A webbed version of a handout from a class taught at U. of A. LVIII; this also appears as an article in the July Midwinter Coronation issue of the newsletter of the Worshipful Company of Embroiderers of Lochac.

Most of the examples of klosterstickerei are from northern Germany in the 14th and 15th centuries, where they were designed by professional artists and embroidered by nuns in convents in Lower Saxony (Kurth 1813).

A few of the surviving 14th century kloster embroideries are from southern Germany; such examples tend to have clearer forms, and a freer style of drawing (Kurth 1814). One of the more well-known examples of these southern German kloster embroideries is the Malterer Hanging, made in the early 14th century for the Malterer family.

During the later 15th and 16th centuries, the style was adopted by the embroiderers of Zürich, often on the theme of Weiberlisten (women's wiles) or showing the family tree of a notable individual or saint. These Swiss embroideries are fairly different, stylistically speaking, from the 14th and 15th century kloster embroideries on which this class is focusing, but should be mentioned as an additional avenue for researh for those who are interested in these techniques but are interested in pursuing a different style.

The majority of the kloster embroideries are long narrow pieces, made to hang along a wall in a home or behind the choir stall of a church (Kurth 1813), or for covering the backs of benches or pews (Jones 109). They are embroidered in worsted wools on coarse linen.

The designs tend to feature heraldic escutcheons, generally that of the owner or donor (or donors). The heraldry is not the focus of design; generally the heraldry appears along the sides or in the borders.

The central figures of the kloster embroideries are generally human. In some cases, the embroidery depicts scenes from a story, whether from court poetry (as the Tristan hangings) or the lives of saints (as the hangings with the stories of St. Thomas and St. Elizabeth, both at the convent of Wienhausen). One early 14th century kloster embroidery features pictures of the biblical prophets, within a border of heraldic escutcheons.

In some cases, it is simply a series of scenes of lovers, generally lovers from poetry and legend, though the couples are not always identified (via inscriptions), nor are they easy for the modern viewer to identify. A fairly identifyable and common motif among kloster embroideries of this type is Phyllis riding Aristotle's back, which would have been familiar as a reference to the 13th century Lai d'Aristote; see Bagley's "Study & Love" for additional information and various depictions of this scene.

Each of these scenes is generally compartmented -- in the case of the Malterer Hanging, in a sort of quatrefoil; one of the Tristan hangings separates segments of the narrative with rows of lettering; an early 14th century example sets each figure in an eight-lobed outline (with inscriptions all the way around); a Bavarian piece from the later 14th century arranges each scene in a circle which also has inscriptions.

The background space is generally a solid color, often with birds or floral/foliate patterns in the margins between each compartment. Often, the border backgrounds were worked in green, and the main backgrounds were worked in blue (Jones 110).

Some of the shorter kloster embroideries, which Schuette refers to as "backcloths," do not feature long series of compartmented scenes, but rather one or two simple scenes with heraldic escutcheons separating them. One features Samson and a lion to the left, and Aristotle to the right, with the arms of the Reich von Reichenstein repeated four times on a panel between the two; another features a scene of a boar hunt, flanked to either side by a panel with the arms of the Schnewelin family repeated twice on each panel; a third features Alexander and Queen Candace along with a servant girl, with the arms of the families of Munzingen and Falkenstein (Schuette 309). These backcloths are more secular in tone, generally, and would be more likely to have been hung in the homes of the noble families who had commissioned the embroidery (and whose arms appear thereon), rather than in churches or convents.

The figures on the kloster embroideries are drawn in a similar style to contemporary manuscript illustrations; I would recomend that SCAdian embroiderers look into 14th and 15th century illuminated manuscripts, especially German manuscripts of the period, for inspiration. (One of my favorites is the Manesse Codex; illustrations from that are available online at digi.ub.uni-heidelberg.de/diglit/cpg848.)

When selecting colors for kloster embroidery, plan to use only a few bold shades of fairly primary colors -- perhaps only one or two shades each of red, yellow, blue, green, brown, and white. A worsted wool would be ideal; Broider Wul would provide the right sorts of tones and colors, but DMC perle cotton would be a less expensive alternative for practice work in this style.

Once you have drawn your outlines onto your linen, and you have decided whcih colors will go in which sections, embroider your outlien stitches. In some cases, the outlines are all couched with the same sort of couching stitches that will be used in the fill-in; in other cases, especially in detail sections (such as facial features), split stitch is used. Some use odd contrast colors for the outlines (such as the yellow thread that outlines Iwein on the Malterer Hanging); most do use black or a very dark brown throughout the design for the outline.

Finally, fill in using klosterstich, which is generally referred to as Bokhara couching. All of the kloster embroideries I've been able to view in detail were embroidered with the couching going vertically.


Appuhn, Horst. Bildstickereien des Mittelalters in Kloster Lüne. Dortmund: Harenberg Edition, 1990.

Bagley, Ayers. Study & Love: Aristotle's Fall. 8 Feb. 2002. 5 Nov. 2002 <http://education.umn.edu/EdPA/iconics/Lecture_Hall/aristotle.htm>.

Bath, Virginia Churchill. Embroidery Masterworks: Classic Patterns and Techniques for Contemporary Application from the Textile Collection of the Art Institute of Chicago. Chicago: Henry Regnery Company, 1972.

Heinz, Dora. "Germany." Needlework, an Illustrated History. Edited by Harriet Bridgeman and Elizabeth Drury. New York: Paddington Press Ltd., 1978, 185-217.

Jones, Mary Eirwen. A History of Western Embroidery. New York: Watson-Guptill Publications, 1969, 109-111.

Kurth, B. "Genres of European Pictorial Embroidery in the Middle Ages." Medieval Embroidery. Ciba Review 50. Basle: Ciba Limited, 1945, 1812-1814.

Schuette, Marie and Sigrid Muller-Christiansen. A Pictorial History of Embroidery. New York: Frederick A. Praeger, 1964.

Staniland, Kay. Medieval Craftsmen: Embroiderers. Buffalo: University of Toronto Press, 1997, 40-42.

In the print version of the handout, there followed a section with detailed images and full pictures, as well as descriptions of the narratives depicted, of a few of the embroideries discussed in the first part of the paper, including the Malterer Hanging, a Tristan Hanging, and some of the 16th century embroideries in this general style. However, there are many more examples of klosterstickerei on the Internet these days, so I'll just include links to some of them here without much in the way of description or analysis; surfing on Bildindex will find more close-ups of several of the hangings, especially the Tristan hangings from Wienhausen and some of the early 16th century pieces from Lüne.

See also Der Klosterstich for links to the websites for some of the convents which produced these hangings as well as some modern work done in this style. Racaire has also developed a handout on this style of embroidery, and produced a wall-hanging; Dame Christian wrote an article for the West Kingdom Embroiderers' Guild; and Laren has photos from a work in progress.