From time to time friends ask me which books on medieval embroidery I recommend. And normally my reaction is an immediate question in return: “What are you looking for in particular…?” *lol*
Extant medieval embroidery pieces provide us with a great variety of medieval embroidery techniques. And though there are not as many books on medieval embroidery available as I would like, there are still enough different books available. Therefore it’s sometimes rather difficult and time consuming to find the right book if you are looking for something in particular.
Some of the books just focus on certain techniques, time frames and/or countries while other books try to cover far too much in just one single book with too much focus on more recent embroidery while neglecting medieval embroidery – at least for my personal taste.
All the more it is really important to know what you are looking for to find the right book for your project or further inspiration. A book which is able to satisfy your needs by providing good photos of extant embroidery and/or further information. To cut a long story short – to find the right book which covers ones needs can sometimes be a quite difficult task.
And well, then, on the other side, there are book collectors like me who order nearly every books which looks promising and is affordable. This way I already accumulated a rather big and good collection of interesting books on medieval embroidery.
However, I think it’s time again to go through my own book shelves and to answer the question which books I recommend based on my peronal book collection. It is a great possibility to introduce you to some of my favorite books on medieval embroidery. I hope this way I can help you to build a your own collection of interesting books on medieval embroidery.
I am aware of the fact that some of my books are quite hard to find but as I already stated, good books on medieval embroidery are rather rare. It took me quite a lot of patience and dedication to hunt some of this rare books down for my own book collection. Sometimes this search can turn into a rather long hunt and comes along with a high level of frustration. But the longer the search lasts, the more rewarding it is when you finally hunt down a good book and hold it in your own hands. Please don’t worry – I also have some not as rare books and I tried to pick a book for this posting which should be rather easy to find.
And now let’s finally start with the the book review. It took several days to put it together but I tried to give you a good overview what this great book has to offer – enjoy! 😀
The Victoria & Albert Museum’s
Embroidery in Britain from 1200 to 1750
Author(s): Donald King & Santina Levey
Publisher: V&A Publications
Copyright: 1993 The Board of Trustees of the Victoria and Albert Museum
Dimensions: 11.6 x 9.8 x 0.5 inches /
29,6 x 24,8 x 1,2 cm
Amazon.com: Victoria and Albert Museum’s Textile Collection: Embroidery in Britain from 1200 to 1750
Amazon.de: Victoria and Albert Museum’s Textile Collection: Embroidery in Britain, 1200-1750
Table of contents:
Embroidery of the middle ages 11
Embroidery, Renaissance to Rococo 15
Diagrams of stitches 112
I decided to start with this lovely book because it is a real goody. Though this book is not among my top favorite books concerning medieval embroidery, it is a great book if you want to start your own book collection or if you are looking to enlarge your existing one.
As you can see at the table of contents, which I copied directly from the book, this book starts with a chapter about “Embroidery of the middle ages” written by Donald King. This short but quite interesting text focuses on British medieval embroidery and can be seen as a good summery of information about embroidery of the middle ages in Britain. And the following chapter by Santina Levey – “Embroidery, Renaissance to Rococo” – focuses especially on “Tudor & Jacobean Embroidery, 1550 to 1660” and “Later Stuart & Hanoverian Embroidery, 1660 to 1750”.
But the most interesting part for us actually starts on page 21. Here begins the chapter “Plates”, which gives a rather detailed description of the showcased extant embroidery pieces shown at page 31 and the following pages. Underneath you can find a detailed list of the shown medieval embroidery pieces to give you a better overview of the available pictures in this book:
1 – “Detail of a maniple. Under acanthus ornament the figure of Peter, Pope Gregory’s Deacon. Probably Winchester, 909-916.
Silk embroidered with gold and silk thread in surface couching, split and stem stitches.”
Pictures often can’t transport the unique impression of real gold sparkle but this picture gives a good idea of the real piece and shows the amazing gold work in great detail.
2 – “Detail of the Bayeux tapestry. William’s ship with his standard.”
This picture of a small part of the Bayeux tapestry doesn’t really show it’s whole beauty but fortunately I know of another book which is dedicated to this great tapestry with great picture of the whole tapestry. I will try to review this book for you as soon as possible.
3 – “Seal-bag, opened out, made up from a fragment of embroidery of about 1160-90. Lozenge and circle containing foliate crosses.
Silk embroidered with silver-gilt thread in underside couching and stem stitches.”
4 – “Fragment of a buskin. Foliate scrolls with figures of kings. About 1220-50.
Silk twill embroidered with silver-gilt and silk thread in underside couching and stem stitch.”
Picture 3 is a small but great picture of an embroidery fragment from the 12th century – I think it can serve as inspiration for several new pattern designs in the future.
5 – “The Clare chasuble.
Quatrefoils with the Crucifixion, the Virgin and Child,…; foliate scrolls with lions and griffins. Probably London, 1272-94.
Satin embroidered with silver-gilt, silver and silk thread in underside couching, split stitch and laid and couched work.”
Another beautiful example of medieval embroidery from the 13th century. The lovely lions and griffins as well as all the surrounding decorative embroidery are a great source of inspiration for new embroidery projects.
6 – “The Jesse cope.
Vine scrolls, springing from the body of Jesse, surround kings, prophets and the Virgin and Child. Probably London, 1295-1315.
Silk twill embroidered with silver-gilt, silver and silk thread in underside couching, split stitch and laid couched work.”
Though this is a very beautiful example of an embroidered cope, the picture is unfortunately very small and – compared to the other pictures in the book – of rather poor quality. However, the placement of the vine scrolls and the vine leaves can still serve as a great inspiration for decorative embroidery based on the late 13th or early 14th century.
