Embroidery Spotlight: Opus Anglicanum
The English led the way in opulent embroideries during the middle ages with a type of gold bedazzled work that those on the continent dubbed Opus Anglicanum: English Work. The English Work was done in such a way that the figures were not stiff on the surface of the materials, but seemed to flow with fluid grace. The tiny stitches followed the contours of the design, allowing the finished work an ease of movement not found in continental work. Opus Anglicanum was usually worked in three principle stitches; Split Stitch, Surface Couchwork and Underside Couchwork. Opus Anglicanum was in such high demand among the Elite of European Society that many merchants set up shop in London, where the necessary capital was available and which was the principal port through which the imported materials arrived.
The Pelican in Her Piety is my design spotlight to embroider, for future badges perhaps? I drew this in simple lines to make it easier for enlargement and embroidering.
We in the SCA use certain symbols for those who have earned a specific peerage: example, the Pelican in her Piety is such a symbol used to show the populace at large that this particular peer has earned theirs through service, often deemed above and beyond that of the average persona.
The self-sacrificial aspect of the pelican was reinforced by the widely read mediaeval bestiaries. The device of “a pelican in her piety” or “a pelican vulning (from Latin vulno to wound) herself” was used in heraldry. An older version of the myth is that the pelican used to kill its young then resurrect them with its blood, again analogous to the sacrifice of Jesus. Likewise a folktale from India says that a pelican killed her young by rough treatment but was then so contrite that she resurrected them with her own blood.
The myth that pelicans feed their young with their blood arose from the following habit, on which the whole superstructure of fable has been erected: They have a large bag attached to their under-bill. When the parent bird is about to feed its brood, it macerates small fish in this bag or pouch; then, pressing the bag against its breast, transfers the macerated food to the mouths of the young ones.
The instructions below are from a wonderful website Historical Needlework Resources:
http://medieval.webcon.net.au/index.html ; it is also where you will find the rest of the stitch diagrams and instructions for this wonderful historical embroidery style.
A popular stitch used in Opus Anglicanum and Heraldic Embroidery. Used for very fine work, often only by means of a single strand of silk thread or was done using quite thick threads, such as wool. It was used for outlines and filling space. To Work Split Stitch – Bring the needle through at A and, following the line to be covered, take a small back stitch so that the needle comes up through the working thread, as shown in the diagram. Generally, it is easiest to work this as a two step stitch by making a small stitch, then bringing the needle up through the thread at the half way point. Surface Couching
To Work Surface Couching – Lay down the thread to be couched, and with another thread catch it down with small stitches worked over the top.
To Work Underside Couching – In the embroidery technique of underside couching, thread (usually gold) is laid on the surface of the ground fabric, couching threads are then passed over it. As each couching stitch is worked over the gold thread, the needle is carefully re-inserted into the hole in the backing fabric that the needle created on the way out. The couching thread is pulled tight and a tiny loop of the gold thread from the surface drops through the hole in the backing fabric to the underside (thus giving the technique its name).
This creates a hinge in the gold thread, allowing the fabric to bend and giving it a great flexibility. Fabric worked with gold thread in underside couching has much more drape than fabric with surface couched gold, thus making it a much better technique for working objects which will be worn, such as ecclesiastical vestments.
To see wonderful medieval depictions of the Pelican in her Piety ; Elizabeth Braidwood’s Site is a must see: