There was a mistake on the panel that was very interesting to me. One of the questions I have been working on for the MET exhibit has been the method of manufacturing gold threads. This also begets the question, who was making them. From the research so far, we see gold and silver wyre drawers making the wire and possibly flattening it. Then it seems to be turned over to ‘Gold Spinners’ who put the wire or strip around the silk core thread. We have not found any description of this process yet and the current processes used are a product of the industrial revolution and therefore don’t provide us clues as to the past.
The mistake was a small leaf under the bird’s tail. The buttonhole had been started with a strand of silk with a silver strip wrap. Then it changed to just silk at about the natural point that a 12-14″ strand of thread would have run out and have to be changed. What was interesting is that both the jacket and panel have only silk leaves. No metal wraps. But here we have a mistake…oops…started with the wrong thread. But they never seemed to take anything out if they could help it. Hardly noticeable in the final effect unless you are overly familiar with the pieces.
The ah-ha moment came when I saw that the thread wrapped with the metal strip was the same two color silk (green and yellow) as the rest of the leaf. We have talked in depth before how they achieved this heathered effect with a two color twisted thread. Our hypothesis has been that, at the frame, they twisted the two colors they needed to blend. But now we see that the blended thread is also wrapped. Chris, Lynn and I had a long discussion on this – repeated the next day with Susan with additional thoughts being added.
The wrapped blended thread implies that possibly someone in the workshop was skilled at spinning the silver strip or wyre onto the silk thread. Susan repeated what we all would have originally thought – that you bought the colors and threads that you needed from a third party as we do today. The vertical integration of gold thread or composite thread making with the embroidery studio has been a working hypothesis of mine for years. I especially see a great deal of evidence on professional pieces where there are multiple composite threads such as flat silk, wyre wrapped silk, and wyre wrapped silk purl that are all the same dye lot. Based on inventory records, the threads were a valuable commodity and thus having the flexibility to make what you need as you need it would be economical. But we do see that gold threads were certainly bought pre-made by the crown and then supplied to the embroiderer. Many new questions came from this discussion. Susan posed an interesting question: if the gold thread was pre-purchased by the person who commissioned the piece and given to the embroiderer, how would they know how much to buy and could they insure that the workshop wouldn’t skim off the top?
We talked at length about how we have gone about estimating thread for this project, a very important issue to make sure that we have silk of the same dye lot and that the threads we are having manufactured will be enough. Susan was very interested in the process. We have a lot to think about and these questions will color how we look at inventory and account book records in the future.
And if we were to think that this was usual, while I was at the EG collection, they thought I might be interested in seeing other pieces and brought out two coifs. On one of the coifs, this heathered thread with metal wrap was all over the piece. Nice.
I’ve added pictures of the two-color thread we used to prove how the heathered effect was done for you to reference.