Lectures are in the Play House: 10.45 for morning members: 13.30 for afternoon members.

Completed – February 2020

 By Susan Kay-Williams

Embroidery from Opus Anglicanum to 18th Century Gentlemen’s Suits


Susan Kay –Williams  explored some amazing pieces of embroidery from the 10th to 18th century and focused on English embroidery known as Opus Anglicanum which was prized by Popes. It was of outstanding quality and each figure sewn was individual.

During the 10th and 11th centuries embroidery was commissioned for church dignitaries such as St. Cuthbert’s stole which was found in his Durham tomb. It had survived because of the metal thread used, which shimmered in the candle light. The Bayeux Tapestry was not a tapestry but embroidery in wool. It was sewn onto linen so that the background could be left unworked, allowing fascinating stitches to show up. There was a limited colour palette as dyeing at this time was not as easy as paints to make colour.

By the 12th -15th centuries, embroidery was increasingly used far more in the church in the form of altar cloths as well as vestments. Royalty demanded embroidered articles such as Edward III for his saddle cloth of red and gold. People in those days were often illiterate so they learnt through pictures such as those seen in niches on a cope, which featured embroidered panels containing images of saints. Each had a symbol sewn into the picture so that worshippers knew who the saints were.

By the 16th century, men were often embroiderers as were high born women such as Princess Elizabeth, who embroidered a book cover. In the 17th century, men were wearing embroidered garments including hats with a pea pod motif! This was a period of exploration so ideas for embroidery filtered through from places like India, with themes such as the tree of life. New fashions arrived and men’s’ suits were heavily embroidered on the collar and cuffs.

 New explorers brought Botanic art during the 18th century and thus men’s embroidered waistcoats with these motifs were highly prized.  Samplers were common at this time. Colours such as puce, yellow and pink became popular. Ladies of fashion chose embroidered dresses and accessories. Then the fashion changed!