Ecclesiastical embroidery

Ecclesiastical embroidery

It is Easter Sunday here so happy easter everyone. I was going to write a post on ecclesiastical embroidery but I noticed that Mary Corbet of Needle and Thread has had the same idea. Check it out Mary’s article on a Crucifixion Chasuble. Don’t miss this as the photos will make you salivate grab a tissue before you click or you will dribble on the key board.

Heavy ornamentation and embellishment marks this embroidery out as being particularly special with copes and chasubles covered with religious pictorial embroidery. The materials used included gold, silver, and silk threads, pearls, precious stones, coral, and spangles the fore runner of sequins were cut with a stamp from silver. The stitches used in this type of work are illustrated half way down the page in Opus Anglicanum: English Work or how to paint with a needle and another excellent article on the technique is here

Examples of ecclesiastical embroidery date back to the 10th century but this type of embroidery reached its height between the thirteenth, and the first half of the fifteenth centuries. At this time England was famous for its ecclesiastical embroidery. From mid 1200s to mid 1300s this period of English embroidery is called Opus Anglicanum which is simply Latin for English work. This brief history from the Victorian and Albert Museum covers the key points

To see what this type of work looked like have a look at the Chasuble in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (use the zoom function) and there is another English chasuble here

The Victorian and Albert also has a beautiful cope made for Cardinal Morton, Archbishop of Canterbury. Here is a link to another chasuble in the Victorian and Albert collection

If you are interested in the state of contemporary ecclesiastical embroidery read Judith Peacock ‘s article The Poor Relation.

Recently Linn of the Embroideress has been examining references to embroidery in the bible. Check out her interesting post on the translation of terms related to textiles in the bible.


  1. I learned to embroider church paraments, silk and gold on silk, 40 years ago. Now my daughter wants to learn. Question: Where can I buy silk embroidery floss, silk thread (for couching), and gold (to be couched)? Where can I buy the fine needles for the thread and the floss, and where can I buy “sinking needles” for sinking the gold. The gold is fine, pounded gold that is wrapped around a silk core. I forget preciseley what it is called. Please advise me where to buy these things. Thanks.
    Carol Rumerfield

    Carol Rumerfield

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