Category: General Embroidery
One of the delights of Laid and Couched work is the slight sense of a return to childhood, but with added skills, as it were. The first layer consists of the threads laid and couched (hence the name), and is rather like “colouring in”: it produces a layer of flat colour, which will be tweaked and detailed later.
Or in this case, not quite flat colour. The thread Tanya includes is wool that she has dyed herself using natural dyes, and there are unevennesses in the colour that only adds to the charm. As you can see from the two large blue leaf-shapes. I was a bit over-determined to pack in the stitches on the frontmost hound and didn’t have thread leftover for the leaves. This being a holiday project, I went rootling in my stash for an indigo wool, and they only one I have is both much darker, and a different structure. But that will matter less when the details are added, so onwards!
Each leaf-shape used the other colours in a different way – as grid, as outline, as couching stitch. The outlines are in split stitch, and each of the grids is couched slightly differently, with a horizontal stitch, a vertical stitch, and upright cross or a diagonal cross.
In addition, I experimented with grid spacing for the blue one shown here. I like this variation, even if it does produce a rather loud plaid effect!
I was quite glad to find the variations slipping in. They might be a sign that I’m recovering from Akhenaten!
Finishing Akhenaten this year has left me rather wiped out. It’s not helped by the fact that he needs to be got off the frame and mounted somehow and that is proving Not Entirely Trivial, as The Australian would say, so I’ve been getting a 1000-watt glare every time I enter the room.
So I thought I would tackle something smaller and friendlier over the holidays, something that would help me gather my thoughts, and give me a change of scale and emphasis. Tanya’s gorgeous laid and couched work hounds seemed just the thing. I lost my heart to them months ago, when Tanya first showed them, but Akhenaten was such a dog-in-the-manger that I didn’t buy a kit.
However, by the time I went to Harrogate, he was finished, so I decided he didn’t have a vote any more, and indulged myself. After metal threads and silk, wool is a lovely change, and the medieval habit of using the direction for the lower layer that makes for the longest stitch on the surface means that each section is slightly different, and stops me worrying about what I’m trying to represent. Which is also a lovely change.
I’ve decided that they are called Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar, in honour of the season in which I am stitching them.
You may vaguely recall the little robin with stumpwork holly that I worked a couple of years ago. I mounted him on a circle of card and then didn’t make any more progress..
But I have now!
I’m using leftover fragments of silk from various Thistle Threads courses to do a rather tame crazy patchwork circle to cover the padding for the back, and then he can hang or be propped in a corner somewhere, looking cheery. I’ve settled on a simple quadrant arrangement, so I have four seams to deal with.
I said, when I found “Floral Feather Stitch” that I’d be using it again, and here it is, tweaked and embellished with a Fly stitch and a French Knot to emphasize the “floral” element. I really like this stitch – a simple, but extremely effective variation. Or maybe a stitcher’s “mash-up”!
The second uses Interlaced Herringbone Stitch, with the second pass interwoven with the first and then tied down with short straight stitches. This one is maybe a little monolithic, but the first one is so simple, I didn’t want to unbalance the appearance with anything broader.
The third is Chevron Stitch, embellished with alternating Fly Stitches and Detached Chain Stitches on the “top” edge. This one went a little ragged, but I still think it works.
The final one has alternating Half Buttonhole Wheels with Straight Stitches filling the gaps. Again, this could have been expanded and extended, but I thought there was quite enough for the purpose!
There’s not much to say here, except that the Jacobean Coat has been re-christened The Coat of Many Flowers (thanks to Sue at Tortoise Loft for the inspiration!), and is a great success.
It’s double-breasted, slightly shorter than three-quarter length, and lined with a nice figured satin to slide over woolly jumpers if necessary.
And if it doesn’t stop the traffic when Mam next strolls into town, I shall be vastly surprised!
Just when I thought I had no more to do, suddenly my mother asked, would I add a something-or-other to the back of the coat collar.
We thought about it, and decided that since I’m going to do a Morse Code signature that looks like a caterpillar, and there’s already a butterfly, I could maybe add a snail…
The tacks top and bottom show where the seam allowances and turn of the collar leave space for Something. I drew a snail on a bit of tracing paper (loosely based on the one on the Jacobean Firescreen), and tacked on the outline.
The shell itself came together easily, two rows of reverse chain stitch, then a row of half-cretan stitch which was then threaded with wool to create a slightly raised effect.
Inspiration briefly halted when I came to the critter himself. I tried several shades from among the ones on the coat, and two or three different stitches, and was underwhelmed by all of them.
Finally, I picked the right colour (a middling shade of teal) and the right stitch (chain), and he came together beautifully.
Two tiny antennae, a French knot for an eye, and hey presto, one cute little snail to add the final embellishment to the coat.
Now it’s over to my Mam to sew the whole thing together…
This central spray is just above the blue leaves.
The blue buds are outlined in Chain Stitch and decorated with Trellis Couching, and then, in a final bit of frivolity, the stems uses Magic Chain Stitch. I’ve often wanted to use it, and never really had the space before. Achievement, unlocked!
The cream leaves (from some felted gloves!) are couched with Open Cretan Stitch, and the stem – where there is one – is in Portuguese Knotted Stem Stitch.
You can also see the final version of the two leaves at the bottom, which are just above the blue ones. I’m not quite sure what stitches I used in the end, because I was beginning to create odd little mash-ups of my own!
