opus mariss

Embroidering through Time and Space

Leave a comment

Tassels don’t have to be hassles


Embroidered Pouch – silk and metal thread on canvas, French 14th century, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York accession# 46.156.34

I honestly don’t remember when I first learned to make tassels. I have vivid memories of my sister and I wrapping lengths of yarn around the front side of cassette cases ( I’m showing my age here, are those even a thing anymore). Tying them, cutting them off, and then forming the head with with bits of burlap we had cut into strips. I don’t recall what that project was, but I am sure whatever it was we decorated with those tassels was fabulous.

I used the same basic idea to make the tassels for this pouch. Inspired by this bag at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Most of the remaining tassels from this period are made with Turk’s Head Knot’s or similar type knot forming the top of the tassel. This particular pouch is a bit unusual because the tassel heads are wrapped and then couched with metallic cord.

tassel detail

Detail view of tassels

You might notice that the four remaining tassels on this bag are all different colors. I think that there was probably a fifth one in the center of the pouch at one time. Using unmatched tassels seems to be fairly standard. In this case the threads used are obviously the same color as the embroidery. And the red color used to make the tassel head are the same as the red in the main body of the pouch as well.

I used the same green in both the body of the pouch and one of the tassels that I made. The red and yellow are the same as well. But I used a different blue. I had originally ordered the bright blue for my piece but decided that it was a bit strong for the other colors. It works well in the tassels though.

Unfortunately this was the best image I could get of the tassels from the extant piece. Its a little bit out of focus but, you can still tell that the tops are made by wrapping red silk thread around a core and then stitching gold cording around the sewn ball. I’ve photographed the process for you.






Step 1- find some thing the length you want your tassel. You can also cut a piece of stiff cardboard to the size you want. I used a gift card for these tassels. Cut a length of yarn or thread, long enough to tie some knots in. This will be the hanger for the tassel so make it a little longer than you think you will need. Run it across your template.


Step 2- starting at the bottom of your template wrap the yarn or thread for your tassel completely around the card. If you are making more than one tassel write down how many times you wrapped your yarn. Wiggle your perpendicular cord up to the top of the template. When you are done wrapping, tie a square knot at the top of the tassel and carefully cut the threads at the bottom of the template. Then use one of the cords from the tassel body to make a half-hitch knot to form a little head at the top of the tassel.


Step 3- make a roll of linen the width you want and stitch it around the head of your tassel. Run a couple of stitches through the tassel to help keep it in place.


Step 4- wrap the linen cloth with silk thread in your choice of color. Use a few tacking stitches to help hold it in place if needed.


Your tassel should now look something like this. These tassels aren’t hard to make but a third hand would be useful. If you plan to make a lot of them you might want to rig up some kind of a jig to hold the tassel while you stitch.

Step 5- the last step is to couch a decorative cord, or thread around the head of the tassel. I couched mine in a spiral pattern, but use your imagination.

completed tassel for my heraldic pouch


1 Comment

Chain Stitch

This past weekend I taught an embroidery class for beginning embroiders. They asked for a pictorial tutorial for chain and stem stitch. I am going to post chain stitch today and will add the stem stitch later this evening or tomorrow.

For this tutorial I will be working the chain stitch in what is called reverse chain stitch.  I think its easier to control the size and tension  of the stitch especially for new embroiderers.


STEP ONE- take a tiny little straight stitch, ideally only as wide as the thread you are stitching with. If you stitch is bigger DONT PANIC you are new to this and your stitches will get smaller with practice.


STEP TWO – Bring your needle back up to the front of your cloth and carefully run it between the tiny little stitch you just took and your fabric.



STEP THREE – Insert your needle back into the hole you just came up through. Now pull it through to the back side of your cloth. You have just made your first link.










Now continue repeating Steps 3 & 4, using the last loop you made to hold your new loop.









for those of you doing the class project it should look something like this when you get done with your chain stitch. Don’t worry if your stitches are different sizes from mine. Your project is a unique work of art and reflects where you are in your embroidery journey.

Leave a comment

Stitches from Altenburg – the Tiger Stag



linen on linen “Tiger-Stag” based on an altar cloth from Altenburg an der Lahn Kloster adapted and stitched by Mariss Ghijs



linen on linen, embroidered Atlantian Spyke with double interlaced herringbone border designed and stitched by Mariss Ghijs.

