Monday, 28 February 2011

Comparison of Lucet Braid & Plaited Braid Stitch 3-d braid

To fully understand this post you’ll need to take a look at earlier posts regarding Plaited Braid Stitch experiments.  (This is not a short post by any means….)

Continuing: Where did Plaited Braid Stitch (PBS) come from?

In a dreadful rush here.  Just to say that I have compared the two braids and here are the pictures.

GinaB cleverly spotted that PBS 3-d braid looks very similar to Lucet braid and so I took that idea as the basis for this next experiment. 

Lucet Braid nitty-gritty

I found the instructions of how to make a Lucet, which is a thin square braid, in Jan Messant’s Celtic, Saxon and Viking Embroidery book.  Although it’s not a book about technique as such, it does include full instructions on Lucet.  There is also a good video on YouTube about how to make this braid that you can find here

It would seem however, that there is some confusion about how to start it off.  (I find that very interesting because PBS is also a stitch that has had people confused about how to start it.)

To work Lucet

A Lucet Fork/Horn is usually made of polished wood.  It is another Viking introduction to England.  For more advanced braids you would use two of them slotted together to create a fork with 4 prongs. 

To start the braid off, you begin by wrapping the thread round the 2 prongs of the Lucet, in a classic number 8-shape. 

I didn’t have a Lucet Fork to hand, so I did the next best thing and utilised a disposable plastic one.  To do this I simply snapped off the two middle prongs and covered their stumps with black Duck Tape. 

After the initial figure 8-shape, you  wind the thread round the fork, in a circle, lifting each loop up and over the working thread as you go round. 

You continue going round and quite soon the braid starts to form and work its way downwards, in front of the fork.

Its really fast to make and self-tensioning.  This type of braid is described as being made up of a series of little knots.  (I also  find that very interesting.) 


Below is the number 8-shape.  See how you keep hold of  the start with your thumb, while winding the thread round.


This next picture is particularly  interesting because if you peer in there you can see there is a kind of ‘Pretzel’ shape between the two prongs (fascinating! as that’s another feature it shares with PBS braid).


The rest is child’s play, you simply pass the thread round and lift the loop over it.   The tips of this fork tend to snap off, so unless you cover those with Duck Tape too, you’ll need to take care not to snag your thread as you go over them. 


Below its viewed from the top, as you can see it ‘appears’ almost exactly the same as the PBS braid (pictured later in this post).  However, there is one crucial difference that I noticed when I came to unravel both braids…

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I turn the fork as I work round, so that I’m always lifting only one side but you can also keep the fork facing you and lift each side alternately.


Lucet Braid Unravelled

OK, here begins the sequence of unravelling.  The purpose of this is to compare and contrast (remember that phrase!) both braids.  As you can probably tell, this type of braid can be undone easily and quickly.  (Unlike PBS braid.) 


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As you’ve no doubt noticed, it works up like the rungs of a ladder with 2 ‘side-to-side’ chain stitches that create the illusion of 4 chain stitches bunched up.  In fact it is only ever made of 2 chains that are pulled together tightly.  

Although Lucets are a Viking introduction, my guess is this type of simple ‘chain stitch braid’ was probably made using just the fingers or maybe a crude needle of some description.  Ancient braids were made of animal sinews or grass and later on, leather cords.  It has recently been scientifically proven that human beings have been wearing clothes for 170,000 years!

What’s particularly fascinating from learning about the Vikings is that they had tremendous respect for Stone Age man and especially liked to own something from those times as they considered them lucky and would often bury that kind of artefact under their houses as they built them.  



Plaited Braid Stitch 3-d braid Unravelled

As seen before, here is this classic embroidery stitch but this time formed round a supporting makeshift rod. 

(Why did I do this?  Because in the book ‘Sweet Bags’ by Jacqui Carey, the author likens the stitch to a “4-ridge twill braid”.)


Then its pulled into shape slightly, and you can clearly see below how very similar both square braids are. 


Here I started to take it apart.


You can see the predictable ladder construction again.  At this stage, the structure of both braids looks very similar..

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However, at every other row, you see things take a  different direction.

Notice how in this section the thread does something extra, as it has passed directly INTO the loop on the left.  Every other row has this ‘extra’ feature and this is the fundamental difference between both braids. 


Below is the same step, pictured a little later and from a different angle. 


Below you can see you really need to be very deliberate in pulling the thread up and out of this loop stitch, as the braid will not unravel otherwise.

This is distinct from the Lucet, as that will unravel smoothly.  


Conclusion?  I don’t yet have one, if I ever will (?) but I think it was worthwhile exploring the core mechanics of both braids as they do have a lot of similarities.

You’ll be interested to know I’m not yet finished with Ye Olde PBS (I hear you gasp!) and I’ll discuss more next time.  (Especially as one of the books I was waiting on has arrived !!). 


I will need to clear my decks first though, as I’ve taken on extra work that I have to complete very soon.  I’m afraid all my recent ideas have to be put on hold until this ‘job’ is done. 

