Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Researching 14th century white linen embroidery: The Feldbach tablecloth

The Feldbach tablecloth is a Swiss 14th century linen tablecloth embroidered with white linen and colored silk (105 x 308 cm). For a picture, click here and scroll down. Originally from the Feldberg/ Feldbach monastery in Thurgau, Switzerland, it is now in the Basel Historical Museum (but, unfortunately, not on display).

The figures are embroidered in white linen and, according to the catalog description (Trudel, 1954, p 134), some patches of faded colored silks. Although the black and white photos do not show where the colored silks might have been used and the catalog description is quite vague (“Weisses Leinenstickgarn, farbige Seide”), other sources might help to reconstruct the use of this colored silk.

In Schneider (1972, pp 211-213), there are some color pictures of similar types of 14th century embroidered pieces (Cataloged as “Reliquienhüllen”, embroidered fabric to cover relics (?), but not pouches). The fairy tale creatures, circles and floral elements are in the same style as those in the Feldbach tablecloth and are embroidered in white linen. The contours of the circles and leafs/flowers are embroidered in red silks and the contours and details of the creatures (e.g. eyes, ears) are lined in green silk. The silk contours are done in what looks like a simple running stitch. Schneider also refers to some other pieces of embroidery in the same style (white linen, colored silk contours) from St. Gallen and Zürich.

According to Trudel (1954, p.10), almost all white linen embroidery dating from before 1500 was lined with colored silks, although today, most silk is gone, often showing the black/grey lines of the original drawing. Besides covering the sketch, I think there is another technical reason for contouring the figures. Most figures are embroidered in versetzer Gobelinstich (see Anne Warner's stitch vocabulary). This is a nice stitch to fill up the space of a figure, but the edges of the figure will be a bit “wobbly”. Contouring the figures with a running stitch will make them look “sharper”. The combination of versetzer Gobelinstich for the body of the figures and running stitch for the contours was also used in silk embroidery (see e.g. the purse in Schneider 1975, p. 135).


Schmedding, B. (1978), Mittelalterliche Textilien in Kirchen und Klöstern der Schweiz, Bern: Abegg-Stiftung
Schneider, J. (1972), Schweizerische Leinenstickereien, Bern: Verlag Paul Haubt
Schneider, J. (1975), Textilien. Catalog der Sammlung des Schweizerischen Landesmuseums Zürich, Zürich: Verlag Berichthaus
Schuette, M., Müller-Christensen. S. (1963), Das Stickereiwerk, Tübingen: Wasmuth
Trudel, V. (1954), Schweizerische Leinenstickereien des Mittelalters und der Renaissance. Bern: Paul Haubt Verlag
Trudel, V. (1954), Schweizerische Leinenstickereien des Mittelalters und der Renaissance. Katalogband. Erganzung zu Band 61/62 der “Schweizer Heimatbucher”, Bern: Paul Haubt Verlag
Wilckens von, L. (1991), Die textilen Künste. Von der Spätantike bis um 1500, München, Verlag CH Beck
Das Tafeltuch vom 13. zum 20. Jahrhundert,
von Anne Wanner-JeanRichard, in: der gedeckte Tisch, zur Geschichte der Tafelkultur, von Andreas Morel, Zürich 2001,