17th Century stumpwork conservation

We were delighted to be tasked with conserving and protecting this exceptionally rare piece of 17th Century stumpwork.

< BeforeAfter >

This piece of embroidery appears to be from around the mid 17th century at a time when domestic embroidery was a popular pastime and designs could be purchased pre-drawn onto the fabric. Since the early 15th century, design books have featured different elements that could be combined, making it easier for embroiderers. For example, the stag that appears on this piece can also be seen on an embroidery in the Lady Lever Art Gallery in Liverpool and the Kingfisher is also on an embroidery in Cooper Hewitt Museum in New York. The design here has the traditional combination of royalty, figures, castle, church, foliage and animals.

All embroidery had been worked directly onto the background fabric, except the needlelace slips. The embroidery looks padded as there are a lot of threads on the reverse left loose and hanging. There is a combination of silk embroidery along with some Metal Thread embroidery. The stag is worked in the most exquisitely fine gimp thread that has been couched around the shape in parallel rows. Mica (a fine layered mineral) was probably used in the large house motif, however there are also remains of mica sparkle within the embroidery in the leaded window of the smaller building, probably the church. Mica was a very expensive material so only used in small quantities on elements of the design that were classed as special and deserving
of the expense, hence the use in the church.

The stag before work commenced
The stag before work commenced

An unexpected find

Very excitingly, small remains of a couched down peacock feather were found within the caterpillar embroidery, between the two ladies, just under the head. Unusually the Moss Stitch parrot has an underlying layer of embroidery.

The item is understandably very fragile so we covered it with conservation net and secured places to contain the embroidery and fabric as it ages. It has also been mounted and will be put into a new frame as the one it was in was not the original and was quite damaged.

It is amazing to find a piece like this for sale and an absolute treat for the Embroidery Studio to have conserved it.