Basically I’m editing a book to send to the publishers (24 chapters!).  Its for a friend, so it was impossible to say no (believe me I tried!).  There are plot changes, syntax and grammar problems plus continuity errors, the list goes on.  In short I’m having to virtually re-write it and its now in its nightmarish phase where I cannot split my focus anymore and must bash it out. 


Bird Bag

However, on a different topic, before I give over the next 4 weekends (at least) to the book, I decided the birds needed a radical rethink as they were looking kind of ‘undressed’.

So I decided I’m going to stuff them using Trapunto technique and then dress them with Hollie Point Stitch. 

For the flowers I’m using Broiderie Perse ideas.      

Broderie Perse 2

In short, what I thought would be a ‘quick project’ is turning out to be another quasi-stumpwork-type-thing, with lots of tiny stitches and plenty of choices to be made…

I found a good short article on the history of Broderie Perse and its pitfalls, here.

Blue & White Digression

Before I go, maybe its because I’m a bit fed-up of winter’s grey skies, but the little birds project has a lot of blue in it.  So I thought I’d to show you my recent dinky purchase. 


The fact that I bought this proves what they say, that: ‘Art devours art, only to regurgitate itself later’. Because its a piece of pottery, based on a textile, that’s influencing my humble Valentine bird textile…. !

The Museum has obviously endorsed this chinaware design and can you believe I picked it up at my humble local supermarket !!!

You can purchase them direct from ‘Creative Tops’ here.

A real piece of history for under £5.00 !

On the topic of Blue & White, I wonder if anyone out there knows what this is ?…


Incidentally, this brings me to the reason why I take my museum visits very seriously. 

To Digress ever so slightly…..

I bought this from a lady who ran an antique shop near the Elizabethan house called ‘Hengrave Hall’ in Bury St. Edmunds.  Its listed in all the architecture books concerning that period. 

We were staying in the Hall at the time.  (That sounds terribly grand doesn’t it?)  Actually anyone can stay there, as its a religious retreat run by nuns (I don’t know the name of the Order) and promotes inter-faith workshops and stuff. 

The house retains all its original oak panelling, huge fire places and mini chapel etc etc,  but Thankfully they have installed central heating!  I think there is also a Saxon tower in its grounds – if I am not mistaken?

A-n-y-w-a-y, the antique shop was closing down and I took pity on this item, especially after I was given a (tantalising) hint of its provenance.   

Intrigued, I had it valued by an antique dealer in London (not one of the big ones!), who was unable to tell me what it was and guessed it was some kind of vase? 

Unimpressed and  unconvinced I kept an open mind and low and behold, when I visited the The Rijks Museum in Amsterdam a couple of years later, what did I see?…..several of these little things all lined up in their own display case, proudly showing off roughly the same hand painted oriental flower design….cool or what!

Amazing fact-o-file: Blue & White china did not originate in China, it was actually copied by Chinese craftsmen from early Persian ceramics.


Goodness, is that the time??

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

‘Valentine’ Birds - Book Bag

This post is not ‘on topic’ but has little bits and bobs connected with some ideas on those themes – and a day late I’m afraid.

Recently I caught a repeat showing of Treasures of the Anglo Saxons, which was wonderful and full of good close- ups.  The discussion spanned the early pagan period right through to the conversion to Christianity, looking at jewellery and manuscripts.  I was most interested in the pagan motifs of the early phase, especially their treatment of interlace, as compared to the Celts. 

Written and presented by Dr Janina Ramirez, an art historian  specialising in this period, who is presently writing a book on bird motifs in Anglo Saxon art.  Can’t wait till that’s published, as birds are my second favourite after flowers, of course.

I have secretly toyed with the idea of copying (or at least studying) another sweetbag that’s covered in bejewelled birds at the V&A.  You are permitted to download that image free from their website here.    Its *high definition but not as high as the one I have for The Bag.  But I know that vague idea  is a long way away, as this present sweetbag is so extremely intricate.

* I don’t have the accession number to hand.  You will need to sign up to this service first and acknowledge you have read their Rules & Regulations, as they don’t allow these images to be reproduced and distributed.  

Canvas Bags

Added to which, for a long time I have wanted to decorate one of those plain canvas bags that the charities send out.  I have quite a few now!  And, if I do this for someone else, I know I will finish it within a reasonable period.  If I make it for myself, however, it could take a lot longer.  I think perhaps there is ‘something’ in this realisation not dissimilar from a reluctance to put myself first??

One thing is for sure, lately I have realised something very important about myself: I have a lot more patience than I have time.  Because of this I admire work that masterfully comes up with ‘quick’ solutions, especially when the results don’t look quick and make use of clever modern materials. 

But my eye is always magnetically drawn to the things that I know took forever to make.  I read recently that in medieval times it took a group of 4 women a whopping  26 years to complete a set of embroidered vestments (15 approx) that were sent to Rome.

