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Medieval Silke Flowers

How I'm making these flowers

I do not create or work with patterns. If you're looking for instructional books try the ones written for Ganutel or Klosterarbeiten. As far as I know there are no Klosterarbeiten books in English and the only one I've seen in German was devoted to metal thread work but the pictures were easy enough to follow and the techniques are simular. The basics of Ganutel will give you directions for the first flower's petals.
There are three things required in the construction of these flowers: thread, wire, and vellum.
Thread: Most of the articles I've read say that silk was used in the original shrines so that is what I'm using. I like Kreinik's Soie d'Alger. It is very much like cotton embroidery floss (which I've also used and I don't notice a difference). I don't like rayon and the silkier silks - they are to shiny and they tend to slide around making them more difficult to work with. I also don't like the heavier two-ply silks as they are to heavy looking for such small flowers. I seperate the silk floss and use a single strand at a time so I would think that using actual thread would work too but I haven't tried that. Harline mentions the use of linen (his work concentrates on post 1600 sources) and Appuhn mentions that one of the relics was wrapped in a fabric that was 'light blue silk on a finer blue wool'. No other fibers were named - most refer to the thread only as 'silk'.
Colors named by Appuhn are: red, pink, beige, blue, green, gray-black, light green, yellow, brown, yellow-blue and pink-silver. Some of the relic packets were dated as 13th century Spain, 2nd half 14th century, 15th century Spain, and 15th century Italy. (Relic packets were on the Paradise Gardens in Ebstorf - the flowers were made in Mecheln and the whole of the cushions were assembled in Ebstorf in 1480. The packet coverings imply that the relics were collected from many places and were of different ages.)
Wire: pre-made bullion can only get you so far - eventally you're going to end up coiling your own wire into bullion just to get it small enough. You'll need a selection of all the smaller wires - I've used everything between 18 gauge and 34 gauge. Somewhere I have a breakdown of wire metal content from medieval artifacts but I'm going to spare you to details and just say: I have found no noticable difference in how the metal content affects the workability of the wire. Seriously. I don't have any information on what was in the shrines so I've been going off of what I know of medieval metals and what it looks like it could be from the photos I have.
Vellum: I don't know exactly what animal hide was used in the original shrines. I do know that I've tried a number of things, from paper and veggie parchment to leather scraps. The best stuff is like a paper weight suede. The nice thing is that if you get it wet you can stick a needle through it without any problem and it is less likely to break than paper. The silk doesn't slide to much and it has flexability. Even better - the pieces you need are tiny - generally I can get two petals out of a piece the size of my pinky finger. Find a scribe who has scraps - the little pieces they will never use. And as a bonus - it doesn't matter if the piece isn't any good for scribing on or is oily or smudged or warped. You're going to cover the whole thing in silk so noone is going to see it (and cutting it into tiny pieces helps too.)
The vellum petals I cut in one very long piece - like a very smushed "m". I lay a wire agienst it to keep it stiff and wrap - when it's all wrapped, I fold it in half and twist the two wire ends together to form the stem. To start the silk I've run a needle though one of the very tips of the vellum and tied off the thread - it works easier if you get the vellum damp first (I just stuck the tip in my mouth) so it is more fexible. I tried using two seperate pieces of vellum but it didn't work as well (sliding) as using one piece that was barly joined in the middle. The one-piece method produces the same visual result as I see in the pictures of the shrines. Appuhn talks about the 'slits' down the middle of the petals which also leads me to believe they were made in one piece. Appuhn also mentions parchment, as does Triest, but I can't rule out a translation error (as none of the authors actually give a name for the animal the paper is derived from). I have used several different types (vellum, parchment, etc.) and they are pretty much the same. Thickness seems to be the biggest factor, something like smoothness is of little importance, a good nap makes things easier.
Of the shrines I have evidence of the breakdown is:
For Time Period =   Prior to 1500 = 4, 1500 = 2, 1491-1510 = 1, 1510 = 3, 1st qtr 1500 = 5, 1st half 1500 = 1, 16th century = 1 for a total of 17.
For Location =    Mechelen = 9, Brabant = 2, Sint-Lenaarts = 1, Walsrode = 2, Rheine (Kloster Bentlage) = 1, Kalkar = 1, Erstorf = 1 for a total of 17.
Frans Pourbus the younger - painted around 1605

And I now have evidence that suggests the flowers were used for headdresses (circlets and such) right around 1600. I found a picture done about 1600. According to the dictionary = In September 1599 Vincenzo Gonzaga I, 4th Duke of Mantua, was in Brussels and appointed Frans the younger his chief portrait painter. Frans left for Mantua in 1600 (where Rubens was also working); he is recorded as having executed a number of portraits of the ducal family, but this did not preclude his working for other important patrons.
Since this is a portrait of Eleonora of Mantau then I would have to conclude that it was done before 1605 - the dress style looks like it is 1603 and the dictionary would place it at 1601, Eleonora was born in 1598 and looks to be about four or five years old in the picture. But if you look at the headdress closely you will see the same split leave design that is seen in Klosterarbeiten. The pearls in the centers help with it of course - there is no doubt they are artifical flowers!
So what I'd like to know is: were these headdresses really Klosterarbeiten and were they around longer than just the early 1600's. I'll never get an answer of course because these flowers are pretty fragile and would not have lasted through any lenght of wearing. The ones preserved in cases have a great deal of wear to them and they've been sealed agienst handling for 500 years. A headdress would never have survived - except in paintings perhaps. Harline proves that the flowers were still being made in the first half of the 1600s in convents.

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Bibliography (furture reading list):
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

Krone und Schleier: Kunst Aus Mittelalterlichen Frauenklöstern - catalog 2005

Pages 428-430


Dress Accessories 1150-1450 / Egan and Pritchard 1991  Pages 291-296


Bestandskataloge der weltlichen Ortsstiftungen der Stadt Freiburg i. Br. Band 3: Die Klosterarbeiten - catalog / Bock and Böhler 1999.


The Burdens of Sister Margaret/ Craig Harline 1994  Pages 144-149