Monday, April 13, 2015

The Bayeux Tapestry and the Modest Victorians

Few embroidered works have the worldwide fame and historical longevity as the Bayeux tapestry.

Nearly as famous as the tapestry itself are the stitches made to create it. The Bayeux Tapestry (which is actually not a tapestry but an embroidery, let’s get this right!) tells the story of the Battle of Hastings in 1066. It is a massive work comprising 270 feet of embroidered linen panels, and is more than 900 years old.

The Bayeux Gallery at the Reading Museum
Stem stitching and couched stitching are the predominant embroidery techniques, with threads naturally dyed shades of green, yellow and blue using plants such as woad and madder roots.

Over the centuries, copies have been made to share the work far and wide. Before the Internet provided images of the entire, original, tapestry, panels were replicated by embroiderers to display. England’s version of the Bayeux Tapestry was meticulously created in 1885, led by embroiderer Elizabeth Wardle, wife of Staffordshire silk-dyer Thomas Wardle. Thomas supplied the woollen yarns that matched the originals, and a team of 35 women from the Leek Embroidery Society replicated the stitches of the original work.

The original embroidered panel, with the infamous wild man...can you spot him?
However, the ladies stopped short of a perfect copy of the tapestry. The original Bayeux tapestry features a few rather, ahem, "wild and free" men decorating the borders, in Full Monty glory (squint to spy the cheeky chappies in the image above, or click here for clearer, racier view!) When faced with the naked men depicted in the border, the embroiderers did what any modest Victorian would: give the poor souls some pants!

The modest reproduction!
England’s Bayeux Tapestry can be seen in its own purpose-built gallery at the Reading Museum. Images courtesy of the Reading Museum.

What are you stitching? Please share in the &Stitches Flickr group. We'd love to see it!


  1. I love these kinds of posts. I am new to the stitching world, but I want to know everything about it and it's history. Thanks!

    1. Thank you Jenna! We so enjoy looking at historical embroidery, we decided to start devoting more posts to the subject!

  2. This is too funny! I can't help but think of what a fun project it would be to be tasked with creating a reproduction of the Bayeux Tapestry!


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