, I gathered
as many pearls on a separate thread with a beading needle as I needed for a
continuous design element. I used nylon
beading thread to ensure that the embroidery could stand up to SCA wear.
||Finally, pearl embroidery was
outlined with gold cord, usually twisted.
Embroideries in Appendix A, such as 1592 phelonion and, on which such
cord is clearly visible evidence this, showing how gold cord both hid the
foundation and enhanced the overall effect.
That cord was not secured by couching over it, but sewn to the
foundation with the stitches going through the middle of the gold cord and into
the edge of the foundation (Iakunina, p. 42).
Since pearl embroideries were highly valuable, this technique allowed
saving the complete embroidery if the background fabric wore out by cutting it
out whole and appliquéing it to another fabric.
||Since real gold cord is beyond my means, I used a synthetic cord which
resembles the way period cords were made. This cord was also couched alone to
make the design stand out better from the distance and due to time constraints
on the commissioned work. Phelonion
dated between 1641 and 1674 and a 1635 sticharion in Appendix illustrate how this was done for small