Mary Corbet

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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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Icon Embroidery Book – Free Online


Amazon Books

Good news! About 10 years ago, Galina Tregubov wrote and published a book on icon embroidery, using a guardian angel icon constructed into a banner as the teaching project in the book. For embroiderers in the US interested in this type of embroidery, it was really the only book available with clear, step-by-step instructions for needlepainting an icon.

I bought the book back then because I was intrigued by the techniques, and I learned a lot just by reading the book. And now you can, too, without buying the book. It’s available in complete form, online, for free!

Icon Embroidery Guardian Angel Book

The technique involved in icon needlepainting as presented in this book is somewhat similar to Opus Anglicanum (English medieval embroidery), insofar as the stitch of choice is split stitch. There are, however, noticeable differences between icon embroidery and Opus Anglicanum, including (on the icon’s part) a richer use of shadow in a very stylized and formulaic way, as well as much more angular features throughout the whole design.

Throughout the book, there is much excellent information for the embroiderer, whether you are interested particularly in icon embroidery or simply interested in split stitch shading.

Icon Embroidery Guardian Angel Book

The best information in the book is the information on split stitch shading. The shading in this type of embroidery is not accomplished with long and short stitch, but instead with lines of split stitch.

Icon Embroidery Guardian Angel Book

The clear diagrams and concise explanations throughout help the embroiderer achieve the shaded effects characteristic of icon embroidery, but that can be translated into other styles of embroidery, too.

Icon Embroidery Guardian Angel Book

The explanation of stitching folded garments is particularly clear and helpful. The garments in the icon are characteristically more angular and two-dimensional (they might remind you of a mosaic), but even if this is not the style you are after when needlepainting garments, it is not difficult to take the concepts presented herein and “soften” them to achieve a more natural look.

Icon Embroidery Guardian Angel Book

There’s a thorough section on the finish work, from adding the pearl embroidery to constructing the banner.

You can find the entire book Guardian Angel: Embroidering a Traditional Banner in a Modern Age available online for free. It is definitely worth taking time to read it – you will pick up many worthwhile tips to apply to any embroidery, but if you are even remotely interested in icon embroidery, you will certainly appreciate the book fully.

While you’re there, it’s also worth taking a look at Galina Tregubov’s iconographic embroideries portfolio. You can click on the slide-show button and scroll through a vast collection of embroidered panels, banners, and works of art.

Interestingly, all this work is done in DMC perle cotton, size 5. You don’t often see perle cotton used for detailed surface embroidery like this. The embroidery is worked on velveteen, over interfacing.

Icon Embroidery Classes

If you already know that icon embroidery is your thing, and you’re interested in learning not just the embroidery techniques involved, but the history of iconographic ecclesiastical embroidery, Hexaemeron (a non-profit organization dedicated to ecclesial arts in education) offers icon embroidery classes in different spots around the country. There is one class left this year, from September 28 – October 3, in Maggie Valley, North Carolina. You can read the details of the embroidery courses offered on the Haxaemeron website.

Opus Anglicanum Embroidery

Before wrapping up, if you like Opus Anglicanum and you are interested in ecclesiastical and historical embroidery from medieval England, you might take the opportunity to visit the website of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. There’s a beautiful silk and silver-gilt thread chasuble available for viewing on the Met’s website (not on display at the museum, though). Unfortunately, you can’t zoom in on it too far. In any case, it’s an amazing piece of embroidery almost-700-year-old embroidery, and pretty rare to find in this condition.

While you’re lingering on the Met’s website, you might use the search feature on the Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History and type in any period of embroidery history you might be interested in reading about or viewing objects from. For example, you can search “Tudor and Stuart Embroidery” and come up with a nice slideshow of embroidered objects from this era, along with some good reading.


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(30) Comments

  1. I can’t praise this book enough. I’m just finishing my first attempt at the Guardian Angel. It’s fascinating seeing how the colours go together. A close friend is an icon painter and she was saying that the technique takes a lot from mosaic in the way the colours are manipulated.
    I’m following this up with a course at the RSN in Ecclesiastical Embroidery and would like to develop my sewing down this line.
    The icon embroideress who is giving the course through Hexameron uses a different technique – look at her website to see the beautiful work she has done in silk and gold. The couching is stunning.

  2. G’day Mary,
    My goodness, how wonderful. While I’d find the icon info interesting, it’s the embroidery side of it that has the mind boggling. What you’ve shown is exciting. ‘Shades’ of art class techniques with art history thrown in for good measure.
    Thanks you. Cheers, Kath

  3. Thanks, really helpful for my embroidery.
    I have reviewed all the links we have shared, they have enriched me. I hope soon to be reflected in my work. embrodery greetings. Arl

  4. I’m not into icon embroidery (beautiful, bit I’d rather see it than do it myself) If there are tips on faces though it will be worth it.

  5. Quel trésor.. I started reading the book and I am entranced with it.
    Thank you so much for giving us the opportunity to see all this.

