Thursday, 24 September 2009

Flags for the Battle of Flodden

Earlier this year I received a commission to produce 3 flags for the Battle of Flodden site at Etal Castle (English Heritage)

The first thing to be established was - which 3? I enlisted the help of a friend who studied heraldry to help with this one - we came up with a list of 12 flags known to be used at the battle and EH chose Argyll, Huntley and St Cuthbert.

The flags were to be naturally dyed and handstitched, approximately 3 ft square and on 8ft poles with finials.

The images above are what I had to work from with information on which colour was to be used where. The biggest challenge was finding a good linen to make them up. I tried all my favorite suppliers and Goodmans Linens found a lovely sateen linen with a very close weave, suited the purpose admirably! For the boars heads and crosses in gold I used a hemp silk - it had more stability than a plain silk and the lions were to be in the undyed linen.

After working out how much of each material was to be dyed in each colour I set to work scouring, mordanting and finally dyeing.

The linen was mordanted in alum and washing soda and the hemp silk in aluminium acetate, all the cloth was also mordanted in tannin. The black was iron over the tannin and then into indigotin.
The gold was produced with Persian Berries. Although I know they were used historically I am quite late in coming to love this dyestuff. I have only really used them if specifically requested to , I tend to prefer weld or dyers broom - but on this occasion I knew I'd get a better colour tone with the berries! The blue is indigotin - obviously! I had blue nails for a couple of weeks after this dyeing - to get the cloth even I had to move the fabric under the surface almost continuously and I couldn't use rubber gloves! I had tried to get the blue darker, but after 4 dips I really didn't think my hands could take anymore!
So there we are our base is ready to go! John was given the job of working out the Argyll flag - triangles of the correct size were beyond my brain power, but I set to work on the other two.

Working on the Huntley first (the boars heads seemed an easier option than the lions to break myself in!!) I've enlarged the boars head to a useable size and I needed 6, 3 each side . The paper was used as a template to cut round for the cloth and then I blanket stitched all round the edges before attaching them to the background pieces. The two sides were joined together and the hanging loops put in.
Here's the finished article! (On pole with finial!)

As I said it was John who did all the work on the Argyll flag - just to prove he can do the handstitching as well as the cutting out here he is!

The finished flag - I folded it back so it's obvious that there are two sides the same.

The last flag to be completed was the St Cuthbert, this is known to have been carried by the English Army, although I don't actually know the relevance! It required 2 crosses and 8 lions, the crosses were relatively easy, they were just blanket stitched onto the background.

The lions were first blanket stitched onto the background and then the details added in to give them definition

The finished flag looked like this!
So now you know why I've been so quiet recently, in between going away - I've been sewing round lions and crosses and boars heads and wish I could work with a thimble on, there is a very definite hole in my middle finger!


Helen said...

I don't know what impresses me more-the finished flags or the work that went into them.
The colours are fantastic and I agree with you about Persian berries -I have come into them late but I use them a lot and I love the colour they give.

Dorothy said...

What magnificent work! I love the boar's heads. All such lovely colours and beautifully dyed cloth. I'll have to try these Persian Berries sometime.

Debbie said...

Thank you both - I am quite proud of them (now they're finished!) Helen knows I suddenly put spurts on to get things done but these seemed to take a very long time!

Persian Berries give VERY bright yellows and were in use for dyeing leather as well as yarns. Do give them a try!

Anonymous said...

These flags are fantastic! Your work is so painstaking & the results really reflect this.
And I'm also a fan of Persian Berries & I find the variation between the ripe & unripe berries fascinating.
Good wishes
Jenny (Dean)