This embroidery, inspired by the Bayeux Tapestry, is the second piece in our Museums and Heritage collection. I chose this theme for diverse reasons, least the unique and spectacular aspect of this embroidered cloth measuring almost 70 metres long. The Bayeux Tapestry is also distant childhood memories – what schoolchild on both sides of the Channel hasn’t seen reproductions of these images in a history book? Indeed the Bayeux Tapestry is as well-known in France as in Great Britain because the history it recounts is shared by both countries.
Since the beginning of Sajou, my main colleague is English, so this is my way of paying tribute to these lands we both love. In the same spirit as the first piece in this collection, Toile de Jouy Manufactory, this embroidery is not meant to be a reproduction of the original tapestry. Whilst respecting the history and philosophy of the original piece, this project is a personal vision which involves some subjective choices. Apart from the pleasure of embroidering a part of medieval history, my aim is also to help you discover this insufficiently known work of art which was classed a UNESCO World Heritage in 2007.
THE TITLE OF THE EMBROIDERY
Actually, the term “tapestry” is inappropriate because it is in fact an embroidery. Did this error of designation occur because the piece was so named by men, who knew little about women’s fancy work? Whatever the reason, I have chosen the title “Bayeux Embroidery” for this project, unable as a fervent embroiderer to accept an incorrect title.
The original is embroidered on a finely woven linen with a colour varying from beige to grey, weathered by almost 1000 years of existence. After numerous trials, I finally opted for a sand-coloured linen which, in my opinion, is the best compromise between respecting the original and achieving the best finish with the colours of wool used. The original embroidery used stem stitch for the lines, contours and letters, and a mix of straight stitch and couching stitch for the fuller parts. To make this embroidery accessible to a large number of embroiderers, this version is interpreted in cross stitch, with back stitch and half cross stitch used largely to replace the original stem stitch.
I composed the title in the same somewhat clumsy style of the letters on the original. The Bayeux embroidery that we know today measures almost 64 metres long, but we know that the end is damaged and incomplete. The height varies between 45 and 54cm. It was embroidered on eight different pieces. It was only in the 18th century that the pieces were assembled on another piece of linen and the scenes were numbered. Which is infinitely more practical for the reference points when you see it.
THE EMBROIDERY COLOURS
When it was cleaned and installed in 1983 in its’ actual configuration, the curators were surprised by the lack of difference in the colours on the reverse and right side of the embroidery. There are seven colours in all: a brick-red, green-blue, old gold, olive green, a blue, a very dark blue which could in fact be a black and a sage green. I have done my best to respect these colours with our Laine Saint-Pierre wool. The sage green (n°814) is represented in grey on the pattern chart to avoid any confusion with the olive green (n°845). Same thing for the blue (n°930) which is light on the pattern chart so as not to confuse it with the dark blue/black(n°648).
If you get to see the original Bayeux Tapestry, you will see that, the colours are more vivid in the last section. This is due to an unfortunate restoration carried out in the 19th century. It must be noted that the colours do not have a naturalistic function – a horse can be red, blue or green, the waves are also a diverse range of colours. However, the emphasis of the details is magnificent: legs and shoes contrast with the rest of the body and the stripes on the longboats emphasise the planks used to build the ships.
THE MAP IN THE EMBROIDERY
If there are still many mysteries remaining about the Bayeux Tapestry, it is estimated that it was made shortly after the conquest of England by William of Normandy in 1066. Historians seem to agree that it was made in the south of England, probably in Kent in one of the churches in Canterbury. It was in all likelihood commissioned and paid for by Odo of Conteville, bishop of Bayeux and half-brother of William the Conqueror, who was also at the time Count of Kent. Other theories suggest that it was made in the Winchester region, at the time capital of England and home of the English Court. The enigma has still not been resolved and with few means of comparison, probably never will, leaving the Bayeux Tapestry as one of a kind.
To read the second part : click here.