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7 wonders of embroidery

7 wonders of embroidery or complex, odd and designer in one package. Today a few words about old, odd and lost techniques of embroidery – about 7 wonders of embroidery.

For appetiser take a look at Severije Inčirauskaitė-Kriaunevičienė embroidery. She makes seemingly traditional and sensitive pieces of embroidery on old metal objects. An eternal testament to strength and endurance.

1. Oldest embroidery in the world

Some sources claim the origins of embroidery around 30000 BCE but without stating archaeological evidence, although it is possible that prehistoric people had a need to decorate their tools and clothes. In Slovenia, archaeologists found a needle at Potočka zijalka that was dated around 35000 up to 26000 years ago.

Ancient Egyptian needles made from copper and bone in a row
Ancient Egyptian needles

It is far more likely that embroidery is a somewhat later activity. There is evidence from Vlasac in Serbia of embroidery on clothes from 8500 years ago. Perforated carp teeth and snail shells were attached/appliqued to leather garments with animal tissue threads that might be coloured with red ochre. The scientists speculate that the ornaments were attached in such a way tas o form a pattern visible from the back of the individual. As a result of visible wear on the ornaments, it is speculated that the clothing was made for everyday use and not only for burial and that older clothing was reused.

The clothes were probably similar to those in the photo taken in the Natural History Museum in Vienna.

White coat with snails and small pieces attached to the back of the coat
Example of prehistoric embroidery on coat

2. Lost embroidery technique

It seems that sometimes knowledge about embroidery techniques gets lost. This happened with the Hollie point technique.

»Hollie Point or Holy Point was an interesting form of white needlework which is no longer practiced today.« (Marsh, 2017, str. 122)

The technique was most popular in the 18th century for children's clothes, sometimes even for church vestments. Hollie Point technique is very demanding and exacting although only one stitch, namely twisted buttonhole stitch was used. Therefore, only small parts are made in it.

Gail Marsh describes the technique as well as several others, for example, Textile Research Center Leiden.


Embroidered lace is a form of embroidery separated from the surface. To achieve a perforated look buttonhole stitch and its variations are used. Variations of embroidered lace are still used in stumpwork.

Five from the 7 wonders of embroidery left.

3. Pineapple cloth

Pineapple cloth is called piña and is a Philippine traditional fabric. The leaves of the pineapple plant are cleaned and scraped. From the fibres a long thread is spined and the wavers use it for making thin, transparent fabric.

Pineapple was carried to the Philippines by Spaniards, and soon waving industry emerged. In colonial times piña fabric was an important exp for the aristocracy, for example, beautifully embroidered items for ruling houses of Europe. Traditional Pilipino clothes were also made from the fabric

4. 18000 hours for an embroidery piece?

Can you imagine working on one embroidery piece for 748 days, every day all day?

We are talking about Cope of the Virgin from the Golden Fleece vestments. The cope is a part of the collection of Vestments of the Golden Fleece made in today's Neederlands in the 15th century.

»The Liturgical Vestments of the order of the Golden Fleece comprise eight pieces: a chasuble for the priest celebrating mass, a dalmatic and a tunicle for his assistants, and three choir copes, called pluviale. The liturgical vestments are completed by the two antependia or altar hangings…« (The Liturgical Vestments of the Order of the Golden Fleece, 2018, str. 109)

The vestments were made with a goldwork embroidery technique called or nué. The technique is made with gold passing thread that is couched to the base fabric with silk threads in a way that achieved a shaded effect.

Or nue embroidery on a Virgin cope from the Vestments of the Order of Golden Fleece
Virgin cope

Can you imagine sitting at the slate frame and stitching day in and day out for 10 years?

I can't.

The calculation was made if several approximations and with the help of Sara Rickards, an experienced embroiderer and teacher at the RSN.

I asked Sara if she can approximate how much time it would take her to make a 10 by 10 cm square or nué embroidery. I took her medium value of 42 hours and calculated the size of Cope of the Virgin of the Vestments of Golden Fleece and halved that, as only approximately half of the coat is made with or nué.

