Late Medieval Fashion Redressed

Embroidery on Late Medieval Clothing and Accessories


Before adding embellishment with needle and thread to your medieval clothing and accessories, delve first into the aesthetics, artistic context, and history of medieval embroidery in your chosen time period. For those new to the concept of embroidered decoration in the late 14th or early 15th century in Europe, this article (adapted from a slide presentation I gave in February 2019 at the Hoplologia Chapter Meeting) will provide basic information on its appearance, placement, techniques, and materials. It is not intended to answer every question, but rather to give you a start on the topic.  

Aesthetics: Visual and Thematic

To understand what makes an embroidery design appropriate for European medieval versus some other time period and location, you should start by understanding the themes and visual markers of art and craft in the late medieval era.

International Gothic Movement. Image of the Wilton Diptych, 1395–99. King Richard II of England kneels in piety on left side of the diptych. The International Gothic Movement as an artistic and aesthetic movement that arose in Burgundy and Northern Italy by the mid-14th century, quickly spreading throughout Europe’s noble courts and trickling down to the mercantile class.

Themes commonly found in the International Gothic style: Christian saints and biblical stories; nature – flora, fauna, and hunting; courtly love; architectural frames and structures; rich color; metallic gold and silver; and geometric patterns. 

These aesthetics cropped up everywhere artistry could be applied — buildings, woodwork, metalwork, fine art, and craft. Embroidery for church, object, and body also incorporated the look and feel of these themes. 

International Gothic expressed in tapestries. A series of photos depicting tapestries that were woven in the late 14th or early 15th century in Europe.

This selection of late 14th century and early 15th century tapestries shows a great variety of international gothic themes – literary, historical, mythical, religious, and romantic. The visual motifs do not disappoint either – flowing, draping clothing, outdoors scene, fantastical beasts, and heraldry. All of these contributed to the late 14th and early 15th century visual and imaginative aesthetic.

Anything woven in a tapestry was also fair game for professional medieval embroiderers. The same artists employed to provide cartoons for tapestry makers were also doing the same sort of work for embroiderers. I cover this further along when I get to how artists drew cartoons for the highest-end embroiderers. For now, I wanted to share this selection of tapestries to draw the connection between textile artistry and the larger aesthetic influences of the time period. The textile arts were very much in sync with the artistic conventions of the time period.

Themes in extant secular embroidery. A selection of extant embroidery from the mid- to late 14th century in Europe

The above sampling of extant embroideries from 14th– and early 15th-century textiles with non-religious themes shows how varied the styles of medieval embroidery could be. The purse fragment is a gorgeous combination of delicate and wispy floral motifs and a coyly romantic narrative figure. The half-beast, half-human figure proves that whimsical themes from the borders of illuminated manuscripts did indeed jump from page to fabric. The gryphons exemplify extremely fine couched goldwork intended to present a smooth surface. The lecturn cover provides great inspiration for simple decorative motifs that could repeat on a hood mantle or other clothing edges. All of these examples come from A Pictorial History of Embroidery (see bibliography at the end).

The Limbourg Brothers Watermark. Depiction of figures from Limbourg Brothers illuminations showing clothing that has embroidery with two parallel lines and circles between them. Was this just the brothers' way of quickly showing clothing embellishment? Surely not all clothing in the early 15th century in Burgundy or France was embellished with this exact motif?

As an example of the nuance we must apply while interpreting period figural art sources, beware what I call the “Limbourg Brothers Watermark” — two solid bands with circles inside. While this motif regularly appears on clothing in illuminations from the Limbourg workshop as well as other, earlier workshops, I doubt it was as ubiquitous in real life. I parse this design element as short-hand for “these clothes had some embroidery on them”, rather than a faithful presentation of an exact design. However, parallel lines probably did regularly frame bands of decoration. The motifs surely varied though, and were not limited to plain circles.

