opus mariss

Embroidering through Time and Space

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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.


A little something for the Queen


Wool on linen, Bayeux Tapestry stitch embroidery by Mariss Ghijs 2015

Last fall Amie Sparrow https://amiesparrow.wordpress.com/ asked me to collaborate with her on a gift for the then Princess, now Queen of Atantia Esa Kirkepatrike.  Amie asked if I would embroider a slip with Esa’s personal arms to be applied to a German Goller.  Here is the embroidered slip.  The piece is stitched in wool on linen using the Bayeux tapestry stitch.  The yellow wool/silk blend was had spun by Lady Juliana de Chanberrey (MKA Julie Stubbs) http://www.exhaliastudios.com/squirrel/author/exhalia/ and had dyed by Baroness Kaleeb al-Akhdar (MKA Patty Ellison)http://kaleeb.galtham.org/.  The white tummy fur in the lower left was provided by my supervisor Frankie. P1040224 - Copy (2)


T is for Tir-y-don


T is for Tir-y-don embroidered wool on linen. artist Mariss Ghijs 2015

An embroidery inspired by Illuminated manuscripts. I designed this project with the sole purpose of submitting it as my entry into this years Baronial Arts and Sciences champion competition. Tir-y-Don is my local SCA chapter http://www.sca.org/ As such I was more interested in developing an entry that reflects SCA culture, than one that is strictly historically accurate. I knew that I wanted to do an embroidered piece, and that the piece needed to meet the following criteria.
1. It needed to use the traditional baronial colors of red, blue and green, or symbols of the groups arms. that was the requirement for the competition.
2. The Project needed to be quick, I decided to throw my hat in the ring about two and half weeks prior to the event.
3. It should utilize materials I already had on hand. Cause I’m cheap like that.
Looking through my stash, I found a nice selection of wool threads left over from previous projects in the colors I needed. These would be ideal because, wool threads cover a larger area than silk or linen and I would be able to work the design more quickly than if I where using another type of thread.

I have been an admirer of Tanya Bentham’s embroidery  https://opusanglicanum.wordpress.com/  for some time, and thought her style of work would be nice for a quick project. Tanya adapts art work from illuminated manuscripts and medieval architecture and re-imagines them in embroidery.
I thought about using a fanciful dragon or imaginary creature for my piece but none of the ones I looked at felt right. You may be thinking to yourself “well why didn’t you embroider a Finn? It seems like Tir-y-don has a built-in mascot that would fit the bill perfectly.” Its true we do love our Finn in Tir-y-don, but I’m in the middle of two long-term embroidery projects using Finn, the Baronial Cloak project, and an Opus Teutonicum hanging featuring Finn and just felt I needed to do something else. Also while I am inspired by Tanya’s work, I didn’t want this piece to be derivative of her ascetic. While looking at marginalia I realized that I kept coming back to several Illuminated letters and An Embroidered T for Tir-y-don felt right.

d is for david

Initial D: The Anointing of David, Bute Psalter, Illum. ca. 1270-1280, Franco Flemish, Getty Museum Los Angeles CA


Woodcut illustration, four methods of design transfer: Il Burato Libro de Recami, Paginino, Italy 1909- reprint of a embroidery pattern book from 1559

When I came across this Letter D from the Bute Psalter. I knew I had found my inspiration piece. After making a few quick preliminary sketches I settled on a design I liked and transferred the cartoon to the ground fabric using a light box and archival pen. Back lighting a cartoon and then drawing it onto the cloth using an ink pen is one of several period methods of transferring an embroidery design that can be seen here in this wood cut illustration.

After transferring the design  I decided to use the Green for the letter T and pale blue for the block. Both were stitched using laid and couched work. The T was stitched in the Bayeux tapestry stitch, and the blue was couched down using two other shades of blue to make a diapering pattern in the back ground.

Most of the wool used in this piece is Heathway Merino from Tristan Brooks Designs. The blue for the background laid work is a wool silk blend from Caron’s Impressions line. While I have seen no evidence what so ever that medieval spinners spun wool silk blends, I think the sheen difference works really nicely on this piece.

The T was outlined in a pale green using stem stitch and the same pale green, white and Pink wool were used to decorate the body of the Initial using split stitch, stem stitch, and straight stitches.

