Guild Categories, Rankings and Activities

While not required for membership, the Keepers of Athena’s Thimble offers a ranking system for those who wish to set goals and measure their achievement within the craft, or who wish to get feedback about their work. The guild recognizes twelve categories of needlework, four levels of expertise within each category, and five levels of overall ranking within the guild. Evaluation is performed by an open forum panel of three or more guild members of journeyman or higher rank, headed by a senior member. Panels are held at SCA events. Anyone wishing to have a panel held at an event should email their request to the Athena’s Thimble email list.

The guild defines needlework as an embellishment or addition to existing fabric made with a needle and utilizing thread, fabric, or other textiles. The only exception is punto in aria and Tenerife needlelace, where the entire piece is created with a needle, but no ground textile is used.


Categories are groups of embroidery styles that have a basic factor in common, either in the method of working or in the final effect. The categories of needlework recognized by the guild are:

A form or technique is a single style within a category. For example, counted thread is a category based on the method of working...the needleworker counts the ground threads to determine where to put the stitch. Cross-stich and pattern darning are forms within the category. Padded work is a category based on effect...the surface of the fabric is altered by adding layers; quilting and stumpwork are examples of techniques within the category.

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Expertise Levels

Within any category, the guild recognizes four levels of expertise: Working Knowledge, Competence, Period Competence and Expert. Definitions of required pieces are listed later.

Working Knowledge consists of a basic understanding of a form within the category and the skills required for it, as demonstrated by a finished sampler or a basic piece.

Competence is an intermediate technical understanding of a form within the category with proven level of skill in execution, demonstrated by a completed piece of higher caliber. Modern pieces may be used for competency ranking. The embroidery on a piece paneled for competency must be completed, however if the embroidery is going on another object (such as a garment or cushion) the object does not have to be completed. Group projects may be used for Competence rank as long as the paneler can sufficiently isolate her/his work for review.

Panelers seeking Working Knowledge and Competency rankings may present their work at any panel, with no prior arrangements.

Period Competence demonstrates technical competence in a form, as well as an understanding of how the form was used in period. The item being paneled must be fully completed and made, as much as possible, of period materials. Written documentation should be provided. In addition to the quality of the embroidery, the authenticity of the context and aesthetics of the piece are also considered. The panel will include an informal discussion about the item and how the form was used in period, and may include Q&A from the panel.

Competence must be achieved in a category before Period Competence can be attempted.

The same piece may be used for competence and period competence as long as the piece is sufficiently added to/completed in between the panels. For example, one could use a single blackwork cuff for competency. A shirt with the same cuff and its mate, and a blackwork neckband can be paneled for period competence when completed. Presenting the same item with documentation is not sufficient addition/completion.

It is strongly recommended that those wishing to panel for Period Competence inform the Senior Member running the panel ahead of time, and email their documentation for prior review. These panels take a little longer, and it may not always be possible to accommodate them. In addition, a Senior Member may decline to run a period competency panel if s/he does not feel their knowledge of the category is sufficient.

Group projects may not be used for Period Competence. However if the embroidery has been designed and executed by one person, even if the finished item has been worked on by another (for example if another person has assisted in the fitting of a tailored garment), this may be used.

Expert rank is an advanced understanding of numerous forms in the same category, with a proven ability to execute them to near perfection. This rank is achieved by completion of a masterwork in the form, as well as several supporting pieces also done in the same category. The number and scope of these varies depending on the category. Supporting pieces do not have to be new pieces, in fact it is most desirable for the member to show their progression in mastering the form over the years. The member must also have written documentation of the master work and be prepared to discuss and answer questions about the pieces and the needlework form in period. Members must attain Craftsman rank (see below) before an expert rank in any category may be attempted.

Anyone wishing to begin the process of attaining an expert rank should contact the guildmistress first and show a list of the proposed masterwork and supporting pieces. If it is felt that a technique within the category has been overlooked, an additional supporting piece may have to be added. See “panels” below for more information.

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Guild Tokens

Each needlework category is “assigned” a semi-precious stone, and a bead of that stone is given to all members who attain competence ranking in it.

In addition, those attaining period competency are awarded a pearl to accompany the stone for the category.

Expert ranked members are awarded a Lapis Lazuli stone to display with the stone for the category.

*Due to availability issues, this stone was changed in 2013. Either is appropriate.

All guild members are encouraged to wear our guild badge. Click here to see a beautiful sample of the badge. There is also a pattern which you can download or print. You can display the badge on any item you wish. (Extra “points” to those who also display their competency beads on the same item!)

