Colifichet

Italy

Date: c.1708

Origin: Italy

Dimensions: H 21 x W 17cm

Venue: Gawthorpe Textiles Collection

A framed colifichet embroidery depicting St Aloysius de Gonzaga worked in fine silk floss on a ground of parchment.

Colifichet embroideries are a rare type of double-sided embroidery that are stitched meticulously so that each side appears the same. As shown in this example, they were usually specially framed so that both sides of the work could be seen. They are usually worked in silk threads on a background of parchment or vellum and the use of this background material meant that tiny holes had to be pre-punched for each stitch to pass through before the embroidery could commence. The embroidery was often carried out by two people, one on either side of the work, passing the needle back and forth through the pre-punched holes.

On this embroidery, the stitching is so perfectly worked that the only obvious difference between the wrong and right sides of this piece is that the text along the bottom of the pieces appears backwards on the reverse. The technique was taught in convents and most surviving examples feature Christian religious scenes. Pieces such as this one would be made by nuns to be sold as devotional items to adorn private altars in the home. The founder of Gawthorpe Textiles Collection; Rachel Kay Shuttleworth, was particularly fond of this piece and often had it on display on the mantelpiece in her sitting room. It was one of the few objects that she purchased for the collection, having spotted it in an antique shop during a trip to Italy around 1910 and recognised what it was despite its grimy appearance. Whilst travelling home she took a feather from her hat and carefully brushed away years of dust and dirt from the frame and glass to reveal the beautiful embroidery underneath.

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