Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Kentwell Hall, Suffolk & Fingerloop Braiding

Oh Gosh it’s so hot and I’m terribly behind with everything…  Between the day job, La Familia, La Casa y El Jardin my head is spinning….

To digress a little from what I’ve been looking at for the last couple of weeks, I’ve been on a few what you might call, field trips:

1.  To visit The V&A

2.  To meet with Bill Barnes of Golden Threads

3.  To Kentwell Hall’s Tudor Re-Enactment Festival.

This post is purely about Kentwell Hall Tudor Re-Creation Festival in Suffolk.


Well I dragged my DH along (under duress) the day after their Great Day, when up to 4oo Tudors from around the country walk, ride, dance, craft and eat about the place.  On the Sunday we were there, there were only about 150 Tudors left.  


If I can explain, the owners of the house are themselves Tudor re-enactment buffs and have faithfully restored the fine building and outhouses.  The house is stuffed with original features and all the rooms, that we saw, are exactly as they had been 500 years ago, can you believe that!  It was really quite eerie how time has stood still in this corner of the Suffolk countryside.  

We managed to get a little lost on the way there, that is surprising as its really quite straightforward to reach.  So we arrived after lunch, which was a shame because they’d all had a marvellous open air feast - as we found out later on from the Potager cook who we bumped into as he was playing his hurdy-gurdy under a tree. 

First things first, after buying our tickets (not cheap but worth it as the house was the genuine article) we were directed towards the ‘Time Tunnel’ from which we were told we would emerge 500 years back in Tudor Times.  The tunnel was really dark and I tripped, nothing to do with the flooring, but a lot to do with my heels,  so as a ‘psychological journey’, I hadn’t managed to really concentrate. 

When we came out the other side we could see an amazing house with its grand mullions and beckoning quadrangle, surrounded on its approach by various little cream ‘tents’ for want of a better word.  The first of which housed Braid Makers and of course, you know that that was my main reason for driving the 65 miles!

As we made our way across the lawns towards the Braiders, we were greeted by a man in a doublet with very red cheeks who said ‘Good day to you Mistress, fayre thee well’ and nodded….DH replied ‘Good day’.  I turned to DH and realised he had read the programme in the time it had taken me to change my shoes and find my way out of the Time Tunnel and he was already speaking the lingo.  Meanwhile I was taken aback by the Olde English greeting and found myself tongue-tied with the beginnings of an existential crisis (who am I, who would I have been back then, would I have been a bare-footed character? - my toes recoiled at the imagined physical threat)..


Their costumes were amazing, hair in white coifs, lots of cleavage spilling out (I looked across at DH who didn’t look so bored after all !!!).  Immediately I was given a one-to-one tutorial on how to make a multi coloured flat braid on a medium sized wooden loom.  I enjoyed watching the process very much but my attention was really on the Mistress rocking back and forth next to a tree watching us, who happened to be working THE LONG AWAITED FINGERLOOP BRAID!

Between them they explained that there are about 40 different patterns for braids.  They went on to say that whether you’re making a flat braid or a cord, you need to make the WHOLE thing in one sitting as the tension can never be precisely replicated (!).

I watched the fingerloop braid being worked for about 10 minutes and I’m pleased to say that it brought to life all the illustrations I had seen and I could tell it was actually quite straightforward but like all things that are done really well, they look so easy; until you try them yourself…

I was also able to clear-up my own confusion as to whether to make the cords on the repro bag in Lucet cord or fingerloop.  It was explained to me that although Lucet cords can be as long as the ball of yarn, the Fingerloop braid can only be a set length.  They explained that for lots of different colours to be included in one cord, you need to work Fingerloop cords and not Lucet.  The Bag itself has 8 colour change cords if you recall.  So that means only my thumbs will be free…

The house was really amazing and as I said, it’s virtually intact.  I have never seen a house with so many Tudor details, I’d only seen castles.   There are heaps of Tudor houses that have faithful exteriors but unfortunately they tend to have undergone drastic Victorian makeovers, as they did with the churches then.   This one had somehow resisted that imposition. 

While we were speaking to the Master of the house, who was sitting at a long oak table with his DW and DD greeting visitors, I actually managed to turn away briefly and deftly tilt the outer edge an historic embroidered bed hanging into the direction of the light for a tiny moment in order to examine more closely the methods they had used for edging the motifs.

