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’. 


  1. Hi great works!
    you say you need fine thread with silk, why dont you use the Gilt Sylke Twist they designed for the plimoth jacket? they told me some colours were running out but you can still get most.

  2. Yes, you make a good point and I wanted to use that thread so much I even had a quote for 10 reels, however, the metal they use in it actually has a metal core, so it wont be pliable enough. And its gold not silver, but more importantly, if you go to this link:

    you'll read why they didnt use it for Trellis, I think it says something along the lines of 'GST does not lend itself to this stitch' or something like that.

    Thanks anyway :)