Growing out of the T is a vine with red seeblatt leaves, four in the gold area and one in the blue for a total of 5 leaves signifying Tir-y-don’s place as the fifth Barony in the Kingdom of Atlantia. The original inspiration piece used a vine with a tri-lobed leaf. I adapted my piece to use the seeblatt leaf from my personal arms.
The yellow background of the vines is laid and couched, again using the Bayeux tapestry stitch and also utilizing stab stitches in undulating waves. Finally I outlined the design in three rows of stem stitch to pull the two sections together visually.

In conclusion I am pleased with how this piece came together. It was nice to take a short break from long-term embroidery to work on something quick and fun. I feel it pays homage to the original illuminated page while still being something unique. At some point in the future I will apply this to something as a slip. I think it might make a nice “book cover” for a tablet or smart phone.  Or maybe a scissor keeper/needle book.

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And sew it begins

I have recently started a large scale Opus Teutonicum project that has been floating around in the back of my mind for a bit.  One of the identifying markers of Opus Teutonicum is the scale of the project.  The extant pieces are to a modern embroiders mind HUGE.  Many of the altar cloths we have are four or five feet wide and twelve feet or longer (yes I said feet) some of the Lenten veils are as big as 9′ x 12′.  I wanted to get a feel for working on a large project, but I am one person and the O.T. embroideries where worked by teams of stitchers. 4’x12′ seemed like a lot to bite off, but a banner sized project in the 3’x 4′ range feels doable.  The next question was, what should I embroider?


Another of the identifying factors of Opus Teutonicum is the imagery used on the textiles these cloths where used as liturgical furnishing, mostly in convents.  They usually feature Roman Catholic religious iconography.  I don’t personally feel that I need, nor particularly want a 3′ x 4′ embroidered image of the crucifixion of Christ. Its just not my thing.  So as a card carrying member of the Society for Creative Anachronism http://www.sca.org/ I thought something pertaining to SCA life might be nice.  I decided to design my project around the secular iconography of my local SCA chapter the Barony of Tir-y-don. http://tirydon.atlantia.sca.org/ Tir-y-don’s baronial arms features a heraldic red dolphin,  we call him Fin. We like him a lot, and think of him as our mascot.  I think Fin should be the central image in my white work banner.

I had a piece of white linen about the size I wanted left over from a previous project, so I squared it up and marked the area that I wanted to be border (I’m going to keep the border design a secret for a bit) leaving me with central rectangle approximately 22″w x32″h. I sketched a dolphin onto drafting velum and when I was happy with the pencil sketch drew over the lines with a black sharpie marker.july182014 random stuff 140 Here he is taped the sliding glass door I use as a light box.

I then had to decide what the best way to transfer the cartoon to my fabric would be.  For white work I prefer to baste the design onto the cloth. I then remove the basting thread when I’m done stitching.  I’ve found that using an archival pen sometimes leaves marks that you can see though the white stitches.  Prick and pounce can smudge and flake off.  Pencil can be both smudgy and leave visible marks on the cloth.  I also wanted this project to be easily packable and portable.  Because of the size of the finished product stitching it onto a stretching frame and basting through the paper wasn’t going to be a practical solution.  Another option would be to use a disappearing marker to transfer the design directly to the cloth.  But, those work best for short term quick projects, and this is a long term project the marks will fade long before I get this one finished.  Water soluble marker might work but I live in coastal Virginia, and its humid here all the time.  Damp air and the moisture from your hands will also fade the ink from those.  I decided that even though it might be a bit more work initially the best way to transfer this design from the paper to the cloth would be to use two steps.  First I used a water soluble marker to transfer the design initially, and then then I basted over those lines with a running stitch.

Fin banner 1 001 Here you can see where I have drawn the design onto the ground cloth using a blue water soluble marker.


Fin banner 1 014
Then used a running stitch in a contrasting color. I used a medium blue mostly because it was the first spool of thread I found.


And then finally I rinsed the blue marker off of the ground cloth. Fin banner 1 018









Now to get stitching.


