Opus Anglicanum or English work is fine needlework of Medieval England done for ecclesiastical or secular use on clothing, hangings or other textiles, often using gold and silver threads on rich velvet or linen grounds. Such English embroidery was in great demand across Europe, particularly from the late 12th to mid-14th centuries and was a luxury product often used for diplomatic gifts.
Most of the surviving examples of Opus Anglicanum were designed for liturgical use. These exquisite and expensive embroidery pieces were often made as vestments, such as copes, chasubles and orphreys, or else as antependia, shrine covers or other church furnishings. Secular examples, now known mostly just from contemporary inventories, included various types of garments, horse-trappings, book covers and decorative hangings.
Opus Anglicanum was usually embroidered on linen or, later, velvet, in split stitch and couching with silk and gold or silver-gilt thread.  Gold-wound thread, pearls and jewels are all mentioned in inventory descriptions. Although often associated with nunneries, by the time of Henry III (reg. 1216–72), who purchased a number of items for use within his own court and for diplomatic gifting, the bulk of production was in lay workshops, mainly centred in London. The names of various (male) embroiderers of the period appear in the Westminster royal accounts. 
English needlework had become famous across Europe during the Anglo-Saxon period (though very few examples survive) and remained so throughout the Gothic era. A Vatican inventory of 1295 lists over 113 pieces from England, more than from any other country;  a request by Pope Innocent IV, who had envied the gold-embroidered copes and mitres of English priests, that Cistercian religious houses send more is reported by the Benedictine chronicler Matthew Paris of St Albans: "This command of my Lord Pope did not displease the London merchants who traded in these embroideries and sold them at their own price."  The high water mark of style and refinement is normally considered to have been reached in the work of the 13th and early 14th centuries. An influential exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum from September–November 1963 displayed several examples of Opus Anglicanum from this period alongside contemporary works of wood and stone sculpture, metalwork and ivories. 
Survival rates for Opus Anglicanum are low (especially for secular works) as is clear from comparing the large number listed in contemporary inventories with the handful of examples still existing. Sometimes ecclesiastical garments were later modified for different uses, such as altar coverings or book covers. Others were buried with their owners, as with the vestments of the mid-13th century Bishops, Walter de Cantilupe and William de Blois, fragments of which were recovered when their tombs in Worcester Cathedral were opened in the 18th century. The majority however were lost to neglect, destroyed by iconoclasts or else unpicked or burnt to recover the precious metals from the gold and silver threads. Although fragmentary examples can be found in a number of museums, the most important specialised collections of Opus Anglicanum garments are at the Cloisters Museum in New York, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and in the Treasury of Sens Cathedral.
Only a few Anglo-Saxon pieces have survived, including three pieces at Durham that had been placed in the coffin of St Cuthbert, probably in the 930s, after being given by King Athelstan; they were however made in Winchester between 909 and 916. These are works "of breathtaking brilliance and quality", according to Wilson, including figures of saints, and important early examples of the Winchester style, though the origin of their style is a puzzle; they are closest to a wall-painting fragment from Winchester, and an early example of acanthus decoration.  The earliest group of survivals, now re-arranged and with the precious metal thread mostly picked out, are bands or borders from vestments, incorporating pearls and glass beads, with various types of scroll and animal decoration. These are probably 9th century and now in a church in Maaseik in Belgium.  A further style of textile is a vestment illustrated in a miniature portrait of Saint Aethelwold in his Benedictional, which shows the edge of what appears to be a huge acanthus "flower" (a term used in several documentary records) covering the wearer's back and shoulders. Other written sources mention other large-scale compositions. 
One particularly fine example is The Adoration of the Magi chasuble from c. 1325 in red velvet embroidered in gold thread and pearls at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. It depicts a nativity scene with emphasis on decorative motifs, flowers, animals, birds, beasts, and angels. The Butler-Bowden Cope at the Victoria and Albert Museum is another surviving example; the same collection has a late cope made for a set of vestments given by Henry VII to Westminster Abbey.
There are two beautiful examples of Opus Anglicanum, which came as the end pieces of an altarpendium (antependium)in the care of the Bern Historical Museum in Switzerland. A detailed example of the stitching is shown to the right.
Embroidery is the craft of decorating fabric or other materials using a needle to apply thread or yarn. Embroidery may also incorporate other materials such as pearls, beads, quills, and sequins. In modern days, embroidery is usually seen on caps, hats, coats, overlays, blankets, dress shirts, denim, dresses, stockings, and golf shirts. Embroidery is available in a wide variety of thread or yarn colour.
A needlework sampler is a piece of embroidery or cross-stitching produced as a 'specimen of achievement', demonstration or a test of skill in needlework. It often includes the alphabet, figures, motifs, decorative borders and sometimes the name of the person who embroidered it and the date. The word sampler is derived from the Latin exemplum, which means 'example'.
The cope is a liturgical vestment, more precisely a long mantle or cloak, open in front and fastened at the breast with a band or clasp. It may be of any liturgical colour.
Backstitch or back stitch and its variants stem stitch, outline stitch and split stitch are a class of embroidery and sewing stitches in which individual stitches are made backward to the general direction of sewing. In embroidery, these stitches form lines and are most often used to outline shapes and to add fine detail to an embroidered picture. It is also used to embroider lettering. In hand sewing, it is a utility stitch which strongly and permanently attaches two pieces of fabric. The small stitches done back-and-forth makes the back stitch the strongest stitch among the basic stitches. Hence it can be used to sew strong seams by hand, without a sewing machine.
