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…my medieval islamic inspired embroidery project – from the medieval inspiration to an actual pattern or “an interesting journey” .1

Today we’re taking another close look at my very first medieval islamic inspired embroidery project – the OvO pouch for Gloria, my dear mother-in-law.

The path which starts with the initial inspiration and finally leads to the finished project is not always easy. Sometimes one has to follow a quite difficult way and get rid of one obstacle after another. And yes, this project was one of those not quite so easy ones and sent me on an interesting journey…

Though it can be quite demanding at times, I normally don’t consider it a difficult task to turn a medieval inspiration into an actual pattern and finally into a finished embroidery. But this project was quite different. I already had to tackle two major problems at the very beginning of the project.

Problem #1: the arabic inscription

When you take a look at the picture underneath, you can see that a good part of the Arabic inscription is missing. When I chose this extant piece as my inspiration I didn’t anticipate how much of a problem these missing parts would become soon. But once I started tracing the outlines of the Arabic inscription on my fabric I realized that I didn’t have enough to put together the missing part of the inscription all by myself.

From the beginning on I considered the Arabic inscription a quite charming and important part of the embroidery. An eye-catching component, which was so different from what I normally embroider that I simply had to have it on my embroidery. Though I could have just ignored the Arabic inscription and left it out, I knew that this easy solution wouldn’t cut it for me. And just assuming the rest of the word was not an option for me either as the last thing I wanted was to embroider a misspelled word or – heaven forbid! – I definitely didn’t want to curse my beloved mother in law by accident.

Copyright Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford; This item is from Eastern Art Online: Yousef Jameel Centre for Islamic and Asian Art, jameelcentre.ashmolean.org, Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford.

Textile fragment with lion and inscription, possibly from a bag or pocket

  • Object title: “Textile fragment with lion and inscription, possibly from a bag or pocket”
  • Date: 10th – 15th century AD
  • Place: Near East
  • Material and Technique: Linen, embroidered with red and blue silk; linen backing; with stitching in flax
  • Dimensions: 13 x 12 cm max. (length x width), along length/width 21 / 21 threads/cm (thread count), ground fabric 0.05 cm max. (thread diameter), ground fabric 0.03 cm min. (thread diameter), additional fibre, embroidery 0.06 cm (thread diameter)
  • Accession number: EA1984.87

Yeah, there I was – a person who had no clue concerning the Arabic language and who was obviously not capable enough to come up with a helpful search result on google. Though I normally don’t like to ask other people for help when it comes to my embroidery projects, I had to admit to myself that this time I just couldn’t solve it without help.

Where google left my questions unanswered, I turned to another source which had proven to be quite helpful at times: my friends on facebook. After a fast posting on my private facebook wall – which substantially was a simple and slightly desperate cry out for help – some of my friends pointed me to Arabic native speakers on their friend list. And quickly a very nice and helpful person was found who agreed to help me with this quite special project. 

Due to the available description of the Ashmolean Museum concerning this extant embroidery piece (see “publication online” on the right side and klick on the “+” symbol) I already had a very valuable hint about the meaning of the Arabic inscription:

Three diagonal red bands, two of which are only partially visible, as they are set into the corner; an additional band at the top with a red inscription with fine blue outlines, as well as a roundel containing a small blue lion. The lion is walking from right to left. The inscription reads ‘al-‘izz wa’l-iqbal’ (glory and prosperity).

The embroidery is sewn into a plain piece of linen fabric, forming a square. It may once have been used as a small bag or pocket. Laid threads are couched down over surface satin filling stitches. The outlines are worked in a single couched thread.

As you can read above, the Arabic inscription means “Glory and prosperity”.  This hint spared us a lot of time and the decryption of an extant Arabic inscription. And trust me, a decryption of medieval texts can be difficult at times – even if you are a native speaker of the used language.

Ahmad, my awesome helper who is a native Arabic speaker, sent me examples of how “glory” and “prosperity” are written in its modern Arabic form. And based on the modern form of this words as well as based on what I could decipher on the extant piece, I tried to get a feeling for the similarities between the medieval and the modern version of the word.

And if these differences didn’t make it difficult enough, I also faced another major problem. Throughout the past years I already admired the artistic freedom Arabic artists took when it came to Arabic calligraphy. Though I loved and adored their art, I also knew that Arabic writing could be changed in certain ways which culminated in amazing pieces of Arabic calligraphy and art. Knowing this fact was one thing but not knowing the rules which were applied for this changes was another and it didn’t make the whole thing easier.

Well, there was nothing else I could do than a trial and error run with Ahmad’s help who was very patient with me. I took the modern version, I outlined what I could decipher of the extant version and tried to make as much sense of the remaining holes in the fabric and the parts of the modern version which seemed not be have been used yet and added some lines. And then I sent a picture of it to Ahmad who tried to make sense of it concerning readability. I think we both learned something at this evening. *lol*

Last but not least here are the final outlines of the Arabic inscription I came up with and embroidered:

2017-05 - Racaire - Glorias ovo bag - medieval islamic inspired embroidery - SCA - Order of the velvet owl pouch - ovo pouch - islamic laid and couched work - bayeux stitch - refilsaum

…and that was how I tackled my very first problem with Ahmad’s help – an actual medieval Arabic inscription for my special medieval islamic inspired embroidery project. 

In retrospective I think this was one of the reasons why I didn’t take on this embroidery project for so long though I really had it on my inspiration list for quite some time now. But sometimes one just gets the right reason to tackle a certain problem – or well, many problems like in this case. And more about the medieval islamic embroidery technique in my next posting about this project. Stay tuned my friends… 😀

Best regards Racaire…and here you can find more postings about this special project:

Gloria’s OvO pouch with medieval islamic inspired embroidery