The Gilding Begins

I got sick with a fever for a few days, so I spent some time getting started with the gilding for the pieces. If you’ve never worked with gold leaf, you may not know that gilding has to be done before anything else. Gold leaf sticks to everything – fingerprints, pets, gouache, ink… So gold goes down first. It’s one of my favorite things to do in scribal land, and it always feels like a reward after having to spend the hours carefully drawing on the design. Gold is pure transformative magic.

I had planned to start with gesso, in case it went spectacularly well, so that I could just use it on both. However, I don’t have as much gesso as I thought I did. Supplies will have to be ordered. Much time with the mortar and pestle will have to be put in. I am impatient. Instacoll happened first.

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All the patterns haven’t been sketched in yet. Blame the fever.

Instacoll and Minautum are the two big modern gilding sizes that the big-time calligraphers use. They’re both great. When I ordered, they were out of Minautum, so I got Instacoll. The only thing I don’t love about it is that it transfers the texture of what’s beneath it to the surface once it’s dry. Thinning it out well and doing extra coats generally solves the problem (and makes for a prettier, domed gilding surface that reflects more light). I couldn’t do that on the arch border of |O| shapes because they’re too small to keep their definition and take multiple coats of size. So they’re slightly dimpled up close, since the texture of the vellum’s pores is transferred.

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I keep looking at it, trying to decide if I should scrape it off or leave it. Leaving it is probably the best idea. It’s not THAT noticeable if you’re not looking for it, and colorful painting will make it less so. And it’s small. That whole central arch from the portrait out to the |O| border is about 1.5×2″. (You guys know I have a perfectionism problem, so don’t act surprised…)

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Here it is with the first layer of gold on it, and it’s definitely better. A second layer of gold will go on when I’m less tired, and it will look better still. If I had to learn that this style of gilding isn’t suited to such small details, I’m glad I learned it on a tiny arch at the very beginning. This will let me work through the rest of the piece finding ways to advantageously combine raised gilding and flat gilding (painted-on shell gold or gold bronze powder are both period options that look great, though shell gold is WAY more expensive).

A Pair of Russian Pieces

I’m doing two calligraphy and illumination pieces in tandem. Both on vellum with handmade period materials. Both with plenty of gold leaf. One piece is for me to use in A&S competitions and keep, and the other is the Rose scroll for HRM Joan of Ook, Queen of Gleann Abhann.

While I won’t show the Rose scroll in full until it has been given, I will show you details and be open with the work on its sister piece, which I’m keeping. It’s good to have a project like this, which has forced me to cut my whole goat skin that Himself bought me at Gulf a couple of years back. One goat makes quite a few authentically-sized scribal pieces.

It takes a lot of giant rulers to cut a rather small rectangle of vellum. Because science.
It takes a lot of giant rulers to cut a rather small rectangle of vellum. Because science.

The Rose scroll is due in October, but I’m trying to be good to my wrist and work in moderation. There’s a LOT of detail and pattern, which means lots of tiny brush painting. Plus, making a portrait that will need a bit of practice painting to make sure I get the look right. The next really big A&S thing is at the beginning of February, which totally gives me time to handle any gesso-themed catastrophes or order whatever the right pigment is for that particular shade of blue.

I love the sketching and portraiture I have planned for the Rose scroll so much that I’m thinking of doing the second with one of the prayers to the Blessed Theotokos. This is what the Orthodox call Mary, and it translates to “light bearer”, as in the one who has birthed the light of the world. I have had a long love for the Theotokos, and Orthodoxy has particularly beautiful prayers and hymns to her. This is the first Christian thing I’ve thought of to make that I truly want to have in my house because the subject is dear to my heart.

The basis for the pieces is Russian: a page from the Yuriev Gospel, ca. 1119-1128. It’s an unfinished page where the outline and patterns are drawn in, but nothing is painted. It’s very similar to pages from the Izbornik Sviatoslava, 1073. I plan to pull colors from there. Both pieces are the size of the original page: 20×24 cm, which is a little smaller than 8×10 in.

Yuriev Gospel
Yuriev Gospel
Izbornik Sviatoslava - 1073
Izbornik Sviatoslava – 1073

I traced the design and made edits for it to be better suited to having calligraphy in the center section. I’m pretty sure the three arches are meant to have patterns or maybe angels in them, with the central open area being for a larger painting of a complex scene. When I sat down with my light table to transfer the design to the vellum, I ran into a problem. The pores of the goat’s skin obscure the fine details and tiny, complex patterns in a significant way.

