Recent experiments have shown that when a near-hemispherical lipid vesicle attached to a solid surface is subjected to a simple shear flow it exhibits a pattern of membrane circulation much like a dipole vortex. This is in marked contrast to the toroidal circulation that would occur in the related problem of a drop of immiscible fluid attached to a surface and subjected to shear. This profound difference in flow patterns arises from the lateral incompressibility of the membrane, which restricts the observable flows to those in which the velocity field in the membrane is two-dimensionally divergence free. Here we study these circulation patterns within the simplest model of membrane fluid dynamics. A systematic expansion of the flow field based on Papkovich–Neuber potentials is developed for general viscosity ratios between the membrane and the surrounding fluids. Comparison with experimental results (Vézy, Massiera & Viallat, Soft Matt., vol. 3, 2007, pp. 844–851) is made, and it is shown how such studies could allow measurements of the membrane viscosity. Issues of symmetry-breaking and pattern selection are discussed.