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Silk Bouquet

Kloisterarbeiten -  circa 1480ce

In Dress Accessories it says "Silk-covered wire could be twisted into a myriad of forms to decorate items of either secular or sacred use and it is generally artefacts of the latter type that have been preserved. These include a number of 14th and 15th-century reliquaries embellished with multi-colored silk-wire flowers, often with seed pearls and beads threaded onto them, for example a 15th-century reliquary crown of St Kunigunde in Bamberg cathedral, West Germany, and ritual cushions known as paradise gardens for nuns taking their vows (Meckseper 1985, 476-8, no. 392)." I managed to track down the Meckseper book and have included pictures of the Paradise Gardens that date to 1480. Though there are gardens of these flowers in over a dozen cities in North Germany and Belgium, these pictured are composed mainly of intricately wound silk thread and wire. Most of the reliquary flowers look to be votive offerings, simple flowers that have not held up well throughout the years.

After becoming intriqued with these flowers, I closely studied the pictures I have of the Paradise gardens. The silk flowers I had recently learned to make did not look the same as the ones I saw in my picture. It would appear that the flowers in the Paradise gardens are made without wrapping the silk and wire together, a style I have come to call Kloisterarbeiten or Convent Art. (The few examples I could find of modern Kloisterarbeiten all have silk-wrapped wire flowers and are all in the form of  iconography. I call this style Kloisterarbeiten because the examples I have came from Convents.)

I gathered my wire and I gathered my silk and I sat down with a magnafying glass and studied the pictures. Every time I thought I had it I discovered I was wrong. I was wasting a lot of silk. Once more with the magnafying glass and I discovered a strong use of bullion in the pictures. Bullion, or as the English call it, Purl, is finely coiled wire which resembles a slinky or a spring. And I discovered when its strung onto a heavier wire, it makes a great anchor for the silk.

After way to many attempts I finally got it! The way I think the flowers were made was to take Purl covered wire and form it into half a petal. Starting at the base, wrap the petal with silk. when you reach the top, drop the other half of the petal's wire (wrapped in Perl) into the first half and continue wrapping. You'll have what looks like a very long wire with an indent in the middle. When you've reached the bottom on the second half, close the two pieces together, like closing a door, and wrap the base wires together with the excess silk floss. By using two seperate wires you create a hinge that allows the petals to be moved without squeezeing the wires and upsetting the floss.

I tried several different ways to do this and discovered that the longer and more tappered the petal is, the easier it is to wrap. The oak leaves (like the ones in the gardens) were next to impossible. The acorn is silk wrapped over a small ball of wool.

Over all this project took way to long but I am happy with the results and content in the knowledge that, at least for now, I'm probably the only person alive who knows how to make these things. I hope that's not the case for very long! I've already made a lot of people curious when I went looking for Bullion at the Midwest Embroiders Convention.

Davenport, Millia The Book of Costume, Volume 1 Crown Publishers, New York 1948

Egan, Geoff and Pritchard, Frances Dress Accessories c1150 - c1450 Medieval Finds From Excavations in London:3 HMSO Publications, London 1991

Goody, Jack The Culture of Flowers Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1993

Lightbown, Ronald W. Mediaeval European Jewellery The Victoria & Albert Museum, London 1992

Meckseper, Cord ed. Stadt im Wandel: Kunst und Kultur des Bürgertums in Norddeutschland 1150-1650