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Elizabethan Motif Database

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14 February 2011

Elizabethan Motif Database

Jen Thies (PinkLeader) and I have been working on a database.

This database consists of motifs extracted from 16thC embroidery pieces, and some raised and stumpwork (because I like stumpwork!, which is more 17thC).

The basic idea is that “being able to see these variations (of motifs) collected together, rather than spread across in their originating extant items, makes the comparison of their differences much easier.”

It’s at

and it’s in a “Wiki” structure, which you may not have seen before. I’m calling it a database because I’m used to calling organised storages of information ‘databases’.


I’ll explain how it’s set up :

On the Home Page, there are several sections.

After a bit of talk you’ll see a two column list, the left side beginning like this :-


We put all knotted type stitches together and described them as “Elizabethan Embroidery”, rather than trying to distinguish all the different types of detached buttonhole etc!

“Surface Embroidery” means that we didn’t have a clue.

The other subheading names under each heading are self-explanatory.


You can click on each of the blue underlined subheadings. (The black headings aren’t clickable).

Each of these blue subheadings leads to a "Motif" page - a particular motif (eg a Rose) done in an particular embroidery method (eg Laid and Couched).

There will be a whole list of Roses on the Motif page, all done in laid and couched method, from different embroidered items (well, depending on how many motifs of that particular type we've collected)

If, for example, you click on Borage/Elizabethan Embroidery Borage, it will bring up a Motif page like this : (direct link)

You will note the first entry on the page looks like this :
  • EE-B-1

Item : Lady's Jacket

Museum : Victoria and Albert Museum

Accession Number #1359-1900

Object Id:

Date : 1600-1625

Copyright © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The images we have used in this database are free to distribute, out of copyright, or we have obtained permission to use them from the proprietor concerned.

The correspondence regarding these permissions has been copied to the the Copyright Permissions page (accessible from the home page). Direct link -,

The V&A requires an enormous sum of money to license an image for use for only a couple of years. (You can see the details on the Copyright Permissions page – they sent us a letter with the details).

We’ve got around that by referencing the motif in the proper place in our database, and providing the link to the extant item containing the motif at the V&A website.

Unfortunately in this case it’s up to you to follow the link to the V&A and eyeball the item (coif, nightcap etc) until you find the motif (a borage, in this case).


The next motif down the page has a piccie!


Polychrome Coif 43-249

Firstly, it has an identifier : EE-BG-2. That is, Elizabethan Embroidery, Borage, No 2.

The identifiers are not strictly controlled within the database. They are merely there so that if you want to talk about a particular motif, it’s easier to say EE-BG-2 than ‘that blue one second one down’, especially once we get into some of the longer lists, or want to point out there’s a tulip in the lillies section (I can never tell them apart)

Secondly, there is a link : Polychrome Coif 43-249

If you click on this link, it will take you to a page that is all about the extant item this particular borage is from. We’ll call this a “Master Page”.

So, clicking on the link, we get (the direct link)

At the top of the Master Page is the information about the embroidered item the borage is from.

  • What it is (a coif),
  • Where it’s from (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston),
  • a live link back to the Museum’s page on the item.
  • the item’s construction date, and
  • any notes.

Then there may or may not be a picture of the whole item.

Following this information are images of ALL the motifs extracted from the image of this particular item that have been included in the database, with just one brief description word to identify the type (ie caterpillar, rose, lilly)

For example, the strawberries will be under


- Elizabethan Embroidery

…….etc. The information included with each of these motifs includes a link back to this same master page for this item as they are from the same piece, as shown on the Motif Page for the Borage on the Borage/Elizabethan Embroidery Borage No 2.

You do need to look at the motif and assess it’s embroidery method (Elizabethan Embroidery, Laid and Couched, Satin Stitched etc) to find the right subheading under Strawberries, HoneySuckle, Pansies etc on the Home Page, but that isn’t too hard!. You already know the Heading - it's listed against the motif on the Master Page. You can then travel from the Home Page to the relevant Motif page, and see all the variants of that particular motif from different embroidered items, done in the same embroidery method.

There aren’t links for each of the motifs listed on the Master Page back to the individual Motif Pages, only one link going from the individual motif to it's Master Page.


Often, the quality of the image is better back on the museum’s own page. But at least you know where to find it. And the museum page might have a zoom facility.


To get back to the Home Page, there is a link at the top and bottom of each page saying “Embroidery Home”.


Back on the home page, there is a list of links that takes you directly to the Master Pages. (ie Extant Embroidered items that have their motifs included in this database)


I point out the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, especially because these are exclusive pictures taken by Jen Thies.

She obtained permission from the museum to use them in this database which was absolutely wonderful.

For example, on the Marigold/Elizabethan Embroidery motif page


you'll see an identifier, and a link to it's master page (obviously, the item is the back of a bodice).

So you can navigate between

  • the Home Page and a motif page showing variations of a particular flower/insect/tree etc in a particular style of embroidery and back again, and
  • from that particular motif page to a Master Page for the item that contains the motif in it’s original ‘context’, and from there, back again to the Home Page.


You see on the Home Page that we have a

Orphan Images - Can you help us?

for images that we’ve lost the sources for. If you know where they are from (and they are from the permitting museums, as far as we know, we just don’t know exactly WHERE, because the accession numbers have become detached), please feel free to help us!

and also a

Unknown Flowers and Critters - Can you help us?

showing flowers and critters that have proved unclassifiable. Be warned – the master Elizabethan flower identifier Baroness Eowyn Amberdrake has already been through these, so they aren’t easy to guess.

We’ve also include a KUDOS PAGE to thank those that have helped us along our way.


If you have some legal images of extant motifs/embroidered items that you would like to contribute, well, now is your chance for fame! A mention on the Kudos page, and an attribution on the Master Page. And helping the whole historical embroidery community, of course.


You can add comments to any page.

May I ask that any comments along the line of “you’ve made a mistake, this should be in another section” be e-mailed to me at (to save me going back and cleaning the comment up after the problem is resolved)

But feel very free to add any commentary re the design/colours/stitching of any of the embroidery in the commentary, so we all can enjoy it, and learn.

In order to make a comment, you will need to become a “Reader” of the Wiki. Please e-mail me at with your preferred e-mail address, and I’ll create an account for you, unless you already have a PBWorks account.


Now, we are only just starting on this database. Some of the images are of shocking quality, and probably shouldn’t be there.

There is heaps more work to be done – heaps more images to be included. It will grow, slowly, over time.

I would like to add two new sections :

Stitches used in Elizabethan Scrolling Vinework and

Borders (Lace and Non-Lace)

I’d be most interested if anyone had any information to contribute to these. Sometimes the reference to the stitch used in a vine is documented only, but that’s fine. We’ll just include the information with a source reference. (assuming we’re legally able to quote the information)

Meanwhile, we hope that the database/wiki is of some use to you in finding new and different variations of a particular flower or bird or insect.

I hope that I’ve explained everything clearly enough.

Please feel free to ask any questions.

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Anonymous Leonor R said...

This is a fantastically exciting project. You are both doing a huge service for the embroidery community.

On the Orphan Images page, I believe SS-C-2 is this 17th century book from the British Library:

I may have some information on scrolling vinework stitches, but unfortunately probably not photos I can share. I'll look through my collection at some point and see what I am allowed to put online.

Monday, February 14, 2011  
Blogger Elmsley Rose said...

Thankyou so much Leonor.

Monday, February 14, 2011  
Anonymous Rachel said...

I've bookmarked your wiki and I am hoping to have a good rummage in a week or two. But on a quick look - it looks wonderful!

Monday, February 14, 2011  
Blogger The Chilly Hollow Needlepoint Adventure said...

There is a lot of work here and I think it will be very useful for fans of Elizabethan embroidery. Kudos to you both for tackling this!

Jane, waving from CH

Monday, February 14, 2011  
Anonymous ZT180-8 uPad8 Tablet PC said...

Wednesday, December 21, 2011  

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