Embroidery: A Stitch In Time

King Athelstan-Jacky Puzey    All Saints Church, Kingston

Embroidery is the art or handicraft of decorating materials and fabric using a needle and thread or yarn. It is traceable back to 30,000 B.C or Cro-Magnon days and believed to have originated in the near East and China.

As far back as 35,000 B.C. there are pictures depicting the use of silk thread embroidery on Chinese garments, along with the application of pearls and gemstones.

The word embroidery comes from the French word ‘broderie’ or embellishment. Its use has always provided a fascinating insight into different cultures and their histories.

Early Japanese Embroidery (Photo by Ryan McBride)

Modern Embroidery

Embroidery today is a wonderfully versatile medium that can allow an artisan to employ a huge variety of different methods to produce anything from a contemporary artwork to a richly embroidered, medieval style tapestry or vestment.

This versatility is apparent within the range of pieces that Jacky produces. Her bespoke furnishings and contemporary artworks sit comfortably alongside a range of ecclesiastical work that she regularly undertakes, such as the commission for the 7 Saxon Kings at Kingston All Saints.

7 Saxon Kings- Jacky Puzey    All Saints Church, Kingston

Embroidery has a rich and varied history across many cultures but is also a constantly changing and developing craft. This means that there are almost limitless possibilities for people to express their creativity through this decorative art.

Historical Roots

The history and therefore importance of undertaking work that has traceable roots such as this, is not lost on Jacky. She is very careful to honor this by employing traditional skills alongside digital technology, which allow a contemporary exploration of an ancient craft.

Among various ancient civilizations there is evidence depicted on vases, sculptures and paintings of citizens wearing thread-embroidered garments. These cultures include India, China, Persia, Japan, Medieval and Baroque Europe and many others, where embroidered clothing was used to denote wealth and status.

Lady Chapel of Liverpool Cathedral, Elizabeth Hoare Gallery

Many embroidery techniques have been passed down through generations and can help us understand the ingenuity and talent possessed by older civilizations.

English Work

Throughout Medieval England embroiderers formed workshops and guilds to hone their craft. The work produced was famous across Europe and was called ‘Opus Anglicanum’ or “English Work”.

“The phrase Opus Anglicanum was first coined in the 13th Century to describe the highly prized and luxurious embroideries made in England of silk, gold and silver thread, teeming with elaborate imagery. “

The Steeple Aston Cope
This ‘English Work’ was in great demand across Europe especially around the late 12th to mid 14th Centuries and, as luxury products, were frequently given as diplomatic gifts.

Much of the surviving Opus Anglicanum work was designed for the church in the form of vestments or antependia (church furnishings). The Victoria and Albert Museum, London, holds one of the widest and most specialized collections of these artifacts.

The Toledo Cope
Although there are now very few surviving examples of this work, the superb craftsmanship and incredible skill of ancient artisans will continue to serve as a source of inspiration and guidance for the work of many contemporary designer-makers.
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