I’ve been working on examining five extant textiles produced at the Altenburg an der Lahn Premonstratensian Kloster between about 1200 and 1400.  This little guy is taken from an altar cloth http://www.clevelandart.org/art/1948.352 now in the Cleveland Museum of Arts collection.  He is stitched using Brick Stitch, Chain Stitch, Counted Satin Stitch, and a variation of Interlaced Herringbone Stitch.  This is the Stitch sample for the class I’ve been teaching about this particular altar cloth, and the stitches that are used on it.  Most of the stitches used on the original piece are your basic simple stitches but the interlacing stitch used is one I hadn’t seen before.  I am pretty familiar with the standard Interlaced Herringbone stitch seen here.


Detail view altar Cloth Germany, linen on linen embroidery, Altenberg on the Lahn, Premonstratensian Convent, 14th century Date: c. 1350. Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland Ohio Accession No.: 1948.352

The IHbS is used throughout the middle ages as both a surface stitch and as an insertion stitch in seams of garments. The extant St. Birgitta’s cap is an example that uses a quadruple herringbone pattern that is then interlaced.  The border on the example with Spyke is the simplest of the interlaced herringbone patterns, using a double herringbone stitch for the base.  If you are interested in leaning how to do the IHb stitch I would highly recommend visiting http://www.needlenthread.com/ and following her links to the tutorial there.  Its one of the best I’ve seen and she has a down load available that will teach you everything you could possible want to learn about the stitch.  Modernly the IHbS is still used in many parts of the world, Kutch embroidery of India is one example.  But when I really looked at the Cleveland piece I realized that the border was not the traditional IHbS.  If you look at the Spyke on the right you will see that the “tabs” are set up in pairs, each pair opposite of each other.  In the Cleveland altar cloth the “tabs” alternate.

I was perplexed and spent hours trying to figure out how the grid and interlacing pattern worked.  It finally came to me, the grid is not a herringbone stitch, the grid is 2/3rds of a Maltese Cross stitch. Once I figured that out, it became fairly easy to graph out the pattern.   Below is a step by step tutorial on how to work this Interlaced stitch.

herringbone variation 1Step 1- building your grid. The grid can be as long or as short as you need it to be, I made my boxes about the width of the nail on my pinky finger, but I would highly recommend working this larger the first couple of times you try. So, that you can really see what you are doing. THE NEXT BIT IS VERY IMPORTANT – the long legs of your grid MUST match, top and bottom in their overs and unders. If they don’t, you wont be able to weave the finishing row into the grid correctly, and all your work will have to be undone.  This isn’t that big of a deal when you only have a few boxes while practicing.  But believe me when you are working an entire border and realize after you are done that you made a mistake halfway through…

Step 1 part 2 – after you finish making your  grid lines you will weave one final long stitch back into the bars to make 2 rows of boxes.





Step 1 part 1 – building your grid: don’t forget to make sure your vertical stitches match top and bottom in how they go over and under the horizontal stitches.


Step 1 part 2: weave the last stitch back through the middle of your grid.










Step 2 – Lacing the First pass.

bring your lacing thread up under your center grid line just past the first top box, this will hide your stopping starting point.  bring your thread under the long vertical stitch and then over the first shorter vertical stitch.  Then work your way around the corners of the square weaving your interlacing thread around the grid you built, in step one.


Step 2 – getting started, remember to hide your start point under the center grid line.


Step 2- continue weaving your lacing thread around the legs of the top row of boxes. You will need to make 2 over and 2 unders in a row when transitioning from one box to another. This will seem weird, but it will work out in the end.









Step 2 – the second pass  Once you have finished the top row finish the last box and keep weaving your lacing thread through into the bottom row.  Here is where the double overs and unders will work themselves out.


Second pass – coming around the corner


Finally you should have a row of interlaced boxes like this one. Stop your stitch by bringing your needle back to the underside of the cloth and the place you started. This way it will be hidden under your grid, and invisible to the eye.


Like many compound stitches it seems difficult at first, but once you have your AH-HA moment the pattern will become fairly simple to work.  I hope you enjoy and use this unusual stitch from Altenburg.


Stitches from Altenberg – open chain stitch

This is another tutorial for the embroidery class I am teaching, utilizing stitches found on altar cloths embroidered by the nuns of the Altenberg on Lahn convent in Germany. Chain stitches are used in several of the extant textiles dating from the 13th and 14th centuries. In particular this Lenten veil is stitched almost completely in chain stitch.  This cloth is currently in the collection of the Cleveland Museum of Art in Cleveland Ohio here is a link to learn more about it.  http://www.clevelandart.org/art/1948.352?collection_search_query=altar+cloth&op=search&form_build_id=form-3GLIcR92Z9MhgpJjasMJi92ZrM0m3mv5ZIlnZmWFnsE&form_id=clevelandart_collection_search_form

cleveland altar cloth

Altar Cloth Germany, linen on linen embroidery, Altenberg on the Lahn, Premonstratensian Convent, 14th century Date: c. 1350. Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland Ohio Accession No.: 1948.352

Here is a close up detail of the same cloth, you can easily see the open chain stitches used to outline the beast.


