There’s a new course from Thistle Threads, concentrating on the use of silk-wrapped purl threads. It looked like fun, and it includes the bonus of some extra samples of different sizes and colours.
I’m always trying to learn more about the more obscure and interesting corners of embroidery, and the reconstructions of no-longer-current threads and materials play directly into my fascination with early technologies.
The first stage in this case is to work outlines in gold, and on this occasion I deviated slightly from the instructions.
Normal practice these days is to plunge the ends of the gold thread and sew them down at the back, but it used to be more common simply to cut the thread and oversew it firmly on the front. So I’ve done that. It saves a bit of the expensive gold thread, and as this is a small decorative panel and not for a garment or other item which will move a lot, I think it will be successful.
It’s still important to run the thread in the right way over the design to minimise the number of cuts, of course!
The final part of the first month’s instructions is the first element of the silk purl, couched in a spiral to fill a pair of leaf shapes.
You can see that I have rather crushed the silk purl into place, which is a pity as it has introduced breaks or cracks into the purl, but then, this is an extreme close up. Without a magnifier, it is simply an impression of colour and texture.
The spiral is worked inwards from the gold outline, which is probably the only way it could be done – imagine the difficulties of finding the right central point to start from!
My word, it’s taken a long time! I started it in November 2015, and it took nearly a year just to finish the tent stitch, and then about eight months to do the gold Elizabethan Ground Stitch.
Progress wasn’t helped, of course, by the fact that counted work is something I can only do in short spurts. Or by the number of times I got distracted by wonderful new ideas I simply had to bring to life!
However, once I had got to the end of the stitching, and then the goldwork (isn’t it gorgeous, by the way – do click to zoom in on the photos!), there was a whole new level of puzzling to do, cutting out and assembling the lining for the box and then the box itself.
What with layers of padding and card, and the lining (silk, of course!) and the (silk) brocade covers for the outside of the box, there was a lot of pre-assembly to do, since the padding and lining, and the padding and external cover all had to be sewn together before the final assembly.
That final assembly was fiddly in the extreme, but is now finally complete.
I’m going to wrap it up and hide it for a few weeks until the pain is merely a memory, and then find somewhere to put it and gloat, because I am very pleased with it. Just a bit sore from wrestling with sharp needles and too many layers!
The Coiled Wrapped Silver Strip finishes off the metal thread frame for the cartouches beautifully. It fits between the rows of crinkle strip and pearl purl, and almost balances on top of the pearl purl, so it’s raised quite high.
And once the first cartouche frame is finished, there’s the second one to do!
Then, finally, the last stage before the adventure of turning it into a box is to add the gold webgimpe, which is a rather stiff woven ribbon.
I know it looks a bit twisted, but the next stage is to block it. Then I have to tackle the question of glue again. It will be a while before I tackle that challenge!
The next stage in the goldwork cartouche frames for Eve in the Garden of Eden was to add a row of very fine gold pearl purl inside each double row of the crinkle strip. Now, this doesn’t need a stitch in every gap – it’s more like a very fine, very tight spring, and follows curves quite well – but it is quite fiddly and concentrated, and there’s rather a lot of it. Fortunately I did each cartouche individually, so I had a rest from pearl purl while I tackled the next stage….
Which was this!
The Silver Strip which was to be the central row of the cartouche frame arrived flat – or at least, loosely coiled in its box. In order to spring to life and create a gorgeous, opulent central row for the cartouche frame, it had to be coiled into a spiral around the second of the knitting needles that arrived with the kit.
One of the things I enjoy about Tricia’s courses is that sometimes our materials require further elaboration before we use them…
Here you can see the texture of the Wrapped Silver Strip. I think it is engraved or embossed, rather than actually wrapped, but it does add to the general variety of response to light, and that, after all, is part of the reason for having metal threads on an embroidered piece….
You can also see how the effect is enhanced by twisting the strip into a spiral!
Once the foliage and the snake were done, I could start on the goldwork.
First, the spine. Each gap between the polychrome panels was filled with three rows of metal threads. The middle one was silver wrapped around a gilt strip, and the two outer ones in each case were of a very fine check purl. This last was very fragile, and if I had realised in advance just how fragile, and how inclined to catch on cuffs, sleeves, and threads, I think I might have worked the spine last.
The goldwork around the cartouches began with four rows of Gilt Crinkle Strip, two couched around the outside of the frame, and two around the inside.
The instructions said to place a couching stitch in every valley of the crinkle, which was certainly necessary – it doesn’t willingly follow curves when it is couched flat – but I might not have thought to do without instruction. It makes for a wonderful effect, if rather visually confusing when you’re working it, because the hills and valleys of the crinkle strip bounce light every which way, in a rather delightfully dazzling fashion…
You might think, by the way, that this is fairly straightforward and done in no time at all. You’d be wrong! That Gilt Crinkle Strip looks lovely, but my word, it has a mind of its own, and being very springy and having lots of little corners to catch, it makes a spirited attempt to tie itself in knots. A third – and even fourth – hand might have helped!
