The Norse Cloak of Myth
Sometimes it is hard to remember precisely when an idea is born. In this case it was definitely while we were driving around Iceland in 2014 that this project first came into focus.
We discussed it, thought it would be a nice project but would take many years and if I’m honest, I suspected it might just be an interesting pipe dream.
It was not long after our Iceland trip that this first concept image was created outlining a Valknut formed from the branches of the great tree “Laerad” embracing the nine worlds described in the Norse pantheon.
Having discussed how long something like this would take to complete and with figures of around ten years being discussed, I still did not really expect it progress beyond the concept.
Much to my surprise, Debbie handed me a watercolour pad in 2016, on my birthday, containing 83 pages of beautiful concept art. I was speechless, which is very rare for me.
I knew she had been doing some research but the scope of it and the quality of the artwork was a revelation.
One of the things that impressed me most was that I could recognise many of the images from archaeological or art sources from the period or very close to it. Although we were creating something new and unique, the design itself had it’s foundations firmly rooted in the real art of the Nordic world.
What followed were some simplified line drawings on rolled paper to match the scale of the intended garment and my skills finally came into play with photographing the line work and compositing it so that we could get some sense of the entire thing.
Work on the embroidery itself started in the summer of 2017 and the image you see here was taken at the end of 2018.
In this second image I have superimposed the proposed digital artwork onto the embroidery to give a better idea of how the finished article may look, although the design is still evolving as time goes on.
February 2019 and the tree is completed other than the middle section which needs to intersect with elements of the design near the centre.
The base material for the cloak was chosen to be a good match for natural black sheep wool and the thread for the embroidery ( crewel work strictly speaking ) is pure wool as well. Some colours would be chosen for symbolic purposes while others would help to identify key characters.
My partner Debbie enjoys many different arts and crafts but embroidery is a particular skill.
She has worked on museum quality projects such as the one you can see her working on here for Lofotr Viking Museum in Northern Norway and she has made some fabulous work for me over the years, much of it being featured in my regular school workshops.
This is also the latest update for the artwork. The 19th draft which gives you some idea of the care going into this. This also gives a slightly more realistic idea of the fabric colour which is not as black as it looks in previous pictures.
We’ve dropped a couple of things we thought were superfluous and making it too crowded, moved things about a bit and updated some of the principle figures around the edge. There is a bit of space now between Gladshiem and Alfhiem that we will decide what to fill with somewhere down the line
Click on the image above for a closer look and to see the characters and places labelled.
Here you can see a closer view of some of the occupants of Laerad to give you an idea of the quality of the embroidery.
I should make it clear at this point that we are not setting out to make a reproduction of a real artefact here. Although the Vikings and Saxons did use embroidery, it would have rarely been used in this sort of concentration.
The intention is to create a visual aid for story telling and as such the design contains elements from many of the important stories that create an arc from the Norse creation myth to the prophesy of Ragnarok at it’s end. It serves as a mind map of sorts to a fantastic world, populated by gods and giants, elves and dwarves, dragons and other spiritual creatures.
This is a long term investment and will be used as an important part of our education work when it is finished.
Below is a short video showing the design development from the initial concept to the early stages of realisation.
Music properly licensed under IAC Music Copyright Clearance Schemes
( MCPS, BPI, PPL and the Musician’s Union. )
April 2020. Almost exactly 6 years after the concept was first discussed in Iceland, here is the embroidery work done so far.
The work is slow of course but life goes on around it. The world is currently locked down by the Coronavirus Covid-19 and the restrictions in place as a result but in our little enclave, the craft work continues much as it did before. The Hrafn Casket has been completed and work continues on the Cover of Beowulf.
The amount of work that Debs has put into this over those years staggers me whenever I think of it. We thought it might take a decade to finish and so far it seems to be about on target.
Overlaid with the artwork again here to give you a better idea of the intended design.
This is the embroidery as it stands on 10th February 2019
September 2020. We are looking forward to starting to work with schools again but it is also time for another update on the cloak.
As you can see, she has mainly been working on some of the principal characters around the edge. They are not quite finished in this shot but their competion will mark a major landmark with only the nine central worlds to be done.