The Bayeux Tapestry - comparison Drawing the pattern

Comparison:- Drawing the pattern in 2008

When I decide to draw or to illustrate, I don't give much thought to the preparation or the implements I use; I have pens, pencils and paper, I collect them like a magpie and sometimes, I just open a drawer to look them. Strange but true.

That's not to say that I don't go to some effort to prepare for a project. I'm fussy about the grade of paper I use, and I search for the correct pencil or pen, but that's about the extent of it. I select pigment ink pens and the correct drawing paper purchased at the local store and with the book propped, I begin to put pen to paper to produce the pattern or illustration. Other times, I draw in the iPad, but I didn't do that in 2008.

The .5 black pen delivers a clean black line on the paper and once applied, it's permanent and successful in providing the desired result. I've been using them for years. I don't give it a second thought. To be honest, I took it for granted that the original cartoon for the tapestry was achieved by drawing on paper.

Drawing the pattern in 1066

Further research showed that idea to be a long way from the truth. There is nothing to document my ideas on the preparation of the drawings of the patterns on the Bayeux Tapestry. However, the eloquence of the writing of Medieval artisans provides us some hundreds of years later with an understanding of the age-related methods of illustration preparation.

Many scholars have suggested Bishop Odo (The younger half brother of William) was a possible patron for the work. He is shown in a very favourable light throughout the Tapestry. The Patron is acknowledged as the person providing the finance and means for producing an artwork, and would undoubtedly have engaged an artisan to create the original cartoon. The investigation has shown me that paper wasn't invented in England until 1300 A.D. So what medium did they use?

The Medieval Scribe, Pliny, the Elder came to my rescue. "The drawings were done on parchment made from sheep or goats skin. Alternatively, they could have been made on Velum which is made from calfskin". The selection of the beast to be used for the manufacture of parchment was made carefully and would possibly have been made by the "Parchmenter" In the Middle Ages; the parchment maker was an accepted tradesman in every village.

Picture a man striding through the field, staff in hand as he selects the animals he thinks will be best for the manufacture of parchment. While sheep and cows were used to make white parchment, brindled animals added a mystique to the colour of the parchment and in many instances were favoured for their skin colour. I understand that the animals of the local farmer were not always acceptable because their animals suffered from diseases and were prone to ticks and fleas. I believe that they would have used approximately 90 skins to make the amount of parchment needed for the cartoon for the Bayeux Tapestry. Goodness, that's a whole flock of sheep.

I've come across a few recipes but the common factor was that the skin had to be washed in cold running water for several days, well at least for a day and a night. Stored in wooden vats, the lime is added and the skins are left for approximately 10 days. They are stirred twice a day with long wooden poles and as the skin begins to rot, the hair naturally falls out. The slippery and rather foul smelling hides are poled out one by one and laid over a tall cylindrical wooden form, rather like a shield.

But this is just the beginning. Once the skin has been softened, it needs o be devoid of all hair of course. The fur or wool is scraped off by the parchment maker with a concave shaped knife. In Medieval times, unlike the video above, the finely ground bones of a chicken is rubbed on the parchment to smooth any anomalies, and gives a surface to be illustrate on and ten it's rubbed to its final smoothness with the foot of a hare.

Gross really, I'm glad I could buy my equipment, rather than go to all of that trouble, but that's the way it was and we have forgotten how innovative our ancestors were.

At first I used single pages of modern velum and pasted them together to do the drawings on. Later I was able to buy velum on a huge 90 metre roll. It's generally used by architects for drawing plans.

It was wider than I needed but I cut it down to the width I needed.

By using velum I could do the drawing on one side and just reverse it to trace to create the applique pattern. it's in huge rolls stored in fireproof containers and kept in the safe.

Some of the drawings.

In the next post I will talk about the ink that was used and I would love to attempt to make some myself, but to be honest, it takes a long time.

Created By
pam holland


Written and photographs by Pam Holland