Embroidery,  FAQ,  Medieval Embroidery,  Misc.,  Museum,  Racaire

FAQ – research & medieval embroidery inspiration – some personal thoughts based on 14years of experience

2013_racaire_2Recently one of my blog members asked me a very simple but also very important question: Where shall she start her research?

Well, though this question seems to be a very simple one, the answer is by far not simple. And I really think that this is actually one of the most simple but also most interesting questions I was ever asked about my work.

During the past 9 years, since I started my embroidery blog, I already wrote several times about embroidery and inspiration but never about research. Why? Because I was never asked about it and thought that no one would be actually interested to read about it. This simple but great question of my blog member allows me to take you a little bit further into my basic work. I am quite sure that at least one of you will read the whole posting, won’t you? 😉

Some people might think that the research and/or the inspiration for my various medieval embroidery projects comes easily to me. Well, that is really not the case. What seems to many as a never ending source of medieval embroidery inspiration coming from “nowhere” is based on never ending hard work and a small fortune spent in books and traveling.

Ok , first things first – research & inspiration or is it rather inspiration & research?!? What comes first? Actually, it doesn’t matter in which order you put them. In my opinion they are equally in their importance for good work – regardless which craft you use it for. Therefore I decided to not only write about research but also about inspiration in my answer to the question.

Sometimes you will see that the inspiration strikes you first and you will get to know more and get even more inspired while you are doing your research. And sometimes you will do some research and fall in love with something that inspires you tremendously… I can tell you, as various and versatile as my sources for my embroidery and the inspiration for my work are, so are also my sources on which I base my research work. Only difference between inspiration and research is that nearly everything can be inspiring but not everything can be a source for research. 🙂

Ok, I think this is a good time to actually talk about research:

Internet & Online Research

Well, living in a computer era, I think I should address internet and online research first. When I started in 2000/2001 internet was already available but good information (like tutorials, helpful blogs or websites) was really rare – especially concerning medieval embroidery. The more I dug into the subject, the more I realized how little information about medieval embroidery was available. And I can tell you that this little information was very well hidden.

My basic research actually includes endless hours searching the internet and spending time on museum websites, in online archives of museums, wikipedia,… and even on google picture search or even pinterest. When the mood strikes me or when I run into an interesting online posting, artifact or anything else which catches my interest, I really “hunt” it down to the source until I am satisfied with the result. But well, in my eyes this is just the first step for internet research. I have to admit that the medieval stuff, which pops up on  pinterest, facebook, twitter,…, sometimes even surprises me and I can really say that I have seen a lot medieval stuff during the past years. *lol* 😉

As soon as you have a source you can expand or alter the search word and hunt for more. This not only relates to the google search phrase you use – you can see if you find related things from the same time or from the same region – do you have a museum name? – does the museum shop has interesting books? – was there a catalogue name or a name of an exhibition? – is there a source named which might bring more? – can I find books about it on amazon or another book site? …
Be creative! Only one warning: it can be addictive and you can easily spend many hours at the computer without even realizing it! And sometimes you will have to go through many useless links/postings/websites until you find good and rather reliable information! You know, it’s the internet and you can’t really trust it – not even Wikipedia. Unfortunately there are far too many “frogs” out there on the internet which don’t turn into a “prince” when you kiss the “frog” (or well, open the website/blog)… 😉

When you find good information – don’t trust them unless they come directly from the museum which owns and displays the piece or you could double or triple check with other sources. And well, even museums and books are not always error-free – just saying. 🙂

Never forget – some Websites come and go, some links break… Therefore, if you find something interesting, don’t let it go. Save it to your computer – download the picture, make a screen shot or save the whole page as a pdf. Unfortunately a really good example for a great website with more and more broken links is “Historical Needlework Resources“. Please take a look at this page and if you find something interesting and inspiring – download it and maybe even “print” the pages with the in-depth information because no one can tell how much longer this information will be available. I think downloading pictures or information to your computer is absolutely ok when you do it just for your private use and inspiration.