Detail view -Altar Cloth Germany, linen on linen embroidery, Altenberg on the Lahn, Premonstratensian Convent, 14th century Date: c. 1350. Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland Ohio Accession No.: 1948.352

Open Chain Stitch also called Ladder Stitch

Chain stitch is a very easy stitch to learn and I personally feel that it is one of the basic stitches that every embroider should know. It can be used for outlining a design and also for filling areas. The look of the stitch can be altered by changing the width of the legs. It works well on both straight lines and in curves. It is a very popular stitch and the basic chain stitch can easily be altered to make more complicated stitches such as heavy chain, Hungarian braided chain. and couched chain. I work my chain stitches in reverse, I think it gives me more control over the placement of my stitches.

For Open Chain also known as Ladder stitch start by making 2 tiny stitches parallel to each other the width you want your line to be.     july182014 random stuff 101

Next bring you needle up from the under side of the fabric and gently thread it between your stitches and the cloth. 

Draw your thread through the two stitches and take your needle back down to the under side of cloth parallel to where you came up at.
july182014 random stuff 109
Pull to adjust your tension.

Repeat these two steps as needed.
july182014 random stuff 121


july182014 random stuff 124  It should look something like this.   The back will look like this.  july182014 random stuff 125

Here is a detail view of Open Chain used in the project for the class I am teaching.

july182014 random stuff 007

Leave a comment

Stitches from Altenburg -counted cloud stitch

I would like to expand and clarify some of the material that I covered in my recent Stitches from Altenburg class at University of Atlantia. For anyone reading this post, that did not take the class. Over the last 6-9 months or so I have been studying Five extant Liturgical embroideries from the German convent Altenburg on the Lahn. My research has concentrated on how these textiles relate to the greater body of linen embroideries known as Opus Teutonicum. These five embroidered textiles from Altenburg are all stitched with linen thread on a linen background and date from between about 1250 to 1350 ce.  As part of my research I have charted the counted fill stitches used on one of the altar cloths from the convent, and made a small sampler project in order to share some of what I have learned with other embroiderers.

altar cloth 1

Sophia, Hadewigis, Lucardis Altar Cloth. Altenburg on Lahn Convent, German, ca.1320-1350, linen embroidery on linen cloth, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, New York. accession number 29.87

The Altar cloth is now in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City and you can see it by following this link. http://www.metmuseum.org/collection/the-collection-online/search/466843 The stitches that I taught in the class are all found on this cloth with the exception of the Ladder stitch which is found on a cloth that is part of the Cleveland Museum of Fine Arts Collection. http://www.clevelandart.org/art/1948.352?collection_search_query=altar+cloth&op=search&form_build_id=form-wCfOjt3xe3Mh5n2vxvYYlb9ucwikaMBd17SZDs2qqBw&form_id=clevelandart_collection_search_form



Counted Cloud stitch is a lovely couched fill stitch. It is very easy and quick to work once you have figured out the pattern. One of its main features is an extremely efficient use of materials, almost all of the thread for the stitch is on top of the fabric. In addition you can very easily change the look of the stitch, by changing the number, size and placement of your “holding” stitches.

Step 1. making a grid of holding stitches. I chose to use 2 stitches that are 3 threads long, then counted over 7 thread for the next set of straight stitches.  For the second row I counted down 4 threads and centered first 2 holding stitches half way between the stitches in the first row.  In order to center your second row of holding stitches remember that if you have chosen an even number of straight stitches you will need to count over an uneven number of threads.  And, if you chose to make an uneven number of straight stitches you will want to leave an even number of threads in the space between.  This will allow you to center the next row correctly.


the back of your piece will look like this.
Step 2. Once you have stitched your holding grid it is time to start threading your couched thread.

Run your needle under the first set of holding stitches ( you want to keep your needle under the stitches but above the ground cloth.

drop down to the second row and thread your needle under the first set of holder stitches in that row.

pull your thread through

go back up to the second set of holders in the first row and repeat.



when you reach the end of your row you should have a couched thread that makes a zig zag between the first and second rows.


Step 3. the return trip.  Bring you needle to the under side of the fabric and then come back up again at the end of your third horizontal row of holding stitches.


Continue until your area if filled.