MEDATS Annual Conference: Upcycling, Recycling, Remaking, Reimagining and Reusing

Repurposed vestments, St Mary, Yatton, Somerset

*Online Event*

Ticket price: Free to members

Saturday, 7 May, 2022

This conference will be held online via Zoom. Members of MEDATS will receive an email with a link to register for the Annual General Meeting (13:30-14:30) and Annual Conference (14:30-18:30). There is no charge to members to attend, and the conference is only available to members. Sessions will not be recorded.

Timings are given in UK time: GMT+1. Speakers will deliver papers of approximately 20 minutes duration, followed by approximately 10 minutes for questions from the audience.


Session opens, welcome and rules for the audience, and AGM Meeting.

14:30 – 15:00

Helen Elletson – William Morris Society

Title: Bringing the ‘Arabian Nights’ to Hammersmith: William Morris’s reimagining of historic Persian carpets

In 1876, William Morris wrote to his daughter May about an oriental carpet he had recently added to his already extensive collection, ‘It will make you feel as if you are in the Arabian Nights’. Morris’s great appreciation of Persian carpets led to him not only collecting them and advising the South Kensington Museum on purchasing the finest examples, but went as far as to attempt to bring the art of the east to his own home when he began manufacturing hand-knotted rugs at Kelmscott House in Hammersmith.

This paper will explore Morris’s own outstanding collection of Persian carpets, how he displayed them in his homes, his role as historic textile adviser to the South Kensington Museum, and his successful endeavours at mastering the ancient art of weaving himself. It was the latter which resulted in Morris’s ground-breaking role when founding the Hammersmith carpet workshops and thereby creating the highly-prized works of art that emulated the exquisite patterns and profound beauty of the historic Persian carpet.

15:00 – 15:30

Ingela Wahlberg – Textile Studies, Uppsala University

Title: Reused, recycled, reshaped and rehomed – fifteenth century silk velvets with traces of squares, from Vadstena Abbey

During a period of the fifteenth century silk and silk velvets were often used as a background to, for example, Maria and the child Jesus in paintings. The silks were often patterned with a kind of square design, as if the fabric has been folded and manipulated. During research work with textiles from Vadstena Abbey several examples of these kinds of squared silk velvets were found, preserved as vestments. The analyses have partly been done with USB-microscope. This paper will predominantly discuss the silk velvets reused in the liturgical textiles made in the Vadstena abbey in comparison with paintings depicting squared silks. The silk velvets from circa 15 liturgical textiles can be traced back to two bolts of imported velvets, using the pattern. The Birgittine Nuns produced liturgical textiles for the many altars in the abbey church. After the reformation the textiles were sent to other churches and today, we can count to around 70 textile objects that can be traced back to the production in the abbey.

15:30 – 16:00

Amica Sundström and Maria Neijman – Historical Textiles

Title: The reuse of Medieval gilt-leather embroideries in seal bags

There are 14 preserved gilt-leather embroideries from the Middle Ages in Sweden and Finland. In this paper we will shed light on further examples that can be found in Medieval seal bags. This increases the number of known examples of gilt-leather embroideries and precedes the previous dating for these kinds of embroidery. In the National Archives of Sweden (Riksarkivet) collections there are a number of medieval documents with associated seals. In order to protect the wax seal, these have been sewn into a wrapping of textiles, a seal bag. The documents and the textiles can be linked to an exact date and to a context. The bags are often in excellent condition since they have been sheltered from sunlight and pests such as moths, even though they are 700 years old. By studying these seal bags in the National Archives we can draw new conclusions about the idea of reusing, even very magnificent, gilt-leather embroideries as wrapping for seals on legal documents.

16:00 – 16:15

BREAK, 15 minutes

16:15 – 16:45

Jaana Ratas – Tartu University

Title: Tracing the life cycle of late medieval garments: Study of archaeological textile finds from Estonian towns

This paper is based on the late medieval sewing waste archaeologically revealed in the towns of Estonia. The research includes about 200 woollen textile fragments with a total of 325 seams. Most of the textile fragments originate from the recycling of garments, during which the seams and worn-out parts of the garments were cut off and thrown away. Sewing waste provides good information about consumption habits, and sometimes helps to identify the objects. Wear marks and seams should be studied together. Wear marks on the surface of broadcloth are clearly visible as its surface is napped and the nap disappears in the process of wear. This paper will show that the clothes were re-made and up-cycled two or more times before they ended in cesspits. The worn-out surface of the fabric was turned inside, and the less worn inner side turned outside. Totally worn or ragged parts of the garments, for example the soles or foot parts of the hose were cut off and replaced with new ones. Fabric from the outer layer of a garment could be used as a lining when it had lost its nap from both sides.

