It was a great privilege to be asked to embroider a replica of Gawthorpe Textile Collection’s Jacobean Sweete Bag. The original is very frail and my brief was to try and replicate as authentically as possible what it would have looked like when new.
The first thing, after visiting to view the bag, was to draft a pattern from photos of the original and reduce it to size – 12cm x 14.5cm. This was pricked and pounced onto unbleached 32 count linen and put onto a slate frame to embroider using tent stitch. I had to use educated guesses on the colours to use as you really can’t tell from the original. The flowers and scrolls were outlined with black silk thread first and then the colours filled in and the chevrons done.
After that I filled in the background with silver passing thread, an old type of metal thread today more usually attached to the surface fabric by waxed cotton. It is quite flexible to stitch with but you need to be careful not to strip off the metal from its inner core. It is also quite abrasive on the linen and not easy to take back so be careful of making mistakes!
Once the whole background was completed I could make the 3D flowers. Originally, these were made with a type of passing thread that had coloured silk at the core and then gold or silver loosely twisted round it so the colours remained visible. It is not made today, or so I thought! I tried umpteen ways to recreate the look of the flowers none of which were very successful, and I was on the verge of doing them in just the gold and silver passing threads, which I had seen on some other sweete bags.
Then I found out that a version of the threads is made – but exclusively for the American market! I ordered some, but they still haven’t arrived. However, every good story has a happy ending.
I managed to get some limited colours from a friend, so was able to do the centre rose and the cornflowers in this Gilt Sylke Twist. The golden roses at the bottom are in gilt passing.
Once completed, I could make it up. A silk brocade is appliquéd to the canvas for the back. This provides a bit of support for the silk. The sides are slip stitched and a bright pink silk lining has been made and fitted with a slip stitch. Dianne Derbyshire, from Gawthorpe, made a strip of metallic bobbin lace for the trim and for the handle I made a five element braid from the pink silk thread and gold passing that had been twisted into lengths of cord.
The best way to see what it might have looked like is in candlelight, when it absolutely sparkles!