Opus Anglicanum and Underside Couching

Chasuble decorated with Opus Anglicanum, early 14th century, Britain. Chasuble decorated with Opus Anglicanum, early 14th century, Britain. Courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, acc. no. 27.162.1.

Opus anglicanum is a form of metal thread and silk embroidery carried out in England during the later medieval period. For the production of opus anglicanum, two or three main layers of cloth were used, firstly a strong, linen lining and secondly a ground material. If a velvet was used, a third layer of cloth was used  with a design drawn upon it. This was placed over the velvet and tacked in place.

After placing the layers of cloth, embroidery could commence. The gold threads were made from fine strips of tin covered with gold leaf and spun around a yellow silk core (see passing).

Underside couching for opus anglicanum was a technique whereby the gold thread was laid on the surface of the two or three layers of cloth and held taut (either in the hand or on a frame). A linen thread was then brought up through the layers of cloth and allowed to encircle the metal thread lying on the top. The linen thread was returned to the back of the layers through the same hole. The linen thread was pulled gently until a loop of gold thread appeared on the back of the linen layer. Any of the thin, third layer of cloth that was not covered with stitching was cut away when the embroidery was completed.

This technique is characterised by the linen couching thread not appearing on the surface of the ground material. Instead it takes the form of long threads on the back of the ground material layers. Because the linen secures the thread on the reverse it is protected from surface wear, which means this type of embroidery does not wear out as quickly as normal (surface) couching. In addition, the loops of gold thread on the back of the layers act like a series of small hinges, giving the embroidery a pliability that allows a finished garment to hang in gentle folds.

See also: burse panel.


  • SYNGE, Lanto (2001). Art of Embroidery: History of Style and Technique, London: The Royal School of Needlework/Antique Collectors’ Club, pp. 40-52.
  • YOUNG, Bonnie (March 1971). 'Opus Anglicanum,' The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, New Series, 29.7, p. 293.

Metropolitan Museum of Art online catalogue (retrieved 18 June 2016).


Last modified on Sunday, 05 February 2017 18:41
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