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Though members are not required to participate in the ranking system, the guild does recognize five ranks based on demonstrated expertise. They are: Apprentice, Journeyman, Craftsman, Artisan, and Needlemistress/master.

New members to the guild are Apprentices; this level is open to anyone with an interest in the needle arts.

Journeyman requires ranking in four of the needlework categories recognized by the guild, including competence in two.

Craftsman requires ranking in eight categories, four of which must be competent.

Artisan requires ranking in all twelve categories, with competency in eight.

Those who hold Craftsman or Artisan rank may add the word “Pearl” to their rank if at least half of the required number of Competencies (at least two for Craftsman or four for Artisan) are Period Competencies.

Needlemistress/master requires expert rank in at least four categories, competency in at least four categories, and working knowledge in the remaining four categories.

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Evaluation of work to attain ranking is done during guild-sponsored Panels. This is a simultaneous review by no less than three guild members: two of journeyman level or higher, led by one senior member. The panels are in open forum so that members can observe. The member who has submitted work to the panel will be told immediately whether her work has been accepted for the level of expertise he/she is seeking. The paneler must be present so we can give person-to-person feedback on the work. Working level and competency pieces require a simple review, for period competency the paneler will be asked to give a short, informal talk and/or answer questions about the piece being paneled and use of the form in period. Those wishing to panel for period competence should contact the senior member running the panel ahead of time to make sure there will be sufficient time allowed. Also, senior members may decline to run a period competence panel if they do not feel their knowledge of the category is sufficient.

Works being evaluated must be accompanied by a Panel Submission Form. For convenience, this form can be downloaded from our Forms and Documents page.

A panel to evaluate Expert Level work is a more formal panel and requires planning in advance. It consists of five or more Senior Members, headed either by the current Guildmistress or a former Guildmistress. Those with expert rank who are not a Senior Member may also elect to be on the panel.

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Senior Members

Senior Members run panels and help the Guildmistress in making decisions and keeping the guild running smoothly. Unlike journeyman, craftsman, or artisan, this is not a rank based on one’s embroidery. It is a job within the guild. Senior Members must have a strong understanding of period embroidery as well as the guild’s categories and expertise levels. They must be able to give constructive criticism and help fuel other’s enthusiasm for embroidery. Finally, Senior Members must also be comfortable speaking to groups and keeping the flow of a panel going.

To become a Senior Member one must:

  1. Achieve Craftsman or higher rank in the guild and gain a good knowledge of the information in the Senior Members’ handout.
  2. Notify the Guildmistress, who will notify the current Senior Members.
  3. Participate as a commenter (the “journeyman or better” people) in five panels under at least two Senior Members. One panel must include a Period Competence panel. It is up to the aspiring Senior Member to contact the Senior Member running the panel and ask them to be a commentor. During these panels the aspiring SM will be asked to critique paneled items and also answer questions about guild categories and standards.
  4. Run two panels under the supervision of a Senior Member.

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Solars and Outside Meetings

At larger events, guild members may wish to organize a “solar” (the word comes from the room in a castle or manor where family members gathered, and where women typically performed crafts such as embroidery). This is an area set up for guild members to stitch and talk about embroidery during the day. It can be in a designated public area, or can be held in a member’s private pavilion or camp. A solar may or may not include a panel, and a senior member does not have to be in attendance if there is no panel.

Solars must be announced on the Thimble email list and open to all guild members or interested newcomers. The host/ess should make prior arrangements with the event staff (even if the solar is held in a private camp) and must send a brief account of the activities to the guildmistress after the event.

If desired, meetings of local Thimble members can be held outside an event setting (such as at a member’s home, a fighter practice, etc.). These meetings must be announced on the Thimble email list at least a week ahead of time, and must be open to all who wish to attend.

If a panel is desired at an outside meeting, all usual rules apply. In addition, the guildmistress should be informed in advance and the panel must be announced on the Thimble email list in advance. No unannounced panels may be held outside SCA events.

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Definitions of Works

A sampler is a piece of embroidered fabric used to practice and/or record motifs in one or more techniques. Samplers may be used for gaining working knowledge and do not need to be completed for judging.

A basic piece is a small embroidered piece that demonstrates one or two stitches in any given technique. These are acceptable for gaining working knowledge.

For competency level, a finished or completed work is required. This is defined as a piece on which all the needlework has been completed. A variety of stitches should be demonstrated (if applicable) and an understanding of the work in historical context is strongly encouraged. Finished work is required for competency. Note: a finished work is not automatically a competent work.

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