Anglo-Saxon art covers art produced within the Anglo-Saxon period of English history, beginning with the Migration period style that the Anglo-Saxons brought with them from the continent in the 5th century, and ending in 1066 with the Norman Conquest of England, whose sophisticated art was influential in much of northern Europe. The two periods of outstanding achievement were the 7th and 8th centuries, with the metalwork and jewellery from Sutton Hoo and a series of magnificent illuminated manuscripts, and the final period after about 950, when there was a revival of English culture after the end of the Viking invasions. By the time of the Conquest the move to the Romanesque style is nearly complete. The important artistic centres, in so far as these can be established, were concentrated in the extremities of England, in Northumbria, especially in the early period, and Wessex and Kent near the south coast.
Mary "May" Morris was an English artisan, embroidery designer, jeweller, socialist, and editor. She was the younger daughter of the Pre-Raphaelite artist and designer William Morris and his wife and artists' model, Jane Morris.
In embroidery, couching and laid work are techniques in which yarn or other materials are laid across the surface of the ground fabric and fastened in place with small stitches of the same or a different yarn.
Goldwork is the art of embroidery using metal threads. It is particulary prized for the way light plays on it. The term "goldwork" is used even when the threads are imitation gold, silver, or copper. The metal wires used to make the threads have never been entirely gold; they have always been gold-coated silver or cheaper metals, and even then the "gold" often contains a very low percent of real gold. Most metal threads are available in silver and sometimes copper as well as gold; some are available in colors as well.
Early medieval European dress, from about 400 AD to 1100 AD, changed very gradually. The main feature of the period was the meeting of late Roman costume with that of the invading peoples who moved into Europe over this period. For a period of several centuries, people in many countries dressed differently depending on whether they identified with the old Romanised population, or the new populations such as Franks, Anglo-Saxons, Visigoths. The most easily recognisable difference between the two groups was in male costume, where the invading peoples generally wore short tunics, with belts, and visible trousers, hose or leggings. The Romanised populations, and the Church, remained faithful to the longer tunics of Roman formal costume, coming below the knee, and often to the ankles. By the end of the period, these distinctions had finally disappeared, and Roman dress forms remained mainly as special styles of clothing for the clergy – the vestments that have changed relatively little up to the present day.
The Felbrigge Psalter is an illuminated manuscript Psalter from mid-13th century England that has an embroidered bookbinding which probably dates to the early 14th century. It is the oldest surviving book from England to have an embroidered binding. The embroidery is worked in fine linen with an illustration of the Annunciation on the front cover and an illustration of the Crucifixion on the back.
In needlework, a slip is a design representing a cutting or specimen of a plant, usually with flowers or fruit and leaves on a stem. Most often, slip refers to a plant design stitched in canvaswork (pettipoint), cut out, and applied to a woven background fabric. By extension, slip may also mean any embroidered or canvaswork motif, floral or not, mounted to fabric in this way.
The Butler-Bowden Cope is a cope in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum. It derives its name from the family who owned it for several centuries. It dates from 1330 to 1350 and shows scenes from the Life of the Virgin with Apostles and saints, embroidered with silver, silver-gilt thread and silk, on a rich crimson velvet. This was the ideal base for the high quality English embroidery which was much coveted by the most powerful people in Europe including kings and popes, and was used as a forceful visual statement of their wealth and status.
English embroidery includes embroidery worked in England or by English people abroad from Anglo-Saxon times to the present day. The oldest surviving English embroideries include items from the early 10th century preserved in Durham Cathedral and the 11th century Bayeux Tapestry, if it was worked in England. The professional workshops of Medieval England created rich embroidery in metal thread and silk for ecclesiastical and secular uses. This style was called Opus Anglicanum or "English work", and was famous throughout Europe.
Byzantine silk is silk woven in the Byzantine Empire (Byzantium) from about the fourth century until the Fall of Constantinople in 1453.
The Steeple Aston Cope is a cope made between 1320 and 1340. It is notable for being one of the few surviving examples of English medieval embroidery, and is the earliest known depiction of a lute in England. It was made with silk, silver and gold threads.
Louisa Pesel (1870–1947) was an English embroiderer, educator and textile collector. She was born in Bradford, and studied textile design at the National Art Training School, causing her to become interested in decorative stitchery. She served as the Director of the Royal Hellenic School of Needlework and Lace in Athens, Greece from 1903-1907. Pesel served as the first President of the Embroiderers' Guild. She produced samplers for the Victoria and Albert (V&A) Museum and cushions, kneelers, alms bags and a lectern carpet for Winchester Cathedral. She collected textiles extensively, and following her death in Winchester in 1947, her collection went to the University of Leeds.
Bed hangings or bed curtains are fabric panels that surround a bed; they were used from medieval times through to the 19th century. Bed hangings provided privacy when the master or great bed was in a public room, such as the parlor. They also kept warmth in, and were a way of showing one's wealth. When bedrooms became more common in the mid-1700s, the use of bed hangings diminished.
Audrey Walker was an accomplished textile artist, embroiderer and teacher, who was active from the 1970s and 1990s in United Kingdom. Walker became known for developing an innovative style of embroidery based on fine threads applied by machine and by hand, to create striking figurative wall-hung works of art. Walker described her work as evolving from fairly fluid ideas, and the process as being akin to drawing with fabrics.
Winsome Douglas (1919-2016) was a British embroiderer and teacher active in the United Kingdom in the 1950s and 1960s. She was born in Hartlepool in County Durham in 1919, and died at the age of 97 on 28 December 2016 in Hartlepool.
Grace Christie (1872–1953) was an English embroiderer, teacher and historian of embroidery who published a comprehensive work on opus anglicanum in 1938, documenting every known example. "She is regarded as one of the most influential people in the early twentieth century with respect to the development of embroidery and embroidery studies in Britain and elsewhere."