Bateau Bayeux – the sails

I have made some progress on the Bateau Bayeux project…never fear! The sails are finished so their little boat is ready to sail across the channel in all weathers. I started at the top of the design – working upside down – and now the whole top part of the picture is stitched.


As I worked on the sails, always looking at the photo in David Wilson’s book, I became aware of how much the direction of the couching stitches affected how each sail looked.

In the photo below you can see that the couching stitches (meaning the long ones that hold the laid stitches down and not the tiny holding stitches) on the far left blue sail curve quite dramatically at the right end of the sail. This gives the impression of the sail filling with wind. The next sail over – the golden tan one – also has slightly curved couching stitches but perpendicular to the ones in the blue sail.


As you can see from the photo below, this is how the original was stitched.


In the next section of a group of sails, I deviated a bit from the original and made the holding stitches in each section flow together more smoothly in a more or less continuous line.


You can see in the small tan sail at the bottom right of the photo that the outside edge is in a curve with the rest of the holding stitches but the area underneath the rope is at a completely different angle. Although you can see only a little of the blue sail at the very bottom in the photo below, you can see that the holding stitches carry on the gently curved line that the others (except that funny bit below the rope!) have in common.


It’s a funny, eccentric bit of stitching. I wonder what happened? Oversight?, Deliberate choice?, Bad light?, Exhaustion?, Worry?. I love to think about why the change happened and for such a tiny part of the sails.


The photo above, of my work, shows the continuous curved line I’ve worked in the sails. Naturally, I can’t take a photo of the original to show you the difference but perhaps you can imagine it in your mind’s eye.

Next time I’ll talk about the Bateau Bayeux project you’ll see all the sailors dressed! They were SO embarrassed – I can’t tell you how relieved they are now!

I’m curious: if you were stitching this replica of this bit of the Bayeux Tapestry, would you try to follow the stitch direction exactly or not? Why? Why not? I’d love to hear from you and so would everyone else!

6 thoughts on “Bateau Bayeux – the sails

  1. Some thoughts about the sail SNAFU.

    It is almost guaranteed that a group of women were doing it, it could be that two different women did those parts, a few days apart maybe, and one did not know how the other was going to do it, or how they planned (if any part of the stitching was planned at all ahead of time)that area. Just because some of us keep a journal and plan every detail, does not mean they did. I doubt that the group of women were saying “lets all finish this boat and then we will all work on that horse and rider”, and sat chatting to decide how everything was supposed to look, and fussing about what was “wrong”. They were likely working on several feet at a time (depending on how many in the group, which may have changed slightly day to day) or their hands would get in each others way, so those portions may have been done at very different times. I am not saying that NO planning was done, I would just guess that it was minimal.

    It may also have been that the women were not assigned a specific section that they themselves were to finish, it could be that to keep things moving, a lady who was working on a few sections of the boat sail yesterday, was finishing lettering farther down today (different project sort of thing), who knows. Just because WE would do the sections in a particular order for our personal preference, they likely did not, groups do not do things the same way as singletons. I say that because the larger part does match the previous almond colored sail stripe, and the smaller section matches the blue sail section above. It is common knowledge that women would work on projects from all sides, sitting in a group, so that sail section could be where the top and bottom half of that section was divided? It could have been started from two different directions and when they hit the middle it was like “oops”, because planning ahead was likely not common for numerous reasons. One being why waste expensive writing materials on an embroidery? Just because it was done to celebrate 1066, does not mean that they intended for it to wind up in a museum. Remember, many of us do things to celebrate family or occasions, and do not care whether or not it goes to a museum in a millennia.

    Perhaps a younger embroideress (or a new entrant to the group) did that part and learned a little something that day? Just another flap in the wind theory, what if a left hander did one side or the other, it may have been more comfortable for their hands from the way they were sitting to do it that way, instead of the other way. OR, maybe they did it that way intentionally for some reason, but we do not know why. We also do not know in what order the sail portions were done, and which one (if any) is “wrong” so we can only happily speculate, and learn from the mistakes they made on it. 🙂

    Also, size wise this was designed to be seen from afar, so it could be that the couching perfection was not as important in one colored sections as it would be to us. On the real thing, can you see the couching well from a distance? Perhaps only the couching sections that are two different colors have fewer mistakes because it may have been done for those sections to be seen.

    Throughout history human beings tend to look at the past out of context, that is looking at things from what is right from OUR point of view, ignoring the fact that just because something is considered a bad idea now, does not mean that it was considered a bad idea then. Just because we would tear things out and fix it, does not mean that they considered that the correct thing to do then in other words.

