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12th century belt for my 12th century wedding dress – pearl embroidery .1

2015-12 - Racaire - 12th century belt - pearl embroidery

And today let’s talk about one of my other favorite topics besides Klosterstich and surface couching – pearl embroidery! 😀

Well, pearls per se were and still are something very special. Their availability is quite limited and their price is rather high due to the natural production process.

Besides the beautiful appearance and shine pearls possess naturally, their rather restricted availability as well as their quite high monetary value might have added to their great appeal in the medieval age. I think that the usage of pearls for jewelry or pearl embroidery used to reflected the wealth of the person who could actually afford to use them in either high quality (large, round and with a perfect surface appearance) and/or in a very high quantity.

And when we nowadays take a look at exquisit extant clothing from the 12th century, which was in the most cases made for people of high clerical or royal rank, there are two things most garments have in common which represent nobility and splendor at its highest level – beautiful pearl embroidery and fine gold work!

I still find it really astonishing how the usage of some rather simple pearls or some gold thread can elevate a garment to the next level but both materials definitely have the ability to do so. And living in the modern times we can call ourselves very lucky as the price and availability of pearls and (imitated) gold thread improved a lot in comparison to the medieval times thanks to improved modern production processes.

This makes pearls and (imitated) gold thread not only affordable for most of us but also provides us with a wide range of pearl sizes, pearl colors and a large variety of (faux, washable and not tarnishing) metal threads.

Furthermore nowadays artificial (faux) pearls are also available in large quantities and for a very good price. Many of this artificial (faux) pearls, if they are made well, can be easily mistaken for real pearls. Therefore this artificial (faux) pearls are more than welcome as they are very acceptable for the usage in our medieval inspired projects, whenever we need a large number of affordable “pearls” for a project.

But enough about my thoughts concerning one of my favorite topics and back again to my 12th century belt project. With the lovely hand made metal bezants, which my dear friend and sister Mistress Ezabella gave me, I was already able to add a certain metal shine to my belt. The metal bezants contribute a lovely metal sparkle and work as real eye-catchers on my already very lovely yellow silk which makes a further addition of gold work unnecessary.

To turn my 12th century belt into a really outstanding piece, I felt like I still had to invest some more work and effort. In order to achieve this goal, I decided to add even more “bling” by adding some pearl embroidery. Therefore I decided to draw inspiration from one of my favorite 12th century extant pieces where pearl embroidery was already used to serve as a perfect looking framing for the already very great looking metal embellishments.

Well, needless to say that my husband thought that I am quite crazy and really overdoing it when I told him about my next planned step. But I did it anyway! And damn, I am very glad that I didn’t listen to my husband in this case and decided to follow my intuition and gut feeling as I am absolutely excited about the outcome so far! 😀

And now let’s take a look at how I do my pearl embroidery! I took several step-by-step pictures of my work process for you – enjoy! 😀

First step for my pearl embroidery:
Finding the right pearl

Before I actually begin with any pearl embroidery, I find it very important to chose the right pearls for my project.

During this stage of my project I am always looking for pearls which have the right form, color and especially important for me – the right size. Sometimes I have to try several different pearls or pearl combinations until I find the most perfect fit for the look I have in mind. This is one of the reasons why I love to collect different pearls and beads as I never know when they might come in handy.

Here are two of my fillet projects as example:

12th century embroidered Fillets - Medieval embroideryAs you can see on the picture above, I decided to go for a very dominant pearl embroidery on the right fillet but I only used very small beads for the embellishment of the left fillet to keep the focus on the embroidery and therefore kept the decoration rather simple.

Concerning the pearl embroidery I had in mind for my 12th century belt, I knew that I would need a rather large quantity of pearls which made the decision process rather quick and easy. Though I actually favored my white pearls, I very fast realized that I didn’t have enough of them to complete the project I had in mind. However, I also had some artificial (faux) pearls which didn’t have quite the perfect color but the perfect size and quantity. Well, what shall I say – I was not 100% happy with them but it was the best overall fit for the project.