7 – “Detail of the John of Thanet panel.
A Gothic arch with Christ enthroned, the sun and moon, lions and dragons. Probably London, 1300-20.
Silk twill embroidered with silver-gilt, silver and silk thread, and pearls, in underside couching and split stitch.”
Picture 7 and the next pictures show beautiful examples of lovely 14th century embroidery. They give a good impression of the colorfulness of the embroidery produced throughout this century and the great variety of different techniques. Well, I think if you don’t love the embroidery of this century by now, this pictures might let you fall in love with it immediately.
I really think that the gold work embroidery produced in Britain during the 14th century is amazing and breath taking – the British embroidery workshops really elevated gold work to a completely new level. Though most of us will never be able to reach this particular standard, this extant embroideries can give us ideas we can play with and provide us with inspiration which might keep us busy for years.
But please don’t let yourself get discouraged by the high skill of this extant embroideries – remember that the embroiderers who created this awesome pieces already learned this techniques in a very early age and probably didn’t do much else than this kind of embroidery during their whole life. The only thing that we can do is to try our best and to have fun by recreating the styles and techniques based on our possibilities and to develop our own skill. We have the great opportunity to do whatever we please, to play with certain techniques which we want to try and to do patterns and styles that are not based on an order and a time limit. Get inspired, be playful and have time! …and enjoy your work! 😉
And now back to the next pictures in this book:
8 – “The Syon cope.
Quatrefoils with the Coronation of the Virgin, the Crucifixion and other scenes: apostles, angels and heraldry. London, 1300-20.
Linen embroidered with silver-gilt, silver and silk thread in underside couching, split, cross and plait stitches and laid and couched work.”
9 – “Detail of the Syon cope. Quatrefoil with the Incredulity of St. Thomas.”
10 – “Burse, opened out.
Probably London 1310-40.
Linen embroidered with silver-gilt and silk thread in underside couching, laid and couched work and split stitch.”
11 – “Apparels for albs.
Gothic arches with scenes from the life of the Virgin and her parents… Probably London, 1320-40.
Velvet embroidered with silver-gilt, silver and silk thread in underside couching, split stitch, laid and couched work, with a little raised work.”
12 – “Detail of a chasuble orphrey.
Interlaced branches of vine, with King David tuning his harp, and another king. 1310-40.
Linen embroidered with silver-gilt, silver and silk thread in underside couching and split stitch, with a little raised work.”
13 – “Detail of a chasuble orphrey.
Interlaced branches of vine, with the Nativity and the Adoration of the Kings. 1310-40.
Linen embroidered with silver-gilt, silver and silk thread in underside couching and split stitch.”
14 – “The Butler-Bowdon cope.
Probably London 1330-50. Concentric zones of multifoil ogee arches with scenes from the Life of the Virgin; apostles and saints.
Velvet embroidered with silver and silver-gilt and silk thread in underside and surface couching, laid and couched work, split and satin stitches. Many small motifs were once covered with pearls.”
15 – “Detail of the Butler-Bowdon cope. St Margaret overcoming the dragon.”
16 – “Detail of the Butler-Bowdon cope. St Bartholomew with a knife.”
17 – “Detail of a chasuble orphrey.
Under a Gothic arch, Christ carrying the cross. London, 1315-35.
Linen embroidered with silver-gilt, silver and silk thread in underside couching, split stitch and laid and couched work.”
18 – “Part of an altar frontal or dossal.
Christ crucified, with the Virgin and St. John. About 1425.
Linen embroidered with silver-gilt, silver and silk thread in split stitch and couched work, applied to later velvet.”
19 – “Detail of a cope orphrey.
Under a Gothic canopy, a female saint and St. Peter. 1430-60.
Linen embroidered with silver-gilt and silk thread in couched work, split stitch and a little raised work.”
20 – “Detail of a chasuble orphrey.
The centurion Longinus proclaiming Christ as the Son of God. 1460-90.
Linen embroidered with silver-gilt, silver and silk thread in couched work, split, brick, long and short and stem stitches, with a little raised work.”
21 – “Fragment, probably from an altar frontal or dossal.
Conventional flowers and two kneeling couples. 1470-1500.
Velvet, with applied motifs of linen embroidered with silver-gilt and silk thread, and with sequins, in couched work and split stitch.”
22 – “Cushion cover.
Fantastic birds, grotesques and flowers. (Detail of one half) Probably London, second half 16th century.
Appliqué of velvet, cloth of silver and silk on satin with embroidered details.”
23 – “Valance. Arabesques.
(Detail) Probably London, middle 16th century.
Velvet embroidered with metal thread and cloth of gold, couched work and appliqué with padding.”
24 – “Tudor rose hanging.
(Detail) Second half 16th century.
Appliqué of velvet and couched metal thread on satin with embroidered details.”
25-28 – “The Oxburgh Hangings.
(Four details) About 1570.
Panels of linen canvas embroidered with silk in cross stitch and applied to velvet.”
And as we are already approaching the 17th and 18th century, I think it is a good point to stop the detailed listing at this point. I find the pictures of the extant medieval embroidery pieces listed above very interesting and this book contains even more pictures of lovely embroidery. In sum you can find 123 pictures of lovely extant embroidery in this book.
In case that you are now interested in getting this book for your own book collection – please check all the possible book sources before you order it. Already the price difference between two similar sources like Amazon.com and Amazon.de can be quite huge. Sometimes you can even save some money by checking the prices and ordering it overseas. Short hint – I always found the website Euro-book.co.uk very helpful when I was searching for the best price for a special book and I can highly recommend it.
I hope you enjoyed this book review of one of the books on medieval embroidery from my personal collection.