Practice Beforehand

A knight on a bay horse approaches a castle. His shield is per pale gold and green, a lion rampant gules - the arms of William Marshall, 1st Earl of Pembroke. The border is blue, decorated with broom, dog roses, and crosses. All is rendered in silk.
The sky remains unstitched - it will be in gold underside couching.

The crosses in place, and the whole border looking very much like a Book of Hours, or at least, a rather tame Book of Hours, I sat back and drew breath.

Having got William and his border done, and being really very pleased with how he’s turned out, I now need to tackle the sky. And from the first, I have intended the sky to be in basketweave pattern underside couching, which is an entirely new technique to me.

Two long panels drawn on fabric and two short examples of basketweave pattern. There's a tube of silver ready to practice with.

Regular readers may have spotted that I only rarely practice beforehand, regardless of the technique, preferring to throw myself headlong into the novelty, mind concentrated by terror. The exception tends to be in goldwork, when an exception occurs, and indeed, I had some of the fabric stretched in a frame, ready to practice, well before I had got William to that stage of finishing. Mindful of the advice from Tanya Bentham’s Opus Anglicanum book, however, I decided not to try practicing while I was still working the silk. In winter it is hard enough to keep the hands from catching on silk without making it worse by using metal threads!

I’m using silver for my practice pieces. One could practice with silk, or pearl cotton, but they would both spread and cover any failure to keep the lines close. I think this silver is the same size as the gold I intend to use, so it will make a better practice material.

A first few rows of underside couching in silver, part of my practice piece.

It’s easy enough to understand the principle underlying underside couching, but there are all sorts of hazards, As always, I suspect that once the management of the thread becomes second nature, all the difficulties will fall away, but packing the thread closely without cramming, making sure the stitches lie happily on the surface, and stopping the couching thread (a sturdy linen, beeswaxed before use) from showing, are all proving challenging at present.

I am determined to practice this properly, so I’m going to do this inch-wide strip before even considering practicing the basketweave pattern.

Rose Hug
Rose Hug

I have been looking further at Ko-fi, and how it might be used as a shop front, at least for digital items, and as an experiment, I’ve uploaded the Hug For A Handbag instructions to my Ko-fi Shop as a free/pay what you feel download. If anyone would like to go through the process and tell me what it’s like, and give me the opportunity to see what happens from this side, I’d be very grateful!


  1. Sue Jones says:

    Well done for bothering to practice first. It will be worth it. As the only underside couching that I have tried was with stranded cotton, couched with fine crochet cotton, on 28-count linen, many, many years ago, I can’t advise you. But I will be cheering from the sidelines!

  2. Amo says:

    Practice is worth it! You could find a different thread works better or different scale. Better to make mistake now than later.

  3. Amo says:

    I’ve done the Kofi thing so hope it helps you see how it works from your side 😊

  4. Oh, William IS looking grand surrounded by the beautiful frame.
    I have only a little experience with underside couching and used stranded floss and perle for the thread that can be seen and a thinner thread for the actual couching.
    Your practice piece looks very neat. Isn’t the silver thread wearing thin where it is being pulled into the fabric?

  5. Lin says:

    Your border does look splendid and sets William off a treat. Good idea to practise this stitch although I too am usually in favour of the plunge right in method. Have fun. xx

  6. Meredithe says:

    They say practice makes perfect – I’m sure you’ll do very well!

  7. Alex Hall says:

    I have no experience with underside couching – like drawn thread work, it terrifies me a little! Like you, I also rarely practise before I start but I can see that in this case, a practise piece would be well worth the time invested. I’m really interested to see how it goes.

  8. Karen says:

    I too have zero experience of this technique, but am looking forward to seeing how it turns out.