Applying Image Analysis to an Original Design in Opus Anglicanum

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Presentation Goals

As I begin the journey to a Kingdom Arts and Sciences entry, I would value feedback on my most complex entry, which I am just beginning. I am seeking:

  • insights on my vision
  • feedback on my planned process and early research
  • tips for moving forward.

Below are some potential questions I hope you will help me answer. I italicized other questions for potential feedback throughout the presentation.

  • What are some potential pitfalls of a project of this nature?
  • What are some tools I might add to my analysis?
  • Is there a direction I should consider heading that I have not considered?
  • Are there concepts or research that I may be missing?
  • Can you recommend any resources, including other researchers?

Detail of St. Margaret and the Dragon, Steeple Aston Cope, 1330s

Project Vision

My Kingdom Arts and Sciences Competition entry will be an embroidered stole, a part of the priest’s vestments for mass. I am creating it for my husband to actually use, and would like it to be an original design. At this point, he would like four angels.

Detail from Thornton Chasuble, 1510-1530

Because it will be an original design, my plan is to create a database of extant images from Opus Anglicanum pieces. I will use this database to analyze patterns in their design elements, content, and themes. This will result in a database, a paper on my findings, analysis and choices, and a historically inspired design.

While each aspect of my entry will be judged on the quality of the work, I am new to this needlecraft and know it takes years to master. I hope the key aspect of my entry will be the legitimacy of the design and rendering based on my analysis, more than my embroidery skills.

Does this seem to be a realistic vision? How would you adjust it?

Is this a realistic expectation for a judging scenario?

Image Analysis

English Medieval Embroidery: Opus Anglicanum

I am doing this because I had questions, and could not find any existing image analysis of Opus Anglicanum designs.

I have analyzed images from the book English Medieval Embroidery: Opus Anglicanum from the 2016-2017 exhibit at the V&A Museum. This book was frequently referenced by the researchers I found in my preliminary research of history and techniques. I believe it contains enough images for my purposes, but am prepared to look further if needed.

In assessing each image, I am looking primarily at identifying patterns of design elements. Interpretation and symbolism are not my priority right now, though I am gathering relevant information for the next phase. Some details I am watching for are listed below.

As you read below, do you have suggestions for what I should focus on more – or less?

  • Colors: as they apply to a particular element.
    • In examining about twenty images, I have seen a pattern already of halos being gold with green highlights.
  • Clothing:
    • Which figures are based on medieval styles or biblical.
    • Are there important patterns of use within medieval styles
      • In a series of images about the life of Mary, she is wearing a crespinette. While at this time I’m not sure how it’s relevant, I think it may be later if there was a desire to look for symbology and other meaning.
  • Personal Features: facial expressions, hair details, etc.
    • One pattern I’ve found is that almost all men have beards. When a beard isn’t present and the subject is not obviously a woman, I have been noting that. Roman/Greek? Youth?
  • Background Features: architectural elements, decorative elements, and color usage.
    • Several images analyzed at this point include arches. There seems to be a fondness for trefoil designs.
  • Subject Matter: frequency of a subject, or story
    • How common is Mary or St. John or a lion?
    • I will be particularly watching for angels and whether they are treated as additional embellishment or are the primary focus of a panel. In the example below, they seem to be either a design element or maybe symbolic of the heavens above, but they are not integral to the scene.
Examples of observations made during this project.
The Betrayal, Bologna Cope, 1310-20

Airtable Database

I am using Airtable, which was recommended to me in SCA Arts and Sciences Facebook groups. I am finding it very effective for capturing the data from image analysis.

I add an image from the web or via their app on my phone. Then I document my observations using either my phone or computer.

As a fun point of interest, my husband has been greatly amused by my glee at this process as I sit at a table with my computer, my phone and my book. I take a picture with my phone and add it to the table, then move immediately to my computer to input my notes more easily while consulting the book.

The fields I am capturing are listed here. Do you have any suggestions for additional fields?

