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Medieval Silke Flowers
History / Background
Notes thus far...
If I had the ability to grasp German (I've tried - I'm just not lingustic) I'd be finished with this by now. But alas....
I'd really like to know why I'm only interested in topics that noone else wants to write about? Why do I have the feeling that I'm repeating myself? Why is archaic German so hard for the translation sites - and where did all those extra letters come from? Anyway - I digress.

According to what I have read thus far, these Flowers started in Brugge, moved to the Low Countries, and spread from there. The earliest examples I have date to 1480. While they contined to be manufactured until the 18th century, they were really only popular until about 1520.

Mechelen seems to have been a center of the production as one book said the convent there drove out whatever cottage industry they had in the area. It would seem that, from the examples of the art I have found, the artform didn't make it to far out of the region. And yet there are simular flowers from Italy and Malta though I have not seen any historical examples of either. There are also said to be yet another type of flower from Austria. Again, I have not seen examples.
I find, as I progress through trying to replicate the flowers, that there are only three items needed to make any flower: silk thread (or floss), wire, and vellum. Any combination of the three can create any number of flower varities. The wire, formed into bullion by coiling it, can be of numerous base metals and coiled in many different ways but it is still only one item. To me this makes perfect sense. All three of these items are pretty easy to come by and take more time than money to produce the finished flower. While I'm sure none of the items were especially cheap even in the early 1500's, the flowers are on a relatively small scale so very little of each item is required. I have found that the average flower requires approx. a 2 or 3 inch square size of vellum, 2 yards of wire, and a five meter skein of silk floss. Moreover, those would be finished amounts, the actual usage can come from much smaller, leftover pieces. As an example, the vellum I'm using is all small bits left over from cutting full pages out of the hide - the pieces aren't large enough for even a page in the smallest book or they are irregular enough to be worthless as such. And while I do use some purchased bullion, I end up coiling most of the wire myself because I can't buy anything as small as I need.
The first flower I replicated contained no vellum and was of a type that are currently being made in Malta (and there have recently been numerous books written on the subject, giving instruction) and Europe. The second one contained the same technique as the first, with the addition of the vellum petals. The third one, my latest project, contains very narrow strips of vellum and wire, wrapped in silk and then coiled. It is a most time consumming process but is very simple in its technique. I hope soon to figure out the two last flower types that has so far elluded my ability to recreate them. I will, of course, continue to work on it until I feel I have suceeded.


My Background

A really long time ago, maybe thirty years or so, I started playing with beads. I made my first beaded flowers about five years later (I was 14 then). Things progressed from there. I joined the army, I worked as a nanny, I went to college. I spent a year in Turkey, eventually I graduated from the U of MN with a degree in History and Middle Eastern Studies. And once my time was my own again I really started playing with beads. So much so that I ended up joining the SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism) so I could combine my love of beads with my love of research.
And then I created the minature beaded garden and, as part of the research for that project, I found some pictures of the cushions from Erbdorf covered in silk flowers. Those pictures were the start of this project. I just couldn't let them go - I had to know more. This would be the "more"...

Documentation Photos

Color photos of some shrines in Mechelen.

More Documentation Photos

Black and White photos of additional shrines, most from Mechelen. Also contains photo of shrine dating to 1613 to show progression of the artform.

How I'm making the flowers


Die Paradiesgärtlein des Klosters Ebstorf /Appuhn, Horst - In: Lüneburger
Blätter (1968). Pages 27 - 36.
Stadt im Wandel Kunst und Kultur /Meckseper, Cord 1985 Pages 476 - 478.
Reliquien in Kunst und Kult zwischen Antike und Aufklarung / Legner, Anton 1995
Ein Rundgang durch Kloster Ebstorf / Wolfson, Michael 2001 Pages 64 - 65.
Hortus Conclusus - Eeen vinger aan de Maagdelijkheid / Scholten, Simone In: Tekst (2001) Pages 23-24
Het besloten hof Begijnen in de Zuidelijke Nederlanden / Triest, Monika 2000
800 jaar onze - lieve - vrouwegasthuis uit het erfgoed van de Mechelse gasthuiszusters en het OCMW - catalog
Friedrich, Werner (Text), Förderverein Kloster / Schloss Bentlage e. V. (Hg.): Das Kreuz im Garten des Paradieses, Rheine 1998

Sander, Helga / Peschl, Wolfgang: Klosterarbeiten; Tradition, Vorbilder, Anleitungen. Augsburg 1997