It took me quite some time – several weeks, in fact, before I got myself over my frustration with “Eve”, gathered up my patience and my courage, and had a go at the second lot of foliage.
The curls of gimp are a bit tighter, and more closely packed than in the first one, and the bunches of foliage are spaced out a bit to allow the branches to show through. There was a great deal of muttering, and I spread out the frustration by doing one clump at a time, then getting up and doing something else instead.
Naturally no garden of Eden can be complete without a Snake. In this case, using green silk pearl purl, carefully couched down in two sections to create the head (with flickering red silk forked tongue) and then the tail, to give the impression that the snake has wound itself around the tree.
I rather enjoyed the Snake (both of them!), because I only seemed to need the two hands I already have, rather than the three extra that seemed to be needed for the foliage! The silk thread used to couch the pearl purl also made a leaf for the apple.
I really should pay more attention to myself. I have said before that trying to work around edges is work for fools, and that often it is worth doing more stitching than is going to show. In the end I decided to listen to myself and do the whole sky.
If I’d done that before putting the trees in, however, the stitching would have been less fiddly and the experience, less frustrating!
The next stage is to add the foliage, more silk gimp couched with Soie Ovale, but this time couched in little curls.
I had been looking forward to this, as it looked rather entertaining in the photos, but thus far I haven’t enjoyed it at all. I’ve got myself tied in some terrible knots, and I’ve ended up cutting the gimp more often than I like.
I need to rethink how I tackle this, look again at the photos and instructions, and try to work out why I’ve ended up with something that looks congested and floppy, both at the same time. I also need to work out, if possible, how to hop from section to section, rather than cutting the gimp.
Now I’ve got Eve out again, it’s fairly romping away, which means I genuinely have progress to show for Meredithe’s “17 UFOs in 2017“. At least, it is romping away when you consider that everything has to be done twice…! The second hillock took a couple of afternoons (I try not to work at the frame for too long at a time, in case it makes the shoulder worse again!), and then I got started on the trees and their branches.
The trunk and branches are of couched silk gimp. The kit included four different colours of gimp, with the accompanying Soie Ovale, for couching, and each colour is couched as a single length. It’s expensive stuff, and you end up using three or four inches at each end for plunging and finishing off. Most of the branches will be covered by the foliage, also in couched gimp, but I’m pausing for a moment to consider whether I want to fill in more of the sky.
Those of you who follow me on Twitter or Instagram will have seen some rejoicings over the weekend. I have been working on the gold stitched background for the polychrome tent stitch for what seems like forever, but in fact it is less than a year – I began the Elizabethan Ground Stitch in October of last year. A serious shoulder problem interfered with my work at my floor frame at one stage, and then I was all taken with with my ideas for the Head of Nefertiti, so it was only recently that I got back to it. And now I have finished that laborious stage, and I can move on to the more complex and intriguing techniques which were the whole reason for taking the course.
For instance, this one. Tricia describes this as a variation on Velvet Stitch, worked in silk thread over what I presume is a fine double ended knitting needle. It makes a perfect spacer for the pile of the stitch, anyway, and arrived with all the other bits and pieces.
Tricia tells us to come up through the already occupied hole, to avoid pulling the thread through to the back and reducing the pile. I went a step further and worked it from the back, ensuring that I kept the stitch neat and the stitching going up through the right holes!
I must admit I enjoyed this, simple, and straightforward, but with just enough challenge to keep me awake and alert.
And here is the first hillock, finished and fluffy. It looks as though it would be beautifully soft underfoot, doesn’t it!
This is much the best print I’ve managed of Nefertiti, pressure, speed and amount of ink all working nicely, and very few really dark sections. What I want to do now is to highlight the coloured elements of the crown she wears – unique to her, apparently, no-one else in ancient Egypt has ever been depicted wearing it. I’ve got some gorgeous silk threads from Mulberry Silks which should do the job perfectly, but first they need a skeleton of gold. I had a lovely rummage in among the assorted wonders I’ve received from Thistle Threads (they have their own special box, of course), and after staring critically at the linen fabric, picked out the Special Tambour, and made a start.
My idea is to create a framework of Ladder Stitch, and then add colour – as in the Tudor Rose project – using silk threads. Long term readers may recall that during the Tudor and Stuart Goldwork Masterclass, I had some trouble with Ladder stitch, so although I was fairly sure the idea would work, I sat down with some trepidation.
To be very pleasantly surprised. Something has happened in the intervening few years, and my ladder stitch wasn’t as trying as I expected, and moved fairly swiftly, too. I may yet decide to redo the stitches, because I re-tightened the fabric in the frame about halfway across, but that will depend upon how much better the second section looks when I have done it.