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A key principle of early medieval embroidery was to achieve maximum display on the visible side of the garment, with minimal use out of sight on the back. On both men’s and women’s tunics, the decoration was usually at the neck, cuffs and hem. The embroidery was usually prepared on a separate piece of contrasting fabric and then stitched on the garment. This means it can be removed for washing, if necessary, or moved from an old garment to a new. It also make areas of wear, such as collars and cuffs last longer.

Embroidery is usually applies to the neck and cuffs and also to the hem of higher status garments. Only higher status garments should ever be embroidered in the body

Further information (including illustrations of stitches) is available in the Basic Embroidery Guide by Georgina Riall.

Bird motf.jpg

Dog motif.jpg

Photo and embroidery credit: Julia Kuivenhoven

Embroidery stitches

The most economical stitches to use with wool are:

Outline stitch

Use for outlining and infilling motifs.

Outline stitch.JPG

Stem stitch

Use for outlining. and infilling motifs.

Stem stitch.JPG

Split Stitch

Use for outlining. and infilling motifs.

Split stitch.JPG

Laid stitch

Sometimes also called surface satin stitch - use for covering larger areas.

Laid stitch.JPG

Couched stitching


Couched and Laid work

Covers space efficiently, but appears to have mainly been used on hangings, such as the Bayeux Tapestry, rather than on clothing.

Couched laid.JPG

For wool embroidery, slightly less efficient stitching can be used, since wool was plentiful and easily takes up dyes

Chain stitch

May be used in moderation for certain details, however it uses more thread on the back of the work than split stitch so is more in evidence with silk, though only in very high status ecclesiastical and royal embroideries.

Discouraged embroidery stitches

Satin stitch (as opposed to Surface Satin/Laid stitch) is not attested in our period (except perhaps for tiny details such as eyes where no other stitch would work). It uses an inordinate amount of thread, and makes for bulkiness and ruckling. There is a dearth of archaeological evidence for its use in our period, even in the context of silk, except perhaps for tiny details such as eyes where no other stitch would work.