Friday, 25 June 2010

Detached Buttonhole Circles Part II and shaping generally

(This post continues on from the last where I discuss my investigations into shaping etc…should mention its also pretty lengthy!!)

Before I resume what I was saying, quite by accident I found this quote from the King James Version of the Bible, Isaiah, Chapter 19, verse 9, states:

'Moreover, they that work in fine flax and they that weave networks, shall be confounded',

On a blog I found here.  Rather fitting don’t you think!


Detached Buttonhole (DBH) is indeed a network.  A single stitch of DBH is simply a buttonhole stitch but put four of them together and you have the basic pattern for the complete stitch, or lattice.

Taking the term ‘net’ as my starting point I went back to look more closely at 3 excellent sources that discuss this subject online.  They are:

1. Tricia Wilson (Plimoth Jacket) who has produced a very detailed free pdf file concerning how to construct and shape DBH, that you can find here:

2. Herritage Shoppe is a site dedicated to embroidery that offers essays amongst them is a detailed discussion about single Detached Buttonhole that you can grab here.  You can download the whole thing or just relevant sections.  I’m looking at the sub-heading ‘Graphical Representation of Needlelace’.

3. Antique Patterns Online has uploaded vintage instructions on Battenberg that includes Point Lace (Needle Lace) instructions.  The section I’m looking at for this post is the one called ‘Network Stitches’ which can be found near the end of the booklet and you can grab a copy here.

If you recall, I said last time that to really try and understand what I was doing wrong with corded DBH circles, I said I felt I needed to ‘go back to the drawing board’. 

To do this I realised pretty quickly that I would really need to temporarily disregard the straight stitch return row, and just look at the formation uncorded DBH takes. 

The reason for this is that all the books tell you to start with the uncorded version of the stitch as crucially its referred to as the ‘basis for understanding all needle lace stitches’. 

Its a difficult stitch to work with and as we all know, its comparatively unstable, but essentially it holds the key to heaps of confusion and distortion.

The first article I found helpful was Tricia Wilson’s reference to the notion of “the expanding net”. 

If I can paraphrase this idea, the way I understand it it’s like this.  Because DBH forms a diamond shape and no two stitches sit side by side; there’s always another stitch between them, its tricky to maintain even sides because in normal working of the stitch, you end up making 2 stitches from every single stitch, like this:

one DBH stitch makes two on next row 

So it follows that the edges of, say a DBH square, will never be completely flush, (hence you need to frame the shape with some kind of outline, when working flat). 

Unlike knitting, for instance, where you go into a loop proper each time, with DBH you’re not doing this but rather into the spaces either side of it and so it will always appear staggered, like this:

DBH square diagram simplified

Because of this inherent characteristic this presents us with the opportunity of making two stitches for every one or to put it another way ‘an extra stitch’ each time, hence the net would widen out like this:

widening net

In order to correct this, Tricia Wilson’s suggest that: “To alleviate this problem for a square shape, the second row should drop two end stitches and then the third row would add the two end stitches.”

I found this explanation most helpful, however if you actually count the stitches in her accompanying diagram you see there is a starting row of 7 stitches, followed by a row of 6 stitches.  I simplify this notion for myself as needing to work the rows ‘odd and even’. 

Now here is where my confusion started.  If you “drop the two end stitches” as she directs, then why is only one stitch actually being lost on a count?  Obviously the “two dropped” stitches are not in fact whole stitches but two halves of one stitch, or ‘partial stitches’, that are split and ‘shared’ at either end….

So I continued with my experiments using this advice and ended up, unfortunately with gaps at either edge of every other row.  The other thing I noticed was that the gaps were not all the same size, in fact one of them was considerably larger than the other and most disconcertingly, it kept popping up in an unpredictable manner.

This made me decide to look more closely at what was actually happening with this ‘net’ idea and I saw for myself that the end stitches on the rows with gaps, did not actually constitute two halves of one (dropped) stitch after all, but rather ¾ of a stitch at one end and a ¼ at the other.  See diagram below:

alternating three-quarter end stitch

To demonstrate that characteristic more clearly I’ve blown it up below.  Now all of this is still looking at things from the ‘back and forth’ perspective of this uncorded version of DBH but even so, it does begin to explain why the end stitches of the corded version also need to be ‘shaped’ correctly. 

Another thing that’s worth noting at this stage is that as you can see below, the 3/4 stitch moves down the network of stitches in a predictable pattern on alternate rows.  So, what I thought had been stubbornly erratic turns out to have a sense to it within the context of the mechanics of this stitch.  More about that later…  


So then I recalled that on the website Herritage Shoppe there is another essay pdf file that looks further into the strange seemingly unpredictable behaviour of these ‘partial stitches’. 