Textual References

Literary, Wardrobe Accounts, and Sumptuary Laws

Literary references of embroidered clothing and accessories. The Green Knight’s green silk clothing is embroidered “with birds, and [butter]flies, and gay gauds [beads] of green with gold everywhere…”; image of the Green Knight holding his own head after Gawain cuts it off from British Library MS Cotton Nero MS A x, circa 1400 and a quote from Sir Lanfal describing a gold-embroidered purse.

The literary texts of the late 14th and early 15th century abound with embroidery references. The above slide provides two, with supporting visual sources from the time period. Note, Sir Lanfal originates with Marie de France in the 12th century, but the alms purse does not get a mention until the late 14th-century version.

Textual records of high-end embroidered clothing. Three textual descriptions of embroidered clothing from various wardrobe accounts and an image of or nué vines worked on a secular orphrey later added to a cope circa 1398-1420

Or nué is a technique of shading gold by surface couching (see further on for more info on this technique) with various colors of silk thread placed closer or further apart to concentrate the color. Or nué tends to be identified as a 15th century technique, but as you can see from that first quote, it was known and referenced as early as the 1380s in France, and it was used on clothing.

The top image shows or nué at its finest, when it was peaking in the first half of the 15th century. The green color comes from green silk thread surface-couched over a solid layer of gold thread. The spacing of the green silk determines how dark the green shadows appear, and how golden the highlights are.

Regarding the reference to the broom cods embroidered for Charles VI of France and the Duc de Touraine, the small green and yellow plant in the lower right is a heraldic depiction of the broom flower and cod, or “planta genista”, a heraldic device used by the Plantagenets and indeed, where the dynastic name comes from. The black-and-white version is another heraldic device of the same plant, showing the cod (or pod). The collar is a reproduction of the broom cod collar worn by Richard II in the Wilton Diptych shown at the top of this article. This humble plant enjoyed a place of honor on both English and French royal clothing.

The Highest classes received absolute excess. The future Charles V of France received the following in 1352 (at the age of 14): “a blue velvet surcot and a chaperon of pink and red scarlet… Both garments were embroidered all over with pearls encircled by gold thread. The pattern on the surcot – flowering shrubs surrounded by thistles being eaten by leopards in various poses – required several pounds of small pearls and 1,150 large pearls. The embroidery on the hood – forty-four shrubs with large tufts of foliage and branches, a castle with maidens emerging on diverse beasts on the cape [mantle], and, along the hem, an arcade of fourteen bays with capitals adorned by wild men on assorted beasts – required 1,340 large pearls, 200 smaller ones, and several pounds of little pearls. In fact, so many pearls were consumed… that there were not enough in Paris to complete the embroidery on the garments of the queen.” from Anne H. van Buren's book, Illuminating Fashion: Dress in the Art of Medieval France and the Netherlands, 1325-1415

I bet he complained it was too hot or itchy, being a teenager. And notice that the son and heir’s garments were completed before his mother, the queen, had her garments finished. Was this sex-based bias in action, or just a logistical failure on the part of the project manager?

In all seriousness, let this paint a picture in your mind — the staggering detail and epic scenery stitched onto this clothing. For those who could afford it, embroidery on clothing was a giant undertaking in which complex imagery was painstakingly wrought.

English Sumptuary Law against embroidery. In 1363, Edward III’s sumptuary law strictly forbade embroidery on clothing for anyone below the level of esquire unless they had an income 5 times that of an esquire making at least £100 a year.

Note what was going on here. The deck was blatantly stacked against regular citizens such that they had to be five times more financially successful than landed gentry in order to display themselves fashionably. Can you imagine such class-based restriction going over well today? We’ve come a long way.

English sumptuary law became yesterday's news in the last 20 years of the 14th century. Richard II, reigning from 1377 to 1399, largely overlooked the enforcement of parliamentary sumptuary laws, so naturally embroidery exploded in personal use and display among all classes.

Fortunately for the sartorially-minded, smack dab in the middle of our favorite time period, a king indifferent to regulating such things came along and declined to endorse or enforce the sumptuary laws. Fashionable excess marked the last 20 years of the 14th century at all levels of society, for anyone with enough money to purchase or create it themselves.

