Sunday, 21 February 2010

Thoughts on twisting silver and silk and 1st petal of blue motif

Here’s the first petal of the blue flower – I’m sorry I don't know what that flower’s called, nomenclature was never my bag, if you’ll pardon the pun.  Besides, I really think I have to embroider, or at least try to embroider, what I can see rather than what I’m told it should look like, if you know what I mean?


Anyway, last week, you’ll recall I said the embroidered 3-d elements on the bag were stitched using silk thread twisted with gold.

That statement serves to show you just how much the image sparkles because in fact what I thought was gold turns out to be tarnished silver in combination with the obvious influence of ‘local colour’ reflecting off it.

Of course it stands to reason that the silk would be twisted with silver rather than gold as its always less expensive than gold and also silver is traditionally gold’s foil; gold always rests on silver; silver is the stars and gold is the sun… but I also wonder if silver is just more pliable than gold per se?  Hold that thought.. 

For a really old solution for how to make metal ‘soft’ for use on or as ‘clothes’ you only have to think about the English tradition of Chain Mail for coats of armour.  Essentially what that does is break the metal down into little bits that fit together or link as bits of chain.  So on a larger scale, but also as an influence on the visual arts, chain mail was the solution to make metal flexible.  In embroidery the concern was to make metal minutely flexible or pliable.  The Saxons found the solution by wrapping thin strips of metal round a soft core of horsehair.  The Japanese method was of wrapping gilded, then cut, tiny pieces of rice paper round a silk core.  Both methods use the same soft elongated filament idea for the core.  In embroidery, the more pliable a metal thread is, the more you can do with it.  Now you might think ‘where is she going with all of this?’, easy: I come to my own particular problem with the bag.

Some motifs on the bag, you see, take that idea of pliable metal thread to a new level and are actually stitched entirely with Trellis stitch (reverse side) using only metal thread, NO silk.

For instance the tiny acorns, where half are completed in metal and the other half in silk. The dividing line is in precisely the same place on each and the design is repeated on all the acorns.

This brings me to my major problem with regard to replicating the needlework methods on the bag…

I’ve been trying to find examples of Trellis stitched using only silver thread in this way but I couldn’t.

Now bear in mind that Trellis is a series of tiny tight knots. The big question was, or is, which modern metal thread will be pliable enough to form this stitch as the Elizabethans did e.g. really small and tight? You have to consider that most metal threads produced today for hand embroidery are made to be couched down, even when they say they’re meant for ‘fine detail’, it never mentions this type of very tight knotting.  So there’s the cause of my headache and my long-winded preamble. 

I’ll leave all that aside for now and show you my mock motif, using multiple threads of silver lame and cotton perle.  As you can see its way too chunky and has actually made me realise that I need to use one strand of metal and one strand of silk or else the motifs will never work up small enough.

Now the direction of the stitching on this one is interesting.  If you can see, the petal grows at right angles to the background fabric.  So you’re working small rows of Detached Buttonhole and with each new row, you’re going into the very curved foundation (chain) stitch of the previous row sometimes three times, to produce a fan-like shape, like this:


I should also point out that I didn’t draw on the linen, I used my trusty paper template method of visually judging when the mini fabric was big enough by placing the paper template on top. 

Here you can see how the petal has bent over to one side.  It worked up extremely solid with all that metal in there.  I’ve edge it with some wired silver coloured beads that I found in a ribbon shop, to simulate the pearl purl that I eventually hope to get, again that has to be the thinnest they do.  


Anchoring Notes on Flying Needlelace

Now, I can’t remember if I described exactly how to do 3-d type ‘flying’ DBH like this? but all you have to remember is to start it the correct side according to which hand you sew with.  as if you were straight buttonholing (see earlier post – the bones of it are still there because that page is up for revision).

When you start it, you’ll realise really quickly that when come do the straight stitch return row part it requires a special little ‘anchoring stitch’ to peg it down at the start of each new row or else it goes hay-wire. 

Now I managed to take photos of how to do this step.  I hope you can see what I mean, (if not, send me comments and I’ll explain it better next week).


1.  Straight stitch return row in normal way, but keep it loose and go under it, with the working thread looped around the opposite way.  If you’re right handed you would flip this image.  Hold its final position in place with your thumb and index finger, while you pull the thread through with the other hand.