If you go take a look at that file yourself and see the last 2 pages of the long explanation of how to do Needlelace you will see a section headed ‘Needlelace – A Graphic Representation’.

On that sheet you will see a detailed diagram of a large DBH network, into which a circle has been sketched. 

Essentially that article suggests that you need to understand squares thoroughly before you can even begin to understand how to make circles!  And their advice on how to make squares differs to that of Tricia Wilson. 

But the other important contribution I think the Heritage Shoppe essay makes is that it introduces the idea of looking at DBH not so much as a network of thread manoeuvres that you have to control in a dictatorial manner, but rather as a network of spaces within the thread units and that those spaces form very important shapes, according to whichever particular needle lace stitch you are making.  Furthermore, it explains that you have to try and maintain the ‘shape’ of those spaces in order to achieve the desired shape.

I found this exciting as I hadn’t really thought of needle lace in terms of spaces before.  I’d always been concerned with stitch mechanics and stitch length, it never occurred to me to look at spaces between stitches as a positive contribution to overall neatness, of course now I can see how imperative that is.

To demonstrate: the space between DBH stitches is like this:

shape of spaces in DBH

Its a kind of diamond or goblet shape.  What its called doesn’t matter, what matters is that all the spaces look the same and especially when the reach the margins and are partially gobbled up by them. 

In short, when you get to the edges these spaces have maintain their integrity and suggest that they are continuing, beyond the grasp of the greedy margin.  In other words the partial edge spaces have to look convincing! 

Then I remembered a very good set of patterns that are also available free on the internet from Antique Patterns Online, an educational website that has uploaded a whole heap of stuff about historical stitches.  

If you download that booklet you’ll see that apart from containing an exhaustive list of all the classic needle lace stitches (!!), most importantly, it too discusses how to handle the ‘widening net’ or lattice in a different way.

In that article, conversely, it does not tell you to drop any stitches on alternate rows!  (Yes you read that correctly, it shocked me too!).

antique pattern

If you count the stitches in those diagrams you see a first row of 6 DBH stitches that’s then followed by another row of 6 stitches and yet it maintains its square shape.  Although the diagram is quite small, if you look closely it demonstrates clever wrapping techniques (More about that further on).

So after reading all of that I had to stop and leave everything for a while because really, my head was pounding…. of course the old brain is working away at these conundrums in the background all the time.

When I came back to them I decided I needed to make my own diagrams of DBH and that’s when everything I had read started to slot into place.  The challenge with this stitch is how to shape the space, as already mentioned, so that it looks in keeping with the rest of the design.  That leads on to a critical understanding of the position the needle should be in at the end, and then the start, of each new row.  See below for what I’m trying to explain:


This is my diagram:

alternating three-quarter end stitch

Here you can see rows of plain DBH going off in their peculiar way.

I then decided to impose even sides on them by drawing two vertical lines at each end and placing them at a point where I think I should start each row, if I were to stitch it.

With this deliberate nitty-gritty diagram I found not only that I could properly identify for myself all the problematic end stitches but also to identify all the partial stitches and notice the unique shape of the spaces when anticipating the end of the row. 

This is when things finally started to become exciting.  First of all if you notice there are 4 stitches and 4 Spaces between stitches on every row.  (Antique Patterns was right)

So now the problem to address is where exactly to ‘expect’ the needle should go.

Here is a set of sequential diagrams that hopefully explain exactly what I’m referring to.  I started from the left hand side by the way:


Consider the entry point of the needle at the first stitch.

If you see how I took the very first ‘stitch’ in that row, by that I mean the stitch that you have to imagine begins outside of the margin, the needle would have to  emerge from the fabric at about roughly half-way up the length of the first stitch.  Simplify that to mean, you ‘start the first row near the top’.


Now here is the breakdown of what I’m trying to explain.  At the end of the first row, on the right above, you can see that the needle ends quite low down, lower down than the very first stitch.  This action maintains the shape of the ‘expected’ space, or how it would look if the edge were not there. 

Then, if you see the little note explaining what the needle does next, you will see it actually doesn’t travel at all, you emerge from just below where you ended the previous row and take the first stitch of the next row.  This action ‘closes’ the empty space and suggests that the next stitch happens just beyond the margin and continues for infinity.  


In this diagram the loops are further along, adopting exactly the same procedures as the preceding two diagrams.


