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Opus anglicanum (‘English work’) employed silk and gold thread and often included jewels. English embroidery had been famous since the 11th century – the Bayeux tapestry (actually an embroidery) was probably made in England.  Both wealthy noblemen and church dignitaries gave commissions for garments to monasteries and convents but by the 13th century embroidery guilds and freelance artisans were producing amazingly intricate and beautiful embroideries for sacred and secular use. English work was the best and provided the country with one of its most prolific artistic exports in the medieval period.  The English Work adorned the Popes of Rome and the courts of Florence.

The English maintained a reputation for high-quality embroidery right up until the first world war, with many of the needleworkers being men who  specialized in metallic thread work couching and subtly shaded silk floss long and short and satin stitches on silk damask.  Catalogues were published of very detailed patterns of vines and flowers, symbols, figural representations and all manner of naturalistic foliage in the late Victorian and Edwardian periods. The designs could be ordered from the catalogue and worked on a frontal or textile of choice.  Brown’s was one particularly amazing English turn-of-the-century catalogue which offered banners, paraments, vestments and every possible textile for church use, all heavily embroidered with silk and metallics.

The selection of chalice veil, burse, stole, and lectern hanging motifs in the slideshow below are from the Church of St. John the Evangelist in Newport.  The black velvet veil is part of a requiem set made for Mrs. Sidney Webster for the memorial chapel of the Blessed Sacrament (designed by Ralph Adams Cram) in 1915 by the Sisters of St. John the Baptist which at the time had a convent in New York. Today the order is in Mendham, N.J. and still maintains an embroidery room.  The Sisters offer regular embroidery workshops.  You may visit their website at http://www.csjb.org/SpecialEvents.html  All needlework in the slide show done by the Sisters is notated with SSJB.

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