We’ve assumed that the odd element on Grandmama’s embroidery is a butterfly perching on a flower, so that’s what I’ve made it into here, tweaking and altering the pattern as I worked.
The upper wings, in felt, are ornamented with one of the knotted feather stitch variations – I think, Mountmellick Stitch – but then, I simply started to play with needlelace stitches to create more interesting and varied effects.
It’s all been rather fun…..
Having settled on a smaller circle, but still worried about the stability of the fabric, I paused for thought.
I’ve used tear-out fabric stabiliser underneath the fabric, and placed a circle of it over the previous overcast stitch ring so as to leave trimming out what isn’t wanted until the last moment. It’s now enclosed between two layers of stabiliser, so I shouldn’t catch my needle in it.
And this is definitely a case for using a hoop. Most of my Amarna pieces have been worked in slate frames or bar frames, and the Jacobean coat is being worked in the hand, but a table-sized piece of fabric of which a small element is the focus requires a more limited approach!
I decided in the end to use simple cloth stitch for the needle lace, but of course, choosing to work it in a circle rather complicated matters! I had to use several lengths of thread, so it became a matter of concern to make sure that firstly, there was no chance of it coming undone, and secondly, weaving in the ends made sense!
It was also important to bear in mind that while classical, straight cloth stitch has a free “return” stitch, I couldn’t expect to keep control of a “return loop” in my circular variant. So instead of that, I whipped the base of the stitches to create the heavier line.
Once the needlelace was finished, I had to consider the edging. The whole aim of this exercise has been to cover the hole in the tablecloth in a manner that looks considered and deliberate – not just a mend, but a thoughtful mend. So the edging had to be thought about too.
In the end I chose to work a pattern in the buttonhole stitch – the uprights of the buttonhole stitch covering the split stitch and the edge of the needlelace alternate one long with two short. I also considered enlivening the needlelace with some daisies in white, reversing the blue on white of the main decoration, but decided that that was going a bit too far!
Over the New Year, my cousin showed me a rather charming embroidered tablecloth she’d bought, only to discover, when she got it home, that it had been rather amateurishly adapted for a table with a parasol. She doesn’t have such a thing, and all the ironing in the world hasn’t flattened the buttonhole stitch, so she asked, could I think of something?
Yes, I could. I’ll re-do the buttonhole stitch, slightly larger, and infill the entire hole with a needlelace stitch of some sort. I’ve not decided which of these threads to use, but I’m prepared for when the decision is made!
When I got it home, and folded it carefully to check that the hole was central, I discovered that it really wasn’t.
It really isn’t at all, in fact. And this close up gives you a chance to see just how tatty the oversewing around the edge turned out to be.
Oversewing, not buttonhole stitch. I’ll have to do better than that, won’t I!
In fact, once I’d done a bit of playing around and found a suitable circle that both encompassed the existing hole and placed the hole centrally, it was HUGE – at least three inches across!
That seems too big – even for infill with needlelace, it seemed to me that this would unreasonably weaken the fabric, so I started to think of suitable backing materials, and then emailed my cousin to ask whether she had some thoughts. After all, it’s her tablecloth.
She rang, and we had a chat, and she says she would prefer a smaller, non-central hole, without too many baroque attempts at backing it. So simple it is, then…
You can see here that I’ve reversed the colours of felt used for the same flower shape on the sleeve, and added tiny blue stitches as highlights.
Chained blanket stitch, crested chain stitch, fern stitch, and a slightly freeform variant of feather stitch adorn the various petals. The light blue is used to tie down some trellis couching and for three tête-de-boeuf stitches to lighten the bowl of the flower.
The edges of the fawn leaves are simply caught down with an overcast stitch, but the spines are worked in Siennese Stitch, found in one of my multitude of stitch dictionaries. The circle is one of several, edged with up-&-down blanket stitch, and speckled with what Barbara Snook describes as “Knotted Stitch – Danish origin”. At the extreme right there are two small brown leaves, with reverse chain stitch stems and long straight stitches creating veins. The fabric comes from some thick walking socks which felted in the wash!
There were three of these three-petalled flowers (if that’s what they are!) and I worked each in the same way – blanket stitch edges, sword stitch for texture, blue central circle in buttonhole stitch, and teal leaves in fishbone stitch.
As you can see, deciding to keep some elements the same, or similar, has spread beyond the smallest leaves!
One of the exasperating elements of this project is that the lovely clear, delicate green of the fabric isn’t showing on any of the photos I am taking. This strange, rather disheartening cream fails to reflect one of the pleasures of working on it.
Here you see the side of the coat with the two lilac half-circle motifs. There are also three circle motifs, and two huge leaves, not to mention all the little teal leaves that I’ve not even applied yet.
The circles have been relatively easy, but both the fawn leaves and the two lilac motifs are giving trouble…
The first one of the two lilac motifs has rather lost the way home.
Somehow it is fussy, tired, and full of the wrong sort of detail. It’s also too dark. I need to reduce the dark blue and dark maroon stitching.
I’m not even sure that the felt will survive.
That said, I like the blanket stitch variation of the lilac stitches, and the green Reverse Palestrina Stitch.
This is a better version.
There aren’t as many colours, or as many stitches as in the version I’m not happy about. The fronds are in Cable Chain and Twisted Chain, and the purple trellis is couched with the blue.
Now I need to unpick the first one and come back to it, informed by the much better second version. I don’t want it to be entirely the same, but closer would certainly be better!