Here’s the finished diagram. 

You’ll be pleased to know I’ve stitched this exact pattern, but alas I ripped it out as I was so excited I went on to do more complex stitches that I’d always wanted to do.  I’ll show them to you soon, as there’s a lot happening right now with regard to the repro bag.


Once I had finished the diagram above, I went back to the antique patterns pdf file and decided to try the thing again starting from the other end and this is what happened.


What’s interesting about the diagram above is that it proved to me that: had I started the square from the opposite end, the right hand side for instance, then I would certainly have had to make lots of wraps around the boundary line to get the needle back down to where it needed to be to start the next row. 

How fascinating!  This would suggest, in that case, that wraps are actually optional.  I would prefer not to use wraps but if the thread is very thin for instance and the end result you want is for it to be very lacy, then maybe that might be necessary, who knows, but at least I’ve worked out for myself that if I start the right side, I don’t need to make wraps.  I also realise now that wrapping doesn’t exactly solve the gap problem, it merely moves the needle down to where it should be.  Consideration for the exit and then entry position of the needle comes way ahead of wraps. 

I’m aware that wrapping can also suggest the position of last  stitch nearest the margin that is sometimes too cramped to be taken, but as you can see above, where there are wraps in this example, if that were their purpose, then they would imply extra stitches that would incorrectly bisect the all important suggested ‘space’.   

So I bet you’re wondering if all this groundwork helped me in the end…


I think it did, but as you can see, the last row has a  mistake in that because I was rushing there is one too many stitches - oops.  Also the start is a bit flat but apart from that, you can see I felt confident enough with what I was doing to keep my return rows nice and loose and thereby ensured that the horizontals remained true.  Oh and um, as you can tell, I abandoned the hexagon restraints, I prefer circles.


Can’t wait now to try some of the more complex needlelace stitches again (the conventional white thread variety) ….


Exciting things to report

I had a meeting with none other than Bill Barnes himself!  Yes people, the man behind ye olde Gilt Sylke Twist.  He was so helpful but alas he doesn’t really meet with people face to face and had made a special concession because I put it to him that “it remains to be seen if the bag can be reproduced faithfully with modern silver & gilt threads”. 

He was extremely helpful and encouraging.  The first thing he said was that the Lurex I had bought in England (£20) was not a good silver colour and looked too much like aluminium.  He gave me some Tambour stuff that was of equal thickness and I must say the colour is a lot nearer the real thing.  My main concern, as I explained to him, was not so much the colour but if it could form Trellis stitch as tightly as the Historical bag.  I showed him my experiments so far and he could see what I meant.  Its so nice to meet with someone that knows exactly what I’m talking about.  I came away with a darling goody bag that I can’t wait to try out.  Another thing he pointed out to me that I hadn’t quite spotted was that the motifs are not in fact edged with pearl purl, but rather with Lizardine, as the tops are flattened not curved!  TG for Bill Barnes! but now, whatever shall I do with £24.00 worth of pearl purl?  

I shall reveal more about our tete-a-tete on another occasion as I’m totally whacked out and I have to drive a long way tomorrow to get to Kentwell for their Tudor re-enactment weekend.  Apparently they have an embroidery section and I really need to meet up with people that I can discuss bag cords with. 



Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Detached Buttonhole Circles

Although the construction of this next flower looks simple, on a closer inspection I found it to be deceptively so.  (See previous post for image).

If you notice the head is stitched with Detached Buttonhole (DBH) working conventionally in horizontal lines.

Its lying flat on the linen not ‘flying’ and I can just make out that unlike the previous flower, they’ve not used a  chain stitch foundation but a simple back-stitch to anchor it in place. 

First thing was, it occurred to me that I hadn’t come across DBH used for circles before.  I thought that Elizabethan circles tended to be worked using spiral Trellis?  But as with the other circular motif on The Bag  of grapes, they’ve actually used horizontal DBH.

So off I went, happily making my first practice version in my favourite light blue crochet cotton.  (Its my favourite for working out any new techniques as it’s very easy to work with and I know it so well - they stopped making it, but now they’re making it again - that I can instantly see any tiny differences that I need to understand more fully.)

In my experiments I maintained the security of using a chain stitch foundation to hook everything over.  Need I say that, pretty soon things started to go horribly wrong, hence this post is so long!!