Types of Medieval Embroidery Found on Clothing and Accessories

Needle painting with silk and metal threads. An image of a French purse circa 1340, in the Muzea Malopolska.

When blending two or more colors or shades to mimic realistic appearance such as the folds and wrinkles of clothing, or the variegated appearance of foliage, the technique may be called needle painting. Such fine work became famous in England and spread throughout Europe, under the name “opus Anglicanum”. It grew from liturgical vestments and accessories and advanced into secular use. This popular technique worked well on the fancy alms purses of the time, but also enhanced clothing, as we saw in some of the wardrobe accounts mentioned earlier.  This style of embroidery often came with couched metal threads, which I’ll discuss more later on. 

Solid figural or decorative embroidery. Images of a woman riding on a crawling man from a Bavarian wall hanging dated to 1370-80 and floral, animal, and heraldic motifs from a linen cloth made in Lower Saxony in the 2nd quarter of the 14th century

If the former slide was about the fine art of painting a picture with a needle, this slide is about creating graphic art with a needle. The color image shows one of many medallions on a wall hanging executed entirely in kloster- or convent stitch, which I cover further on. The purpose of this stitch is to fill in a lot of ground with a solid color, quickly and evenly.

The image on the right is a great example of the use of scrolled vines to contain motifs such as heraldic heater shields and leaves. This design would look great around the bottom of a hood mantle. Brick, satin, and stem stitching create this crisp look.

Appliqué. The jupon of the Black Prince has heraldic charges that were first embroidered on a linen ground and then applied to the quilted velvet of the jupon. The Tristan hanging in the V&A Museum is made of wool appliquéd on wool, with gilt leather strips surface couched in white silk to outline the edges. North German, circa 1380-1400.

Velvet, which has a hefty nap, poses challenges as an embroidery ground. There were two ways to handle it. Work the embroidery first on a manageable ground fabric like linen and then transfer it to the velvet, as in the case of the extant jupon of Edward of Woodstock of England, known today as the Black Prince. Alternatively, apply the ground fabric directly to the velvet and then embroider through both layers, as in the case of a set of orphreys held by the Victoria and Albert Museum, dating from 1340-1370, where the red silk shows through under worn embroidery attached to green velvet.

Appliqué also fills large areas quickly. The North German Tristan hanging, dated to the last 20 years of the 14th century, is a beautiful example of this technique, which works well on clothing in addition to wall hangings.

What Items Were Embroidered?

Items of clothing and accessories most commonly embroidered. Assorted images of late 14th century manuscript illuminations depicting embroidered clothing

The left-most image shows two men wearing ornamented belts from the frescos in the Oratorio di Santo Stefano Seveso, dated roughly to the late 1360s. The detail comes across as embroidery rather than metal. The woman wearing the short green cloak with edge embroidery as well as the group of women with one dress displaying embroidery around the neckline are from Lancelot du Lac et la Quête du Graal, BNF MS Français 343, dated to roughly 1375. The man with what appears to be an antler-themed decorative motif embroidered on his gown comes from Gaston Phébus’ Book of the Hunt illuminated around 1407 or so. The woman wearing the fashionably tight green dress edged in what may be embroidery enhanced with pearls is from a Bohemian manuscript from the Wenzel workshop, dated to 1387 (Austrian National Library, 2643, fol. 344r).

Embroidered accessories. Photos of a pair of embroidered gloves, belt, and purse

Here we have a selection of extant 14th-century embroidered accessories. Stylistically, the range varies greatly. There is lots of room for you to move around aesthetically within the realm of 14th century style. In the case of the redrawing of a shoe from Olaf Goubitz’s Stepping Through Time, I could not find any surviving leather shoes with embroidery from the 14th century, so I’m sharing this shoe from a few centuries earlier because it shows simple embroidery that would not look out of place on a 14th century set of shoes.

