Monday, November 20, 2017

Mystery Saint, Opus Anglicanum restoration Part 2

One of the most satisfying things about restoring something ancient, is when the original intention of the artist, which may have been made obscure through time due to disintegration of the original, or poor restoration, can be brought to the light again.

Here will be detailed the finding of the "Mystery" Saint between the two prophets on the front Orphrey of the Opus Anglicanum.
It was obvious that this figure was a Saint, since he had a halo. He held a tome in one hand, but the other raised arm had no visible hand, and seemed to be holding a large lozenge shaped object, which was impossible to identify as any saintly attribute.


Having studied many other images of Opus Anglicanum Saints juxtaposed with Prophets, it was concluded that it would be likely to be an Apostle, but which one?
Since the embroidery was heavily restored in these areas - as could be seen by the amount of newer threads coming through to the back of the later lining, as well as the poor quality of workmanship, especially in the face - the embroidered lines delineating the eyes nose and mouth were positioned very crudely - it was decided that the threads should be carefully removed, using tweezers, from the back.

The result was most surprising, and extremely gratifying to see..

Even though there was very little left of the original, the black outline threads were still in place, and the positioning of the features, beard and hair, could be easily worked out from them. What also could be seen was that he has a left hand holding the raised object, and from careful examination of where the original background threads had extended to, it could be seen that it was a short-handled curved blade of some sort.  This made the task of discovering who the saint was a lot easier.
Having researched typical attributes given to Apostles in the iconography of this period, it was deemed to be a flaying knife, and since St Bartholomew is frequently shown with this as his attribute,

St Bartholomew, from All Souls, Oxford.


the conclusion was that it is an embroidery of St Bartholomew.

With this in mind, the restoration was undertaken. The areas to be restored were quite extensive, so it was again deemed best to make a replica of the areas on hooped-up silk organza. Below, you can see the extent of the area which was to be covered, rather than sewing through the original canvas.

The restoration was completed in the same manner as described in the earlier blog posting Part One with the final result being like this.


Before
After





Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Top Prophet, Opus Anglicanum, details of Restoration (Part 1.)

The first task was to photograph, and assess the damaged areas, once the embroidery was carefully removed from the old chasuble.



The worst damage was to the front orphrey, the cause of which could be described, unscientifically, as "tummy rub" - but Father disclaimed having caused it, as he'd not really worn it that often! It is in the area which would most often rub against the altar edge whilst the Priest is offering the Sacrifice of the Mass.

Firstly, in the skirts, feet and floor of the top figure,




and secondly, on the middle figure, in the architecture above him, his face and upper body. The face had been very badly restored, and did not make much sense. It was also difficult to tell what he was holding in his left hand. This would have been an important symbol in trying to identify who he was, which shall be discussed later, in part 2.



The original mediaeval canvas had been backed with a linen at some time in the more recent past ,which made it easier to handle after removal from the chasuble -  (See photo below.)



When examining the back of the embroidery, one could see the extent of the restorations, since they came through both canvases - any threads that are seen on the back of the more recent lining canvas are obviously not original.

Looking at other Opus Anglicanum work, one can see that it is frequently Prophets and Apostles who are depicted. The Prophets very often wear a funny hat, and carry a scroll. The Saints will have a halo, and some identifying symbol. It seemed obvious that this orphrey had a Saint with his halo, sandwiched between two prophets - (It may well have been cut down from a larger piece of work at some time in the past, since the embroideries looked as though they could have carried on at either end.)

The decision was made to intervene in the original as minimally as possible, so some smaller areas were to have the poorer restorations removed, and some careful filling in of the gaps with embroidery threads, but larger areas would be covered in a new piece of embroidery carried out on two layers of fine silk organza, a very fine lightweight but stable fabric, which could then be lightly stitched in place on top of the damaged area. 


This shows the organza hooped, with a light chalk tracing of the area to be copied.



It was necessary to use as fine a fabric to embroider onto as possible, in order that the final piece would not end up too bulky.


When the loose threads, and the dark green under the top Prophet's feet, which were later additions, were carefully cut away, it could be seen that the floor had originally been made up of pale blue, and fawn coloured threads couched down with green crosses, so this was emulated in the copy.  The floor would also have extended up either side of the bottom of the gown, on either side of the figure, so one didn't mind extending over the restorations in that area. It is interesting that the original embroidery had worn away there, as had the restoration - it is evidently a vulnerable area, when being worn. In placing an independently embroidered piece over this part, it would be the first area to wear, and help minimise further damage to the original.

The embroidery unhooped alongside the original.

Below can be seen the free-standing piece of embroidery with the organza edges tucked round to the back, prior to mounting on the orphrey. The threads used were modern embroidery threads, mostly 3 strands, and an attempt was made to emulate the directionality of the original threads as much as possible, using a split-stitch technique, similar to how the original work was carried out. This is the first time such a technique had been carried out, so a certain amount of learning on the job took place!




The Prophet's face and hands had been badly restored, but the original features - eyes, nose and mouth were still intact, and under the restoration threads, the original positioning of the fingers and thumb could be detected. The restoration threads were removed with tweezers from the back of the lining canvas, so no original threads were lost, and some embroidery stitches were put in in a closer matching coloured thread to fill around the original features.

Before, with claw hand and ghost face!

After.



