A Rare Find

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A Rare Find

As my love of Ecclesiastical Sewing and Ecclesiastical Embroidery grows, so does the collection of books and other items relating to the field of Ecclesiastical Embroidery. When I read modern books or rare books on the subject, I check the bibliography to be on the lookout for additional resources.  When an unfamiliar title surfaces, a list is made and I begin to search. Sometimes the titles are easy to locate. At another time, the volume will be rare to find and costly. Recently I acquired one of those very rare books by the author Mary Barber entitled

 Some Drawings of Ancient Embroidery.

Some Drawings of Ancient Embroidery by Mary Barber
Some Drawings of Ancient Embroidery by Mary Barber

The book arrived in very poor shape, and I need to research what to do with it. But it is a delight, and at some point, I look forward to sharing information about that book with you. A fun little side story accompanies this purchase, arising from an innocent question asked of the bookseller: “Do you have any other books on the topic of Ecclesiastical Embroidery Designs, or perhaps any Ecclesiastical Embroidery Designs?”

I was not expecting a positive answer. And so I was shocked when the bookseller thought a moment, and then said, “Yes. A few years back a monastery that was closing down contacted me and asked if I would like a box of the designs they used in the Art Needlework Department.”  Stunned,  and hardly daring to believe what I heard, I asked if she could send an email sample of a design or two.

Hearing nothing, and receiving nothing by email, I waited and thought: Perhaps…………. nothing would come of it. Perhaps………………. the box of items could not be located.  Perhaps…………she forgot about the request……………Perhaps……………Then, to my surprise………….

Vintage Design

Vintage Ecclesiastical Embroidery Designs
Vintage Ecclesiastical Embroidery Designs

When the Mary Barber Book arrived, there was an additional plastic sleeve containing these three Ecclesiastical Embroidery Designs. Included was a note stating these were a sample of three designs from the large box of Ecclesiastical Patterns that came from the now-closed monastery.

Let’s take a closer look at the treasurers.

Rose and Thorn Design

Rose and Thorn Ecclesiastical Embroidery Design
Rose and Thorn Ecclesiastical Embroidery Design

This simple yet elegant design features a Rose and thorns. It is a perforated pattern used to transfer a design to fabric to be embroidered. From the looks of this pattern, it must have been a favorite, and heavily used.  The stain from the pouncing is very dark.  The design width is about 4 1/2″ and the length is about 10.” A narrow design such as this was perhaps used for stole ends.  It might also work as an orphrey design for an altar frontal or a chasuble, but it would need to be pieced together.

The marks on the pattern from the transfer almost have a “blue ink” quality to them. It would be interesting to know what was used as the pounce when these patterns were being transferred.  To understand the stains on the above transfer design, it might be helpful to look at an embroidery piece from the Monastery that is near my home.

Prick and pounce Embroidery transfer from Monastery Museum
Prick and pounce Embroidery transfer from Monastery Museum

Tracing Threads of History

At the monastery museum where I volunteer, the above design was transferred to silk but never stitched. The design looks as if it were pounced with a “blue ink” that had been transferred to the white silk. Although the photograph does not clearly show the detail, this piece shows all of the tiny perforation holes from the pouncing process. The product used for the transfer was not a charcoal pounce powder.  What exactly it was remains unclear. It appears to be an “ink” type process that creates a permanent mark on the fabric. Many of the old books reference the method of prick and pounce for embroidery design transfer but fail to mention the product used for the pounce.

For some unknown reason, the above-unfinished embroidery design remains in the museum collection.  There is no one at the monastery now who has any information on how or with what the pouncing was done. That knowledge is lost, at least for now.

IHC Design

Tiny IHS Ecclesiastical Embroidery Design
Tiny IHC Ecclesiastical Embroidery Design

This is a dainty IHC Ecclesiastical Embroidery design, 1 1/2″ by 2 3/4″  in size. Another perforated pattern, the design is on a tracing vellum-type paper.  Interestingly, there are no pencil marks on this pattern (and many designs of this kind). The theory of how the design came to be on this paper with no pencil markings is again a bit of a mystery. The thought is that one would place an original drawing over the tracing vellum and perforate both pieces. This theory is based on observations made while cataloging thousands of Ecclesiastical embroidery designs at the monastery.

We know there were no copy machines, so there were few options available to duplicate a design. There would often be several identical copies of the same design, with one having the pounce transfer marks, and the others only having the prick marks of the design, and no pencil or pounce marks.

Sword and Key Design

Sword and Keys Ecclesiastical Embroidery Design
Sword and Keys Ecclesiastical Embroidery Design

The final piece is a pencil drawing on manilla paper.  The lines are fading from this piece, and the fold marks have caused some damage.  This is a large design, and quite lovely, even though it is not a finished drawing. The central design is a shield with a sword and keys.  This is perhaps the symbol for St. Peter.

Ecclesiastical Embroidery Design Sword and Keys with Floral Border
Ecclesiastical Embroidery Design Sword and Keys with Floral Border

A floral design graces one side of the shield. The floral design is not completed and looks like a work in process.

Tomorrow we’ll do a little more exploring with these rare treasures. What about you – do you have any rare Ecclesiastical Embroidery Treasures?

Solo Dei Gloria

Be sure to visit our online store front Ecclesiastical Sewing where you may shop for Liturgical Fabrics, altar linen fabrics, church vestment-making patterns, liturgical machine embroidery designschurch vestment trims and notions and so much more. You may also find us on  Ecclesiastical Sewing on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. Sign up for our mailing list at the bottom of the page on our online store front and receive a free copy of our Small Linens Booklet as our way of saying thank you for following along.

Under Way with First Stitches!

Pouncing with the Blues

The Process of Making Vintage Embroidery Patterns Usable

Design Options for Christmas Set

Rare Find Part II

Treasured Vestments Westminster Chasuble

Travels and Ecclesiastical Sewing Treasures

Mary Barber’s Six Winged Creature Drawing



  1. What a lovely book and I look forward to peek of the interior pages! I see the least expensive copy of this online is about $200.00! But, sometimes the price is worth the pages… I love these vintage designs from the monastery. The tiny one is exquisite. I do not have any such treasures in my possession but I love that you do. It would be marvelous for them all to be put in a book for sale, patterns and history together.

    • I love the vintage designs as well. Often, they are timeless masterpieces. I do hope to be able to keep collecting these designs and make them available for those of us who desire to do this work. We love the embroidery, and if need be, come up with a design. But how much easier it would be to pick a design, and be able to start the stitching process. If only I did not have to work the day job!