St. Birgitta's cap. Photos of the extant white linen cap with interlaced herringbone stitch connecting the two sides of the cap and a deconstructed version of cross stitch worked around the front opening

Photos and diagrams above are used by permission of Isis Sturtewagen and Camilla Luise Dahl, authors of “The Cap of St. Birgitta”, published in Medieval Clothing and Textiles 4 (see full citation at the end of this article). No carbon dating has been done, but it’s generally accepted that this cap is from the 14th century. It was probably embroidered in a home setting, rather than professionally, and has two types of embroidery on it — interlaced herringbone and a simple stitching pattern that one might call a deconstructed cross stitch — the same slant to the stitches, but separated so that they do not cross over each other. 

That said, there were professional embroiderers of women’s headwear, at least in Paris, in the 14th century. They were referred to as “crepiniers de fil et de soie”, or “makers of headdresses of thread and silk” as explained by Sarah Grace Heller in her article “Obscured Lands and Obscured Hands: Fairy Embroidery and the Ambiguous Vocabulary of Medieval Textile Decoration” in Medieval Clothing and Textiles 5.

Embroidery Placement on Clothing

Edge Embellishments. A photo of an extant sleeve cuff with surface-couched gold filé

Edge embellishments were routinely placed around necklines, cuffs, and hems. There was also the occasional seam embellishment, at least according to the figural art of the time. Most seam embellishments appear as narrow wares sewn down over or adjacent to the seam. Their appearance in the figural art of the time often obscures whether these are woven bands, fabric strips, braids, or orphreys — a term for bands of embroidery. We usually hear of orphreys in the context of religious vestments, but the name applies to any embroidered band.

Powdering and edge embellishment. The “Eagle Dalmatic” of the Holy Roman Empire, c. 1330-1340. This garment was secular, but demonstrates impressive use of orphreys circling the armholes, neckline, cuffs, and hemline. The eagle medallions are powdered — strewn across the field of fabric, more or less evenly, but not in any obvious symmetrical order.

When I used the leaf design from the orphreys above on my hood’s mantle, I reversed the order of the color gradation. The original had darker colors on the inside. This is an example of using a period source as a jumping-off point to design something new but faithful to the aesthetic of the time period. If you are a re-enactor, this should be your goal when creating items as you believe they would have appeared in the target time period. We don’t have enough extant pieces to only slavishly copy. For the sake of a natural-looking variety, we need to synthesize several sources and come up with something relatively new design-wise that also adheres to the look and feel of the chosen time period and location. At least, that is my approach.

More powdering examples. Images providing examples of Chaucer’s squire in the General Prologue, who is described as “Embrouded was he, as it were a meede, Al ful of fresshe floures, whyte and reede.” “Embroidered was he, as if it were a meadow, All full of fresh flowers, white and red.”

Here we have two visual examples from the early 15th century of garments with embroidery on them. Our squire on the left has only the sparest depiction of embellishment on his flowing short gown. It’s possible these white dots are little white flowers, as mentioned by Chaucer. The allegorical figure of the sun on the right has decoration more akin to what Chaucer seems to be describing, though it’s also possible that he’s wearing a fine lampas-woven silk brocade. The emblem of the sun and the lion on his chest and abdomen, however, would have likely been appliquéd embroidery.

Concentrated powdering. A A stunning depiction of pearl embroidery concentrated on the torso and sleeves from a 1380 illumination

Occasionally, illuminations yield gems of fashion like these seen above, where clothing has a burst of decorative embellishment in only one area of the body.

Single badge. Livery badge, heraldic arms, decorative motif – sometimes a single, bold statement was all the wearer wanted or needed.

In both examples shown above, the devices were likely embroidered on a separate ground cloth and then appliquéd onto the garment. In the case of the dog seen on Charles VI of France’s sleeve, it almost certainly would have been made of couched gold thread of the highest quality gold filé.

Design and Cartoons

The artistry behind the embroidery. Cennini's text explaining how to draw on ground cloths for embroiderers; a page from the Pepysian Sketchbook circa 1390-1400; a photo of an artist's model book circa 1410-1420, Prague

The art of designing a complex medieval embroidery in the form of a carefully shaded cartoon was often separate from execution of the embroidery itself. Royal and noble households frequently employed fine artists to create intricate and unique tableaux for a team of embroiders to bring to life with silk and metal threads. Artists in this time period often worked from model books containing idealized examples of a variety of figures, especially when employed by a particular guild or master intent on maintaining a signature aesthetic. This was a form of branding in practice long before the contemporary concept was developed.

