The Royal Carpet

The following article was written by Mistress Rowan Perigrynne, based on the original notes and instructions, and updated afer the project was completed.

Background

When Society Royalty holds court, it is customary for those gentles that come before our Regents to kneel in front of the thrones for the duration of their item of business. To make this more comfortable, it is common to have a pair of kneeling cushions in front of the thrones.

There are several drawbacks with this practice - people carefully avoid kneeling on the nice cushions, Royalty often have more than two people before them, and I was unable to find any historical precedence for kneeling cushions for court use (although plenty for church use!)

When Lochac was preparing to become a Kingdom, I proposed that we make a Royal Carpet, large enough to cover the usual 'kneeling area' in front of the two thrones. Unlike cushions, people cannot avoid a carpet, and there is plenty of historical evidence for their use in this context. The carpet would provide a project for many people at a low level of embroidery skill, allowing them to take participate in creating regalia for our new Kingdom.

The Regalia Committee approved the proposal and design, so I prepared the stitching charts, and people from around Lochac worked on the project.

Historical notes

Madonna and Child, with Sts Peter, Christine, Liberale and Jermome, by Lorenzo Lotto 1505Islamic carpets are probably the most familiar works of Islamic art to western Europeans and Americans. Hand-knotted carpets have Holbeinalways been prized in Islamic cultures. The craft goes back to the traditions of nomads, who used carpets because they were portable, practical and a way of displaying wealth. Turkish rugs and carpets were the first Oriental rugs imported into Europe.

In 1271, the famous adventurer Marco Polo wrote upon his travels through Turkey that "the best and handsomest carpets in the world are wrought here". Evidence of their esteem can be seen in paintings by such European masters as Giotto (1267-1337), Hans Holbein the Younger (1478-1543), and Lorenzo Lotto (1480-1556). Carpets are often shown draped over tables and at the feet of kings and queens. Holbein made so much use of a predominantly red Turkish carpet that they became known as "Holbeins".

Because Turkish carpets were rare and expensive, it was not long before 'knock-offs' were being made in Europe to satisfy the local market for a fraction of the price. These were not knotted, as true Turkish carpets are, but embroidered in wool on a canvas background, often using cross-stitch to imitate the raised pile.

Design

My design was based on carpets portrayed in several works by Holbein and Lotto, with the colours adapted to feature Lochac's colours of16thc Turkish carpet red, blue and white.

The border design of interlaced crosses can be seen in at least three of Holbein's works:

I have found the same design on an extant 16th century rug from Turkey (far right).

Although it was tempting to include obvious Society symbols in the centre design, I remained with the period style, where the centre was filled with geometrical figures, especially starbursts, octagons, lozenges and medallions. The starbursts, with their internal crosses, are evocative of Lochac and are in excellent period style, being adapted from Holbien's painting 'The Virgin and Child with the family of Burgomaster Meyer' c1528, whilst the crosshatch background is from his famous 'Ambassadors', c1533.

Rowan's original design for the carpet

The finished carpet is a bit over 1 x 2 meters.

I initially created the design as a bitmap (one bit = 1 stitch), then Mistress Keridewn acquainted me with her commercial cross stich application, which made life much easier. I cut up the design to create 31 separate pieces - one for each section - and created a stitching chart for each piece. I used the stich count information to create a spreadsheet for each piece, and some sample stitching and a few calculations showed how much wool of each colour was needed for the project, and for each piece.

Materials

The carpet was embroidered in woollen yarn on canvas, in cross-stitch using 7 count canvas (7 stitches to the inch) - a good compromise between appropriate scale and speed of execution. Hand spun, hand dyed wool would have been wonderful, but impractical given our timeframe! Commercial tapestry wool is expensive, so bulk knitting wool proved a practical alternative. Mistress Bess Haddon suggested Bendigo Mills - their wool is unusually suited to this application, having both a Z and S twist, so it will not unravel as most knitting wools would, and it comes in massive 200g balls.

If time permits my plan also included pictorial representations of the Baronies of Lochac to be applied to the main body of the cloaks, and allowed room for other Baronies to be added as they are created. As this element is desirable but not really necessary to the design I intend to leave this towards the end of the process once we have a better idea of how we are progressing and how we are tracking against the deadline.

Production

To maintain consistency, a numbered kit was be prepared for each section, containing:

The project got a good start at the first Guilds Event in Politicopolis, where we wound off the wool, assembled the kits and even got a start sewing. I sent out kits to the remaining volunteers and kept in touch to see how everyone was progressing. Our only problem was not having enough pieces to go around - everyone who saw it wanted one!

All the completed kits were returned to me by the Festival deadline, and a team of people worked every Monday night for months to sew the sections together, overlapping the pieces and sewing the two 'missing' pattern rows (left out on each pattern) through both layers of canvas to create a seamless result. We used a special carpet bindstitch for edging and attached the fringe. I backed the finished carpet with a heavy felted material for extra padding, and added a label in case it got lost, together with a list of all those who worked on the project:

Lady Sybille la Chatte
Viscountess Rowan Perigrynne
Mistress Alarice Beatrice von Thal
Viscountess Keredwin the Mouse
Lady Amelot d'Akeney
Lord Ulric of Ambledune
Lady Bethan of Brockwood
Mistress Bess Haddon
Baron Drake Morgan
Lady Kathleen O'Dubhghaill
Katherine Suzette du Batiste Mistress Marit the Wanderer

Mistress Selivia de l'Estoile
Lady Ariya Silvievna Ruslonova
Mistress Acacia de Navarre
Lady Aeron Lasair
Lady Vitez Tatiana
Lady Annabel de Swinburne
Mistress Gabrielle della Santa Crocce
Mistress Madelaine de Bourgogne
Lady Sushannah of Locksley
Lady Maeve ni Iasachta Baroness Aelfthryth of Saxony
Mistress Mathilde Adycote
Mistress Miriam Galbraith
Viscountess Elayne Montjoy
Baroness Gwir verch Madog
Lady Morag Freyser
Lowry ferch Gwynwynwyn
Viscountess Morwenna
Lady Caterina del Vino
Dannian (SCA name unknown)
Mistress Marguerite de Rada y Silva

The Results

The finished carpet was presented to Their Majesties Alfar and Elspeth, to universal acclaim. All the people involved in the project had thoroughly enjoyed it and we were thrilled with the results.

Michelle le Bar said that the lady sitting beside her in the Court was astounded when the carpet was presented and held up for the populace to view. She was saying over & over with awe in her voice - "Don't tell me we made that!" Now that's a successful project!

Rowan and Keridwen present the carpet to TRM

We did almost everything right, but we did learn a trick or two on the way 'for next time'. The most important one was that the canvas frays more than expected during the work, so we had some problems sewing the frayed pieces together. The solution is to use fray-check on all the edges before handing out the pieces and again when then come back in, before sewing them together.

Since then, several other carpet projects have begun. The Baronies of Stormhold and Rowany are each working on carpets using the same techniques but new designs based on other carpets to suit each group's own imagery. I hope this second generation of carpets will brings their creators as much enjoyment as this one has.