Here’s a close-up of of the thread being pulled through, remember you have NOT gone into the ground fabric, you have only gone into the foundation chain.  It looks complicated because you’re doing 2 things, you’re straight stitch anchoring while simultaneously doing the first stitch of the next row. 


Here it is all pulled through, ready to march on with some of those oodles of DBH !!




  • It now remains for me to put the pages into the mini stumpwork heart book.  (I did some CQ seam treatments on the inside that took ages….)
  • the orange
  • the robin
  • work on ideas for an embroidered brooch based on an idea I saw in a book in Smiths called simply ‘Pink’. 

Friday, 12 February 2010

Coloured drawings of Swetebag: Motif 1 – Blue

Well I finally received the medium resolution image from The Metropolitan Museum archives and I would like to say thank you for your patience.   I’m not permitted to post any part of it here as I paid for ‘personal use’ rights only.  But I couldn’t wait to give you a taste of what’s to follow with this detailed colour drawing I made of perhaps the easiest motif, which is constructed using Detached Buttonhole. 






I don’t want to spend this entire post describing the wonderful details I can now distinguish. I would just like to say that it’s a truly remarkable image and well worth the (very long) wait. In my opinion, it contains as much information as the last 3 books I bought on the subject and I consider those books to be essential.

From the drawing I hope you can see all the gold and silver pearl purl they used to edge it.  I’ve also shown where this metal embellishment has come away from the design and is swinging around above it.

I’ve described the direction of the DBH as well as the Gobelin stitch silver background.  I hope you can also see  tiny areas of canvas stitching; for which they used light green and cream.  And most interestingly they also used canvas stitches like this behind each 3-d element, I think perhaps as way of making the form stand out even more.  The gorgeous blue DBH stitches all have gilt twisted round the silk, I didn’t describe that as I wanted the pearl purl to stand out. 

I’ve used tiny black marks to indicate stitch direction as well as to reveal areas of curling hidden from view, hopefully that’s clear.  But so as not to leave any room for doubt with you or myself, next time I intend to use this drawing to make an accurate template, to make those details even clearer.  From that I will hopefully be able to scale it down to the actual size I will need to make it.  I will talk more about this motif next time as I didn’t want this post to be overly long as I need to bring certain things together now, due to gaps at the beginning of this blog journey.

For those of you that have followed this muse from way back in November, you’ll recall that I said that whilst trying to work out how to do Trellis stitch, my various experiments resulted in the discovery that you can produce 3-d ‘flaps’ with this incredibly versatile stitch.

Further experimentation proved to me that that these flaps could in fact hold their shape and not need to be wired. Now when you work Trellis stitch (front side) like this, in mid-air, it’s very easy to construct these shapes because it works up as a little grid and has perfectly right angles.  Very easy to see where the end is and just work up in rows in the usual way working from a foundation of reversed chain stitch.  It needs to be reversed chain as that’s very firm.

I further discovered that if you then go around the edge of that shape, with say buttonhole stitch, starting from one end and going right round, (starting from the left if you are right handed and visa versa if you are left handed) you end up with a curved shape that suggests flower petals! 

Trellis petal


With that discovery I made this doodle of a generic flower.  I should point out that the petals of this flower stood away from the fabric so much so that I had to go in behind each of them to peg them down.  If you look closely, you can see that on the petal at the bottom right hand side, I’d hadn’t gone round that edge to round it up, so you can still see the right angles.    

Trellis Petals 
Now I pushed all of those ideas further and realised that petals made with Trellis stitch end up as quite thick pieces of mini-fabric that have a distinct curve; due to the reverse side of Trellis creating much more thread bulk.  So from this we can establish that Trellis petals will always curve in the same direction.  Now hold that thought!…

Then, I decided to try and do the same thing with Detached Buttonhole (DBH). All of that went well and I got more enthusiastic and so I said to myself, well, if you have a flower like say a rose - not so much period roses, but roses generally - and you used Trellis for some petals, then DBH for others, what about using uncorded detached buttonhole (Brussels stitch) and seeing what that turned out like?

And here is how that experiment turned out.