How fancy for a king? Drawing of Richard II of England and his wife, Anne of Bohemia, in effigy with complex designs on their garments; photo of detail from the tomb

To illustrate the richness of medieval embroidery designs among the highest classes, here’s an example taken from history. According to Lisa Monnas, in her book Merchants, Princes, and Painters, four artists spent 24 days drawing embroidery designs for matching sets of clothing for Richard II of England and his first wife, Anne of Bohemia, to wear to the Feast of the Purification of the Virgin in 1386. These included white harts (stags) worked in pearls, gold and silver thread, and colored silk placed on red velvet. The artists received better payment than the embroiderers. It’s easy to envision that some or all of the decorations carved in this royal couple’s effigies as shown in the slide above represent embroidery rather than brocaded fabric.

Pouncing templates: cutting the artist out of the picture. Photo of a pricked and pounced cartoon and the subsequent embroidery from that cartoon from 1490; image of female saints likely embroidered from templates, due to their mirror image reversal

Evelin Wetter, in her article “England and Central Europe” in the excellent book, English Medieval Embroidery: Opus Anglicanum, explains how prick-and-pounce templates reduced the dependence on artists for embroidery designs. Perhaps it annoyed the embroiderers and those holding the purse to be so beholden to fine artists for the initial design work, especially where projects required mass production.

The appearance of reversed, mirror-image figures serve as a tell-tale sign of the use of a pricked template. The figures on the right in the slide above is a dead giveaway for the use of this kind of stencil. Turn the stencil over, add some color changes along with a few tweaks to how the folds appear in the skirt, and voilà, the figures look different enough to the casual observer.

Design: plan ahead. Draw out your design on paper first; Transfer your design to the embroidery ground or risk going off course; Use ink pen, pencil, or charcoal with wet shading if design includes shading

The moral of the story is this: if you want to embroider your clothing or an accessory, plan it out in advance. Graph it, draw it — get it just the way you want it before you pick up the needle and floss. Also, save yourself the headache and transfer your design to the fabric you’re embroidering. You may need to touch up your cartoon as you go, as friction might wear it away.

Common Stitches

Split Stitch: Filling stitch; Used to needle-paint; Creates texture and blends shades; Close up photo of split stitch on King Solomon from a panel depicting the Tree of Jesse. Silk on linen, circa 1325-35; a diagram shows how to stitch up through the prior stitch, but you can also stitch down through the prior stitch for a different textural effect.
Satin Stitch; Filling stitch; Creates solid, smooth texture and shade; Just as much thread is spread on the underside as appears on the outside. This can create smooth ridges when stitches are uniform. Close-up of satin stitching of a stag on an early 13th century dalmatic.
Long and short, brick, and plate stitches. Filling stitches; Used to needle-paint; Create texture and blends shades; Eventually replaced split stitch as the preferred fill stitches.
Stem Stitch; Outline stitch; Sinuous patterns; Feathery lines. Close-up photo of a purse circa 1398-1420; Photo of a tablecloth from Lower Saxony in the 2nd quarter of the 14th century containing stem stitching
Chain Stitch; Outline stitch; Texture and fill stitch. Close-up photo of the altar antependium from Order of the Golden Fleece vestments, Burgundy, circa1425-40.
French Knot Stitch; Texture stitch; Usually seen portraying hair; Close-up photo of a sheep's fleece portrayed with French knots in a French triptych, early 15th century. A close up of a man's hair in French knots from an alms purse dated to 1340.
Surface Couching - metal thread. Colored silk thread used to hold metal thread; Used to fill backgrounds; Eventually became “or nué” technique. Close-up of surface couching on a fragmentary horse trapper, circa 1330-40. Photos from a heraldic purse, circa 1398-1420; diagrams of common surface couching patterns seen in opus anglicanum.