  • Image label: subject and what piece it’s from
  • Photo of image: taken on my phone from the book, for later reference
  • Date of image: time frame of commission/creation
  • Tags:
    • Subject: disciple, Jesus, Judas, angel, saint
    • Colors: green, blue, gold, neutral
    • Background/Setting: trefoil arch, bed, bookstand
    • Clothing: crespinette, shoes, barefoot
    • Appearance: beard, blonde, pregnant
    • Accessories: crown, staff, halo
    • Other descriptors: stylized, dimensional
  • Detailed description: my narrative description
  • Questions about observations: in the image above, I didn’t know who the smaller man was and noted it. I found out later that he is the servant.
  • Materials and techniques: when noted in the book caption
  • Location of original piece: when noted in the book caption
  • Citation: where found, page number, etc.
Screenshot of Opus Anglicanum Image Analysis

I have also created a second database to gather images and descriptions of the elements I am finding. So far I’ve researched types of vestments, architectural features, women’s head wear, and the stories behind characters. This database is more for my use when I need to remember what I’ve learned.

Catholic Vestments

Modern vestments. While styles may change, the ceremonial layers are generally consistent through long periods of history.

While the image analysis presented here is the core of this project, I will also be doing some research into Catholic vestments as they were used in the 13th century.

I know I want to make a stole because that is the decorated item my husband will use most often in modern life. But historically, there are many layers of vestments that would have been embroidered.

I want to have at least a basic understanding of how and when vestments were used, in case that influences my design. I also am curious if I can fit the specific gift of a stole into my entry’s backstory.

Ecclesiastical Stole

That backstory is that I was commissioned to make this stole as a gift from a noble in appreciation or commemoration. I’m not sure yet how far I will develop that into my final design and choices, but it is helping me to visualize the process further.

In speaking of this project to my church geek husband, there are many layers of this that can be explored – just as it relates to Opus Anglicanum and the images used. I know that one challenge for me will be to not get lost down too many rabbit holes.

Do you have any suggestions of other supplementary aspects I may want to look into – or rabbit holes to avoid?

Scaffolding Embroidery Skills

In parallel to the image analysis, I will be growing and honing my embroidery skills, especially as they apply to historically accurate Opus Anglicanum.

I am working to scaffold my skills and am consulting a mentor as questions arise. She has been a huge support and has recently fed my enthusiasm with a gift of silk floss and gold thread.

So far, I have done some basic research regarding history and techniques and have been reading papers. I’ve joined some key Facebook groups to learn more and attended online SCA classes. I have also been practicing the split stitch on modern projects.

Here is my plan for moving forward:

Embroidered Altar Linens
  1. Make simple altar linens on fine linen with silk thread. My goal is to become familiar with the materials and small stitches. (Note the image is not a period example, just a visual.)
  2. Practice couching with tutorials.
  3. Complete a kit or pre-designed project.
  4. Create several simple designs on my own to practice.
  5. Final project.

Do you have suggestions for additional steps to take? Do you know of good resources to access?

Kingdom Arts and Sciences Entry

I have had a vision for a while of entering three pieces in the Kingdom Arts and Sciences competition in the next couple years. I would like them to be at least loosely tied together as follows – the third entry listed below is what I am describing in this presentation.

  1. A research paper with a full development of my persona as a Welsh woman, an artisan specializing in Opus Anglicanum in the first half of the 13th century.
  2. A research paper with scale model exploring what my persona’s home would be like. (Or the paper on my image analysis?)
  3. The original design embroidered priest’s stole using Opus Anglicanum as described above.

Do you see any challenges tying these together?

Do you have suggestions for other directions to consider?

My initial graphic organizer as I decided how to proceed with this research.

Thank You

I appreciate you giving your time to review my presentation, and look forward to all feedback and guidance. Although I asked specific questions above, I would value any thoughts, even tangential.

Image Sources


Clare, Brown and Glyn Davies and M.A. Michael. English Medieval Embroidery: Opus Anglicanum. Yale University Press. 2016.

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17 Replies to “Applying Image Analysis to an Original Design in Opus Anglicanum”

  1. This looks amazing! It really looks like you have 2 entries here. One as a research paper and one as a physical item of embroidery. I don’t know what your base level of embroidery skill is but I would actually suggest getting a very fine weave embroidery cloth, maybe a 28 count to practice small stitches on. It can help you to keep a really even length of stitch and get your muscle memory set up for when you are using a less evenly woven cloth. Silk is an absolute dream to work with. You do have to be a little careful about strand lengths, because I notice if I go much over 2.5 feet it tangles a bit.

