Opus Teutonicum

14th C Whitework Altar Cloth from Kloster Altenberg

Figure from Altar Cloth at the Kloster Altenberg, 14th C


Opus Teutonicum is the name given to the style of whitework embroidery popular in German lands, especially Lower Saxony produced during the 12th, 13th and 14th Centuries. This style of plain embroidery stood in contrast to the golds and silks of opus anglicanum. It has been theorised that opus teutonicum developed because of the cost associated working with silks and gold thread. However, these simpler materials do not detract from the artistry and impact of the whitework embroidery.

The production of this type of embroidery is often associated with the convents and other religious houses of the period. Many fine examples of opus teutonicum survive today. One of the best collections is at the Kloster Lune. Opus Teutonicum items were used in churchs as altar cloths, Lenten veils, frontals and hangings for lecterns.

Design Features

In the 13th Century, linen was a popular ground for much embroidery work and was used in conjunction with white linen thread to produce the works. There was small use of light coloured silks to make highlights on figures. By the second half of the century, the use of coloured silks increased. There were exceptions to this, with the work produced at Kloster Lune worked entirely in linen with no use of silk.

By the 14th Century, there was also an increase in the inclusion of secular motifs in the works. These included non-religious human figures and animals and birds, as well as increasing use of heraldic elements.

Although most numerous in Lower Saxony other areas also produced opus teutonicum works, including Hesse and Westphalia. Those in Westphalia were almost exlusively for lectern hangings, which produced embroideries of up to 4 m (13ft).

Materials Used

Opus Teutonicum was created using white linen thread on white linen ground fabric. Silks and wools of light colours were sometimes used to highlight parts of the design eg the halo of a saint. A variety of techniques were used in German whitework, one involved filling figural or abstract designs with complex geometric patterns created in satin or brick stitches. This added texture to the overall design.

Another stylistic stream found in opus teutonicum is where robust stitches such as buttonhole stitch are used to outline a design. The interior is left plain but the areas outside the outlining stitch are made into a net like design using pulled thread techniques.

13thC Whitework Hanging from Kloster Lune

Figure from Hanging at the Kloster Lune, 13th C

Stitches and Techniques

Extant Pieces of Whitework

Links To Further Information

Sources / Further Reading

  • Bridgeman, Harriet and Drury, Elizabeth, (Eds) Needlework: an illustrated history, (New York: Paddington Press, 1978)

14thC Westphalian Lectern Hanging

Lectern Hanging from Westphalia, late 14th Century