Tag Archives: textiles

Judith has it covered

Yes, they are still in storage. And yes, the photos are black-and-white which means it is difficult to achieve a good perspective of the artistry.  And yes, we are talking about tableclothes.

While it could be easy to dismiss a tablecloth as mundane, it is actually a remarkable artifact when you consider:

  • any textile is subject to deterioration
  • these textiles is about 400 to 500 years old
  • they survived a time when dining was a free-for-all and the purpose of the tablecloth was to wipe greasy food from hands
  • and therefore they survived numerous rounds of primitive washing — at least, I hope they were washed

unknown from Flanders, Table cloth ‘Judith and Holofernes’, 16th century, linen damask, 111 x 107.5 in with 13.5 in repeat, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, UK


unknown from Netherlands, Table cloth ‘Judith and Holofernes’, 1600-1699, linen damask, 43.5 x 35.5 in, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, UK


For those who were not raised by Southern Belles, damask is a reversible figured fabric with a pattern formed by weaving with one warp yarn and one weft yarn, usually with the pattern in warp-faced satin weave and the ground in weft-faced or sateen weave. The traditional damask that most people envision today is a stylized symmetric design of florals, leaves and scrolls.  But in the 1600s, when weavers in Belgium and the Netherlands began making fine-quality white linen tablecloths and napkins, damask featured patterns as well as intricate scenes of famous battles or stories from the Bible.

The first tablecloth, as described by the V&A:

From the top: Holofernes is seated at a table with Judith beneath a tent of draped curtains, with hanging lamps and birds within, and on the roof of the tent is inscribed ‘OLIFERNIS’; Within another tent, Holofernes lies headless in an elaborate bed, while Judith with sword in her hand places his head in a bag held by her servant, and below her feet is the inscription ‘IUDIT’; Holofernes’ head is displayed between flags bearing the letter ‘D’ [possibly to be B] on the battlements of a town, and in front of the town, men are fighting and a bearded man in armour is chained to a tree.

So for this dining scenario, it would have been common to place your Judith handled fork next to your Judith maiolica plate atop your Judith tablecloth to enjoy a sumptuous meal.  Kinda like if you went to a “Gone Girl” themed occasion with all the matching partyware.  Bon appetite!


See you at the V&A!

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Posted by on April 16, 2015 in Exploring


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Judith weaves another tale

This looks familiar.  Oh wait … August 10, 2012.  “Judith weaves a tale”  — I already wrote this.



unknown, “Sheldon tapestry: Judith with the head of Holofernes,” 1600-1610, silk and wool on wool warp, 48 x 48 cms, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, England, UK


Except for one problem:  IT IS IN STORAGE.

So see you at the V&A – in the storage room!

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Posted by on April 12, 2015 in Exploring


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Judith is in stitches

Judith (1600's mid) Band sampler - full

Unknown, Band sampler, mid 1600s, Linen plain weave embroidered with linen, silk, and metallic thread, 65 x 18.1 cm, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA



In country estate, sometime around the English Civil War –

Grandmother:  Oh darling, what a lovely sampler you have made!  How long did it take you to do this?

Granddaughter:  Only 6 years. Every day. All day.

Grandmother:  And tell me about the stitches.

Granddaughter:  Well there’s chain stitch, running stitch, satin stitch, cross stitch, back stitch, stem stitch, whipstitching, pea stitch …

Grandmother: Thrilling that you learned so much. And …

Granddaughter: … single Brussels, Corded single Brussels, whipped single Brussels, Double Brussels, Treble Brussels, …

Grandmother: Yes dear but …

Granddaughter: … buttonhole, twisted buttonhole, whipped twisted buttonhole, corded twisted buttonhole. knotted buttonhole, knotted single buttonhole, knotted double buttonhole …

Grandmother:  Oh my, I never expected …

Granddaughter: … plain twisted bar, double twisted bar, buttonholed bars. 

Grandmother:  [waiting]  Are you quite finished?  You’re sure you didn’t miss one?

Granddaughter: Pretty sure.

Grandmother:  Then tell me about the top bar.  Isn’t that Judith and Holofernes?

Granddaughter: No actually, that’s my fiancé. After waiting to marry me for six years, when I showed him the “almost” finished product I planned to display prominently in our new home, he said he did not care for it and planned to give it to his mistress as a parting gift. So I looked her up and we decided he was not worth the fuss. Amazing what one can accomplish with embroidery shears, isn’t it?


Judith (1600s mid) Band sampler - detail

Unknown, Band sampler detail of Judith and Holofernes, mid 1600s, Linen plain weave embroidered with linen, silk, and metallic thread, 65 x 18.1 cm, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA


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Posted by on January 31, 2015 in Cacciatore


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Judith in tassels

there are obviously several ways we can do this …

unknown, Sheldon tapestry, “Judith and Holofernes,” early 17th century, Wool, silk, silver-gilt thread, 21 x 30.5 cm, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY, US

unknown, Sheldon tapestry, “Judith and Holofernes,” early 17th century, wool, 21 x 29.2 cm, The Burrell Collection, Glasgow, Scotland, UK

unknown, Sheldon tapestry, “Judith and Holofernes,” c.1580 -1610, Tapestry woven with silk and gold thread, 30 x 39 cm, Packwood House, Warwickshire, England, UK

unknown, Sheldon tapestry, “Judith and Holofernes,” c.1580 -1610, Tapestry woven with silk and gold thread, 30 x 39 cm, Forge Mill Needle Museum, Redditch, England, UK

… all reflecting the craftsmanship (craftswomanship?) of the Barcheston, Warwickshire workshop of William Sheldon, considered the finest tapestry maker of the 16th century.   Sheldon’s craftsmen were mainly Dutch Protestants who had fled religious persecution in their homeland.   the tapestries differ from styles that are clearly identified from workshops on the continent, but little is documented about their origins.  In fact, they may not all have the same origin. (1)

However, they are considered valuable enough to be fenced.

