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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For Worship & Glory – Ecclesiastical Embroidery Exhibit at the RSN


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Anyone up for a trip to London? If you’ve got one in your plans this year – or if you live in the relative vicinity – you might take the opportunity to catch the exhibit For Worship & Glory at the Royal School of Needlework at Hampton Court.

(Update, 2021: the exhibition was in 2013, so there are no longer working links to it in this article.)

This year from May through December, the RSN is exhibiting examples of ecclesiastical embroidery from their collections, and the star of the show? The twelve Litany of Loreto embroideries that are rarely all seen together on exhibition.

I do so want to go!

Photos below courtesy of the Royal School of Needlework and used with permission.

Litany of Loreto Embroideries at the RSN

For me, the Loreto embroideries would be the main attraction. I would love to see these pieces in person. I think they are fascinating! I like the style, but I really love the details, the techniques, the color palette. Worked in a limited palette – mostly sepias, browns, grays, blacks, whites, and gold threads – they come across as fine sketches rather than embroideries. When you start to notice the details in each “sketch,” the embroideries become even more awe-inspiring.

Litany of Loreto Embroideries at the RSN

Each panel tells a story, illustrating a title of the Virgin Mary from the Litany of Loreto. This particular image is cropped from the panel titled Virgo Fidelis, Virgin most Faithful.

Zooming in a bit on the image, the details in the embroidery begin to emerge.

Litany of Loreto Embroideries at the RSN

The detail in the eye, the shading on the eye lid, the eyebrow, and those delicate, barely-there tears are so finely stitched.

Litany of Loreto Embroideries at the RSN

Much of the filling is done with lattice work, and the shading is achieved by cross hatching or crossing over the lattice “strokes” at an opposite angle with small lines of what looks to be stem stitch.

Litany of Loreto Embroideries at the RSN

You can see an example of the shading technique here. The robe of the Virgin is embroidered with little motifs across the surface of the robe outlined with gold threads. The shading on the robe is accomplished by a network of oblique lattice stitches are worked into this fold on the robe – over the embroidered design on the gown. And then, atop this layer of lattice, in the deepest part of the fold, is another layer of cross hatching.

Litany of Loreto Embroideries at the RSN

Here, you can get a better view of the gold outlining – different weights of what looks to be Japanese gold, some in double lines, some in single. And a little hovering angel.

Litany of Loreto Embroideries at the RSN

Yep. These pieces fascinate me!

RSN exhibit: For Worship & Glory

There is more to the exhibit, though! You’ll find more modern pieces of ecclesiastical needlework on display, as well as pieces featuring figure embroidery worked in silk and gold.

RSN exhibit: For Worship & Glory

These are just some of the examples of items on display. For a better idea of the exhibit, here’s a description of it from the RSN website:

Other pieces will include depictions of saints, angels and Christ using just a needle and thread in a wide range of techniques but especially metal thread and silk shading. There will also be archive material documenting some of the special commissions we have worked on including a sampler for the altar dorsal commissioned by Queen Mary for the coronation of George VI which was also used at the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. Also on display will be a number of designs from the archives, photographs of pieces still in use or too large to have in the Studio as well as examples of kneelers, stoles, chasubles and a cope from our Collection which range from the 18th century to at least the 1980s.

Ecclesiastical embroidery plays a strong role in the development of the needle arts throughout history, and it is nice to see the RSN paying tribute to that role and their involvement in it, through the exhibit For Worship and Glory.

If you’re going to be in London before the end of December this year, add the exhibit to your must-see attractions! And then stuff me into your luggage and take me with you…

If you’re as fascinated with the Loreto embroideries as I am, you might be interested to know that, although the booklet on the embroideries is no longer available, the RSN has a Postcard Book available in conjunction with the exhibit. The booklet features all the embroideries and some nice close-ups.


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(29) Comments

  1. Dear Mary,
    Oh how fascinating! I’ve been meaning to try ecclesiastical embroidery some time, I do love the detail that’s put into it that and the symbolism as well. Would love to go too…*sigh* perhaps another time. As always keep up the good work Mary!

  2. I am absolutely obsessed with these pieces. Thanks so much for the extended glimpse!

    Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go sell my car to finance a trip to London…

  3. Dear Mary

    Thanks so much for this post. This looks amazing I would dearly love to visit and look at this exhibition of Worship and Glory. Alright you’ve convinced me I will go to the exhibition I’ve just looked on the RSN website and tours are not that expensive so I will book, if only you could come with me Mary what a time we would have. Thanks for this.

