Sunday, 28 July 2013

In which I embroider the Theotokos

This is a project I'd been wanting to work on for a while.  I love the icons of the Orthodox church, and I wanted to try embroidering one.  I was a bit unsure if that would be sacrilegious or disrespectful (I'm Church of England, not Orthodox), so I asked the opinions of the lovely Orthodox shippies on the Ship of Fools. 

I understood from them that it would be ok to embroider a sacred image in the style of an icon, that wouldn't be disrespectful, but it would not be an icon.  And icon has to be 'written' (painted) in a certain way by people trained to do so, with the permission and blessing of a priest.  For more on the theology of icons, Wiki seems decent to me.  So although the embroidery below is in the style of an icon, it it not an icon. 

Theotokos embroidery

My embroidery shows the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Theotokos - God-bearer - with the infant Christ.  The image of the Blessed Virgin is based on Greek and Byzantine icons, with the defined outline of the features, long nose and almond eyes.  She's wearing red as that's how she's portrayed in icons, which was a surprise to me - I'm used tot he western depiction of Mary in blue.  I based the infant Christ on a Chinese nativity picture of the early C20th I saw in the Church Times, where he almost looks like a little Buddha.  I like the way he looks like a baby, not like a mini-adult, which is how he seems to be shown in a lot of icons.  Here's my first sketch for the embroidery:

Theotokos sketch

The final embroidery measures 17cm by 13cm, and was done primarily in long and short stitch, with a bit of back stitch and satin stitch.  I used couched gold thread for the halos, with a sightly smaller gauge thread for the infant Christ's halo.

Theotokos embroidery detail


  1. very impressive - especially in stitching - i guess if you had one stitch slightly out you could end up with a very strange facial expression ...

  2. Beautiful stitching - the gold work is perfect and the way you have worked the creases in the robe is just brilliant

  3. It's really beautiful.

    My short/long stitches never look that nice. How many strands did you use, and what type fabric for the background?

  4. Wow ! Love this ! I love that you were moved in your heart to embroider this .....and that alone makes it a very special and precious piece .
    I also love to embroider devotional pieces. Look forward to seeing more of your work .