Elizabethan and Stuart 'Slips'

17th century

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The style of embroidering individual flowers, insects and animals originated from natural history, botanical or herbal books. Printing had been invented at the end of the fifteenth century when separate sheets and then bound books of wood block patterns were produced. The earliest pattern book was printed in 1524 in Augsburg in Germany. These books were aimed at the amateur embroideress as well as craftsmen. With the increase in wealth and greater stability during Elizabeth I’s reign, there came a huge interest in flower gardening as well as herb and vegetable gardening. Previously only aristocrats would have had the time and money to enjoy flowers. John Gerard, in the introduction to his Herball of 1597, likened a garden to embroidery rather than the other way round: 'For if delight may provoke men's labour, what greater delight is there than to behold the earth apparelled with plants, as with a robe of embroidered worke......'

Slips can be seen on many 16th and 17th century bedhangings in stately homes, with notable examples at Hardwick Hall in Derbyshire, where inventories of 1601 include ' fyve peeces of hangings....set with trees and slips and Griphons', and 'a footestool of oring tawnie velvet set with needleworke slips and oring tawnie frenge'. The bedhangings in Mary Queen of Scots’ room at Hardwick have applique slips, probably worked by Mary during her imprisonment.

‘Slips’ are only occasionally available for sale, and look good individually mounted onto wool or velvet and framed. Whereas a 17th century embroidered picture is now thousands of pounds, a single slip will make an inexpensive, decorative and interesting picture.

* The Reformation 1533. Henry VIII dissolved the Roman Catholic Church, due to the Pope’s refusal to annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon. England became independent from Rome with increased secularisation in social life. Peace and stability followed and a new middle class emerged.

** Tent stitch from the French tenter, to stretch, the canvas being stretched on a frame or tent, ready to be embroidered.

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