    Regards Anita Simmance

    1. Oh, you must go, Anita! Then you can tell me all about it! We would definitely have fun, wouldn’t we? I don’t think London is in the cards for this year, but…one never knows! I’m keeping my eye on flights…

    2. Dear Mary

      So excited just booked for the 13 June can’t wait. The tour includes Worship & Glory as well as watching students work at embroidery. Let me know what you want to know I will take notes to share with you

      Regards Anita Simmance

    3. Hey Anita,

      Which session are you booked on? I was thinking of that day too!

    4. Dear Rita

      Sorry just got your message I’m booked for the 11 O’clock session if you or anyone else want to join me it looks so interesting.

      Regards Anita Simmance

    5. Hi Rita

      I’m going to the morning session at 11 if you or anyone else want to meet.

      Regards Anita Simmance

    6. Hi Anita

      Thanks for this – have just booked on the same session as you. Really looking forward to it.

  4. Aloha Mary,
    What an accomplishment ! Subtle beyond belief. Oh, that I could do as well.

  5. hooo Mary estan lejos,,,aunque venda la casa,,,que maravilla te agradesco tanto el poder ,,ver estos bordados ,,que son joyas,,,
    gracias mary

  6. Just stunning! I can’t wait to see the exhibit!
    I will be taking some more classes in June. Can’t wait!

  7. G’day Mary,
    Do hope you can go. I know it would mean a great deal to you. I’m not into religious embroidery. Maybe it’s the gold. I’m not a gold & silver person as far as the actual metal goes, although I like the golds in embroidery threads and also the greys and white that would constitute silver.
    Then again too, my Christian faith goes beyond religion so the religious artworks are only a fabricated surface to me. I certainly appreciate the art of proficiency in these works though. I must add that I’ve never liked goldwork so much as when ‘dealing’ with it with you.
    I especially love that sketchy eye and loose hair strands detail. Also the grey flowers and the way they flirt with those burnished gold leaves.
    Cheers, Kath

    1. When I mention ‘the golds in embroidery threads’, I mean the gold colours of the cotton and silk threads and ribbons.

  8. Woohoo! A friend has two tickets to tour the RSN tomorrow and has invited ME to go with her!!!! How lucky am I. Is there anything in particular you would like me to look for or ask about?

    I was already looking forward to the trip but now that I realise that it coincides with this exhibition I am cockahoop!!

    1. Let me know what it’s like as I’m booked in for 13 June you lucky thing.

      Regards Anita Simmance

    2. Hi

      Let me know what it’s like as I’ve booked for the 13 June can’t wait.

      Regards Anita Simmance

  9. Ohhhhhh! I so wish it were in the cards, but it’s not. If there were embroideries that are worthy of the high resolution photos that you can zoom super-close up, these would be way up there on the list.

  10. These are so gorgeous yet still reflect the gentle nature of the subjects. Just fabulous works of art. They seem to “stand alone” in so far as my experience of religious embroidery goes with the subdued yet rich colours and the feeling of space between various areas of stitching. What a wonderful experience it would be to see them up-close.

  11. Thank you so much for the ‘heads up’ on this exhibition. My husband and I visited Hampton Court today and these embroideries are amazing.

    The amazing thing about the Loreto embroideries is that they don’t know who designed them or who did the work. However, they truely are done by people wanting to express their faith in such a beautiful way.

  12. Mary, the Exhibit was stunning! The details, as you pointed out, were just beautiful! I attended on 10 June after completing some silk shading classes with Helen Stevens.

  13. Mary, I was lucky enough to be able to go – last Friday we went to see this exhibition and it is absolutely stunning. The panels are quite incredible, and for a long time I had my nose practically glued to the glass trying to make out the tiny details (being very near-sighted I can see quite close-up if I take my glasses off). The other pieces, too, were fascinating, some of the goldwork reminded me that photographs can never show its richness and the play of the light to the full. If anyone has the opportunity to go, then do take it!

    1. Ah, I only just saw the date on this post and realised what I saw was a slightly different exhibition – this is the one at Ely Cathedral; it has the Loreto panels and many of the other things you mention, and is on until 28th February 2015. Definitely worth seeing!

  14. Hi Mary, just read your article on needlework for worship or glory. Loved it. I have a religious textile I think from the 16th century that is amazing. It is about 12″ x 12″. It has God, baby angels, bishops and judges or maybe a king because he has a crown. Can you help me put a time frame or any information would be great. I have good pictures. If not I understand. Thanks Peggy

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