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

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Central Asian Boar’s Head Project

This project has kind of stalled. Hopefully if I go ahead and post it here as a work in progress it will get moving again.  The original piece dates from the 7th century c.e.  It is a silk on silk embroidery from central Asia, most likely the area where China, Tajikistan and Afghanistan all come together.  It is now in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.  Here is a link to the original piece http://www.metmuseum.org/collections/search-the-collections/72582?img=0


detail view of Textile with Boar’s Head Roundels, silk on silk embroidery, 7th century, central Asia, 22 1/16″ x 18 7/8″. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York accession # 2004.260

Silk on silk embroidery –

for my recreation, I have chosen to use a stranded silk embroidery floss from Needlepoint INC. Silk. I picked this particular silk thread because my local embroidery shop carries this line in a wide variety of colors. I also feel it has a better sheen than Soie d’ Alger.

The colors I am using are:
#565 Iris Blue Range
#352 Pistachio Green Range
#984 Taupe Range
#867 Pumpkin Range
#992 Black & White Range

For the ground fabric I finally settled on a silk Matka in “Oatmeal” from B. Black and sons in Los Angeles. The fabric is amazing and comes in a wide selection of colors. I found that it was a little “soft” for embroidery, and lined it with a linen gauze which gave it the stability needed. Also the fabric has a very soft hand similar to a cotton flannel and you do need to take some care when stitching not to rub against it more than necessary.

cartoon on vellumdesign basted onto ground fabricpaper removed split stich outline
Outlining has begun. Split stitch over the basted design lines. Basting threads are removed after they are stitched over.
starting to fill in colorpositioning lines for peacocks

Starting to fill in the color. Split stitches following the contour of the boar’s head.
The embroidery of the central roundel is finished. I am now moving on to the four peacocks. Here is an image of how I positioned the peacocks in relation to the roundel.
boar with basting lines for peacockfilling in the birds
Outline of one of the four peacocks basted onto the ground fabric.

Starting to fill in the peacock’s body. Again, using split stitch following the contours of the outline.






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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.


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Eyelet of the Beholder


finished 003I made this small pouch last year for an artisans exchange. It is stitched in a stranded silk floss on linen.  The embroidery was inspired by an extant fragment of what was probably an altar frontal. The original in Uppsala Cathedral is stitched in red, blue and yellow silk and metallic gold threads on a linen base cloth.  I changed the colors in my piece, in order to better suit the person it was being made for.  I also made a small change to the motifs, in the original the yellow and blue figures are swastikas.  On the original the difference is subtle. But, when I changed the color- way on mine the black swastikas felt a little too aggressive, so I closed the lower arm off into a loop to make the eagle motif.  I like the way the colors work together, but I think this combination has a more modern than a  “medieval” feel to it.  The entire piece is worked in a pulled eyelet stitch with 16 stitches per eye.

fragment with eyelet embroidery

photo credit -Textile treasures of Uppsala Cathedral_, Agnes Geijer, 1964, plate 49



Getting started, two motifs finished two more in progress. The penny is for scale.  (this photo was taken wrong side up)  The eyeletsare worked on point and called a diamond eyelet stitch.  Each arm of the “point” is worked over four threads with 16 stitches per eyelet. The eyelets are worked as you would a counted stitch, moving your needle through the holes in the warp and weft of the ground cloth. I used a sewing awl to open the center of each eye, before stitching it.  I also found that my tension was more even, if I worked the 4 compass points of the eyelet first, then circled back around and filled the areas in between in on a second pass of each eyelet.progress 2 001






All the colors are in, and the white “paths” are about half way done.  You can really see how the colors work together.   bag 8-4 004



20togo 006  Twenty eyelets left to go.

change of plans 003 I played with the idea of using a metallic thread on the center eyes to give the piece a little sparkle. But I didn’t have the right weight and the gold wasn’t thrilling me either. Silver may have worked better.  I ended up keeping the centers white, like the paths.




All the embroidery finished, and the piece has been flat lined with a piece of violet linen to accentuate the “eyes” .

change of plans 007

















stitching up the edge with an applied braiding stitch.




And the finished pouchfinished 003



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A dozen Spikes for the Queen

Here is a little project I just completed, 12 small embroidered pouches to be donated to the crown of Atlantia for largess. The Spike is my own design. The pouches are linen with cotton embroidery. I used stem stitch and little bit of satin stitch on them.  I included a beginning embroidery kit with each one:  A piece of blue fabric with the same Spike drawn onto it, white embroidery floss,  a small embroidery hoop, a needle, and instructions on how to make a mug cover with their finished piece.