16:45 – 17:15

Challe Hudson – BAC Stitch: the Bacton Altar Cloth Research Group

Title: Digitally Reconstructing the Embroidered Fabric that became the Bacton Altar Cloth

The Bacton Altar Cloth, recently conserved and displayed in the exhibit “The Lost Dress of Elizabeth I” at Hampton Court Palace, is a unique survival of a highly embellished luxury textile created circa 1600. The manner of its construction strongly suggests that the pieces of embroidered fabric that make up the Altar Cloth have had at least one previous life as part of a different textile object, which has been cut up and stitched together to form the table cover as we see it now. Studying digital images of the front and back of the Bacton Altar Cloth, this research attempted to identify visible traces of this history, and determine what that object could have been. After computer software was used to map its embroidered motifs, seams, selvedges, and patterns of excessive wear, the pieced fabric of the table cover was digitally separated into its component parts and virtually reconstructed to form the shape of the panels that were cut down to create the Bacton Altar Cloth. The traces of past uses and reuses of this fabric help reconstruct its history and illustrate the enduring value of luxury textiles in the early modern era, when even the most elite persons might welcome a recycled object.

17:15 – 17:30

BREAK, 15 minutes

17:30 – 18:00

James Clark – University of Exeter
Emma Slocombe – National Trust

Title: Textile Transmissions: The recovery, recycling and reinvention of church vestments through the social networks of the English Reformation

This paper introduces Textile Transmissions, a collaborative project exploring the recovery, recycling and reinvention of church vestments through the social networks of the English Reformation. It centres on Hardwick Hall in Derbyshire, the seat, and vision, of Elizabeth Talbot, Countess of Shrewsbury (c. 1527-1608). Better known as ‘Bess of Hardwick’, she furnished the interiors of this architectural masterpiece with rich textiles that signified her wealth and social status. Bess’s great furnishing schemes, initially for Chatsworth and then at Hardwick (recorded in 1601), were in fact founded on medieval textiles which had originated as priests’ vestments and altar hangings in the collections of churches of all kinds before the Tudor Reformation. The dissolution of the monasteries (1536-1540) and later phases of reform had removed these fabrics from their original setting and function and offered them up for adaptation and re-use. Luxurious velvets and ‘cloth of gold’ were refashioned into great hangings for beds and walls. Embroidered figures, fine examples of English craft skill, first made to decorate copes, hoods and orpherys, were recovered and rearranged for interior design. Textile Transmissions was prompted by the need to develop a deeper understanding of Bess’s collecting practice and its significance in the cultural and social context and ideological climate of Tudor England. The paper presents the project’s initial findings and efforts to close gaps in knowledge by connecting surviving textiles with the archival record to reveal the lost life story of the recycled and refashioned.

18:00– 18:30

Katherine Diuguid – Independent Scholar and Textile Artist

Title: Reimagining the Woman Clothed with the Sun

Drawing inspiration from the Douce Apocalypse and the Trinity Apocalypse manuscripts, The Red Dragon Lurks in Front of the Woman Clothed with the Sun reimagines the 7-headed dragon’s arrival in the story of the Woman of Revelation 12. Both Anglo-Norman manuscripts overlook this moment of the story providing an opening for artistic interpretation. While utilizing traditional embroidery techniques, this embroidered panel blends the Anglo-Norman aesthetic influences while providing visual commentary through the gaze of a modern female artist.

In addition to discussing the medieval Apocalypse manuscripts that served as aesthetic inspiration, this paper will also discuss medieval ecclesiastical textiles that provided technical inspiration. It will focus on the design and creation of the Woman Clothed with the Sun in the embroidered panel, and by focusing the discussion on this complicated character, it will illustrate how medieval art from other mediums can inspire the creation of new textile artifacts that are both faithful to the medieval inspiration and the artist’s contemporary voice.