About twenty years ago, I started a fiber art piece in the form of a Medieval Screen which displays embroidered Laidwork patches from a 13th century manuscript. This manuscript depicts Christian, Jewish, and Muslim musicians and instruments from the courts of Castile and Leon. This manuscript is called Las Cantigas de Santa Maria which translates, as I understand it, to mean: Songs for the Virgin Mother Mary.

All photos submitted in this narrative are provided by myself.

I started scanning images from this manuscript from books and web sites, in order to print them out on iron-on transfer sheets. I would iron the images on material, and then embroider over them. I did not want someone else to draw the pictures of the images for me to embroider over, because I wanted to capture as much as I could from the original artists. The patches are around 8 in. x 11 in. and are done in the embroidery stitch known as Laidwork. (To learn more about Laidwork, go to the Art Panel of this blog).

My vision was to capture what the artist saw from that period, and put it into another medium that could be hung on a wall. Getting the image out of the book and in a different artistic medium has been an exciting experience for me. Viewing these medieval images in colorful embroidery stitches has enlivened the art work for me.

Many images that are found in medieval manuscripts today can only be experienced by viewing the manuscript itself, or perhaps viewed online via a library or museum which has digitized the manuscript.

Some special collections may have a facsimile of the original manuscript, while other manuscripts are still forgotten, sitting on a shelf un-cataloged waiting to be rediscovered. Some web sites may contain a small fraction of the images from a manuscript, but do not show the entire manuscript.

This image of Women Shopping I found in the book: Daily Life Depicted in the Cantigas de Santa Maria by John E. Keller and Annette Grant Cash.


Women Shopping, patch

Once I had learned Laidwork, and had realized the potential of bringing the art from Medieval artists out of the page, I realized that framing them to hang on a wall was not what I wanted to do.  I wanted the overall educational effect to show as many musicians as I could, assembled in some way.  My good friend Lynn Shirk suggested a screen.  I wasn’t sure what he meant, so I read up on the Medieval screen at the Boulder Public Library.  I wasn’t sure how to proceed, and it was Lynn again who suggested that I could use wood interior bi-fold doors.

I found my screens at the Boulder Center for Resource Conservation, and brought them home to strip them of paint, stain them, and then paint Ivy leaves and grapes on them.

Painted panels

The total of the wooden panels is ten, and the last two are nearly twice as wide as the first eight.  The first four panels have solid wooden lower halves, so I painted those black.   My husband, Marc Wiley, assisted me in linking all ten panels with metal hinges so that the screen folds nicely in accordian fashion.

Marc Wiley installing hinges





Recycling or Re-use of Materials

Within the Middle Ages the use of recycling was practiced.  The re-use of embroidered patches, applied to tunics was a popular practice.  Where did I read this?  I don’t remember; perhaps I learned of this practice in the Fiber Arts Guild when I learned the art of Laidwork.  If I come accross documentation about this fact, I will share it on this blog.

As I have shown, the Laidwork stitch creates a sturdy patch.  The Medieval embroidered patches using Laidwork would outlast the cotton or wool tunics. So when it came time to replace the tunic, the patches would be removed, and added to other clothing.

For this fiber art piece, I have recycled many things in order to save money as well as practice the necessary need to recycle.

  • Wooden Panels
  • Curtain drapes
  • Plastic containers
  • Embroidery floss

The wooden panels were purchased at a recycle establishment, rescued from rotting in a land-fill.

When I began practicing Laidwork, I found straight cotton  or wool fabric difficult to work with.  I needed a think enough material, but not too thick.  I needed something with a weave which would be pliable enough to allow for the needle to easily go in and out. I found what has been a good match for me.

When my dear friends: Carolyn James and Lynn Shirk, were buying their first home, the previous owners were smokers, thus the drapes they inherited could not be cleaned well enough to be used as drapes.  They asked if I would have any need of the fabric before they considered giving to a charity.  I took a look at the material, and was pleased with it.  I took all the drapes, ripped out all hooks and board that was sewn within the drapes.  I washed them one more time, and then ironed the material.  The material is by no means authentic to Medieval times, however, I am hopeful that the combination of Rayon and Acetate will survive for decades, compared to wool or cotton.




The material was light in color to enable me to iron the transfer images on the weave  side, with a shiny side on the other.






Drapes out of dryer.






Weave side






Shiny side

I also have used M & M, gum, and medicine containers, to sort out the embroidery floss.  I was happy to use the various collored containers of the mini M & Ms.  It was very useful to collor-code and seperate the floss this way.  I also pre-split the thread, 3-threads each, and measure a good length, and cut.  The 3-strand strings I  wound around my index finger and put in the containers.  Why?  Having containers with the floss I need makes my fiber art easier to travel with. Having the pre-split thread, in small containers, is a great method to keeping my embroidery project more portable.  Doing this has allowed me to take my fiber art work on the road, or the air, when I travel.

When the mini M & Ms stopped creating the many colors, and limited to only six colors, I stopped buying them. Marc and I would get tired of the candy, and start giving it to others where we could.  A couple of times, I baked cookies with the candies.  I was needing more containers, and reallized that I had free containers every time we purchased our medication or medication for our pets.

I mark each container with the DNC number, so when I run out, I will know which number to replace.  I organize my many containers in stackable shelving as seen below.


Blocking and Panel Arrangement

Once a patch is filled in with Laidwork, it must be blocked.  This method is all about cleaning the patches.  To be honest, all of my patches will most likely contain cat and/or dog hair, as we have pets.  N matter how much we vaccuum, the hairs float or stick on furniture and invariably get woven into my work. I have accepted this as the  historic process of a current embroiderer and believe Medieval fibers will show similar evidence of animal hair.  I fill a plastic tub with cold water, and about two tablespoons of Woolite, and soak the patch for 10-15 minutes.  I then rince the patch thoroughly, wrap the patch in a dry towel, and then press or pat as much water as I can out. Now it is time to block, which consists of stretching the patch within a measured 8 1/2 x 11 inch square traced out on paper, taped to a board.  I then nail the patch as I stretch it, to the board.  Once it has dried, usually within a day, I take the nails out, massage the holds on the sides, and have a piece read to hand sew onto the screen.

Before I ever attempted to attach a patch on the panels, I pinned paper print-outs of the images, to get a better sense of how they might look.  This was when I got the idea to use Inkle weave as a method to frame the images.  My friend E. J. Benstock designed an Inkle pattern for me, and helped me get started on the pink and pale blue pattern.

%d bloggers like this: