Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Top Prophet, Opus Anglicanum, details of Restoration (Part 1.)

The first task was to photograph, and assess the damaged areas, once the embroidery was carefully removed from the old chasuble.

The worst damage was to the front orphrey, the cause of which could be described, unscientifically, as "tummy rub" - but Father disclaimed having caused it, as he'd not really worn it that often! It is in the area which would most often rub against the altar edge whilst the Priest is offering the Sacrifice of the Mass.

Firstly, in the skirts, feet and floor of the top figure,

and secondly, on the middle figure, in the architecture above him, his face and upper body. The face had been very badly restored, and did not make much sense. It was also difficult to tell what he was holding in his left hand. This would have been an important symbol in trying to identify who he was, which shall be discussed later, in part 2.

The original mediaeval canvas had been backed with a linen at some time in the more recent past ,which made it easier to handle after removal from the chasuble -  (See photo below.)

When examining the back of the embroidery, one could see the extent of the restorations, since they came through both canvases - any threads that are seen on the back of the more recent lining canvas are obviously not original.

Looking at other Opus Anglicanum work, one can see that it is frequently Prophets and Apostles who are depicted. The Prophets very often wear a funny hat, and carry a scroll. The Saints will have a halo, and some identifying symbol. It seemed obvious that this orphrey had a Saint with his halo, sandwiched between two prophets - (It may well have been cut down from a larger piece of work at some time in the past, since the embroideries looked as though they could have carried on at either end.)

The decision was made to intervene in the original as minimally as possible, so some smaller areas were to have the poorer restorations removed, and some careful filling in of the gaps with embroidery threads, but larger areas would be covered in a new piece of embroidery carried out on two layers of fine silk organza, a very fine lightweight but stable fabric, which could then be lightly stitched in place on top of the damaged area. 

This shows the organza hooped, with a light chalk tracing of the area to be copied.

It was necessary to use as fine a fabric to embroider onto as possible, in order that the final piece would not end up too bulky.

When the loose threads, and the dark green under the top Prophet's feet, which were later additions, were carefully cut away, it could be seen that the floor had originally been made up of pale blue, and fawn coloured threads couched down with green crosses, so this was emulated in the copy.  The floor would also have extended up either side of the bottom of the gown, on either side of the figure, so one didn't mind extending over the restorations in that area. It is interesting that the original embroidery had worn away there, as had the restoration - it is evidently a vulnerable area, when being worn. In placing an independently embroidered piece over this part, it would be the first area to wear, and help minimise further damage to the original.

The embroidery unhooped alongside the original.

Below can be seen the free-standing piece of embroidery with the organza edges tucked round to the back, prior to mounting on the orphrey. The threads used were modern embroidery threads, mostly 3 strands, and an attempt was made to emulate the directionality of the original threads as much as possible, using a split-stitch technique, similar to how the original work was carried out. This is the first time such a technique had been carried out, so a certain amount of learning on the job took place!

The Prophet's face and hands had been badly restored, but the original features - eyes, nose and mouth were still intact, and under the restoration threads, the original positioning of the fingers and thumb could be detected. The restoration threads were removed with tweezers from the back of the lining canvas, so no original threads were lost, and some embroidery stitches were put in in a closer matching coloured thread to fill around the original features.

Before, with claw hand and ghost face!


Finally, here is a comparison of the top Prophet area before and after restoration. The previous restorations included the very bright royal blues, but it was decided to go with more muted blues, closer in tone to the original. The work carried out will be fairly obvious to anyone who wants to distinguish between the original and the restoration, whilst at the same time it gives a nice finish to the orphrey, newly mounted onto a chasuble, which can now be used on special occasions, for its original intended purpose of offering Mass.




  1. wow! After reading how you accomplished the restoration I am speechless (hard to believe, I know - lol!) The blending of your work with the original is so masterfully done that one could mistakenly assume it was an easy task!
    Really great to see the details of before & after.

    1. Thank you Mrs P! Just wait for part 2 where I had to re-create the face of the Saint!