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Bead Embroidery
Italian and German Beaded Embellishments
By Jonalee A. Crabb known in the SCA as Roxelana Bramante

I never really properly wrote the paper for bead embroidery (yet) but I have done quite a bit of it as of late.

The first piece I did (in recent history - and by "did" I mean completed) was Italian in nature. I took the pattern from the pattern in the fabric. I'm happy with the way it turned out but I'm not truely sure I could document the pattern work on the bodice. There are paintings that appear to have embroidery and pearls on the bodice but I haven't heard of any extant gowns.

The German was my second project (probably because I didn't get it out of my system with the Italian) and a very intensive one at that. It is very close to the one in Cranach's Portait of a Woman (1530). The actual swirls and the forepart were of my own design with the help of stencils.

The sleeves of the German were constructed by first taking strips of cotton velvet and embroidering the pearls onto them (measuring so they were the right length for around the arm). When they were all completed I cut two base sleeves from linen and laid the beadwork pieces where they were to go. I ironed linen to a backing and cut it into strips which were then sewn unto shot silk (for the slash and puff bits). these were afixed to the sleeve base and then stuffed with netting to give them poof. The beaded strips were then affixed and trim was sewn over all other stitch lines. Sleeves were then finished. If you're going to do this then I would suggest you cut your sleeve base at least one inch (maybe more) wider on all sides - because of the puffing you're going to need the extra room. Seriously.

The German "surround" collar was cut in one piece and backed (like a fabric snake) and then embroidered. Then I hit all the knots with glue after two of the threads broke and required repairwork to be done. The collar was then hand sewn to the dress. I used silk thread to do the beadwork because I was being anal about periodness but in the future I'm only using nylon quilting thread. There's too much work involved and silk doesn't hold up as well as modern alteratives. Though I did discover that after-the-fact repairs were pretty easy to make and I could easily hide the repair threads by covering them with a sharpie pen. Black is so good for hiding things and always put aside a small packet of the beads used so repairs can be made - you'll never find all the beads that drop off - never.

German Dress after Cranach 1530

Click here to see the original dress this is based on.

This is a really terrible picture of the Italian dress.
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