Researching Medieval Goldwork Embroidery by Dr. Jessica Grimm of Acupictrix

Researching Medieval Goldwork Embroidery by Dr. Jessica Grimm of Acupictrix
July 12, 2022 Acupictrix - Dr Jessica Grimm
Recreated medieval orphrey of Saint Lawrence by Dr Jessica Grimm, Germany

Native of the Netherlands, Dr. Jessica Grimm lives in Germany where she is compiling a database of medieval goldwork embroidery from Europe. Her research forms the basis of the medieval goldwork course and future courses on historical embroidery. Jessica is also involved in developing a determination key for goldthreads for use with historical embroidery.  www.jessicagrimm.com

 

As a creative solopreneur, I wear many hats. There are the obvious ones like maintaining a website and doing taxes. But in my case, I have added some more unusual hats to keep both sides of my brain happy and to further my creative practice. You see, initially, I trained as an archaeologist and worked in the field for many years. Sadly, commercial archaeology has become more and more restrictive as it searches for optimum profit. There is no time to mull things over or to get creative when writing up a site report. This has worn out many a fine archaeologist. Including me. That’s when I found back to my first love: embroidery. I retrained as a hand embroiderer at the Royal School of Needlework in London and started a side-hustle teaching embroidery. As the day has only 24 hours, I eventually took the plunge and left archaeology completely. However, after a couple of years as a full-time embroidery teacher and designer, I felt that something was missing. I was missing the research. The same thing that was denied to me as an archaeologist in a commercial enterprise. How does one fix this?

At around the same time, there was an exhibition on medieval goldwork embroidery in my native Netherlands. I was captivated and wanted to know all about these beautiful pieces. So, I bought the exhibition catalogue and read it from cover to cover. Could I, with my Royal School of Needlework training, recreate a medieval goldwork embroidery? Let’s try. It took me months to recreate the orphrey (a band of elaborate embroidery decorating the front of certain ecclesiastical vestments) of Saint Lawrence (featured image on this post). But along the way, I realised that the information in the exhibition catalogue on these pieces was patchy. Many things I needed to know as a creator were simply not covered. That’s when I found my creative path: combining academic research with my creative practice.

Dr Jessica Grimm with a sampler full of medieval goldwork patterns.

Dr Jessica Grimm with a sampler full of medieval goldwork patterns.

My days are now filled with reading books and articles on medieval goldwork embroidery. The information mined from these is collected into a database for easier reference. It allows me to follow technical and material innovations through time and space. Many of the medieval goldwork embroidery techniques have vanished from modern practice. Discovering them and making them available to my students is a big part of what I do. As none of the medieval embroiderers left a manual, discussing possible procedures for different techniques with as many heads as possible is essential. The findings feed back into my research and are published in a weekly blog.

Dr. Jessica Grimm teaching students medieval goldwork in a historical setting.

Dr. Jessica Grimm teaching students medieval goldwork in a historical setting.

The research and the teaching are one side of my business. The other side comprises of my creative practice. Over the years, I discovered that the style of late-medieval goldwork embroidery, with its or nué (shaded gold technique) saints on a lavishly decorated background, forms a perfect vehicle to tell my own artistic story. My first piece is called ‘Franzl schafft das schon!’ (Francis can do it!). It features Pope Francis with six arms. Each hand holds a particular symbol for one of the many problems the Pope was supposed to fix after he was elected. The two hands that are folded over his belly form the famous ‘Merkel Raute of Chancellor Merkel. She quoted ‘Wir schaffen das’ (We can do it) when about one million refugees came to Germany in 2015. Back when Pope Francis became pope, I was amazed at the extremely high hopes people had of his pontificate.

 

Jessica Grimm's Pope Francis goldwork embroidery

Jessica Grimm’s Pope Francis goldwork embroidery.

 

Admittedly, I would love to spend more time on the creative practice side of the business. By nature, embroidery is a very slow practice. As I am devoted to bringing back the medieval way of stitching, I have no desire to speed things up by using modern tools and materials. This means that it will take decades to assemble a large enough portfolio to make it in the art scene. That’s fine by me. One stitch and one book at a time, I have found that I can balance all the hats I need to wear as a successful solopreneur!

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I have a shop on my website with finished pieces that I have made but also supplies like fabric and stencils. Do visit and see if you find something you like! My online classes are also listed there:   Acupictrix Shop

Some examples of my work that are in Artizan Made’s Market. These all link back to my website:

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