A decade ago, two Sheldon tapestries, one of which showed Judith with the Head of Holofernes, were kept at St Leonard’s Church in the Worcestershire village of Beoley where the Sheldons lived but they were stolen.   In 1991, two Birmingham men were jailed for the theft. They had returned the tapestries leaving them on a church doorstep after discovering they were so valuable they couldn’t find a buyer. (2)

These tapestries of Judith are most likely cushion covers or fire-screen banners.  Someone must have sketched out an acceptable composition of Judith and the Maid strolling back to Bethulia that was then copied using different materials and embellishments.  The first two tapestries are bordered with the saying “Si Deus nobiscum / Quis contra nos” (If God is with us / who can be against us).  By appearances on my computer screen –

  • The first tapestry (at the Met) is boutique-quality with silk and silver construction, rich design and color.
  • In comparison, the second tapestry (in the Burrell Collection) might be Target-quality of wool in a simpler design with less color.  There is no comparison to WalMart-quality since they would not make tapestries.
  • The third tapestry (Packwood) is the loveliest of the four examples in silk and gold – although it is missing the border.  Not sure why it is in a frame.
  • And the fourth tapestry is the Burlesque-quality (Forge Mill).   The tassels will stupefy the enemy every time.

(1) Hilary L. Turner, Tapestries called Sheldon.  (viewed 2/2012)

(2) Ross Reyburn. Under wraps, the treasures that must be locked away.  Birmingham Post, October 7, 2000.

(3) detailed discussion of all four tapestries under the full description in National Trust Collections, Judith 557840

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Posted by on September 12, 2012 in Story


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Judith weaves a tale

In the early 1900’s, the name ‘Sheldon’ was given to a group of 116 tapestries thought to be from a workshop described in the 1570 will of William Sheldon, in which he arranged a loan and gave use of his manor house at Barcheston, Warwickshire to Richard Hyckes.   Tapestry was a useful and versatile furnishing medium: it could be woven at sizes large enough to cover and decorate walls, it might form the outer casing of a cushion or hang from the wooden frame of a bed, it made the owner feel instantly at home because it was portable.   At its most costly, tapestry was the means to impress, to carry the message of power and demonstrate wealth; its cheaper, smaller forms served the same purpose for those less well-off, though still with money to spare. (1)

unknown, “Sheldon tapestry: Judith with the head of Holofernes,” 1600-1610, silk and wool on wool warp, 48 x 48 cms, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, England, UK

This is an example of a small tapestry – maybe a wall-decor or a table cover.

Judith, richly clothed, as befitted a noble woman, is shown at the moment of victory, sword held high. The dress of the maid, half hidden behind her mistress, is simpler, indicative of the designer’s attention to detail as well as the social differentiation.

The flowers include honeysuckle, foxglove, rose, borage, strawberry, marigold, cornflower and foxglove, differing from the selection seen on the arms of Sacheverell. They were probably copied from one of the many plant books imported from Antwerp, easily available by the later part of the century at the bookstalls in St Paul ‘s churchyard. (1)

So once again, Judith has the opportunity to take her grisly prize and wander about the garden.  Gives a sense of optimism that after her dangerous and dastardly task, she has the chance to celebrate in her own personal  way.


(1) The Tapestries Called Sheldon


Posted by on August 10, 2012 in Glory


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Judith tied in knots

unknown, “Embroidery panel: Judith with the head of Holofernes ,” c.1650-1675, silk, metal in tortoiseshell frame,                 42 x 53 cm, Burrell Collection, Pollok Country Park, Glasgow, Scotland, UK

Although difficult to see from a computer image, this is one of the leading pieces of 17th century British embroidery from the Burrell Collection.   The raised work panel is high quality design and needlework that depicts Judith dressed in an antique costume holding a Really Large head of Holofernes, surrounded by a wide border with the scene of numerous woodland creatures.   In the background is a detailed village, including the tent with Holofernes’ body.

Having been an accomplished needleworker myself, viewing this panel brings to mind a cozy evening scene around the fire in the mid 17th century like this:

Henrietta Marietta:    Have you seen the maroon embroidery silk?

Wilhemina Josephine:   I was using it on the wolf but I put it back in the embroidery chest.  Why do you need it?

Henrietta Marietta:   I am working on the decapitation and I can’t decide what color to use.

Wilhemina Josephine:  Yes, decapitation is difficult to embroider.   Crimson makes the blood look fresh, but perhaps too vivid.   Maroon is more likely to suggest the blood has dried.

Henrietta Marietta:   Thank you for that suggestion.  You are always so clever about the nasty bits.

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Posted by on July 28, 2012 in Story


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