Textile art for film in the Medieval period.
There are many textile art designs in our archives that would work very well for period films. In trying to work out how to show the versatility of our work I have tried to locate images from history in the form of illuminated manuscripts, paintings and a fine excuse to read authors who describe clothes. A good writer does a great deal of research and sometimes they will give you the source of their findings which is really exciting and helpful.
Textile art film
The first film based in the Dark Ages for which we were asked to make costumes and textiles was a romance inspired by The Song of Roland. An epic poem of 4000 lines telling the story of the son of Charlemagne.
The Song of Roland (French: La Chanson de Roland) is an epic poem based on the Battle of Roncevaux in 778, during the reign of Charlemagne. It is the oldest surviving major work of French literature and exists in various manuscript versions, which testify to its enormous and enduring popularity in the 12th to 14th centuries.
The date of composition is put in the period between 1040 and 1115: an early version beginning around 1040 with additions and alterations made up until about 1115. The final text has about 4,000 lines of poetry. The epic poem is the first and, along with The Poem of the Cid, one of the most outstanding examples of the chanson de geste, a literary form that flourished between the 11th and 15th centuries and celebrated legendary deeds.
Cotton cord weave shadow printed gold onto red. This fabric was intended for lining the campaign tents in the film!
Cotton cord weave shadow printed gold onto red. This fabric was intended for lining the campaign tents in the film! The lefthand corner is a coarse felted wool and the simple motif on the red is a design we call Mediaeval Leaf – inspired by the illustrations in illuminated manuscripts.
The pink fabric is a shot silk taffeta with a shadow print copper on to blue. The blue fabrics are a heavy satin hand painted in deep vivid blue and then printed with a copper pigment.
Silk viscose velvet – hand painted then printed with Medieval leaf design in gold (top righthand corner). Fabrics hand painted from left to right: heavy silk satin – cotton/wool with lattice print – silk cord velvet with gold print – heavy silk satin. In the left hand corner is a piece of velvet that was painted and then we applied a technique which produces a tree bark effect.
Textile art in film work
Cotton velvet hand painted with triple colour patchwork print. The centre column is some silk fabric that was first painted, then printed and after that we gave it the ‘antique stressed’ look. I am not sure how repeatable that would be but it would be fun trying. The last piece of fabric is a length of experimental velvet that has been quilted with beads.
From left to right: Silk shadow printed red with gold overlaid – deep puppy brown hand pleated silk – silk printed with copper and gold – cord weave cotton shadow printed (in the corner felted printed wool) – satin viscose cotton mixed prints.
Fabric on the left is a silk hand painted and with a gold print. The outer garment is linen with a double print of gold on red and trimmed with bands of the same blue as the background – printed with a stripe of little motifs. Silk dress painted and pleated by hand.
Rich silk brocades woven in Persia at the time of the crusades
Hand painted very heavy satin with a gold print.
Cotton cord weave – this fabric went through several processes to get this colour and was then printed with a gunmetal print.
I am not sure what this fabric is – I bought it because I liked the weight of it for curtains but it is great for ‘grand’ garments. Printed with gold – print design garden border.
Shot silk taffeta – shadow print.
Art of textiles for film
In order demonstrate how versatile we are when creating textiles for film work we made up a group of fabrics that had something of the gaudy atmosphere of images taken about The song of Roland. Campaign tents lined in rich blues and reds luxuriously gilded. The manuscript pictures show mostly men fighting, but the story, for the film, was to be a love story with the working title of ‘Love and Virtue’. Fabrics were used for all sorts of events – banners, hangings on the front of balconies – all richly embellished with block printed designs.
Heavy woven wool – colour manipulated and then printed with gold pigment.
Open weave natural linen printed with shadow red/brown under gold.
Moving on a little bit – to the Middle Ages there begins to be a lot more information that is available to the researcher. Research takes us out of our daily chores right back into the past as far as we can find illustrations. The Paston letters are brilliant for early descriptions of fabrics that might be available to ordinary mortals for their everyday lives. So too are some vivid descriptions in the Margery Kempe story.