    1. Thank you! I have considered the two entries and may end up going that direction. I’m feeling really self-conscious right now about the embroidery though. But I’m looking at a couple years out so hopefully I’ll be more confident and I’ll feel better about the physical entry. 🙂

      My base level I would say is advanced beginner (maybe intermediate). I haven’t spent a lot of time focusing on my skill, mostly I do it with modern projects for relaxation. I appreciate the advice on the small stitches. That’s definitely part of my plan.

      I appreciate you taking the time for feedback!

  2. The stole (orphrey) that you show is actually in long-arm cross stitch (LAX, as I usually write it), not Opus Anglicanum. This is not to say that the pattern could not be converted into OA, but the original piece is not. (If you like, I can give you more info on LAX–I teach a class in it. The easiest way to reach me is via pm on Facebook-Cynthia Ley, Portland.) For more information on the piece, check out and search for item #T.343-1921.

    I love that you are digging “under the stitch,” so to speak, and looking beyond just the physical embroidery. We often veer away from the context and meaning of those things we would attempt to recreate, and to our loss. I look forward to seeing more on this, and Happy Researching!

    1. Thanks for clarifying the stole details and I’ll definitely check out the VAM catalog entry. I thought it didn’t look right but am still training my eyes. I’m having trouble finding a stole in Opus Anglicanum – I’m guessing because stoles are smaller pieces so less likely to be intact. I’ll have to learn to navigate the museum catalog better.

      Eventually I’m sure I’d like to learn more about LAX so I’ll definitely be in touch. (We kind of know each other, I’m Mir’s wife.)

      1. Aha! 🙂
        Check out items T.72A-1922 and T.91-1968. Both are orphreys, in Opus Anglicanum. Also T.157-1970 and T.82-1978. Magical reference book is THE VICTORIA & ALBERT MUSEUM’S TEXTILE COLLECTION: EMBROIDERY IN BRITAIN FROM 1200 TO 1750. By Donald King and Santina Levy.

  3. I love how you’ve thought through this. I’m wondering if I have any further sources that would be of use to you. Since we correspond regularly, I’m not going to ask for a conference. You know how to reach me!

    1. Kat – thank you for your encouragement and feedback and for being a mentor for me. I would love to hear if you do have any further sources. As I move forward I’m sure we’ll be in touch.

  4. Great job on taking on something new and with such focus.

    Airtable is a great resource especially if you are on the run and need to add somethings on a form when you are away from your main computer.

    One thing to be careful of especially if you are studying catholic is to pay attention to the color of the stole. Certain colors are only used at certain times of the year so that may effect what you are working on.

    1. Thank you for the Airtable feedback, I’m really enjoying it.

      Yes, the liturgical calendar is important to be aware of and I’m glad you brought it up. I’m familiar with it because my husband is an Independent Catholic. I will probably start with one for Ordinary Time, but that will be up to him. I hope to make him a whole collection eventually. I wish I could do Pentecost next since I love the reds and oranges, but it’s not really period as a season. Advent is very important to us, so when I do a second, it’ll probably be for that.

      I appreciate your feedback and encouragement!

  5. I’m impressed by your systematic approach both to the project and this presentation. Keeping the image metadata at the time you collect the image is fantastic, avoiding the frustration of having a great image but no idea where it came from. It will also make a great resource to share with others. Just consider that as you proceed, you may find it necessary to narrow your focus somewhat, so as not to get too far afield or overwhelmed.

    You may be doing this already, but I would definitely recommend researching medieval painting and manuscript illumination of the same period. You will tend to find more formal image analysis in that type of art history. It will help you understand the conventions of how various scenes and individuals were depicted, and it may provide images of period liturgical vestments. Also, illuminators and embroiderers sometimes shared model books or copied from each other, so you may be able to note vectors of particular compositions.

