Baronness Ximena Yannez de Talavera
When trying to decide what my next embroidery project would be, I had a couple of things in mind. First, I wanted to do a project in Opus Anglicanum; second, I wanted it to be ambitious enough that it would take me a long time to complete it. Truth be known, the hardest part about embroidery for me is actually starting the projects, so I wanted to forestall that as long as possible between projects. In addition, my persona lives in the time and culture of Alfonso X of Castilla, and I really wanted a project that reflected that. I have a long and abiding fascination with the miniatures of the Cantigas de Santa Maria, and knowing that many embroiderers in period took their inspiration from manuscript illustrations reassured me that using the miniatures would be appropriate, but also that the time frame would be comparable between the miniatures and Opus Anglicanum.
Of course, the biggest leap of reasoning in this project is that Opus Anglicanum mean, literally, “English Work”, and here we have a decidedly Spanish subject. However, given the wide popularity of Opus Anglicanum on the continent, as evidenced by the many examples listed in ecclesiastical inventories of the period, I considered that it would not be inconceivable that Ximena, a very devout upper middle class woman, would be impressed enough by the cope and maniples of the Archibishop of Talavera, that she would then try to recreate the style for herself. As this was also my first work in Opus Anglicanum, I decided to do what I really love in order to see if I like the style. It could have turned out that I didn't like the work at all and never intended to do another project in the style, but I'm certainly glad that it didn't.
I knew from period examples of both Opus Anglicanum and almoner's pouches that a linen ground fabric would be appropriate. A good rule of thumb to use when designing OA pieces is that if the ground fabric is to be completely obscured by stitching, use linen; if not, use silk or velvet. I found a natural linen with a very low “slub content” and a nice even weave to use as my ground fabric.
Also, because this was my first “experimental” foray into OP (and also because finances were tight at the time) I decided to use cotton DMC floss for the figures rather than invest in silk. Silk floss would be much more appropriate, and the next piece I do will definitely be in silk, now that I know how much I enjoy this.
The background of each panel will be worked in underside couching using gold Japan thread. I plan to do all the figures and then come back and do the couching in order to keep my stitching consistent. It will probably be the better part of a year before I get around to the couching.
(All copyright privileges remain with the author. Copyright 2002 Patricia Early, also known as Baroness Ximena Yannez de Talavera)