Sana Chant

Sana Chant
Published date:

People associate the Middle Ages with dark miserable things, but you can see from the manuscripts that people valued beauty, faith and knowledge. By stitching them I hope I encourage people to rethink this fascinating period of history.

Sana has a BA in Jewellery and Metalwork, a BA in History and an MA in Medieval and Renaissance Studies. Furloughed from her job as a warden at a heritage site, Sana started embroidering details from medieval manuscripts as a lockdown hobby. Six months later she is selling her work on Etsy.

Sana spotted our case study on Roslyn Henry (a self-taught surface pattern designer using our collection to design wallpaper) and got in touch to tell us how she was similarly using our collections to inspire for her creative work.

Embroidered bat inspired by a late 12th century bestiary held in the British Library (Add MS 11283, f.21v)

Embroidery started as a Covid-19 lockdown project in Spring 2020. Furloughed from her job as a warden from a London heritage site, Sana started stitching to fill her day. With her first degree in Jewellery and Metalwork, she has always created things and her mum embroiders but this was a new skill for her.

“I like textile art, there’s so much texture. I can paint and draw, but I’m much better at making physical objects.”

Looking for subjects to stitch, Sana drew on her love of the Middle Ages – she has a second degree in History from the Open University and an MA in Medieval and Renaissance Studies from UCL.

“People associate the era with dark, miserable things, but you see in the manuscripts that people valued beauty, faith and knowledge. By stitching them I hope I encourage people to rethink the Middle Ages.”

The Virgin Mary casting out a demon (from BL Yates Thompson MS 13, f.72v)

Sana has been using the our medieval manuscripts collection since 2017 whilst studying for her Masters degree. Her dissertation was on representation of the Amazons, the race of female warriors in Greek mythology. During lockdown, she revisited the online collection looking for inspiration for her embroidery project and became fascinated with the bizarre beasts she found.

“The digitisation of these manuscripts was vital for my work, the image quality is so good and it was so easy to find what I wanted.”

Embroidered “snat” or snail-cat from the Maastrict Hours, BL Stowe MS 17, f.185r - shows a cat's head with antenna peering out of a snail's shell.
Embroidered “snat” or snail-cat (from the Maastrict Hours, BL Stowe MS 17, f.185r)

Original “snat” or snail-cat (Maastrict Hours, BL Stowe MS 17, f.185r)

Her first subject was the ‘snat’ or the snail-cat spotted in the Maastrict Hours, BL Stowe MS 17, f.185r). It’s just one example of the weird little hybrid creatures she has found hidden in the manuscripts. Sometimes they are just tiny little details, but Sana likes to emphasise their character by taking them out of context.

“My favourite to date is the Virgin Mary casting out a demon. She’s normally depicted as such a passive character but here she looks like she’s in mum mode.”

After sourcing a subject from a medieval manuscript, Sana sketches it onto fabric and then starts stitching. She uses silk thread and a linen canvas. Her works are fairly small, usually within a 10cm hoop, similar in scale to the original manuscripts. Her embroidery style is inspired by Opus Anglicanum, and early English medieval technique, considered one of the finest forms of needlework in the world.

“There are a surprising number of people who embroider from manuscripts. Check out Dr Lily Hawker-Yates – her work has a really modern twist.”

Sana’s house starting to fill up with piles of embroidered creatures from the Middle Ages, she has started selling her works on Etsy and often gifts them to lucky friends, but mostly she does it for pure enjoyment.

“I’m hoping I can instigate lunchtime embroidery sessions with colleagues – I’d love to inspire others to take it up!”

Follow Sana on Instagram

Shop Sana’s Etsy

Key points

  • Starting as a lockdown hobby, Sana Chant embroiders creatures from medieval manuscripts, combining her love of making things and her fascination with the Middle Ages.
  • She first discovered the British Library’s medieval manuscripts whist studying an MA in Medieval and Renaissance Studies at UCL.
  • Sana uses our digitised collections to find weird and wonderful medieval beasts. By stitching them ‘out of context’ she hopes people will rethink this fascinating era of history.
  • Her works are available to purchase via her Etsy account.