Darkwood Tapestry Project

The Darkwood Celebration Tapestry…Unveiled

by Mistress Isela di Bari, from the Drum August 2007

Under the sun drenched blue skies before Baron Erich and Baroness Liesl, four coordinators and 20 embroiderers presented Their Excellencies the long awaited Darkwood Celebration Tapestry. The excitement grew as coordinator Master Eric Bjornsson spoke about the creation of this artwork to commemorate Darkwood’s 20th anniversary this year. Then coordinator Baroness Catherine Lorraine stepped forward with the embroiderers, and they started unfurling the tapestry during the Barony’s annual White Shield tourney.

Also witnessing the presentation of the tapestry with great admiration were Their Majesties Uther and Kara, Their Highnesses of the Mists Brion and Ysabella, and Their Highnesses of Cynagua Gunther and Juliana.

Almost immediately after the unveiling, the tapestry was whisked away to the feast hall where it was hung on long black iron rods for everyone to admire that evening. During the feast, Their Excellencies Baron Erich and Baroness Liesl thanked all those who participated in this project, calling each person up before Court to give them a token of their appreciation. (Needless to say, this project couldn’t have even started without the inspiration and encouragement from Their Excellencies!) The tokens, pendants in the shape of a shield bearing the Darkwood acorn, were created by Lady Tatiana Todhunter in an enameling technique.

In honor of this project, our Baronial Bard Branwen Cryccthegn Deorcwuda even created a bardic piece for each panel. Yes, that’s 21 poetic writings she wrote and laid upon a table for the populace to read and remember.

Embroidered in the 11th century Bayeux Tapestry style, the Darkwood embroidery employed the centuries old technique of laid and couched work with woolen threads (Appleton wool) in only seven colors, this embroidery was truly a testament to Darkwood’s glorious history. If you recall, the original Bayeux Tapestry served to commemorate William the Conqueror’s rise to power and defeat of the English at the Battle of Hastings in 1066.

What began as a dream in November 2004 at the Baroness’s Masqued Ball culminated Saturday, the 3rd day of March, in a glorious display of handwork created by both baronial members and friends of Darkwood.

Initially planned as 20 panels and one long continuous hanging, it soon became 23 panels divided into two sections to accommodate small feast halls/pavilions and allow for doors and windows. The first section of 12 panels measures 208 inches long by 19 inches high. The second section of eleven panels is 186 inches long and the same height as the first section.

According to our amazing and patient Exchequer, Etain of Hawks Haven, final expenditures on the tapestry amounted to $929.45. Cost included 12 yards of Italian twilled linen fabric, 12 yards of muslin, about 65 hanks of Appleton wool, 40 pairs of stretcher bars, 37.5 yards of black and white trim, postage, copies, #22 crewel needles, needle threaders, etc. But this cost is miniscule compared to the amount of labor that went into the planning, designing, coordinating, teaching, embroidering, sewing and weaving.

Embroidery alone took about 3,000 hours. And that’s not including the number of hours to cut all the fabric, sort the threads, and transfer the designs before the linen was even mounted onto the stretcher bars.

Lord Raymond von dem Löwengrab spent nearly 140 hours designing all the panels. He implemented a style often used by 11th c. Norman and Anglo-Saxon artists. Some people may refer to this as a “cartoonish” style of depicting the figures. But it wasn’t an uncommon style of artwork as it can also be found in the Gerona Tapestry, a Spanish embroidery also stitched in wool at the end of the 11th century. Using different colors to give perspective (varied colors in the horses’ legs), the 11th century artists were aiming for a three-dimensional effect, but unfortunately only achieved what I consider two-dimensional work.

Lady Adriana Tacita translated all the text into Latin, the same language used in the original. Latin text accompanied each of the 23 panels, and explains in the 22nd panel the reason for creating the Darkwood Tapestry. That same panel, embroidered by Disa Thjothreksdottir, also honors Lady Adriana for the many hours she spent working on the translations.

Baroness Catherine Lorraine madly sewed all the panels together and backed them with muslin fabric within a two week time span, and added the trim to cover both the seams and to serve as a means of hanging the tapestry. In the original, the seams were covered with actual embroidery and linen tabs were created for hanging the wall decoration. As a mere indication of the time involved, Catherine Lorraine explains “The ‘Names Panel (XII) took me about 70 hours alone, and I estimated it took me over 50 hours to measure, cut all of the pieces, and stitch the whole tapestry together.”

Mistress Theiadora Groves wove on a rigid heddle loom 37.5 yards of the black and white trim using 4,151.25 yards of crochet cotton Size 10. With less than four weeks to complete this task, she even carried her loom to the Baronial Archery Tourney held in late January. Unknown to many people, without this woven trim, we would have had to madly hand embroider a design over 380 inches of seams between the panels (as done in the original), then create and sew on tabs to hang the panels. She not only saved us from countless hours of extra work, but she masterminded a way to add the baronial colors to the tapestry.

So what made these panels extra special? Maybe it was nothing as racy as the sex scene between a nun and priest on the original tapestry, but did you notice the following?

On the St. David’s panel (IV), Brid Hecgwiht paid tribute in the lower border to the local area’s mascot…the banana slug. Jena Whitehart paid tribute to Tarnmist’s forever remembered Lucy Wardog in panel XIV, commemorating the age old annual Darkwood-Tarnmist Wars.

On the Caer Darth panel (VII), I couldn’t help myself by stitching Baron Sebastian’s name into the text using a different color of thread and then adding Master Frank the Fortunate and Mistress Sabrina Goldbender’s names to the panel, inasmuch as they are truly founding members of this canton. Of course, on Panel XXIII hidden amongst the names of the embroiderers of the last 11 panels, are the names of our Kingdom (West), our Principality (Mists), His Majesty (Uther), His Highness (Brion) and our great friend and ally Baron Achmere of Tarnmist. Also at the bottom of the panel is a tribute to Mistress Theiadora Groves who wove all the trim.

Felicia Amondesham embroidered His Majesty Uther and Countess Kaaren into Panel XVII, depicting Darkwood’s payment of taxes to the Crown several years ago. Darkwood’s presentation employed a Viking theme.

In Panel IX, embroidered by Awrabella McHargue, Lord Raymond re-enacted the scene of “Mikey” (a longtime Darkwood member) “guarding” the privy occupied by Baroness Elizabeth. Unfortunately, he fell asleep, trapping her inside. Also notice all those animals drawn in the bottom border reminding us of the critters that crossed Elizabeth’s path at one time or another.

It was particularly memorable at this event for His Highness Prince Brion of Bellatrix to see his knight Stephen of Beckenham featured in Panel I embroidered by Katherine ni Cheallaigh of Skye. Duke Stephen was the reigning king when Sebastian petitioned the Crown of the West to make Darkwood a barony.

“As far as design choices and ‘secret messages’ incorporated in them (the panels)…yep, there are lots of things I can say about them”, notes Raymond. “Every panel, from the choice of images, to how I envisioned depicting a specific person, was thought out through every step to make either a subtle or not so subtle statement. “For me”, Raymond adds “the panels hold no secrets, only a couple of surprises where the embroiderer went their own way and changed something in the design. I think I’m gonna have fun just listening to the theories for a while.”