Single Buttonhole Petal

And so, I continued to amble along this very personal meandering path of experimentation and copious ripping out, thinking more specifically now about flowers and exploring 3-d floral embroidery techniques for their own sake and making notes in my little (blue) book . 


THEN I found the image of the bag on the Met Museum website and had one of those, dare I say, life changing moments!…I kid you not…my eyes genuinely popped out.  I was completely bowled over, there it sits, dramatically lit and sooo mysterious…bursting with a cornucopia of hand embroidered flora and fauna… that you can see here.

In that same moment it occurred to me that apart from it being a very beautiful bag that I wished I could own, I was simultaneously convinced that it must be made with Trellis Stitch Flower petals!  Now you might think that was a giant leap into the dark, and looking back I think I would agree, but however bold and rash that thought was, at the very least, Trellis was my key into it unlocking the mysteries of the bag, if you will…..

So now, with tremendous relief, (because as you can image, I’ve worried a lot about how it was actually made), I can say here at long last that the image proves to me that my hunch was correct and even more than that, it shows me just what FURTHER amazing things you can achieve with little old Trellis………

Naturally there’s heaps of DBH on the front of the bag, oodles in fact, but if you care to zoom in on it (at the link above) and cast your eye over those knobby bits sticking out for a moment and try to imagine what I can see clearly with my own two little (red) eyes……all I can say is, you will never ever guess it!

Keep reading……until next time!



Work in Progress:

1.  I need to finish the orange – and all those leaves by adding seed pearls and gold deliciousness.

2.  I need to finish the robin – I’ll wait till Easter and give him a nest and 3 golden eggs.

3.  I need to finish the red heart mini fabric book in time for Valentine’s day – ooops that’s this weekend!!

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Embroidered 3-d leaves

Last week I paused work on the orange
orange 5
orange 6
to research leaves.

The investigations I did into the wide variety of Elizabethan leaves that there are was very exciting as  I’ve wanted to tackle leaves for a long time.  In fact, looking back over previous posts, I can see that way back in November I was asking myself questions about leaf design and construction.  So none of this was wasted time as The Bag itself has at least 4 leaves from what I can see.

I think leaves are terribly cute things and an endless source of inspiration throughout the ages and cultures.  So looking at nature’s own embroidery like here with this tiny Cyclamen leaf: 
is all part of it.  Isn’t it the cutest thing. 

I must have looked at 100 period leaves or more but I couldn’t find the leaf I wanted to make until I saw this:
3-d floppy leaf
What I like about these particular leaves is that they’re symmetrical and have a naturalistic central vein and curling. 

If you look closely at the image you can see that there are in fact 2 layers of leaf.  The outer ‘floppy’ or ‘curly’ one that I like is semi-attached in a way that reveals the bolder identical leaf lying directly beneath. 

I asked myself why they would work in this way and I think that apart from it being a neat way of representing 3-d effects, in my view, this double-layering system also ensures that a void isn’t left in the the design.  (Don’t know what Digby has to say on this issue, if anything?)

So once my mind was made up, I then set myself the task of investigating several challenges involving leaf construction and design that had been gnawing away at me. 

Perhaps, looking back, I took on too much and I should’ve done a simple wired leaf in an all-in-one colour and just surface embroider some veins and be done with it.  Well, all I can say is, I wish I could think like that, but I’m a little too obsessed/enthusiastic to settle for the speedy option  - it’s not the arriving; it’s the journey! -  So the questions I posed myself were these: 

1. Wire or no wire?
2. How to do the central vein construction – surface or integral?
3. How to do convincing symmetrical colour changing to signify a leaf’s bilateral structure and which stitch would be best suited to this?

First I thought I could work the leaf in my hand using trellis stitch.  I found this too uncontrollable.  I worked out that at least some part of it needs to be anchored to the ground fabric.  So I worked on a separate piece of ‘waste’ linen, as the leaf I’m concentrating on here is the detached one that will just rest on top of the orange, if you recall.  Furthermore,  I don’t need to worry about the shape of the edge, it’s just straight forward lance shape in this case.

