Opus Anglicanum by Tanya Bentham – A Review

Pages: 208
Published: 2021

Since my early teens I’ve been fascinated by textiles, although I realised only recently that it was a fascination. I taught myself to knit, crochet, cross-stitch, make clothes and make lace. Sadly, my needlework teacher at school was less than encouraging and, fifty years later, I still believe that I can’t do embroidery. When I bought this book, therefore, it was not with the idea of making any of the projects or even trying to sew in the style of Opus Anglicanum. I bought it to look at the pictures and to read about the techniques.

It is a beautiful book, designed to take a beginner in this style of embroidery to a fairly advanced point. There are eleven step by step projects, each introducing new techniques and getting progressively more difficult. Bentham works her pieces in shimmering silk thread and writes about how important the silk is and how it captures and reflects the light and the illustrations moslty capture this.

I haven’t read it from cover to cover, but I have looked at every picture and diagram on every page and they are worth looking at. Opus Anglicanum, as the name implies, originated in England. It was a style of embroidery that was prized all over Europe from the twelfth to the mid-fourteenth century. Tanya Bentham designs and teaches embroidery pieces based on originals from this period. Some of the designs in this book are more or less straight copies; others, such as the princess with a frog/ handsome prince in her hand or the woman taking a selfie, are adaptations.

There isn’t much history about Opus Anglicanum, but that’s because this is a practical book. Bentham’s enthusiasm for her subject shines through on every page. It was a brave decision by her publisher to allow her to write in her own chatty voice and I can see that this might annoy some readers. I’m not sure how much I would enjoy it if I were working through a whole project. She describes herself at one point as a mum chastising a teenager and there are notes throughout the book in which she says she is nagging the reader, because there’s something she doesn’t want them to forget.

I must repeat that I haven’t tried any of these projects, so I don’t know how useful the book is in teaching the necessary techniques. I can say that it looks as if it would set an embroiderer on the right path. The photographs are great and very clear. There are also complete lists of the supplies needed for each project, including the sizes and types of needles required.

Once you’ve finished the embroidery, there are instructions for what to do next, whether mounting it as a picture or turning it into an aumoniere (a medieval purse). There are templates for all the projects at the back of the book.

So, has this book made me want to try Opus Anglicanum? No. There are other embroidery styles I would rather try before Opus Anglicanum. It’s beautiful, but it’s not really me. Do I regret buying the book? No. I  love picking it up and looking at the pictures and reading a bit about the techniques.

April Munday is the author of the Soldiers of Fortune and Regency Spies series of novels, as well as standalone novels set in the fourteenth century.

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14 responses to “Opus Anglicanum by Tanya Bentham – A Review

  1. My Mum used to do embroidery but I never got into it, I think it’s beautiful done well, glad people are still doing it.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. My sister used to love counted cross stitch. Was very meticulous and the backs were as beautiful as the fronts.

    I don’t see how embroiderers find the patience for it. I’m thrilled to be able to add a buttonhole to my husband’s shirt. Anything else is for the pros! 😫

    But embroidery is so fascinating as it is a skill women dominated, and they were frequently simply magnificent! All done by hand and WITHOUT eyeglasses!

    I like looking at samplers made by little girls. One can see when a girl loved what she did. But I presume more than a few girls considered needlework an oppressive onus. Had I lived in medieval times I would have probably been beaten for lassitude and clumsiness. 😒

    Liked by 2 people

    • I like to make reproduction samplers, but I’m really into lace at the moment. Probably I would have been fine with medieval embroidery. I was short-sighted for most of my life, so close work would have suited me. Now that my eyes are becoming more long-sighted, it’s more of a problem.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I love to embroider, but the greatest leap in my personal skill, took place simply observing and asking questions of a cross-stitcher who used various thread counts, various textiles and sizes of needles for her creations, many of which had the depth of artistry etc., such as pictured in this post – just playing with various thickness/textiles in embroidery piece could change the whole thing – and here I had been using DMC threads, split 6 into strands of 2 each – (it was like being given a box of 64 crayons after spending your lifetime coloring pictures with the basic box of 8) LOL

    Liked by 2 people

    • Last year I started using silk for my cross stitch and it was like starting a different craft. I’m also using much higher counts of linen. My current piece is on 46 count.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Wow! I’m hoping, next winter, to dive into using 1/4″ ribbon (I have so many cones of it, from back when I made doll clothes to earn money on the side) and I scored a book off ‘donation only’ sales table that is about nothing, but doing embroidery/tapestry work using ribbons – should be an adventure – and ya know? The bigger needle seems easier to thread as my eyes and fingers age – LOL

        Liked by 2 people

  4. I love embroidery…the texture of it…but I have not the patience and also some trauma from being forced to do it in school!Sounds like an interesting book, I’ll pass it on the a friend who makes costumes and does Viking cos plays. She’ll love it.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. Thanks for the honest review, April. Sounds like a fascinating book! I taught myself embroidery as a kid, and I remember having so much fun trying out the various types of stitches.

    Liked by 2 people

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