Mary Corbet

writer and founder


I learned to embroider when I was a kid, when everyone was really into cross stitch (remember the '80s?). Eventually, I migrated to surface embroidery, teaching myself with whatever I could get my hands on...read more

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Embroidery and Illumination


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I’ve mentioned before that embroidery and illumination (the decorating of manuscripts usually in conjunction with text worked in calligraphy) are pretty closely connected – or at least, at different points in history, they certainly have “fed” off each other.

Since making that comment, I’ve found other sources that substantiate it, among them Lanto Synge in his authoritative work, The Art of Embroidery. This is an excellent book that thoroughly covers the history of embroidery techniques and use. Really a great book for any serious needleworker’s library!

But I digress… embroidery and illumination. Both are beautiful arts! Recently, a reader commented here on Needle ‘n Thread, and, following her link, I ended up at her blog, Elmsley Rose.

WOW! Talk about beautiful work! While the topic may seem irrelevant to needlework and surface embroidery, she does discuss color combinations (granted, in paint) that are relevant to the embroiderer. At the same time, you can see how the designs used in illumination are certainly a source of inspiration for embroidery.

Elmsley Rose also has a photobucket gallery, where you can view her illuminated works and some needlework, which she also enjoys.

If you have time to browse these two sites, you’re sure to enjoy the artwork on them. Feel free to leave a comment on her blog to encourage her! She does fantastic work!



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(4) Comments

  1. Elmsley Rose — what a lovely site!

    I love illuminated manuscripts as well and have been considering some embroidery projects that would include them. Here are a couple of links to sites with digital images of actual documents:

    Bodleian Library (Oxford):

    British Library:

    Unfortunately, you have to browse through these sites to find things, but there are some nice examples in there. On the British Library site try a search on ‘book of hours’ for a sample.

    Google Images returns lots of images when you search on ‘illuminated manuscripts’.

    Lastly, there’s a nice book by Patricia Carter entitled Illuminated Designs (ISBN: 0-85532-777-4) that takes you through the process of creating illuminated designs. (Ms. Carter has also written other books on the subject.) I believe this one is out of print, but can probably be found via one of the used book sites.

  2. Hi, I’m new to your site, but you have given me a marvellous idea between you.

    I want to make an embroidered gift for my parent’s Golden Wedding.

    So what could be more appropriate than Goldwork?

    I have not attempted this before so I wanted a very simple design, So I thought of a Family tree.

    To keep it simple I have just used first names, and thought I might use Illuminated style Lettering for the first letters.

    The whole item will be about 2-3feet long, on Black or Crimson Velvet, but there will be lots of blank space, and I am planning to use a premade bullion embroidered braid for a border.

    I would be really grateful if you could give me some suggestions.

    a) am I mad, or at least overambitious.
    b) how hard is the lettering likely to be
    c) What sort of materials would be best to use for the lettering and the lines. I would like to use at least some real Gold.

    Hope this is not a cheeky request.

  3. Hi, Su – Not a cheeky request at all, but perhaps something more suited to an e-mail, so we could “trouble-shoot” some ideas.

    a. Not mad, not necessarily over-ambitious. Goldwork, though it requires care, is not particularly difficult if you are already familiar with embroidery!

    b. the lettering depends on what type of letters you plan to use! You can get good, crisp lines with twist and with pearl purl.

    c. Well, again, it depends on what the lines are and what the letters look like. If you basically just want “lines” as opposed to filled areas, I’d stick with twist (the finer the twist, the finer the line you’ll get – if you want bolder lines, use a heavier twist). It goes on relatively quickly. If you’re planning on filling an area, you might want to use gold passing or even chip work (cut purls). You could always outline the areas you want filled with twist and then fill them with chip work, like I did at the base of my goldwork and beetle wing flower.

    Anyway, if you have specific questions or want me to look at your proposed pattern when you have it ready, drop me an e-mail at mary [at] needlenthread [dot] com.

    Good luck!!

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