This bed hanging was similar to those I had seen at the V&A recently, that are covered  in needlepoint ‘slips’, the designs of which had been taken from that famous book of herbals that we read about so often. 

I probably wasn’t meant to touch it but I just couldn’t resist as I’d seen lots of these embroidered slips at The V&A and I couldn’t quite make out how they had edged the canvas plant motifs down so cleverly without a single canvas thread poking out and maintained realistic curved shaping.  At the V&A I could see the stitches they had used were so minute that and they must have been executed with an eye-glass as they were virtually invisible to the naked eye. 

These  slips, aka Appliqued motifs,  are so beautiful when stitched onto crushed velvet but on this particular example of a bed hanging, the slips were stitched onto plain neutral coloured linen.  The V&A slips were finished off by laying down a cord around the outer edge and couching it very carefully with silver thread using satin stitch.  The slip I handled was couched with a black fine twisted silk cord that was left black.  The work was on a par with what I had seen at the V&A in terms of minute stitching, except no silver had been added.   

We learned that the long bed hanging had recently been brought downstairs for airing as the insects had been trying to get at it. 

This led on to them explaining that for instance, in order to eliminate lice, one has to hang clothes in The Jacks (lavatories) as the ammonia in the atmosphere there discourages lice. 

While in the same reception room, I also managed to surreptitiously let my finger run underneath the outer edge an ancient chainmaille vest – ooh!  It was incomplete but extremely stained and worn.  I was transported by that experience, I can tell you, it was incredibly weighty. 

We saw the Still and spoke to the apothecary (?) person who was pounding herbs and generously offered us a rhubarb concoction for Summer intestinal discomforts ! 

We also tried some rather flat ale from the Brew House and walked in the herb garden and heard a lot of good humoured Elizabethan vocabulary in regard to the battle of the sexes and how to ‘run your house’. 

The sewing room, which is in the Moat House that you get to once you pass the Dovecote, has a gorgeous large window for working at but the embroidery there was not as exciting as I would have liked.  They were mainly using Tent Stitch and there was no gold in sight, but for a tiny piece of gold highlighting pinned to the wall.  They explained that they were replicating the designs from a Cathedral in Norfolk at the time.  I didn’t quite feel able to talk about myself or my little bag, as I felt too awestruck by the whole time-warp factor.  The room was very tranquil however, as was the low level moat walk, nearby. 

The thing that made the profoundest impression on me was the floor of the Brew House.  I noticed it immediately as it was so uneven and yet very solid.  I looked down and could see it too was an original feature.  I was honestly transported in time walking on that ancient floor.  (If you can imagine a sort of indoor cobbled street idea.  There aren’t may cobbled streets left in London, the last truly old one I saw was in Edinburgh.)  The window was wide open on the dark cavernous room with its musty smell of old casks and fermentation.  I became motionless and let myself drift off, imagining all the many pairs of feet  from olden days walking across those proud elongated Tudor brick tiles and just kept thinking that the floor had felt the weight of so many generations of now dead people who had served the house, it was almost as if I could still, just about, hear their distant chattering…





  1. beth when I saw your reference to finger braiding I remembered this site I came across. Dont ask which page I saw the finger braiding on but it is there. It is about old embroidery and sewing and is free to download. You may already know it but thought I would send the address in case.


  2. Hi Beth Lea,
    I referred your youtube videos on the Trellis Stitch to an Italian friend - she thanks you very much for making it totally clear! She also asks where you found out that it was an Italian Stitch from the 16th century...she thinks it's funny that she had to learn an Italian stitch from someone "overseas".
    You can contact me directly at j e a n i n e r 3 at g m a i l dot c o m (lose the spaces)

  3. Shirley

    Its very kind of you to dig that out for me. I have seen the section you mention before. It's not the same thing as it happens, but here's the link for precisely what I'm looking:


    It's basically ancient way of making Medieval cords that the SCA have published in the form of a little - reasonably priced - booklet, that I have yet to purchase...

  4. Jeanine

    Thanks for your enquiry, will mail you very soon and please tell your friend its great to hear from fellow Trellis stitch enthusiasts!