  6. What great timing! I’ve been looking for sources for Orthodox ecclesiastical embroidery and I’ll add it to my list of bookmarks.

  7. Dear Mary

    Thanks so much for the beautiful article, I’ve just looked at the web pages you suggested truly amazing. I love the book and will in the future try the guardian Angel portrait. The book is so detailed that I’m sure I could follow this. Again thanks for the article.

    Regards Anita Simmance

  8. I am learning icon embroidery myself, and I have found these sites to be very helpful and inspiring:

    I have done the Guardian Angel icon and I love Galina’s thorough instructions. I did it in DMC on linen. That required some ad libbing. Yes there are different styles of icon embroidery, and you can see that in Galina’s other icons and the other site I mentioned above.
    Mary it is wonderful that you posted this today!!! Thank you once again!
    I would really love to hear from others on this subject.

    1. Thanks Mary for the article, I look forward to reading the book.

      Hi Brigid, when you say you completed the Angel icon in DMC, did you use Pearl 5 cotton or ordinary DMC embroidery 6 stranded floss?

      Regards Pam

    2. I’m very interested in icon embroidery. What else have you done? Where are you learning?

    3. Hi Pam- I used the ordinary DMC 6 stranded floss. I used two strands. But I did this only because it is what I am used to, and would not recommend it if you are going to follow Galina’s instructions because the colors are not always the same and there were times when I had to figure things out to accommodate the difference. Maybe more importantly, I stitched on linen, not velvet. My godmother followed Galina’s instructions and hers turned out perfectly!
      Oh, also, Galina’s Angel is a banner, and I am (trying) to do simple icons, so the scale is different.
      Thanks for the question.

    4. Hi Karen- I just started embroidery a few months ago and although it is slow going, I love it. I am hooked. I have studied icon painting so that is my background. Also I am very interested in painting books and have published one last year on the parables and miracles of the Lord.
      I work at home, here in California. Mostly I have learned from Mary (!!!!!) but also I contacted Olga (one of the websites I mentioned yesterday) and she is very helpful.
      I go to a parish where two of the best iconographers work. I hope it rubs off!!

    5. Just got back from my course at the Royal School of Needlework. Loved the course, loved a couple of days in Hampton Court.
      I would love even more to be in contact with other people who embroider icons. Once I finish the Guardian Angel (which I have done with perle on linen) I am planning to attempt a small icon ofSt Cuthbert with stranded DMC, as I am unsure about buying real silk and a bit of goldwork for frame and halo.
      I belong to a small parish in Bath. We are hoping to get our own building in the next few years and I am keen to get a few of us together to do some nice embroideries.
      I would be happy to send you my email to chat about this specific area.

  9. This is stunning. I have loved icons since living in Yugoslavia almost 40 years ago and being taken to an Orthodox church by a local friend. Then I studied art history and fell in love with the gold leaf they often use and I have even toyed with the idea of making my own – but with paint and gold rather than embroidery. Now that you have shown this though my whole attitude is undergoing an incredible change. I have just sat here for ages copying the whole book into my computer, page by page.
    Thank you.

    1. Hi Christina- I encourage you to try Galina’s angel. I know what you mean about a total change in attitude- that’s what happened to me too!

  10. Here is another website with embroidered icons. The authors use the same technique as Olga Fishchuk, I don’t think they do it as well, but the advantage of their website is that the photos are really good if you want to see how the icons were done. http://haidar.mrezha.ru//

    1. Karen, wow!! Thank you for this link. I think some of the icons are excellent,and others are excellent for other reasons. If you ever find more, please let me know. I am hungry to learn. Yes, looks like split stitch and lots and lots of exquisite couching.

  11. Karen, congratulations on finishing the course at RSN, you must have learned a LOT! I would love to be in communications with you (and anyone else) regarding embroidering icons. I am shy about putting my email address on a ‘public’ forum even though I know Mary, you are watching out. I am not really into things like Facebook etc. so I would prefer emailing. Any ideas? It would be great to have a network of icon embroiderers. It also would be fine with me to network through this venue, but Mary, would that be too much? Ideas?

    1. I’m interesting in icons, especially icon embroidery. It was traditional art made by bojar’s daughters (Russian noble girls) and by ladies-in-waiting of wife of kniaź (Rusthenian prince).

      The book is wonderful. Thanks:)

  12. Mary, thank you for the tip off to this book! I’ve been working on an Elouisia icon for a long time now, kind of like trying to find your way in a paper bag – and I’ve been confounded with the shading for garment folds. I’ve been experimenting with laying stitches in different directions, and just haven’t been happy with the result. I am SO EXCITED to see this!
    God bless and Mary keep you!

  13. Could someone please tell where to get the Pellon Fusing Paper the author recommends? Is it called something different?

    Elaine in New Mexico

  14. I have some lovely red wool fabric. The kind used for suits. Would this be an acceptable ground fabric for this project.

    Elaine in New Mexico

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