    SNAFU or not, it seems to me that embroideresses were far less fussy about their projects than we are now. I sometimes read about people who tear the same part out repeatedly because it is not “perfect” (I have once or twice, yes) and I shudder how much is wasted when we do that. In reality, lack of perfection seems okay, because then they would sit in groups and gossip and teach and take care of one another, and if someone makes a mistake, no biggie, a lesson learned for the future. That sounds like a more important aspect of the hobby back then, than the perfection we fluff over now. Floss was likely a lot more expensive then since it was all hand made, so I would be willing to bet that they did not tear it out, unless there was a better reason than a little SNAFU. Even if it was being done by upper-crusters does not mean that they were inclined to waste for perfections sake. After all, they did not exactly have the super sharp, extra pointy, teensy tiny snippers (and other tools) that we have. Back then, tearing it out may have done more harm than good in most cases. People were also less inclined to waste things back then, and you can’t exactly reuse the floss that is torn out. They also were just doing it for themselves, they did not know or expect that a millennia later, their sail SNAFU would be being discussed on a blog.

    Just some ideas. 🙂

    If I was doing a replica of part of the Bayeux Tapestry I would likely do both, fix it when needed, but try to follow for the most part. In reality, I wouldn’t stress too much about it either way, since it does not appear that they did too much of that. 🙂 They just finished the beauty and we are lucky to be able to enjoy it.

    Oh, and your version is getting lovelier and lovelier too by the way. 🙂

    • Dear RMW,

      You always have such thoughtful comments and I love to read them. I absolutely agree with your point about the work being finished and us all being able to enjoy it. Too often an artist spends too much time being critical and not nearly enough just say “Ahhhh, that’s lovely!”
      Liebe Grüße,

  2. For the most part I did try to keep with the original slant of the couching. Tho if you look closely at the animals in the borders I am sure you could find some that are slightly off.

    As for those animals…. when I started my piece I really enjoyed working the lions with their tongues out. But, I got pretty tired of them, and all the birds with out stretched wings, by the time I had done about 50.

    Have you decided if you are incorporating a border in your design or if you are letting the ship speak for it’s self?

    Your embroidery is lovely and I really enjoy watching it progress!

    • Hi Paula,
      I haven’t decided if I’ll do a border. Right now I’m think no but on Sunday I was think yes…we’ll see as the boat gets finished what I think it needs to look finished. I have look (as closely as I could on the computer!) at your work and I think it’s just wonderful!!! I only hope in the end I can do as well!
      Liebe Grüße,

  3. I agree with RMW mostly; but we do know (well, I think we do) that this embroidery was made by nuns and that nuns traditionally did lots of embroidery. It was one way of keeping busy, kept their minds on less temporal issues, provided vestments for church and clergy, and in this case, recorded history. We speculate that they worked in various nunneries, so groups were separated by several miles which might as well have been hundreds by our standards; so not much interaction going on between the groups.

    This particular type of work is different from the usual embroideries made by nuns, which was of finer thread on finer cloth. By comparison this is pretty agricultural – wool on various types and colours of linen.

    ‘Mistakes’ or ‘SNAFUs’ of this type are bound to happen in this type of situation. As RMW has speculated, perhaps it was the work of a novice or simply a glitch where the changeover of hands occurred.

    Whatever happened, it is fun for us to speculate all these centuries later. If I were doing this project, I guess I would not try to ‘correct’ any errors. It is what it is and isn’t going to change any time soon.

    • It was common practice back then (for several centuries) for upper crust families (especially those with extra daughters (and sons) the did not want to pay large dowries for) to install one into a convent as children, even kings did that. I think at least one of William the Conquerors daughters was put into a convent as a child. Often widows and inconvenient or misbehaving wives wound up there as well. So the fact that they were nuns, does not mean that all of them were not upper crust women, some likely were. For centuries the church, including monasteries and convents) had a great deal of money, so they were likely not hurting for money to finish this, or anything else they were doing. The reason it is likely different and not “finer” is because it is not an ecclesiastical piece, it could be that they did it for the commission, and let Williams brother do with it what he wanted, but did not expect that it would “hang around” (haha) for as long as their ecclesiastical work was expected to. Why waste the really good stuff on dining room decorations (I have not heard of a reason for the commission being discovered) so to speak. Perhaps even Odo did not expect it to last this long. We can only have fun (as Christina said) with speculation, and just as much fun doing reproductions, or enjoy watching bloggers in Germany do them. 🙂

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