I am puzzled however because historians tell me that women would more commonly wear blue and men red – or pink which might just be a faded red. Is the scribe trying to fool me with the bright red dress? And in the research the men seem to be wearing blue. Who do we believe? In the Paston Letters Margaret asks her husband to buy her a gown – either blue or red. I think she ends up with a scarlet gown. In another letter she says that her father is supposed to be buying her a grey gown because she is fed up with the cumbersome one that she is really tired of wearing. As she says in the same letter to her husband John Paston in December 1441: “As to the girdle my father promised me ………..be so good to have it made in time for your return home, for I never needed it more than I do now, for I have grown so fat that no belt or girdle that I have will go round me.”
Cotton velvet which started off black which was first reduced in patches then painted in layers and finally a double print to give an interesting dimension to the fabric.
As for the scarlet dress and the colourful garments depicted in illuminated manuscripts would it have been possible to get this strength of colour into the commonly used fabrics such as wool and linen? Wool at the time was mostly from sheep that produced a dark fleece, brown, grey and almost black. Wool does not bleach naturally in the sun. What fabrics would there be that would take these strong truly vibrant colours? Silk possibly for the very wealthy who could afford to import lustrous brocades from the Middle East, or bolts of wonderfully luxurious brocades brought back from the crusades. Linen, in its natural state, is a dull greyish brown which will bleach in the sunlight and therefore it is possible to get interesting and varied colours. There is also the question of what plants and minerals could produce strong colours – madder is great for a dullish kind of red, becoming dull mainly because of the iron pot in which the dye was created causing the colour to be ‘saddened’. The learned scribe, however, would have access to more vibrant inks and paints made from materials such as ground lapis lazuli.
And most importantly what about the sumptuary laws. These laws appeared in the 13th century and were designed to curb extravagance of the lower and middle classes – the king hated that funds should go abroad purchasing luxurious textiles that were only available from the Middle East and beyond. Interestingly this also applied in Italy where luxury consumption was discouraged – including buttons considered to be decorative objects and not functional. However women won in the end because by using buttons they could make their tunics/robes more body hugging – show off slender arms, narrow waists. This in turn cut down the amount of cloth required, so they made up the quantity by adding a long train and layering – quantity of fabric showing a status. Nothing changes – layering is as contemporary today as it has been throughout the ages.
A mediaeval illustration – this rough urchin’s trousers showing the backside and torn at the knee – I rest my case – nothing changes!
Silk/viscose velvet – hand painted and printed in patchwork design.
Cotton cord weave – hand painted and printed gold acanthus leaf design.
This illustration in an illuminated manuscript shows the weaver wearing a plain red dress with little primitive motifs scattered all over it and peeking out under the hem is the tell-tail sign of her linen chemise. Her twin in the background has the same dress and she seems to be plucking fruit, possibly pears, from the tiny trees.
Silk/viscose velvet – hand painted – then misted and finally quilted with iridescent beads.
Light weight cotton/wool – painted dark chocolate and printed with simple lattice design in gold.
Queen Elizabeth I – painted by Steven van de Meulen 1560s
Wool cotton fabric with simple motif print in gold.
Fabric on the left is silk which has been painted by hand and then printed with gold acanthus leaf design. The silk on the right has been hand painted then printed with the large lattice design which was then beaded and manipulated to give intricate texture to the piece.
Silk/viscose velvet hand painted and printed with copper gold in a design called ‘crusader’.
Silk viscose velvet – printed with copper – butterfly and chrysanthemum – hand painted and misted.
Queen Elizabeth I
Hand painted silk velvet and manipulated with intricate beading.
Cotton cord weave – dark gunmetal with pewter print.
Silk chiffon printed with gold.
Velvet – printed with gold sample designs.
Textured and manipulated hand painted fabric – cotton and viscose.
Painting by William Larkin (1580s – 1619)
Coat is made from a silk/viscose velvet – devore printed in two designs – cube and stripe. Dress under the coat is hand painted and hand pleated silk in a faded damson colour.
Fabric on the left is pure silk with a shadow print of gold on red. the fabric on the right is also pure silk with a coarse texture – printed with gold.