    Speaking of composition, I don’t see it mentioned much in your outline here, and I think the spatial placement of figures is extremely important to consider, as well as relative scale, which you touched on r.e. the small servant. In medieval art, there was a tendency to make important things/people larger rather than observe a consistent sense of scale. A useful way to analyze composition is to draw geometric shapes (triangles, rectangles etc) on top of the image to show groupings of elements (can do on a printout, or a digital image).

    In my observation, medieval art tends to depict Biblical figures in a largely contemporary style of clothing and hair, with the exception of ‘orientalized’ figures like the Magi, and angels, which often have more imaginary/fantasy outfits. I don’t think medieval artists had the concept of depicting people from past eras in a historically accurate way, nor did they have much reference material to pull from, particularly before the return of classical texts to Europe via the Arab world. The Maciejowski Bible aka Morgan Bible is a great example, where everyone in the Old Testament scenes wears standard Norman clothing and armor. (That’s a good one to look at, as it’s close to your time range – 1240-50.). So I wouldn’t assume that Roman/Greek conventions of hair and facial hair are being followed, but rather medieval ones.

    Regarding contests, technique/execution will usually be a major component, especially for embroidery. However, I have certainly judged contests where an entry with decent technique but excellent research, rationale, and period design won over entries with stunning technique but less basis in history.

    Best of luck with your ongoing journey!

    1. What amazing guidance, thank you!

      I considered looking at other medieval imagery in other media and will likely add it eventually, especially as it applies to the spatial placement, scale, and other composition. I was thinking that focusing first on Opus Anglicanum images would be most helpful and help me focus before spreading out. My idea is that the materials are different so the colors, etc that an illuminator would use might be different from what an embroiderer would use. I’d love your thoughts on that.

      Your observation of the mostly contemporary style is definitely what I’m seeing as well, so I’m curious if there will be any outliers. That Bible sounds like a great example, I’ll look into it.

      Thank you!

      1. The question of pigments used for dyes vs paint is an interesting one. Many illumination colors derived from earth pigments (ochre, sienna, umber, terre verte) and stones (lapis/ultramarine, azurite, malachite, hematite, etc), which weren’t used as dye stuffs. However, there were also plant-based pigments, such as woad or indigo and a variety of plants yielding greens and yellows, that were used both in paint and textile dye. “Sap green” (as it’s still known in paint) was literally that, the green juice of various plants (unfortunately, it had a strong tendency to turn brown and/or fade, resulting in a lot of brown landscape paintings from the Renaissance). Ultramarine was a more sought-after blue paint, but woad/ indigo was also used. A whole class of paint pigments called lakes were made by precipitating a dye with a mordant, usually a metallic salt; this includes indigo lake, rose madder lake (from madder), and carmine or crimson lake (from cochineal). Turnsole was a plant used for blues and purples in dye and paint. In textiles, the brightest greens were usually a combination woad/indigo and yellow (such as weld, among many others) overdye.

  6. Greetings! You seem to have organized very well for direction and development of this project. Remember to not lose sight of the original purpose of the embroidery. Every element is integral to the design, subtle (to us) symbology is often woven into small pieces. One thing I like to do with my embroidery is get the cultural context – where is it from, who is it from, who created it, and how did I end up with it (or whomever receives it). The V&A book is excellent, I have it myself. Another book I’ve utilized is Ecclesiastical Embroidery, Beryl Dean. 1958. B.T.Batsford Ltd. London England. V&A has a lovely online archive. As well check with a local or English church or two for resources. This will be a great project when you are complete! Happy to help where I can. Margaret

    1. Thank you for the great insight! I’ll definitely have to get into the cultural context eventually. My thought is to do an overall survey then as I pin down the timeframe for my final piece to focus on those for context and to align with the “backstory” of the stole.

      I’m also looking into the Ecclesiastical Embroidery book, I appreciate the recommendation.

  7. Hi there. I do Opus Anglicanum too. The V&A is the best place to study pieces up and close. I was lucky to pull pieces from the collection and look at them years ago. If you can go there in person, I highly recommend it. The curators are fabulous and helpful. I even have a full scale cartoon of the Roger II of Sicily’s cope. I love doing smaller pieces and most of them I no longer own because I have given them away. Anyhoo – I am happy to help you any way if you want it. Happy stitching!

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