Sunday, 21 July 2013

Opus Anglicanum

Opus Anglicanum

This is 'English Work', high status embroidery for church and kings in the Medieval period. It had a very good reputation and there were more than 100 examples of it at the Vatican in the 1300s.
Fundamentals of opus anglicanum with references

There aren't many examples left because it used a great deal of gold and silver thread, which was later removed and reused, and because of Henry VIII dissolving the catholic monasteries during his reign.

Butler-Bowden cope 1330-50, V&A no T.36-1955
Silk velvet (woven in Italy), silver and silver-gilt thread and coloured silks
Taken from wikicommons
The velvet or linen was embroidered completely, or almost completely. Techniques used included undercouching and split stitch.
For an interesting discussion about what opus anglicanum tells us about Medieval culture

Detail of English Altar front 1315-35
The detail of the techniques copied below is also from this site.

Underside Couching
To Work Underside Couching - In the embroidery technique of underside couching, thread (usually gold) is laid on the surface of the ground fabric, couching threads are then passed over it. As each couching stitch is worked over the gold thread, the needle is carefully re-inserted into the hole in the backing fabric that the needle created on the way out. The couching thread is pulled tight and a tiny loop of the gold thread from the surface drops through the hole in the backing fabric to the underside (thus giving the technique its name).
This creates a hinge in the gold thread, allowing the fabric to bend and giving it a great flexibility. Fabric worked with gold thread in underside couching has much more drape than fabric with surface couched gold, thus making it a much better technique for working objects which will be worn, such as ecclesiastical vestments.

Laid and Couched Work

Laid and Couched Work, is a form of embroidery where a thread (usually wool ) is laid on a ground fabric (usually wool or linen ). This stitch is created by laying a set of ground threads, that work from one side of the pattern to the other (Fig a). Over these threads, in the opposite direction, are laid another set of threads at regular intervals (Fig b). These cross threads are then held down by a series of couching stitches (Fig c). The whole process results in an area completely covered in thread. This technique allows for large areas of pattern to be covered very quickly.

Split stitch is backstitch where the needle goes through the last stitch rather than the last hole.

Embroidered bookbinding for the Felbrigge Psalter in couched gold thread and split stitch, likely worked by Anne de Felbrigge, a nun in the convent of Minoresses at Bruisyard, Suffolk, during the latter half of the fourteenth century.
Photo and title from Wikipedia entry on opus angicanum

So, after looking through these websites and others, I'm thinking that I should have a go at doing this undercouching. I particularly like the way the gold background are textured and patterned by this without taking over from the detailed images in front. I am interested to see how difficult it might be to produce a reasonable looking face with split-stitch, and also noticing that most of these images have an appealing convention that images are divided and framed with architectural shapes.

Syon Cope from

Here is some of the sketchbook work I did as a result of this investigating of medieval images.

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