Since metal thread was expensive and brilliant to behold, medieval embroiderers kept it above the surface of the fabric rather than stitching it in and out like regular thread or floss would be stitched. A separate silk thread called a couching thread, would be sewn around the metal thread at intervals to keep it in place. Embroiderers commonly couched down two metal threads at a time. The diagram in the upper-right corner shows one thread at a time, but many extant examples have two, which is a great time-saver.

Earlier in this article, I discussed or nué, a technique of surface couching which used the couching thread placement to shade color over the gold thread and create intricate detail. This developed first as simple geometric background surface couching and evolved into more complex figural shading.

It’s worth noting that the example in the middle image above, which has such intricate couching of gold thread, comes from a purse dated presumably to 1398, and was likely not originally a purse, but perhaps a wall hanging or a banner. The arms supposedly represent the marriage of Edmund, 5th Earl of Stafford, to Anne Plantagenet, daughter of Thomas of Woodstock, the youngest son of Edward III. The marriage took place in 1398, when she was 15. However, her relatives first married her to his older brother in 1390 at the age of 7!

Surface Couching - Convent/Kloster or Bokhara stitch. Self-couching technique, usually done with silk thread; Rapid fill stitch; Texture and pattern building. Photo of closter stitch from a 14th century Lower Saxony fragment
Laid work. Fill and patterned texture. Detail of a leaf from the Clare Chasuble, circa 1272-94

We see laid work most famously on the Bayeux Tapestry, which dates quite a bit earlier than the time period under discussion. I found extant examples that fall within the 14th century were thin on the ground during my search. I suspect laid work lost popularity to many of the other fill stitches already shown above by the turn of the 14th century.

Laid Trailing or Overcast Stitch. Used to decorate cords laid down for height and texture. Close-up of cord overcast stitched to accent outlines in an angel's skirt on an orphrey circa 1340-1370.
Underside Couching. Used to create patterns on metal thread backgrounds; Couching thread pulls the metal thread through the ground fabric, leaving a sharp crease on the front; Couching thread is usually plain linen because it remained completely out of sight on back of fabric. Close-up photos of detail from two orphreys showing underside couching patterns.

Underside couching enjoyed popularity in the 13th and early 14th centuries but surface couching gradually superceded it. The surface technique developed into the highly ornate and luxurious or nué already covered above. The underside version does produce a lovely effect, and you should not rule it out as a couching technique for this period.

Tools and Materials

Tools: Frames: Wherever possible, use a frame or a hoop, preferably mounted. Keeps tension of fabric even. Keeps fabric out of your way. Holds the fabric for you so both hands can deal with the needle and thread.
Tools: Needles. Depending on the thickness of the floss, choose a needle with an eye that can accommodate it. Needles labeled “crewel” and “chenille” work well. Avoid “tapestry” needles, as their points are not sharp enough. Images of different sizes of crewel and chenille needles.
Materials: Ground Fabrics. Plain-weave linen – when you intend to cover the entire ground, a white or natural linen is your best bet. Great for appliquéing on wool, silk, or velvet. Plain-weave silk – use a fresh, sharp needle with a small eye since silk is more tightly woven and rigid. It’s harder to pull floss through. Wool – forgiving and squishy, but not always ideal as a ground fabric. Some rigidity and crispness is desired to help hold stitch shape.
What kind of silk thread was used? Silk thread or floss came in two varieties: spun or filament. Spun silk is made from broken threads that are twisted or spun so they stick together. Spun silk has a softer sheen and is less smooth than filament. Filament—or reeled—silk, is the complete, unbroken filament from the cocoon. Filament can be flat or twisted. Filament is really shiny and smooth. You MUST exfoliate your fingers when working with it; it catches on everything. All these varieties were used in our time period and are available commercially today.
What kind of metal thread was used? Most metal thread was “filé”, or wrapped. The metal was wrapped around a textile thread core. Usually yellow silk, but sometimes diverse other colors of silk. When extra thickness was needed, linen was substituted for silk. The highest quality wrapping material was fine, beaten gold or silver strips. Most, however, was silver-gilt (gold-gilded silver) foil strips. Called “Cyprus gold” or “fine gold”. Drawn wire thread was called “Damask gold”. Made of silver-gilt rods: silver drawn through successively smaller holes and then gilded with gold. Gilded ox-gut membrane wrapped around linen thread. Called “Lucca gold”. Less common in embroidery, due to gilding wearing off too easily; more common in woven fabrics.