Second step for my pearl embroidery:
“Laying” the pearls

To fulfill the very first step – the “laying” of the pearls – I also had to make a decision concerning the thread I wanted to work with. When it comes to the thread for pearl embroidery, there are actually no real restrictions – you could go “crazy” with the color, chose a color close to the color of your fabric or one which matches your pearls or you could use simple white thread.

Well, unless I am working with beads which have a special color (like red,…) I normally stay with the easiest choice which I always have at home – white thread. Btw. – based on the extant examples of 12th century pearl embroidery I have seen till now – white thread seemed also to be the first choice of period embroiderers. I actually never encountered any thread in another color other than white used for extant pearl embroidery.

To get started with my pearl embroidery I cut a piece of white thread of about twice my arm length and threaded my needle. I placed the needle in the middle of the thread and folded it – this way I would be able to work my pearl embroidery with a double thread which provides a much stronger base for my pearl embroidery. Furthermore I also made sure that the used needle and thread were still able to pass through the hole of my (faux) pearls.

After this successful test, I was ready to actually start with my pearl embroidery. Therefore I secured my double thread at the backside of the belt with some stitches as well as some knots – well, better safe than sorry, especially when it comes to pearl embroidery! Then I made a stitch through the hemp band to the front side where I put the very first four pearls on my doubled thread:


Then I placed my thread with the pearls into the desired position and right after the last pearl I made a stitch to the backside again:


Just to bring the needle back in-between the third and fourth pearl:


…and to go through the hole of the last pearl once again:


…and to place four more pearls on my thread:


Then I repeated the last step again by placing my needle right after the last pearl and pulling the needle with the thread to the backside again:


…just to get the needle back right before the last pearl to be able to go through the hole of the last pearl again:


This technique not only adds an additional security to my pearl embroidery but it also keeps my pearls in a much straighter line and eliminates any obvious gaps or holes.
If you would like to play it even more safe, you can go back more pearls and make sure that every pearl is secured by not only one strand of double threads but with two strands.

And here a picture of how I worked my way around the corner:


To get around the corner, I put again 4 more pearls on my doubled thread. Then I put them into position along the border of the bezant with the help of my thumb. This way I could easily determine the best place for my needle and the next stitch to the backside.

Then I made again a stitch back to the front right before the last pearl, followed again by a stitch through the hole of the last pearl:


…and here a picture of the progress so far:


Then I simply continue the above described steps until I reach the very first pearl again.

For the very last step of this process I simply put enough pearls on my thread to fill the pattern without any gaps and by going through the hole of the last pearl I “close” the pattern. Right after this step and the very first pearl I again make a stitch through the belt fabric and secure the thread to the backside.


Third step for my pearl embroidery:
“Securing” the pearls in their final position

Well, though we already “laid” the pearls into their – more or less – final position, the pearls still look quite like a mess rather than a lovely pearl embroidery. Therefore a second step is required to “secure” the pearls into their perfect spot. This is what we are going to do now by couching the thread which holds the pearls.

For this step I simply made a stitch from the backside to the front between the first and the second pearl:


…and then I made a second stitch to the backside on the other side of the thread which is holding the pearls – in order to couch down the thread which is holding the pearls in place:


And here a picture showing the first and second pearl after I pulled the couching stitch tight:


I repeated this couching stitch after every single pearl – always trying to keep the same distance between the metal bezant and the first stitch as well as a similar distance for the second stitch.

And here a picture of the finished pearl embroidery along the border of the metal bezant after all couching stitches are done: [emember_protected not_for=3-4 do_not_show_restricted_msg=1]

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I think it is amazing how well the metal bezant and the pearls work together – some rather simple pearl embroidery can indeed add a great effect! Though it takes quite some time to do the pearl embroidery properly, it is really worth the effort, isn’t it… 😉 

I hope you enjoyed todays very detailed and long posting about the very first pearl embroidery for my 12th century belt project. And in my next posting I will show you even more pearl embroidery as well as a sneak peek picture of the belt… 🙂

Best regards Racaire