26 March 2010

Embroidered Fatimid Northshield-y griffin: Material Culture thirteen: A&S 50 Challenge

This medallion measures six inches across. The ground is linen (black warp and white weft) and the embroidery is worked in linen and silk-ivory (a blend of silk and wool). The design is based on an extant Fatimid ceramic bowl, luster-painted in one color. The bowl is housed in the Museum of Islamic Art, Cairo, item 14930 and was featured in Jenkins, Marilyn. "Muslim: An Early Fatimid Ceramist." The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, v. 26, no. 9 (May, 1968).

I was delighted to find the bowl as it neatly brought together three elements: the Fatimid period, a griffin (the mascot of Northshield), and it could be altered to echo the compass rose motif (also associated with Northshield). To emphasize the compass rose, I simplified the filler between the cardinal points, and highlighted the north indicator circle with the only white embroidery on the piece.

I wanted the griffin to be gold (a Northshield convention), and I selected colors from my stash that would accent it. I used stitches found in extant embroidered Fatimid pieces—stem stitch, split stitch, and chain stitch—that were best suited to the different thicknesses of the yarns I selected.

It was amazingly difficult to transfer the design onto this dark fabric. I ultimately scaled the design to six inches on the computer, printed it, taped the printout to a sunny window and pinned the fabric to the paper. I used a light colored fabric pencil to trace the general design, then pulled it down and filled in the details with chalk. Because of the nature of embroidery (essentially plunking the fabric every time the needle is drawn through, which causes the chalk to loosen and float away) I used a narrow needle and sewing thread the “draw” the design in running stitch over the chalk, and then covered the running stitch with the embroidery.

For more information on extant Medieval Islamic embroidery see:
Ellis, Marianne. Embroideries and Samplers from Islamic Egypt. University of Oxford, Ashmolean Museum: University of Oxford, 2001.

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