The surface of the Virgin cope: 42765 cm2

Time to embroider 10 by 10 cm square: 42 hours

Time to embroider half the surface of the cope: about17961 hours

That means 748 days, for the whole 24 hours (roughly 2 years)

If the work would be done only 8 hours a day that would triple the time to finish it: 2245 days - around 6 years.

Detail of Or Nué embroidery from the Virgin cope from the Vestments of the Order of the Golden Fleece
Virgin cope, detail

The speed of work depends on the skill of the worker, the number of stitches, and the size of the passing thread, nonetheless, the number is still very high and I'm thinking the embroiderers must have had a quicker way of making the pieces.


»The Liturgical Vestments of the order of the Golden Fleece comprise eight pieces: a chasuble for the priest celebrating mass, a dalmatic and a tunicle for his assistants, and three choir copes, called pluviale. The liturgical vestments are completed by the two antependia or altar hangings…«(The Liturgical Vestments of the Order of the Golden Fleece, 2018, pp 109)

5. Embroidery and lace are related

Embroidery is the forerunner of lace if we connect the development from surface embroidery to embroidery where some parts of the fabric are cut out, for example, Richelieu embroidery.

 Cut out white embroidery from the book A treatise on lace-making and embroidery, with Barbour's Irish flax thread
Embroidery or lace? photo: Flickr, CC0

photo: Flickr, A treatise on lace-making and embroidery, with Barbour's Irish flax thread

Do you agree?

You might not, and you are not alone. 😊

Lace is basically knotting of threads, and embroidery is sewing threads on an existing fabric.

We are almost at the end of the 7 wonders of embroidery.

6. High-fashion embroidery

The majority of high fashion embroidery on clothes it’s made with the tambour embroidery technique (sometimes called luneville embroidery).

The fabric is tightened on a frame. When the fabric is correctly tightened it sounds like a drum, therefore the name tambour is from the French word for the drum.

Hands working with Tambour hook on embroidery frame
High-fasion embroidery technique, photo: Pexels, Aliona Zueva

For tambour embroidery, a special hook/needle is used with a wooden handle together with pearls, sequins, and threads. One needs both hands for this kind of embroidery. One hand is below the fabric and works with the threads, the other is above the fabric and works with the needle

When learning this technique, it’s important to pay attention to the way we handle the needle and hand coordination. I can hardly wait to learn it.

7. Hand embroidery made with a sewing machine

Paradox? Not in the contemporary world.

Al Aire embroidery is made with an old sewing machine run by hand.

In the sewing machine needle is a transparent almost invisible thread that is used for sewing other threads and ribbons on the base fabric.

For more about Al Aire embroidery look up Dutch Couture Academy and Saskia ter Welle work.


A Potted History of Tambour Beading. (2022). From Hand& Lock:

A-Z of Whitework, The ultimate resource for beginners and experienced needleworkers. (2015). Wellwood: Search Press Limited.

Cristiani, E., & Borić, D. (2012). 8500-year-old Late Mesolithic garment embroidery from Vlasac (Serbia): Technological, use-wear and residue analyses. Journal of Archaeological Science, pp 3450.3469. doi:10.1016/j.jas.2012.05.016

GVE. (13. 5 2021). Vlasac (Serbia) Mesolithic decorative garments. Visited 10. 11 2022 from TRC Leiden:

Marienmantel des Meßornats des Ordens vom Goldenen Vlies (Pluviale) . (not dated).Visited 4. 11 2022 from Kunsthistorishes Museum Wien:

Marsh, G. (2017). 18th Century Embroidery Techniques. Lewes: GMC Publications.

Piña. (25. 3 2022). Visited 10. 11 2022 from Wikipedia:

ter Welle, S. (23. 9 2021). What you want to know about Al Aire Embroidery. Visited 10. 11 2022 from Dutch Couture Embroidery:

The Liturgical Vestments of the Order of the Golden Fleece. (2018). In S. Haag (Ed.), Masterpieces of the Imperial Secular Treasury Vienna, volume 2 (pp 109-123). Vienna: KHM-Museumsverband.

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