Finally, here is a comparison of the top Prophet area before and after restoration. The previous restorations included the very bright royal blues, but it was decided to go with more muted blues, closer in tone to the original. The work carried out will be fairly obvious to anyone who wants to distinguish between the original and the restoration, whilst at the same time it gives a nice finish to the orphrey, newly mounted onto a chasuble, which can now be used on special occasions, for its original intended purpose of offering Mass.


Before

After




Friday, October 6, 2017

Opus Anglicanum Given new lease of life

I was asked some time ago if I would be willing to undertake the restoration of a piece of Mediaeval embroidery; the Priest who asked me knew I had trained and worked as a paintings conservator in a pre-Mummy existence, and that I now did a lot of sewing. I had little experience of Opus Anglicanum, as that was what the embroidery turned out to be, but I do know a bit about handling ancient objects, having worked in several museum conservation departments in my time, so I said I'd take it on. I have to admit I was rather more excited by the fact that Father told me it had been kept by a recusant family and may well have been worn by St Edmund Campion - a real relic, to handle with care!
English Heritage had said they would work on it for the Priest, but he was told that it would then have to be displayed in a glass case, and not worn. Father wanted to be able to still wear it on very special occasions, and although I have knowledge of conservation ethics, I still have never been a great fan of the "get everything into a museum so that it won't rot" philosophy. There's plenty in museums (and it is a wonderful job conservation departments do, to stop them rotting!) but now and again, something that was created to give glory to God, should, if possible still be used for its intended purpose, so that was my take on what I eventually have done.

This is how the Chasuble arrived, rather worn pink silk, which actually looks a lot better in the photos than it did in real life!




Father chose the fabric he wanted, originally it was to be a large Gothic style chasuble, but once the fabric arrived we decided it might be a bit overpowering, and detract from the embroidered orphrey and cross, so ultimately it was decided to make a Roman style, based on a set he already had.




I am pleased with the way it has turned out. I now just have to make a conservation standard cover for it to be kept in safely whilst not in use. I shall post more about the restoration of the orphrey later.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Exaltation of the Holy Cross, Opus Anglicanum Style.

This was a unique once in a lifetime project whereby I was asked to restore orphreys of Opus Anglicanum embroidery work, and re-mount them onto a newly made chasuble. The project is nearing completion, so I am showing a preview of the work on this fitting feast day!



Thursday, July 6, 2017

Liturgical Splendour, Finally Done!


At last I have finished the altar frontal, superfrontal and tabernacle veils I started during Lent this year. It is for St Birinus Church in Oxfordshire, one of the loveliest little churches I've ever seen. I did get everything rigged up in time for Passiontide, but there were a few tweaks needed, and I've managed to find time to do some tweaking now the First Communion dresses are coming to a close (still one to finish off for August, though!)


 Although it's a lovely church, it is very difficult to get a good photo with my camera, these are the best shots I could manage.





It was a major effort of pattern-matching, since two different types of fabric were sent as being suitable to match - unfortunately one, being partly made with metallic threads, turned out to be much more closely woven, so ultimately smaller (shorter in length) than the other. Being a determined sort of person, I did as much stretching as I could in order to get the patterns to match up across the panels, and in the end it didn't turn out too badly, although there was a fear that the stretched one would either split with all the stretching, or surviving that, would shrink back and cause some rippling along the join,  It doesn't seem to have done that to any great degree so far!



Friday, May 26, 2017

1940's Chic

I know a little girl who needs a new Summer dress, and I decided I'd like to try out a very ancient pattern that I'd acquired from somewhere...


It's one of those that has no markings or seam allowances on the paper pattern pieces, and the instructions are just what you see on the front of the packet! My, those 1940's gals knew how to sew! We're so molly coddled nowadays with our 3 pages of illustrated directions!!

I had some lovely old fashioned-looking floral fabric that I thought would do the job, and I think it turned out rather nicely - in fact the lass's mother and I both agreed we'd quite like a larger version ourselves - although I think the Mum has the beanpole figure that would suit it better than my own rotund form! Little Miss isn't one for too many frills and furbelows, so I thought I'd leave off the collar, and set some rouleau ties of the same fabric into the front seams instead of a belt.


 As the weather is hotting up at the moment, I thought I'd make another version without sleeves.  I decided I didn't want to sew a whole load more button - holes, so...



I adapted the front placket to sneak a zip in instead!






First Holy Communion 2017


If anyone would like a dress made of the same fabric
(embroidered georgette) I have plenty in stock.

This dress is very pretty with a floaty over-layer, and a cotton lining.







It has to be seen in different light to get the full effect!



Here is Cecilia modelling the dress
(and her Zelie's Roses mantilla)
on her big day!



Sunday, April 16, 2017

Resurrexit! Sicut Dixit

What do you do when a Priest asks, on the Tuesday of Holy Week, whether you could find time to make up an altar frontal for his Chapel in time for Easter? You get cracking, of course! Although I couldn't do it on the Wednesday, fortunately I had Maundy Thursday fairly free, so I was able to complete it before Good Friday.


   There was just enough fabric left over to make a lectern fall, but no time to do more than edge stitch it to stop it fraying! It will be properly backed and finished in due course.
I thought it would be easier to make up than the previous one I was asked to make - for Advent and Lent, all those wobbly bits of gold trim - so hard to get in a straight line!!

But pattern matching the edge pieces needed to extend the width is not so easy when they are on full view with no gold trim to hide the joins, so it took almost as long.



However, I think it turned out splendidly to make a fitting frontal for the Feast of the Resurrection. 


Happy Easter.