Detail of Vestments of Order of the Golden Fleece

Close Up of Vestments of the Order of the Golden Fleece,
Polychrome Silk and Gold, 14th Century


As with other countries in Europe, one of the biggest producers and consumers of embroidery was the Church. It was also used in secular settings for domestic furnishings. Large hangings, and other textiles served not only as decorative features but helped to keep large halls and castles warm in the winter months.

The techniques used in the regions of France was similar to that of other parts of Europe, in the 11th Century, point couché or couched work was in wide use. In the 12th and 13th Centuries, use of gold and silk was widespread. By the 15th Century, France had given the world a new embroidery term, or nué or shaded gold (where coloured silk was used to produce shading over gold thread), which, when combined with point fendu or split stitch produced some of the most impressive embroidery work of the pre-modern period.

Most embroidery of the Middle Ages was dominated by figural work, with Bible stories being a source of constant inspiration as were the great romances of the time. Unfortunately, due to losses in war, and religious turmoil, little embroidery from this period remains. One of the earliest is a fragment from the grave of a Frankish noble dating from the 7th or 8th Century. Polychrome silk is used to represent a series of necklaces on a linen tunic. It is often refered to as the tunic of Queen Bathilde.

Another set of early embroideries are a collection of textiles attributed to St Thomas a Beckett held by Sens Cathedral. Very little secular embroidery survives, except for a small collection of 14th Century purses or aumônières.


Some Extant Examples