HNW - Threads and such

Karen karen_larsdatter at
Fri Jan 5 08:26:10 PST 2001

> I am just starting out with medieval embroidery (12th century) and
> I have some questions on materials and designs.  Firstly, does
> anyone have any sources for embroidered trim for 12th century
> Ireland or there abouts?  The few books that are available on
> Irish costume just say that the garments were heavily embroidered,
> but no designs or desciptions of the embroidery are given.  I know
> it's pretty much impossible to document, but any
> hints/ideas/theories beside the ubiquitous knotwork would be
> appreciated.

There are some pictures of linear patterns from twelfth century
embroideries at -- I'm
not sure where exactly they're from (they don't look like the Holkeboer
book of theatrical costuming, but maybe they're from Spelz's Styles of
Ornament?) but they might be some good inspiration for patterns to
embroider around the neckline or at the cuffs, and would look good in

Another place to hunt for inspiration for embroidery patterns might be
contemporary manuscript illuminations.  I don't have a lot of links to
twelfth century illuminated manuscripts but there are a few at ... unfortunately, the two
links to 12th century Irish manuscripts are down. :(

For one of the patterns at the huscarl site above (or similar patterns)
I'd go for stem stitch or split stitch for the thinner lines or
outlines; what you use to fill in the larger spaces, maybe couched &
laid work, maybe just laid work/satin stitch, maybe even appliqué, or
maybe even some simple split stitch needlepainting fill in type stuff. 
Experiment with the pattern and see what you like best.

When you do the embroidery, I'd recommend embroidering to a flat
surface -- whether it's a cut-out piece of fabric that's going to end
up being the sleeve, or cut a second piece of fabric that you can sew
to the garment itself (like a separate cuff or whatnot), which I like
doing better, since you can remove the embroidery if the garment wears
out and attach it to something else (or cut off the stitches holding on
the embroidered fabric when you need to clean the garment, if
necessary).  It's much easier to embroider to a flat surface
(especially using some method of holding the fabric taut and flat, like
Q-Snaps or stretcher bars or even a hoop) than it is to embroider onto
a curved surface, like a sleeve that's already been sewn together. ;)

> Secondly, I've decided that I am going to use wool to stitch with for
> now and was wondering if anyone has a favorite brand/type they use. 
> I've found two on-line suppliers (I know there must be tons more out
> there) - Thread Needle Street and Herrscheners.  Has anyone ordered
> from them? Thread Needle Street has a wonderful sounding thread
> called Brodier Wul that I am leaning towards because of the natural
> dyes and they are not that much more expensive than the DMC Medici. 
> Any help/advice you can give would be much appreciated.  Thanks
> muchly...

Broider Wul is a good choice -- it's available from a few other places
as well (for those of y'alls outside the U.S., look for the Renaissance
Wools -- -- as I understand it, it's
pretty much the same thing, slightly different range of colors, made by
the same company, but sold under the Broider Wul name around here). 
There was an article on the company in New Stitches a few years ago --
these wools were used to make the recent end panel for the Bayeux

Most of the range is colored with dyestuffs from prior to 1870 (many of
which are period to before the 17th century) and it has a great texture
and strength for doing surface embroidery on cloth (whereas needlepoint
wools don't always have the strength to go through cloth without
disintegrating after a few passes -- that's what I'd used to embroider
the cuffs on Gruffudd's wool tunic, actually using a neat sort of
medieval Icelandic stem stitch embroidery that ends up looking like the
wools were knitted onto the surface, but with that wool, after it went
through the cloth about five times, it'd just fall apart like cotton
candy.) :)

Hedgehog Handworks -- -- also has
Broider Wul, and doing a search on Broider Wul on Altavista comes up
with a number of other suppliers as well. :)  You can see the pretty
colors of the Renaissance Wools at (but the Broider Wul
is a slightly different range of colors, so you may need to order the
Broider Wul color card).


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