Editor’s Note: The Fall 2022 issue of PieceWork features the third in a series of articles about goldwork couching techniques by Natalie Dupuis. In it, Natalie describes the diaper pattern and discusses a number of examples that demonstrate this particular stitch, one of them being the Fishmongers’ Pall. Read on to discover the goldwork techniques used in this exquisite textile from the 1500s.
Shall we play a game? Let’s indulge in a bit of I Spy when looking at the funeral pall of the Worshipful Company of Fishmongers. This lavishly embroidered and well-preserved hearse cloth from circa 1512 is covered in metal threads that entice viewers to move in for closer inspection. Award yourself needlework points as you spot the delightful ways in which various precious-metal threads have been used.
The embroidered masterpiece, made in England, still belongs to the Fishmongers, one of the livery companies that evolved from London’s medieval merchant guilds. The pall would have originally been used when a company member passed away but is no longer in use and rests on a custom-made display box by the conservation team at Zenzie Tinker Conservation in England. The pall is occasionally seen during special exhibitions, such as the Opus Anglicanum: Masterpieces of English Medieval Embroidery exhibition held at the Victoria and Albert Museum in 2016. (For more about this exhibit at the V&A, see the Zenzie Tinker Conservation website.)
Detail of an angel from the proper right side panel
The hearse cloth is rich in fishmonger iconography rendered in goldwork techniques. You can see their patron saint, St. Peter the Fisherman, enthroned on both ends, flanked by angels with peacock feathers in their wings to symbolize immortality. The top panel is made from gorgeous Italian cloth of gold fabric with textured bouclé loops. The four side panels are dripping in silver-gilt and silver threads couched with polychrome silks.
Proper right back panel showing a mermaid and merman holding up the company’s coat of arms
The long side panels have repeated images of a merman and mermaid holding up the company’s coat of arms from 1512 (above). A central motif depicts Christ handing the keys of heaven to St. Peter in a vaulted Gothic chamber.
The king of all the various stitches on this funeral pall is the couching stitch, used to hold the metal threads in place in a variety of directions to add shading, light play, and pattern work. With that background, let’s play our I Spy game. Can you spy with your little eye the couched diaper pattern? If you don’t know what that is, look for lozenge-shaped patterns over a pair of passing threads carefully counted out to add interest behind the appliquéd figures of the merman and mermaid. (For more about the diaper pattern, see “The Humbly Magnificent Couching Stitch: Diaper Patterns” in PieceWork Fall 2022.) Can you spy some simple or nué in the image of the mermaid in the mirror?
Detail of peacock feather from an angel’s wing. ©Zenzie Tinker Conservation Ltd; reproduced with kind permission from the Fishmongers’ Company.
Basic couching can be seen in the hair of the mermaid as well as in the peacock feathers in the angel wings (above) and swords. Expert couching in a curving brick pattern can be seen on the dolphins of the coat of arms as well as the lower halves of the merpeople. In some areas you can even spy couching on top of couching. Take a closer look. Where else can you spy couching creatively used on this masterpiece?
Thanks to Zenzie Tinker Conservation Ltd (zenzietinker.co.uk) for the photographs. The funeral pall was conserved and mounted by Zenzie Tinker Conservation. When the pall arrived at the Zenzie Tinker studio in 2014, it was in amazing condition with the gold and gilt threads and colored silks still vivid. Their work focused on creating a supportive mount on which to display the embroidery in its new display case. See more images and learn more about their conservation work on the pall here.
Browne, C., Davies, G., Michael M., and Zoschg, M. (Eds.). English medieval embroidery: Opus anglicanum. London: Yale University Press with the Victoria & Albert Museum, 2016.
Natalie Dupuis teaches color theory and metal-thread embroidery to students around the world through her school SewByHand.com, and on invitation from the Embroiderers’ Guild of America, the Embroiderers’ Association of Canada, the Crewel Work Company, and the San Francisco School of Needlework and Design. Her goldwork designs can be found in multiple issues of Inspirations magazine. She recently completed her needlework-judge certification and continues to research and develop new projects and courses to share with her students.