Margaret Cobleigh recently attended an SCA embroidery workshop on Opus Anglicanum, a form of medieval embroidery associated with England (though extant examples of the style can also be found on the continent). I’m a great fan of Margaret’s work – you’ve seen many examples of it on Needle ‘n Thread if you’ve been around for a bit. The strawberry tea cloth, for example, is hers, as is the goldwork rose. Incidentally, so is the design for the pomegranate I recently finished as a wedding gift for my niece. This design will be featured in January’s Inspirations Magazine, and I’m really looking forward to seeing it in print. Needless to say, I was thrilled when she sent photos of her class project from the Opus Anglicanum workshop. With her permission, I’ll share those here.
Opus Anglicanum is a style of embroidery that’s easily recognizable. The embroidered figures are worked in split stitch, in silk, and are often surrounded by backgrounds of gold, worked in a technique called undersided couching.
Here, you can see the beginnings of the piece. The thread Margaret used is Soie Platte from Kreinik, a thread which has been discontinued. The gold is Japanese gold #2 or Benton & Johnson’s 341. Notice the zig-zag lines behind the figure – that’s where the thread will be couched, in order to create a design and texture in the gold.
Brave woman! She sent a photo of the back of the work!! This is to show the undersided couching – you can see the little dots of gold coming through the back. The way undersided couching works is this: you take your couching thread up to the front of the fabric, pass over the gold, and go back down into the fabric in the same hole you can out of. Then you give a little tug and pop the gold to the back of the work. This forms a ridge in the gold, and it makes the goldwork backgrounds less stiff, which was important for the work during that era, since much of it was done on items of clothing, particularly ecclesiastical vestments.
Margaret said the instructor taught them to take their scissor handles and rub the gold after stitching it, to relax it so that it lays better and fills in well. This is one reason I think it must be great to go to workshops with good teachers – those little tricks you wouldn’t necessarily learn from a book! Margaret really praised the SCA instructors…. and it made me (ok, I admit it!!) a bit greeeeen with envy! I’d love to take one of these workshops! They just sound fun!
Here’s the finished little fellow. This picture shows off the gold background design well – you can see the ridges from the undersided couching quite clearly.
And in this photo, you get a good view of the sheen on the silk. Nice!! You can also see the circular stitching on the cheeks – also typical of this style of embroidery – and, of course, there are those bulbous eyes that really crack me up. The exaggerated eyes were also typical of the technique.
I’ve read a little bit on Opus Anglicanum, and I’ve had the pleasure of briefly perusing A.G. Christie’s book on English Medieval Embroidery, but not enough to say anything with any certitude on the development of the “look” of Opus Anglicanum. I would imagine that the look of the eyes and facial elements came about two ways (and I’m well open to correction on this!): 1. I think the figures mimic a bit the icons prevalent at the time; and 2. because the figures were worked on ecclesiastical garb (which would be viewed from afar), it would make sense that certain aspects of the figures would be exaggerated so that they could be seen from a distance. Just a shot in the dark…. anyone?
Anyway, I thought you would enjoy seeing these photos of this technique! Thanks, Margaret, for sending them along!
Guess what I just added to my list of “Things I Want to Play With if I Could Just Find the Time”? Right – Opus Anglicanum!
And just a note – Don’t forget to sign up for this week’s book give-away, if you haven’t already. The book is Heirloom Embroidery, and it’s a good one!