Reconstructing the Black Prince’s Jupon with Ninya Mikhalia

Stitch in Time

Last Saturday’s meeting of Enfield & District Embroiderers’ Guild was definitely a Special Event. Ninya Mikhaila, an historical costumier who featured in BBC 4’s A Stitch in Time programme, came to talk about ‘Reconstructing the Black Prince’s Jupon’.

Ninya described the process of researching and reconstructing one of the garments made for the series: the quilted, and heavily embroidered, defensive garment worn by Edward, The Black Prince in the late fourteenth century. The original jupon was displayed over the Prince’s tomb in Canterbury Cathedral for more than 600 years and is now faded, fragile and somewhat altered from its original state. It is so fragile that viewing is restricted and Amber Butchart, fashion historian and the series presenter, was the person chosen.

To establish the dimensions and construction of the garment Ninya consulted historical records which detailed contemporary methods, materials and costs. However, it was Janet Arnold’s article ‘The jupon or coat-armour of the Black Prince in Canterbury Cathedral’ (published in the  Journal of the Church Monuments Society ; Volume VIII, 1993, pp.12-24) that provided the dimensions, construction details and diagrams showing the placement of the embroidered motifs which the team needed for the reconstruction.

Even with this information, some aspects were not apparent. For example the garment is padded and quilted, but the construction method was not obvious. Consultation with textile historian Lisa Monnas, stitching trial samples and information from Edward III’s household accounts enabled the team to come up with the most probable method.

Ninya, together with fellow historical costumier Harriet Waterhouse and intern Hannah Marples tried different methods for constructing the padded garment: stitching first, then stuffing with cotton fibre; stitching through layers with the cotton fibre sandwiched between and variations of these techniques.

The reconstruction was made and embroidered entirely by hand, as the original would have been. Once the motifs for embroidery had been designed digitally, full scale drawings were made for the embroiderers to work from. The designs were transferred to the fabric using the traditional ‘prick and pounce’ method. Tambor embroidery was used for the leopards, and couching for the fleur de lys motifs. To meet the production schedule and budget the embroidery was undertaken by an expert team based in India.  Once the motifs arrived back in the UK, they had to be cut out from the background very close to the stitching before being sewn onto the quilted and padded base layer.

After lining and binding the neckband, the garment was finished. It had taken over 1000 hours of work to complete, much of that being taken up by the hand embroidery. Such a garment, costly in the 14th century, would be unaffordable today.

Ninya had brought the finished jupon for us to see. When she removed the cover, the magnificent detail and vibrant colours were revealed in all their glory: it is truly a garment fit for a prince. From an embroiderers’ and textile historians’ perspective, it was fascinating to hear about the process and day-to-day workings of the project which Ninya conveyed beautifully.

STOP PRESS episodes 1-6 of A Stitch in Time are being repeated on BBC4 at 7.30pm on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays between 11 and 20 March 2019.

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