Fairy Tales · Textile Art

Tristram and Isolde

Tristram and Isolde embroidery detail delphina rose | mostly textile art and design

Flahback time!

I embroidered this all the way back in 2006, when I was still in high school, during my stage when I was embroidering with a hoop and DMC on white cotton, and was completely in love with all sorts of silly nonsense, which I thought was perfectly romantic. Some of my favorites came from Howard Pyle’s The Story of the Champions of the Round Table. It’s a huge old book, written in faux-archaisms (“‘Grammercy for thy thought of me, good fellow,’ quoth Sir Launcelot.”), filled with Howard Pyle’s own black-and-white illustrations. I got my copy when I was twelve, as part of my reward for babysitting my sister all summer.

Howard Pyle's The Story of the Champions of the Round Table delphina rose | mostly textile art and design
So beautiful! So archaic!

One of the stories from this book I loved to death then and kinda smirk at now is the story of Tristram and Isolde. Just listen to their story and tell me this guy wasn’t pathetic.

Howard Pyle's "Sir Tristram of Lyonesse" delphina rose | mostly textile art and design
Look at his glazed eyes. This sure bodes well.

Once upon a time, Mark of Cornwall and King Angus of Ireland were angry with each other, but about what, nobody remembers.

Being noble and civilized kings, they decided that instead of going to war, they should hold a single-combat tournament: Sir Morholt of Ireland, the Queen’s brother, vs. Sir Tristram of Lyonesse, King Mark’s nephew.

Morholt was a big and fearsome knight, and he wounded Tristram with a poisoned lance (which was downright sneaky of him). But since Tristram is the hero of our story, he won the fight. However, a tiny piece of his sword broke off in Morholt’s death-wound. When his sister, the Queen, cleaned his dead body, she found it and kept it. She swore to kill the man who had killed her brother.

Tristram and his uncle Mark went home to Cornwall, but Tristram’s poisoned wound didn’t heal. A wise woman told him that the only person on earth who could heal his wound was Princess Isolde of Ireland.

Since he had killed Morholt, and the Queen of Ireland had sworn to kill him, he disguised himself as Sir “Tramtris.” He sailed to Ireland in a golden ship and played so sweetly on his harp and sang songs so beautifully that the Irish invited him into the castle. Princess Isolde healed him with her beauty, and he spent many months there giving her music lessons.

Of course, they fell madly in love.

“Tramtris,” as we shall call him, being an idiot, brought the chipped sword with which he had killed Morholt to Ireland with him. When the Queen saw it, she realized that “Tramtris” was really Tristram, who had killed her brother Morholt! So, without delay, she rushed into the bathroom (where Tristram was taking a bath) and tried to kill him.

Howard Pyle's "The Queen of Ireland seeks to slay Sir Tristram" delphina rose | mostly textile art and design
No lie. There’s a picture to prove it.

Luckily for our hero, he escaped, and sailed back to Cornwall.

Back in Cornwall, he was entirely useless and unmanly, lounging around King Mark’s castle all day, moping and singing mournfully about his beautiful lost lady love.

Howard Pyle's "Sir Tristram Harpeth Before King Mark" delphina rose | mostly textile art and design
Indeed, he harpeth with panache.

His uncle King Mark, listening to him crooning love songs to Princess Isolde all day, got very annoyed and slightly angry at his nephew. He said, “Tristram, you sing so beautifully about the Princess Isolde, that now I have fallen in love with her too! Please go to Ireland and ask her to marry me, please.”

Since Tristram was his uncle’s knight, he had to do whatever he asked. So, he sadly packed up his harp and sailed over to Ireland for the third time.

King Angus of Ireland agreed that King Mark could marry Princess Isolde, so Tristram and Isolde went back together to Cornwall.

Isolde was not happy that she had to marry King Mark. She begged Tristram not to make her marry his uncle, but he preferred knightly honor over his true love’s happiness.

“Can’t I decide anything for myself?!” she cried.

“Of course, my love,” he soothed. “Anything at all. Just not about who to marry. I promised my uncle that he could marry you, and my knightly promise is way more important than our happiness.”

When he said that, Isolde should have realized that he was a total idiotic jerk, and either run away, or decided to be happy with King Mark, but instead, she gave Tristram a love potion, to doom him to love her forever.

So Princess Isolde and King Mark got married, and Tristram and Isolde loved each other forever.

The rest of this story is even more ridiculous and depressing than the beginning. Either Tristram and Isolde both killed themselves, or King Mark killed Tristram, or Tristram died of a wound and Isolde died of a broken heart, or Tristram went crazy and went running through the forest for ten years, or Tristram went to France and married a different beautiful lady whose name was also Isolde (whom he never could love), and Isolde (the Irish one) died of a broken heart because of that.

The moral of this story is: Don’t ever make your girlfriend marry your uncle.

The End.

Here a few more pictures of my embroidery. This is the famous scene on the ship where Isolde gives Tristram the love potion.

Tristram and Isolde embroidery detail delphina rose | mostly textile art and design
Smiling for no reason…

The stitches used are primarily satin stitch and whipped back stitch, with a few French knots and other textures.

Tristram and Isolde embroidery detail delphina rose | mostly textile art and design
She has a big clod of hair.

This is also the first project I used beads on.

Tristram and Isolde embroidery detail delphina rose | mostly textile art and design
Full view of Tristram and Isolde. It’s in a padded fabric frame and hangs on the wall.

Note: I am also having camera issues. I have 6 new “Superlife” batteries, and they only take one picture each before spluttering out and demanding to be changed again.


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