Kit: Embroidery

Opus anglicanum: Background

Anglo-Saxon women were famed throughout Europe for their fine embroidery, known on the continent as opus anglicanum. Further, the wide variety of dyestuffs available in the British Isles made for colourful work. A particularly fine example of the art is St Cuthbert's stole (below left), which was commissioned by Queen Aefflaed, presumably made by nuns and presented by King Athelstan to the saint's shrine circa 934. As seems typical of Anglo-Saxon embroidery, it is worked in very plain stitches (stem stitch for outlines and split stitch for infilling). It is also adorned with gold thread, which is made by twisting fine strips of thin gold sheet and twisting them around a core of fibre - in this case, red silk. The most commonly-known example of opus anglicanum is of course the Bayeux tapestry which, being embroidery worked in stem and outline stitch with couched (satin-stitched) infilling, is therefore not a tapestry at all. Large pieces of embroidery like this were probably common in Anglo-Saxon mead halls, as if nothing else they functioned as effective and richly-decorated draft excluders.

Examples of Opus anglicanum

St Cuthbert's stole. More info from Historical Needlework Resources (offsite). The 9th-10th Century Llan-gors fragment (white lines superimposed). More info from National Museum Wales (offsite). Masseik embroideries, late 9th Century. More info from Historical Needlework Resources (offsite).

Viking embroidery

For the moment, we refer readers to Carolyn Priest Dorman's page on Viking embroidery stitches and motifs (offsite) for an introduction to this topic. We will provide our own overview in due course.

Opus Wychwoodensis

Below is a selection of examples of our own work. Please click on the images to see larger versions.

A variety of embroidered patches appliqued to a kirtle; note the use of metal thread (Candy) A very simple snake border worked in chain stitch; n.b. authenticity of stitch is debated (Freya) Close-up of St Cuthbert embroidery, showing satin, scroll, whipped, chain and cloud filling stitches (Freya)
Wall-hanging showing the legend of St Cuthbert and the seals (Freya) Demonstration of couched stem stitch, useful for strong lines (Freya) A nice demonstration of what you can do with a simple running stitch (Gwen)


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