The Kings & Queens

Tudor Kings
Henry VIII 1509
Edward VI 1547
Lady Jane Grey 1553
Mary I 1553
Elizabeth I 1558

The Tudor Kings ruled from 1485 starting with Henry VII, who, by marrying Elizabeth of York, ended the War of the Roses. The Tudor reign, which continued until the death of Elizabeth I, brought a peaceful and prosperous era. Which in turn lead to a flourishing of the arts including extravagant embroidery. Henry VII was noted for his flamboyant padded and embroidered outfits.

In the early part of the sixteenth century men’s clothing underwent an innovation in fashion. The hose, which had previously covered the male body from waist to feet developed into two separate garments. The upper breeches covered the waist to mid-thigh and lower stockings which were attached by ties or metal tags. The codpiece developed and was laced to the doublet and hose.

Henry VIII in later life 1537
Interalced gold braid, jewels and slashing (where the under shirt is pulled through).

During Henry VIII reign the basic female dress was the kirtle and gown. Until about 1545 the word kirtle referred to a garment with a square d├ęcolletage that fitted the body closely to mid thigh and then fell in folds to the ground. After 1545 the bodice and skirt were made separately and the kirtle became the name for the skirt.

Lady Mary Sidney 1555.
The bodice has a high standing collar - derived from the Spanish fashion - and it is turned outwards to display the embroidered lining. Embroidery on the sleeves matches the collar.

Bodices were made in two halves and laced at the sides. Sleeves were attached with ties. Undergarments were often embroidered at the neck and ends of sleeves.

Court fashions inevitably changes as the Kings and Queens changed (or for Henry VIII as the wives changed!) The court of Anne Boylen had a French influence (she spent several years in France), the court of Mary Tudor was influenced by Spain (she married a Spaniard), these court influences inevitably affected costume and embroidery design.

During the Tudor dynasty the English courtiers were known for their fine clothes. In 1595 a foreign envoy reported “Earls, lords and knights - they all wore gold and silver dress and their raiment embroidery with precious stones and pearls”.

Robert, Earl of Dudley 1575-80
(Queen Elizabeth's constant companion and advisor)

Only a small number of articles remain from this period – mainly gloves, jackets, coifs etc.- and these were mainly made by the domestic embroiderer. Of the clothes worn by the Tudor court only the portraits remain.

English Embroidery 1500-1599 Part 2 – including Blackwork

Having had several really supportive comments I've decided to go ahead with this blog.... thanks to those who wrote to me.
I was hoping to have a new book to help expand this chapter - "Queen Elizabeths Wardrobe Un'locked" by Janet Arnold but it's not arrived from Amazon yet.

During the Reformation (when the churches and abbeys in England were closed by Henry VIII) much of the finest English embroidery was destroyed. A great loss to our heritage.
Following the Reformation was a period of relative stability in England when the decorative arts reached new standards of quality. English needlework became more domestic and high quality work was done by amateurs rather than by professionals. Needlework was seen as a suitable pastime for the ladies of the court and Elizabeth I’s women were especially noted for their fine work. Artists were employed to draught designs and pattern books became influential.
Detail from The Life of Henry VIII, artist unknown. c. 1545
Showing embroidered costumes, canopy and cushions.
The court of Elizabeth was affluent – money was incoming from new territories and piracy on the seas. There was money to spend on highly decorative clothing and accessories. The court was full of examples of embroidered items – not only clothes, but also bags, shoes and household items. Some items have survived, other details come from portraits such as the one below of Bess of Hardwick.
Bess of Hardwick 1560
The bodice, sleeves and collar are embroidered with a geometric pattern of interlaced circles
Bess married four times, each time she accumulated wealth from her deceased husbands and eventually became Countess of Shrewsbury and one of the richest women in England. She was a good friend of Elizabeth I, built Hardwick House and extensively extended Chatsworth House. Bess was a renowned needlewoman and, as wife to the jailer of Mary Queen of Scots, spent much time in the Scottish Queens company. Mary Queen of Scots was also an excellent and prolific needlewoman.

Queen Elizabeth’s wardrobe inventory of 1600 lists a gown of “black satten, embroidered all over with roses and pauncies and a border of oaken leaves”. Tudor and Elizabethan portraits show magnificent embroidery. Intricate patterns were embroidered on every available space, frequently highlighted with jewels.

Elizabeth I c.1585-90
On New years Day everyone in Elizabeth I’s household was expected to give her a gift. Embroidered “sweetbags” were popular choices and they were often embellished with gold and silver thread along with spangles (like sequins) and pearls.

A "sweetbag" - purple velvet embroidered with gold and silver threads and pearls

Shoes worn indoors (slippers) were often made from velvet and decorated with embroidery and trimmed with lace and spangles.
During the Renaissance a new class of affluent merchants arose. They emulated the nobility with fine furnishing and costumes creating a new demand for embroidery.
Renaissance designs were often formally symmetrical, non-figurative and with “Mooresque” or “Arabesque” influence. In 1600 the East India Trading Company began to import from India and Asia and designs were inevitably influenced by this (more on this in the crewelwork section).
Flowers were a familiar recurring theme. By 1550 several pattern books for embroidery were available throughout Europe.
A red satin cushion c.1600
Decorated with naturalistic flowers and fruit within heart shaped tendrils, all in metal thread

Blackwork, popular with Elizabethans, is probably Persian in origin – coming to England via Catherine of Aragon (the first wife of Henry VIII who came from Arab influenced Spain).
Simple stitches (double running and back stitch) are used to create complex scrolling or geometric patterns. Because it is a counted method it requires even weave fabric (same number of warp and weft fibres per inch) so it suited linen which was the main fabric for those that could afford it.
For the nobility the delicate Blackwork was sometimes embellished with jewels. Work on cuffs and ruffs was particularly fine as the work could be seen from both the back and front. Blackwork has also been found on caps, purses and pillow covers.
Black thread was most commonly used but examples of red and blue thread are found.
Later in the sixteenth century fruits and flower designs were introduced. Segments were outlined and filled with patterns. This type of blackwork is not often reversible and was used on the main clothing rather than collars and cuffs. Shading was achieved with very small stitches. Often gold and silver threads and metal spangles were added as highlights.
Headress, late C16th.
Embellished with gilt spangles

On larger Blackwork pieces the infilling patterns were varied with contrasting textures that were probably influenced by needlepoint lace.
Countess of Bath 1575. Bold flowers and strapwork in blackwork


More info on blackwork

Photographs of original articles

Pattern books

C16th designs

Main website  www.helencowans.co.uk

Online Workshops www.textilegoddess.org

Blog (Textile Goddess)  www.textilegoddess.blogspot.com