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.
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:
IF YOU ARE RIGHT HANDED YOU SHOULD WORK BUTTONHOLE STITCHES FROM LEFT TO RIGHT.
IF YOU ARE LEFT HANDED YOU SHOULD WORK BUTTONHOLE STITCHES FROM RIGHT TO LEFT.
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………