The material brands and sources listed below were active as of February 2019 and could become obsolete at any time.

Floss and Metal Thread Brands. A list of thread brands for silk and metal.
Silk thread online sources. A list of websites selling silk embroidery floss.
Metal thread online sources. A list of websites selling metal thread for embroidery. Close-up of gold filé on a velvet chasuble in the Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Firenze. The gold has worn away and the yellow silk appears.
Pearl and bead online sources. Two websites that sell pearls and beads appropriate for embroidery.


Decoding and understanding secular embroidery on clothing and accessories in the late 14th and early 15th century in Europe is a detective’s effort. There aren’t enough extant examples to give us authoritative data across the breadth and depth of what people saw and did in the time period. However, with a careful survey of the still-extant figural arts, crafts, and remaining artifacts combined with textual references describing materials, designs, and restrictions, we can get some sense of how different strata of society incorporated this beautiful embellishment.

Hopefully this overview inspires a few launch points for you to pursue your own studies. Be sure to look at the bibliography below, where I’ve provided references for further learning. The internet will take you only so far. Invest in a good book library and you will never regret it. I was able to put this presentation and subsequent web article together almost entirely from the sources in my existing library.


Medieval/Renaissance Embroidery

Bergemann, Uta-Christiane. Europäische Stickereien 1250-1650. Regensberg: Schnelle Steiner, 2010. Print

Browne, Clare et al. English Medieval Embroidery: Opus Anglicanum. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2017. Print

Christie, A.G.I. English Medieval Embroidery. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1938. Print

Freeman, Margaret B. The St. Martin Embroideries. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1968. Print

King, Donald and Santina Levey. The Victoria & Albert Museum’s Textile Collection: Embroidery in Britain from 1200 to 1750. London: V&A Publications, 1993. Print

Schuette, Marie and Sigrid Müller-Christensen. A Pictorial History of Embroidery. New York: Frederick A. Praeger, 1963. Print

Staniland, Kay. Medieval Craftsmen: Embroiderers. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1991. Print

Wardle, Patricia. Guide to English Embroidery. London: Her Majesty’s Stationary Office, 1981. Print

Medieval Embroidery Stitch Instruction

Christie, Grace. Embroidery and Tapestry Weaving. London: John Hogg, 1912. Project Gutenberg. Web. 18 Jul 2019.

Harlow, Eve. The Anchor Book of Free-Style Embroidery Stitches. Devon: David & Charles, 1997. Print

Knight, Lorna. The Sewing Stitch & Textile Bible: An illustrated guide to techniques and materials. Iola: Krause Publications, 2007. Print

Wilson, Erica. Erica Wilson’s Embroidery Book. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1973. Print

Medieval/Renaissance Textiles/Clothing with References to Medieval Embroidery

Coatsworth, Elizabeth and Gale R. Owen-Crocker. Clothing the Past: Surviving Garments from Early Medieval to Early Modern Western Europe. Leiden: Brill, 2017. Print

Crowfoot, Elisabeth et al. Textiles and Clothing 1150-1450. Woodbridge: The Boydell Press, 2001. Print

Dahl, Camilla Luise and Isis Sturtewagen. “The Cap of St. Birgitta.” Medieval Clothing and Textiles 4 (2008): 99–142. Print

Evans, Joan. Dress in Mediaeval France. Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1952. Print

Garrett, Rosamund and Matthew Reeves. Late Medieval and Renaissance Textiles. Sam Fogg, 2018. Print

Heller, Sarah-Grace. “Obscure Lands and Obscured Hands: Fairy Embroidery and the Ambiguous Vocabulary of Medieval Textile Decoration”. Medieval Clothing and Textiles 5 (2009): 15–35. Print

