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.