At this juncture, I’m going to put forward something a little controversial on the subject of wire.  In my opinion, and that’s really just what my eyes seem to tell me, I’m not convinced the Elizabethans used wire in their work.  For sure wire was used during the stumpwork revival a couple of hundred years later, but I’m really not sure Elizabethans used it.  I’m certain they used gold pearl purl to edge and thereby support the shape of the work, but did they really wire their work invisibly as we are given to believe?  The reason I hold this view, and I am prepared to change my mind on this if I’m presented with unequivocal evidence by someone who has handled these 400-year-old items and can vouch that they pulled them apart slightly to reveal the wire, is, that there does not appear to me, to be the classic discolouration affecting the stitches that you would expect to see as the wire oxidises and degenerates with time.  (Comments most welcome!)

So given that I would not be using a wire cordonet, next I needed to find a stitch that would provide a strong foundation or edge, and one that could be cut away at the end without disrupting the structure. 

I chose backstitch to anchor a chain stitch foundation (that would not pierce the fabric except at beginning and end) for the entire shape as well as the central vein.

You might wonder why I didn’t tie a thread cordonet down and buttonhole the edge?  My answer to that is I have seen that the Elizabethans did not adopt ‘one size fits all’ in terms of close buttonholing all the edges of things.  There are some pieces that do exhibit this generalised treatment, but in my view the more varied a piece of work, the greater variety the needleworker has given to concerns such as this.  I have also noticed that some leaves because of their choice of stitch, suggest a serrated edge and that’s so much more interesting that it must have been deliberate, and in my view, they probably added that at the end. 
So here’s how I did it:

1.  Back stitch entire shape.  (Remember, if you want a really small backstitch, its best to turn the work round and simply work stem stitch in the usual way.  When you turn it back you’ll see a very compact back stitch has formed – I learnt that from looking at the way they stitch in Morocco).

2.  Next go over each back stitch with a chain stitch by carefully grabbing each back stitch as you go along.  I found the easiest way to do this is if you work towards you, holding the needle horizontally.  Make sure none of the back stitches are missed and remember you’re only to pierce the fabric at the beginning and end.  

3.  Now turn to the diagram below to see how I created the necessary sweeping diagonal for the colour change to work.

leaf instructions 2010

Creating sweeping diagonals
My solution for this step was a serendipitous discovery I made when I was making the padded hearts (see earlier post).  One of the hearts didn’t go that well, or so I thought.  I even considered ripping it out because I’d made a mistake at the pointed start.  I didn’t realise at the time but when I began at the sharp pointed end I must have gone into the second stitch twice and ended up accidentally creating a sweeping diagonal.  I corrected this as I went along, but for the leaf, I maintained that system of steering the stitches upwards sharply.

Colour changing the fast way
For the colour change of DBH, I loaded the needle with extra long thread and left the tail hanging waiting for next time.  The threads didn’t get in my way because I wrapped them round the screw of the hoop. 

I wanted to start all the new threads underneath the central vein, as the back of the work will be seen and I wanted to keep that neat.  Unfortunately, I got carried away and my threads ended  all over the place.  Next time I hope to do that properly. 

I also decided at this stage that if the leaf wasn’t stiff enough, I would attach a little wire to the back of the central vein and overcast it. 

And finally, here is the little prototype leaf:
leaf prototype
Please disregard the left-hand edge as that incorporates  a further experiment of mine (I can't even remember what I was trying to do then? – by that time it was so late!!).  If you can see, the chain stitch edge (right-hand side) is also wide enough for gold to be whipped round or a contrasting thread perhaps?

Notice also how it it curls slightly as a real leaf would, to me that was the whole point; to mimic the nature of real leaves. 

I’ll just add, its quite firm to handle and does actually maintain its shape from the tension of the DBH stitches and the thickness of the thread.  The only thing I would say about improving the construction is that I would make sure all threads are left hanging only from the central vein, in order to be concealed eventually by weaving in.  Also, as I held it up to the light, I could see that the central vein presented merely as a series of spaces in the work, as both sides of the chain had been used as the starting point for each subsequent row of DBH.  I think the central vein could be embellished with metal to really bring it out, ooh, that bit will be fun to do... 

I think this leaf opens a lot of possibilities for uses with corsages & appliqu├ęd modern items…yum yum

*I would like to give special thanks to Elmsley Rose, as without her assistance I would not have been able to arrive at my personal conclusions. 

Update:There has been a major development on The Bag front !!!