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An Imperial Eagle

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An Imperial Eagle
Isela di Bari
Filum Aureum, Spring 2003

The eagle, a well known heraldic symbol of the Holy Roman Empire, is shown here as roundels appliquéd onto the background silk of the well known Eagle Dalmatic (c. 1330-40). These eagles are single-headed and are executed in black silk split stitch on a gold ground, all worked on linen before being appliquéd. The trims around the neck, hem, shoulders, and cuffs are also a great example of “needlepainting” with chiefly split stitch. More photos, assembled by Cynthia du Pré Argent, can be seen at

Dalmatic from the regalia of the Holy Roman Emperor
Enlargement of some of the superbly shaded foliage and saints’ portraits from the neck and sleeve bands


Imperial eagleTo stitch an eagle medallion

This is best worked on a fairly fine but sturdy linen, stretched very tightly in a frame. Trace the design diagram below onto the fabric after stretching, and ensure that the fabric is smooth and at an even tension. This design is given very close to the size on the original, but can of course be enlarged if you like. The finished embroidery and others like it can be applied to a pouch, to clothes, etc.

First work the outline of the eagle in black split stitch (or the color of your choice), including the outline of the eye. The original is black, but some other color might be preferable if you are new to split stitch, since it’s hard to do fine details in solid black unless you have very good eyes.

From here on, work additional lines of stitching inside the eagle, one inside the other, following the contour of the outline, or the direction that feathers would fall on a real bird. The wing feathers, for instance, can be worked with U-shaped lines of stitching, nested one inside the other on each feather until it is full. For a decorative effect you could also take the “knob” on top of the wing and work it in a spiral, from the outside in. The small feathers (they look like hooks) can be worked as you come to them.

When the bird has been solidly worked, including the contrasting eye, you can give it a round or square background, depending on what you plan to use it for. The background can be worked in couching or in split stitch in a contrasting color. Cut out the finished patch and apply to your project.

(For thread and fabric recommendations, see Smooth as Silk: Split Stitch Embroidery)

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