Hodges, Laura. Chaucer and Costume: The Secular Pilgrims in the General Prologue. Woodbridge: D.S. Brewer, 2000. Print

Hollberg, Cecilie. Textiles and Wealth in 14th Century Florence: Wool, Silk, Painting. Florence: Giunti, 2017. Print

Monnas, Lisa. Merchants, Princes and Painters: Silk Fabrics in Italian and Northern Paintings 1300-1550. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008. Print

Newton, Stella Mary. Fashion in the Age of the Black Prince. Woodbridge: Boydell, 1980. Print

Owen-Crocker, Gale R. et al. Encyclopedia of Medieval Dress and Textiles of the British Isles c. 450-1450. Leiden: Brill, 2012. Print

Sylvester, Louise M. et al. Medieval Dress and Textiles in Britain: A Multilingual Sourcebook. Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 2014. Print

Van Buren, Anne H. Illuminating Fashion: Dress in the Art of Medieval France and the Netherlands, 1325-1515. New York: The Morgan Library & Museum, 2011. Print


Cennini, Cennino d’Andrea. The Craftsman’s Handbook. New York: Dover Publications, 1960. Print

Joubeaux, Hervé et al. Trésors de la Cathédrale de Chartres. Chartres: Musée des beaux arts de Chartres, 2002. Print

Souchal, Geneviève. Masterpieces of Tapestry from the Fourteenth to the Sixteenth Century. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1974. Print

Verlet, Pierre, et al. The Book of Tapestry: History and Technique. New York: Vendome Press, 1977. Print

17 thoughts on “Embroidery on Late Medieval Clothing and Accessories”

  1. Hello Tasha 😉 It’s funny, I just had a small discussion with Eva on her FB page about embroidered mantles in Scandinavia, from the same period 😉 There are also all the Italian sumptuary laws, studied by Muzzarelli. Great paper. But… You know me… I’d be very cautious with the imperial dalmatic, which is more connected with religious stuffs. The armhole orfrey is not for everybody. XXX

    1. You make a good point about the imperial dalmatic. I think I am concentrating more on the secular decoration in the orphrey (the flora), but I agree — the giant outlining of the armhole is certainly not a typical civilian style!

  2. Really informative and inspiring. I found it interesting and encouraging the way you look at sources in a global way and draw together the different kinds of information to make a logical assumptions about what is appropriate to the period – ie bands of embroidery drawn very simply in illuminations would likely represent much more complex patterns, etc. Very much my own way of approaching this sort of thing. I too, never really found an article like this with an overview on what is appropriate to embellish 14th century clothing, so, thank you! I think I’m going to start a new embroidery project!

    1. I’m so glad it was inspirational for you! It was a time-consuming effort to put together and left me with about ten rabbit holes I wanted to go down further, but for the purpose of giving a high-level overview, I felt it achieved that aim. I’ll be curious to see what you do with your embroidery project, should you pursue it amidst all the other creative stuff I know you have going on!

    1. Hi! I’m glad you asked, because I had to go looking through my sources to figure it out myself, which was useful. I found this in the Chartres Treasury catalog (bibliographic entry: Joubeaux, Hervé et al. Trésors de la Cathédrale de Chartres. Chartres: Musée des beaux arts de Chartres, 2002. Print). It’s an embroidered triptych held in the cathedral’s treasury, Inventory number 2886, which is likely displayed at the Musée des beaux arts, which is in the shadow of the cathedral.

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words! I’m glad you enjoyed the article. I really enjoyed gathering all the information together in one place.

  3. Hello . Hopefully this question isn’t too silly. Im new to 14th century reenactment and I dress as a nun, I’ve read that nuns would embroider but im just wondering what exactly they would be embroidering and what they would use… seeing as they were higher class then peasants but not nobility. Is this something you have information about? Not even specifically nuns but just what lower class people may have made

    1. Hi Alice, that’s a great question, but I don’t feel I have the information necessary to properly answer. If I had to guess or lead you down a path, I’d say look at German “kloster stitch”, which is literally named for “cloister”, indicating either religious folks did the work or it was done for the church, specifically.

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