PS: If you want to use certain information for a handout or a blog/website the whole thing gets much more difficult… Well, I can only – again and again – point out how much time and effort many people invested into taking photos and posting them on the internet, putting together tutorials,… that it should be considered at least good behavior to ask for permission of usage and then to reference the source underneath the picture and also even in the reference/source part…

I admit that during the first years I “simply” downloaded interesting pictures from the internet to my computer without further thinking because I really enjoyed looking at them. Well, that is no problem as long as you just have some few photos on your computer. After some time I realized that the names the people used for the photos sometimes absolutely contained no information about the piece at all… Therefore I started to add all interesting information I could find about a certain piece to the file name of the photo I am downloading. Sometimes, when it comes to really good researched postings or websites (or they at least seem to be well researched) I even use the print function and save a pdf version to my computer for later reading. Therefore please don’t forget to save interesting photos or texts to your computer for further use while you are doing your research. Don’t forget to save “special information” with your pictures and texts (normally as a pdf file) too. You can use the file name for this. Saving photos with a file name like the following one makes it easier when you you need to find a source or inspiration fast:

The website Historical Needlework Resources is an awesome page where you can start with your research. Please always remember not to accept information as true before you found at least one reliable source for it. Even if you find out that the initial information is wrong, the inspiration is valuable for you. It is really important not to stop at this point. When you find something that inspires you, it is important to look at other things related to the topic – search for it – follow links – try new search phrases – extend your search – narrow it down when you find something interesting… and most important – have fun! This way I already found many interesting new sources for medieval embroidery inspiration during the past years.


Oh my god… You can call me old-fashioned but my most important source, besides my museum photos, are my books. I love them! They are my basis for research and for inspiration and you can bet, I have many of them. There are still about 14 banana boxes with the weight of ca. 462 kg (over 1.000 pounds) filled with books in my garage which I haven’t unpacked yet. *lol*

Most important for my research are especially two types of books: museum catalogues and special topic (embroidery) books! I already started a Book section here and filled it with the book reviews which I posted till now. This Book section can be accessed via the “Books” menu point in the header menu.

If I had to pick just a view – this are some of my most important and valuable books:

  • “Niedersächsische Bildstickereien des Mittelalters” by Renate Kroos
  • “Webereien und Stickereien des Mittelalters” by Kestner-Museum Hannover
  • “Mittelalterliche Textilien in Kirchen und Klöstern der Schweiz” by Brigitta Schmedding
  • “Die mittelalterlichen Textilien” by Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum

Books like this can supply us with otherwise hard to find information about fabric, thread, technique details and sometimes even chemical and other analyses and are tremendously valuable. I will try to add more book reviews soon. 🙂

Museum Photos

Another great source for research are museum photos.

Some museums already have a wonderful online data base with a great selection – sometimes they even have things in their data base which are not even on display. It sometimes can be very rewarding to look out for this option when you visit a museum website.

The other kind of museum photos are photos people took at museums and shared at Flickr – or other picture sharing platforms. Though it is also time consuming to search for them, it can be very rewarding. Some people have awesome photo collections on Flickr and it might be interesting to check the various groups for Romanesque or Gothic art,…

Finally I can say that it is good to look out and hunt down good books, websites, blogs and photos which might contain the information you need. I am a very old fashioned girl when it comes to books – I really love them and I still prefer to take a look into an old fashioned book to verify information I find on the internet, whenever it is possible.
But like always – the mix makes it! Really good books written by well-known specialists, internet-research (including Wikipedia, Flickr,…) and if possible also the visit of the museums, which exhibit the pieces you focus on, make a really good basis to work from.
I know, this basis is unfortunately limited by our financial and temporal possibilities but at least we can do our best when it comes to research and inspiration. 🙂

I hope you enjoyed my rather long posting about “research & medieval embroidery inspiration” and found it helpful. And now I need to put everything together for a step by step Klosterstich hands-on tutorial for you… Or shall I continue with the posting about the threads and fabrics I use next? Well, we will see… Soon… 😀

Best regards Racaire

One Comment

  • kayeldee

    Your organization for websites is great advice. Saving the websites off to pdf is also a good idea – too many of them go away for one reason or another.

    My bookmarks are such a mess now, that I’m at the point of just deleting them and starting over (non-SCA ones, anyway).

    Now, putting all of those pics and files on the cloud where you can get to them from wherever you are would be a good plan, too!