Detached Buttonhole Circular Shaping

To fundamentally understand DBH circular shaping, I decided that maybe I needed to lay the DBH shape over the base line, instead of into it, so that I could really see what was happening at the sides, because its at the sides that errors become apparent.  A lot of books advise you to bury the thread in the sides at the end of rows; in an effort to stabilise the structure.  I decided not to do this and just confront what on earth I was doing wrong?…

As we all know, usually you’re told to whip round the inner loop of the base line and pull your rows in to even them up, this is fine, but it’s also a place where you can mask your mistakes! 

Circles Mutating into Hexagons

Very soon I realised that the circles were becoming distorted.  Distortion with DBH shaping can be a bit of a problem, whereas smoother shaping always enhances your work.

So I made (yet) more circles but  incorporated incremental changes each time only to conclude that it’s virtually impossible to make smooth DBH circles as the resulting shape will always ‘pull’ in a certain direction and look odd. 

The problem seems to be down to the intrinsic nature of horizontal DBH, which can be summed up as ‘squaring the circle’.  So what you end up with is more like a hexagon…  

To compensate for this distortion I inadvertently made  more stitches to smooth out the hexagon effect. 

Then I decided perhaps I needed to take a closer look at Reticella work.  This piece is Italian and the figures are mounted on Hollie Point.  It’s housed at the V&A. 


Reticella Work

As you can see above, there aren’t many examples of circular DBH on here but where there are, they’re actually hexagons.  With this I went back to the image of The Bag and could see that yes, they had indeed stitched a hexagon and smoothed it out with Pearl Purl, which is what had confused me. 

But in researching all of this, always at the back of my mind is my enduring quest to improve my understanding of needle lace techniques generally, especially shaping.  So I decided I would ‘go back to the drawing board’ with everything I knew about DBH, because maybe my problem was the decreasing and increasing aspect? 

Diagonal Lattice of DBH

The main thing to remember about DBH is that it works up in a diagonal direction, which means that at the ends of every other row, you have half stitches, which sometimes look like ugly gaps. 

A lot of stitchers, including myself, will compensate for these gapping holes by making another stitch.  This seems the right thing to do as you’re go along, because after all its a filling stitch and you’re ‘filling’, right? but horror of horrors at the end you’re faced with disgusting ‘bunching up’ as seen here:


The example above shows how not to increase, unless you were trying to make a potato shape!!!  It also demonstrates my beef about the optical illusion of a diagonal migration. 

From what I know now about lattice/stretching/staggering/whole & partial stitches etc, I can see exactly where I started to go wrong, but of course, I didn’t at the time.

You can see at the sides that as one new stitch emerges at the beginning of a row, another disappears at the other end, however, the diagonal pattern lines take your eye from top to bottom, rather than across.  In other words the DBH is actually ‘stretching’ out to fit the shape you make in an all-over manner.  This means that at the margins there is a predictable pattern of full, half and partial stitches. 

In a nutshell, what all this means is that when evaluating if the work is going right or wrong, I’ve found it helps a lot if you understand the diagonal pattern and watch it as you stitch. 

Now I need to break off at this point and point out that I always stitch DBH upside down.  That doesn’t mean I start from the bottom of a shape and work my way up, it means I literally turn the work upside down and have the needle pointing away from me.  The exact opposite of how the diagrams instruct us.  The end result is exactly the same as everyone else's but a hellava lot easier.   

I used to work it as we’re told to in stitch diagrams and all the various books but I visited the Needle Lace Museum in Alencon in France in 2007 and saw a fascinating demonstration given by a retired lace worker and the FIRST lesson she taught us (in French) was to turn the work round and point the needle away, so that you can work needle lace stitches faster and more easily in regard to the position of the wrist.  R.S.I. of the wrist is to be avoided as much as possible, whenever possible.  Wrists kind of wear out!  Apart from it being faster this way and less awkward, I also  found, much to my delight that,  instantly my needle lace stitches were neater and more consistent.

Now I read recently that Mediterranean knotted needle lace makers have ‘the needle pointing away from you’.  If that’s the correct distinction, that’s fine because all I know is I have to save my wrist and I also have to work fast or else I get bored.

The other point I should mention (because I deleted that post and have to expand on it before I can put it back on here again) is this: 




The reason for this is the ‘S’ twist of the thread.  If you work this way it means your buttonholing will be smooth and silky.  If you go against this idea it means your buttonholing will never look smooth and be a bit lumpy and unstable.  What you are aiming for is a smooth rope-like edge at the top of regular close-buttonholing.  It works exactly the same for Brussels and Detached Buttonhole stitching, all of it improves vastly if you start the right side!  Try it and let me know what you think….


