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A Stitch Out of Time

Medieval Embroidery for the Modern Era

Pattern H: A Reliquary Bag Fragment.

German Date:
Place of origin:
Current location:
14th Century.
Cathedral of Merseburg.
Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Dress and Textiles Department, Frame I-8, Cat. # 8646-1863.

Physical description:

This is without a doubt the most complex of the examples I am graphing here. This complexity stems from the fact that unlike the other examples, there is no simple repeating pattern to this piece. I have had to graph pretty much the whole thing for you.

Perhaps surprisingly, considering the wealth of embroidery on this piece, the fragment measures only four and three-quarters inches high by three and a quarter inches wide. It is decorated with a complex interlace lattice, separating a series of panels containing heraldic designs. Thought by the museum to have once been part of a bag containing relics, this piece is now badly worn and faded. With the exception of the gilt and silver strip that still survives, none of the remaining colors can be reliably identified, with one possible exception.

On the original piece there are several areas where the embroidery material has disappeared completely. I originally speculated that it might be due to gold work being picked out to be reused, but in at least one case the foreground pattern is done in gilt strip. It now seems likely to me that the missing material rotted away over the years, possibly because the dye or mordant used damaged the silk. The most likely original color for these areas would then be black, as this color used such damaging chemicals. Another piece from this period shows a similar deterioration, where the black silk embroidery has partially rotted away[12].

The thumbnail sketch below shows the layout of the heraldic designs on the original piece.



-Evenweave linen fabric, 51 threads per inch.
-Gilt strip, Silver strip. -Colored silk floss (Colors too faded to match).

Scan of a color photo of the piece

Pattern Y004A
Y009A.JPG, 605k
Also available: Y009A.PDF, 742k
The embroidery pattern part 1.

Pattern Y004A
Y009B.JPG, 746k
Also available: Y009B.PDF, 148k
The embroidery pattern part 2.

Pattern Y004A
Y009C.JPG, 688k
Also available: Y009C.PDF, 164k
The embroidery pattern part 3.
Pattern Y004A
Y009D.JPG, 758k
Also available: Y009D.PDF, 170k
The embroidery pattern part 4.
REL1C.GIF, 86k
This is a scan of an example of the stitch.(1st of 3 files)
REL2C.GIF, 97k
(2nd of 3files)


(3rd of 3 files)

Scan of a portion of a project in work


[12] Marie Schuette and Sigrid Muller-Christensen, The Art of Embroidery. trans. by Donald King. (London: Thames and Hudson, 1964), Page 110, Plate 177. Page 308, para 177.