This led me to think about all the books I had been buying recently and I concluded that I think that when I buy a book, I am really buying a desire for more time…

Then I read that someone, who knows someone, has a collection of 3,000 quilting books, so I stopped brooding and felt a whole lot better – lol ! 

The seasons are really changing now and the sun is just beginning to warm the soil and the backs of the tiny birds in the tree tops. 

1930s Vintage Embroidery Pattern

So with birds everywhere, I decided to sew something ‘birdie’ that would decorate a canvas bag.   

Would you just look at this little cutie having his bath time…aah!  I tell you something happens to me when I see a little bird like this, I must have been a bird in a past life or something?…

Wet Bird   

So creative cogs turning, when I got the chance, I ran a quick search on Google images for ‘little birds’ and found the most wonderful interpretation of a vintage embroidery transfer, circa 1930.  I had to contact the needlewoman responsible for this terribly cute piece of embroidery at Modern Ma’am’s blog .  Modern Ma’am has very kindly granted me permission to show you on here what I got up to with that pattern. 

I decided early on I would appliqué the design. 

Still curious about Elizabethan Slips

At the back of my mind I was still really curious about exploring the Elizabethan ‘slips’ idea for myself.  Both from the working method perspective and the notion of making small detachable/re-usable appliquéd motifs.

If you recall, I think I said something like ‘how did they manage to create such wonderful curves with fabric that frays so much?  Because all the books tell us to avoid fabric of that type for appliqué.  

When I went to the V&A I looked really closely at the fine black cord they had attached to the edge of the slips, which in turn was couched down with tiny gold stitches.  I have since found out that Erica Wilson’s Embroidery Book has a description of how to do thisThat explanation made a lot of sense to me as quite quickly into this method of working, I could see for myself why and how they would edge the slips like this…in short it was to accentuate the curves and protect the tiny appliqué stitches from wear and tear. 

For this purpose, I decided to edge the design with Stem Stitch and make it as a detachable panel, so that when the person tires of the bag, they will be able to remove it and attach it to say, a cushion?

From Inking to Sewing

So anyway, off I went with my inked up pattern and got to work…

  Transferred vintage embroidery pattern

Here’s the design on the light box with a thin piece of vintage cotton on top. 

I was using soft vintage fabric for the background and the birds themselves.  The cotton I used for the birds was incredibly soft and easy to manipulate.  I really enjoyed working with that fabric, so much so that I decided to appliqué the whole thing, flowers as well !

You probably think that was a very ‘strange’ idea because I was going to sew it all by hand – no ‘Heat-n-Bond’ !

Slip Stitch & Blind Stitch

I used lots of notches for outside and inside curves to enable smooth shaping and reduce bulk.  I cut the top of pointy parts straight across taking care not to cut too close to the mark..  I used two kinds of stitches, Slip stitch and Blind stitch.  Blind stitch for the longer smooth areas and slip stitch for the tight ones.  Blind stitch is my favourite and even though the books say both these stitches are ‘virtually invisible’, I find Blind stitch to be truer to that description.


I do blind stitch in two moves.  I find this makes for smoother curves.  Most importantly, at the end of the given section e.g. top of the hat, I gently tighten the thread to make all the tiny stitches almost disappear under the edge.  The picture above was taken just before I did that.  The design itself won’t be ironed afterwards, as moulded curves are my aim. 


The pattern is printed A4 size.  Here you can see I’m doing several things at once.  I’m working round the bird’s tail, cutting notches as I need to, tucking under, blind stitching and deciding how to tackle the next section.  The cotton was so fine it would fray like anything but I wasn’t put off because its so nice to work with.

I’m taking a blind stitch here but I’m approaching a tight-ish corner for which I will have to turn the work.  There is a lot of turning with this kind of thing and its all worked in the hand, no hoop, in the same direction.  I took great care not to over-stretch any single element.  


I go in behind and just underneath the edge of the motif to take up a couple of threads from the denim ground fabric.  I’m not pinning first, just finger-pressing the edges with a bit of needle-turning for the smaller areas.  Your hands have to be very clean and dry, and you have to have a lot of patience but I think the results are well worth it.  



Here it is, 2 radio plays later….lol


I kind of knew this design would work because as you see, the flowers join the leaves; to join more flowers.  So apart from the tiny legs, the design is not impossibly fiddly.  The pointed tips reveal loose threads but they will be neatly stuffed under the appliqué and enclosed by line stitches.


Not sure if this little fella’s wing is going to stay like this?  I’ll need to look at the whole thing in daylight to decide about that.  I’ll also need to make sure this metallic blue thread doesn’t snag on stockings, as even though its a shoulder tote bag, it will be carried from the hand at times.   

I want to keep the idea of a ‘line drawing’ apparent as the effect of the whole thing is quite floaty and subtle.  So I’m going to use a variety of small stitches instead of colours to mark out different textures.

Anyway here they are with their tiny hats, scarves and fragile little legs…


cya !