Katherine asks what subtitled movie I was watching the other day that had me so engrossed I fell into multiple errors on my Rogue. It was Red Beard, the Kurosawa movie starring Toshiro Mifune.

Since Rogue is going so slowly, here’s another side trip. This time into the past.

The dress itself is Melton wool, and weighs a ton. Overall it’s a rather poor example of SCA costuming, but the underskirt is something I’ve enjoyed for a long time. It’s a blackwork panel I stitched a good [mumblefratz] years ago. It was inspired by a piece from the Art Institute of Chicago pictured in Embroidery Masterworks (Virginia Churchill Bath, 1972). That book was a birthday present from my then and present pal and needlework buddy, Kathryn -?she of the motto "Too many centuries, too little time."

This didn’t start out as being an underskirt. When I began the piece, I intended it to be a tablecloth. I was uncertain whether or not I’d just edge around the outside of the rectangle with the motifs, or I’d cover the whole surface with them. As a result, the stitched area is larger than the skirt’s opening shows. Some motifs were done as partials to eke out the space.There’s a truncated pomegranate at the lower left. The total stitched area is about 20% larger? than what you can see and is hidden by the edges of the dress. I never trimmed the back of the piece, it’s still a large white linen rectangle. My assumption was that I’d eventually go back and finish out the stitching as a wall panel. As you note I haven’t done that yet.

Instead this?panel has gone on to inhabit four SCA costumes, and was one of the very few pieces I kept during the 13 years I was totally absent from that organization. (When you’ve got something like this, you can’t toss it or let it languish in a drawer when you have need of a nifty outfit). It’s the piece I intend to complement with my Forever Coif.

For needlework enthusiasts, this?panel is about 33 inches from point to hem, about 25 inches wide at its widest visible point, and about 28 inches wide at its widest stitched point, counting the motif parts you can’t see. The stitching is rather big, especially compared to my coif. The ground is a linen blend tablecloth, with a weave of about 24 threads per inch, and the stitches are worked over 2×2 threads (about 12 stitches per inch). The threads used are perle cotton for the chain stitched outlines, and cotton embroidery floss for the infillings and solid padded satin stitch bud details. The detail shot is rather large. Click on the thumbnail if you want to take the time to download a larger image.


I started stitching on a Monday in mid-October. That Friday The Resident Male and I plus a carload of other friends drove down from Boston to the Baltimore/Washington D.C. area to enter the East Kingdom‘s fall Crown Tournament (see Footnote). He was carrying my favor- another blackwork bit. I’ve got a picture somewhere that shows the two of us at that tourney, him in armor and me carrying the cloth in an embroidery frame, with only the pomegranate at the lower right finished.

After he won the Crown Tourney and we were slated for an April coronation, I decided I had to wear the panel at that event. I finished the piece out enough for that purpose, meeting my deadline and installing it in the first of many dresses. Don’t worry. I didn’t lavish all my sewing time on me. I made a linen shirt with a black silk?needle lace edging, and an extremely short black velvet?doublet/tunic thing for The Resident Male to wear over it. Very fetching.One amusing aside -? I got a college research paper on embroidery out of the blackwork?piece, and so received academic credits for the time I spent stitching. We were both still in school, and I was taking sophomore-level Renaissance art history. )

It turns out I was one of the first to introduce the blackwork embroidery style to the East’s populace at large. I encouraged embroidery (and women fighting) during the reign and after, writing how-to booklets and teaching classes and workshops. Blackwork became quite popular because of the richness of the finished look, coupled with the ease with which beginners’ pieces can be done. Soon it was showing up everywhere. About a year later I was recognized by the Order of the Laurel for counted thread embroidery in general, and blackwork in specific.

Footnote: For those of you familiar with the SCA, that was back in the Five Kingdoms era (AS XI-XII), when Atlantia was a brand-new principality, and the East stretched from Maine to North Carolina. A very long time ago, indeed.

For those of you unfamiliar with the SCA, twice a year the East Kingdom selects a (mostly) ceremonial leader by conferring that honor on the winner of a very big sword fighting competition (other weapons are used, too). The winner becomes King or Queen by right of arms, sitting first as Prince or Princess for five months before ascending the throne for the six months after that. That winner is accompanied by a counterpart or consort on the throne – the person in whose name and honor the fighter fought, and whose favor they carried through the tournament (designated beforehand, of course).

One response

  1. […] My big underskirt forepart. Why I stitched it […]

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