OK, this post is now getting a bit long, so I shall break off and just say: To be continued………




Saturday, 12 June 2010

Colour Drawing of Second flower

Watercolour pencils, Metallic gel Ink & Graphite

The last time I did a colour drawing I was aiming at a kind of stitch diagram, whilst simultaneously stressing  all the gold and silver threads and wires with gel inks.  I cannot impress on readers enough just how much The Bag sparkles. 

For this second flower however, I decided to take a different approach.  As I’m not permitted to show you the actual image, I decided to make a different kind of drawing for each motif, and so, hopefully, if you put them together in your mind’s eye you can sort of imagine what it looks like.

Chromatic values

So with this next one I’ve tried to describe the overall tonality, which is rather dramatic as the flower is so complex, with 4 main sections, including a middle curling set of petals and finished off with 5 tent-stitched outer petals.  What’s interesting about those is that they exhibit the same veining technique as used on leaves elsewhere on The Bag.  

Colour drawing of Flower 2

These next pictures, I hope, show off the gold and silver threads more clearly.CIMG3861

In terms of colour combinations this flower is really quite simple.  The top is a brick-red surrounded in gold pearl purl.  On to this are 3 mid-toned ‘sandy’ coloured mini petals that are pegged down and edged in gold Bullions.  Then you have a row of very frilly, again ‘sandy’ petals, edged with gold pearl purl.  After that there are 5 long petals, alternating between brick-red and indigo.  Finally you have another 5 petals, this time tent stitched and edged in gold pearl purl. 


Tent Stitched Petals

What’s interesting to note about these is that you can see they’ve tried to describe their shaded placement using darker tones of the same colour.  However, for the red petals they’ve translated that as 2 shades of brown. 

Renaissance Modelling

In modern painting methods you would indicate shade by incorporating complementary colours or making a particular colour ‘cooler’.  I’m going to be using the terms ‘warm and cool’ more often from now on as I’ve been trained to do and for those of you that don’t understand those labels just remember it as: ‘cooler equals bluer and warmer equals yellower’.  These terms are partly psychological and partly scientific as regards our understanding of colour.   

The Bag doesn’t exhibit those modern colour codes, of course, and so that’s why I’ve made these drawings in keeping the Renaissance way of looking at colour, which would be to use lots of browns and vibrant under-painting for modelling.  



Here’s the same image with a sepia filter.  Isn’t it a dramatic design!


As you can see, again, the middle sections of the flower are made of 3-d Detached Buttonhole but this time the stitching takes the conventional direction of back and forth coming down horizontally from the base line. 

Circular Detached Buttonhole Flower Head….. (to be continued,..)


This post turned out to be really long, so I’ve decided to chop it into three.  The other two parts will be looking at Circular Detached Buttonhole, which leads onto Detached Buttonhole increasing and decreasing technical nitty-gritty. 


I visited the V&A Museum today (I wish I’d worn more comfortable shoes).  It was truly AMAZING! 

Thrilling and daunting in equal measure.  The last time I went there they charged me £17.00 to get in, thankfully its free now.  You’re invited to make a voluntary donation of £3.00. 

I looked at everything on the second floor dating from 1500 to 1760.  The Margaret Laton Jacket is NO longer on display. 

One member of staff told me that was due to it being restored.  But if you read the note in its display case it says its been removed to ‘reduce fading’?? 

They’ve put another jacket of the same period on display in its place, under the portrait of Margaret Layton (they use a ‘y’ over here).  It’s obviously not as nice but still extremely good, even though its been taken apart.  The front was apparently altered by adding a ton of spangles topped with beads, to wear to masked balls.  Funny, I thought masked balls happened a lot later than that but there you go..

Oh, and I saw a Girdle Book there too.  Two inches big just like my version from last month. 

*The thing that struck me most about what I saw was the extremely thin silver and silver gilt threads they used for all that stuff.  I was going to buy Silver Passing Thread Number 4 for the repro bag but I think I shall have to rethink that.  Now, all the Lurex I have doesn’t seem quite so thin after all.


FOR MINI-BOOK FANS:  I’ve been working on the designs for 2 more mini-books.  I have the materials for both of them but I just need to think through some construction details. 

I’ve just returned from an excellent little holiday with my DH in Brighton.  What a great place that is.  In case you don’t know, Sussex University runs a very famous design course.  As a result of that, the whole town is really arty.  I just love all their cute shops along Kensington Gardens, Sydney Street and Upper Gardener Street.  I got 101 more ideas for what to make out of DBH down there, I can tell you!!!