From the woollen thread to the Bayeux stitch and the linen and natural pigments, discover the different stages of the making of the Tapestry.
A linen canvas
The scenes in the Bayeux Tapestry are embroidered on a linen canvas. This was woven from fibres in the stem of the flax plant.
The natural grey colour of the canvas turns ecru and then off-white when bleached, or exposed to daylight for a certain length of time. This is the case for the Tapestry. Thus the linen background, which is completely uncovered, emphasises the originality of the colours of the woollen threads.
The woollen threads
In the 11th century embroidery thread was dyed on the fleece and then spun by hand. The threads were of varying thicknesses depending on whether they would be used for stem stitch or straight stitch.
The plants used to dye the wool in the Tapestry were woad, madder and dyer’s rocket.
Dyer’s woad is a plant of the brassica family once used to produce a blue dye. The cultivation of the plant in Europe declined with the arrival in the 17th century of indigo from the Indies.
Madder or dyer’s madder, from western and central Asia, belongs to the rubiacee family. Its root produces a red pigment.
Dyer’s rocket or mignonette belongs to the reseda family. It grows in the Mediterranean basin and in western Asia, and was once cultivated in Europe for its yellow dye.
The dyeing procedure used is fermentation. This technique uses the decomposition of plants with active dyes.
The wool is dipped several times, and air-dried after each dipping, to obtain the required colour density. The Tapestry has ten colours, obtained from these three plants:
*pink or orange red (madder)
*plum brown red (madder)
*mustard yellow (rocket)
*beige (rocket and woad)
*blue black (woad)
*dark blue (woad)
*medium blue (woad)
* dark green (rocket and woad)
*medium green (woad)
* pale green (woad)
Dyes can vary according to the different colour baths.
The original colours of the Tapestry have changed little over time, unlike those of restorations carried out a few centuries ago. These have not kept well, and have faded (observe the bars or the areas of embroidery which have become ecru as the colours fade). On the other hand, restorations done in the 19th century are gaudy, especially in the final scene.
The different colours used highlight all through the work the surprising relief obtained by the use of four embroidery stitches: stem stitch, chain stitch, split stitch with two threads and couching work, or “Bayeux stitch”. This is used to fill in the coloured areas. It is outlined with stem stitch and is worked in three stages.
This couching work filled in the surfaces. Correctly done, it does not show on the reverse side of the canvas.
These maintain the straight stitches in place. They are spaced approximately 3 to 4 mm apart.
A bar is placed at the intersection of two areas of couching work.
These small stitches fixed the bars. They go from one line to the other, and are repeated every 3 to 5mm.