I traced the big shapes, flipped off the light, and spent an afternoon freehand drawing in complicated patterns with a very sharp pencil. It was a good thing for me to have to do this. I get so focused on trying to be perfect that I forget that I have the skills and experience to do this myself. I wound up altering some of the patterns to ones I prefer to draw, or ones based on Russian textile and jewelry finds that Joanie loves and sent to me for inspiration. The Russian aesthetic is heavily influenced by the Byzantines, particularly in treatment of religious imagery. This means that there’s an abundance of elegant patterns, a rich color palette, highly stylized treatment of humans and animals, and lots of gold on everything – my ideal scribal combination.

Silk Embroidery Testing: Progress

The embroidery is going pretty well in that I’m enjoying doing it. It’s progressing quickly, which is also really nice after doing super fine projects that take hundreds of hours. The colors are gorgeous, and I like the subtle variegation.

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But.

I think I need a hands-on lesson on the Bayeaux stitch, or laid and couched work in general. It’s such a straightforward concept to lay all those long stitches in one direction and tack them down with rows of stitches in the opposite direction. Keeping things straight on curved seams is hard, though. I have a lot to learn.

There’s a mix of satin stitch and a sort of but not really Bayeaux stitch. With the way the shapes spiral, I couldn’t figure out how to do a truly consistent Bayeaux. I went with keeping a consistent direction across the widest parts of each third of the design and winging it as things narrowed and spiraled. This makes me think it’s not the right stitch for the job.

I don’t know a lot about how Bayeaux works in applications outside of the Bayeaux Embroidery itself – this may be exactly how to handle the shapes. I don’t know how to fix the weird intersections or angles you can see toward the top, where the arms come together to make a triangle. I could definitely use some instruction on how to refine what I’m doing. It’s a fun, quick fill stitch that I’d like to use more.

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I have learned that there’s not really a difference between outline and split stitch in how the final long, laid stitches look. However, since this thread has a twist, it doesn’t lend itself to split stitch. It’s splendid for outline stitch. I got this great book on the Bayeaux embroidery for Christmas, and it was explaining how the twist works for and against the different stitches used. And when the twist is going in the same direction as the curve, it makes for an incredibly smooth line in outline stitch.

This is the first chance I’ve had to play with that, and it was interesting to see the difference. My stitching isn’t perfect (and this is way blown up with a macro lens), but you can see how the different sides of the curve are smoother and more jagged. Something to keep in mind with winding knotwork…

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Silk Embroidery Testing

My friend, Baroness Jac from Gleann Abhann, is an incredible dyer who works with natural dye materials. She’s spectacularly knowledgeable and talented. We got to hang out at ArtSci Crown, and the lady has a giant bag overflowing with hanks of every color and hue you can imagine – all from the dye workshop in her backyard! We got to dump them out in the grass and play a little. I wish I had a picture – you’d swoon. She sent me home with some samples of silk dyed with indigo and madder to see how they work for embroidery. Most of her customers use the fibers for knitting, crochet, and weaving, but I had to go and ask about embroidery…

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The silk she gave me is similar to perle cotton or Vineyard silk twists for needlepoint. Which is to say, it’s not stranded. I’m using it in a few different ways. Right now, I’m working on deep peacock blue silk dupioni. It’s shot with olive-gold that gives a nice teal finish when it moves. I don’t generally embroider on dupioni – particularly with thread this heavy. I changed to a crewel needle so that there’s a nice, sharp point to help make it through the tight weave.

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I’m doing a circular motif on a band of this silk. This band will be applique’d onto a panel that hangs from the turtle brooches over a Norse apron dress. The panel can be worn with any dress, so it’s an ideal place to put more elaborate, complex, or luxurious embellishments. This is one of my favorites. It’s also an ideal place for little treasures. Since the panel is maybe a foot across, it’s perfect for prized bits of weaving, wire weaving motifs, silk scraps, and the like.

I’ve drawn my motif onto Solvy in white gel pen (super historically accurate). There isn’t a lot of wiggle room to keep the design centered on the band, so there are some anchoring stitches above and below to add stability until the design is partially sewn. They just get pulled out later. To begin, I go over the outline of the shape first in split or outline stitch or some combination. This way, when I lay my long stitches over it, I wind up with a clean, raised shape.

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