Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Woven sepals, Another leaf, Borage No. 2 & a yellow Rose (phew!)

This post began as a short one, but ended up.. well, in a different place, sort of thing…!!

Small Borage with silver highlights. 

Borage 2 with silver highlights

Little Re-Cap for Newbies

After working out what I consider to be the most difficult motifs on The Bag, I realised that I needed to take a closer look at Elizabethan two-dimensional embroidery techniques, in order that I can tackle other elements that incorporate both methods. 

Difficulties of Scale

Pretty soon I came up against difficulties of scale.   Because I have to be able to make very small shapes, that cannot comfortably also accommodate a foundation outline.  That does not mean they are not outlined and might suggest they were outlined afterwards?

To Outline before or afterwards?

Because I have spent quite a bit of time looking closely at the intrinsic nature of 3-d Corded Detached Buttonhole (DBH), from there, I was able to figure out that perhaps, very small shapes did not need to be outlined after all, as you can achieve neat edges by only using a good ink line.  The reverse of DBH that’s sewn ‘directly’ in this way, appears as small running stitches.     

Looking for clues on the reverse side of historical work

Then I got really curious and decided to hunt down some images I have of the reverse side of Historic work.  From those, I could see that the reverse of common DBH motifs, actually reveal tiny running stitches, with clear spaces between each.  

Curiously, if Reverse/Broad Chain stitch had been used to outline those shapes, the back would have appeared as a line of Back Stitches…

Detached Buttonhole can be stitched without an outline

Certain shapes can be stitched directly and left without adding any kind of outline afterwards.  You see a lot of Borages handled in this way.  However, I have so far, managed to find examples of 5 shapes that were not outlined beforehand, or afterwards.  They appear to have either been missed out, or the outline (whatever it was made of), simply wore away or unravelled?  I don’t think they were outlined in black, even though a lot of black silk has rotted.  One of them is on the Laton Jacket, that you can see just beneath a bird.  Interestingly on that one, you can even see needle holes where the outline stitches had originally existed.   

Historical examples of shapes that were not outlined

These 5 examples have jagged outlines and look quite untidy.  This is intriguing, when you think it is possible to sew DBH neatly without a stitched foundation.  I have thought a lot about why they might have done this, and perhaps it was to enable subsequent outlining to be easier???  I’m still working on those ideas.

Symmetry of Historical Outline Stitches

Then I noticed something that appears on all the shapes I am looking at, and that is the outlines are in fact mirrored on both sides, or symmetrical.  They are also quite ‘straight’, taut and sit very close to the last DBH stitch of each row.  To my eyes, they look like stem stitches.  They are not wrapped stitches, as I discovered on the little white rose. 

Bayeux Tapestry techniques

Let’s not forget, that outlining with stem stitch was used on the Bayeux Tapestry, so this convention would have come down through the generations as a traditional way of working.

However, what is different about Elizabethan ‘possible’ Stem stitched outline is, that to be able to make both sides symmetrical, as they did, you would need to make the other side with Outline Stitch, because Stem stitch all the way round behaves as Reversed chain, in that the second half will be upside down. 

So the next set of pictures are about trying to mimic what I can see, as best I can, and noting further observations.  My magnifier has a light in it, which is so helpful at times like this.   

Noticing that both sides of Historical motifs have symmetrical outline stitches may seem like a minor detail (that only someone like me would notice), but the significance of that observation means that they might not have used Reversed Chain Stitch as an outline, or if they did, they could not have used it all the the way round the shape in one uninterrupted path.

Here is a quick diagram of what I am trying to describe:

Direction of outline stitches

Another way to achieve this symmetry is by using a Chain Stitch outline.  However, we all know that Chain Stitch used for that purpose tends to be rather ‘woolly’ and inconsistent, added to which, it’s not ‘tensioned’ enough, as compared to the examples I’m referring to.

Woven Sepal Stitch

Along the (often nail-biting) route of trying this and trying that, I also worked out how they made their really cute miniature leaflets, or apparently ‘woven’ sepals.

Plaited Sepal 

This sepal was made with a solitary stitch.  It looks composite, as if made of, say, Leaf Stitch or Cretan, surrounded by Stem stitching, but intriguingly it’s made in one journey, from base to tip.

Yellow rose petal decreases

Sometimes they used this stitch to make broad miniature sepals, other times they narrowed it right down so it appears like a Square/Open Chain, depending on the available space.

Yellow rose 2

The Borage at the top of this post, has sepals made with the same stitch but was given a narrower treatment, for two-thirds.

You also see this stitch quite often included in the plumage of birds.  I pieced together all the different ways it can be adapted to try and understand why they chose it and in a word: its very versatile!

In many instances it looks like a double chain stitch, for which we can find instructions.  However, after using a fair bit of thread, I realised I was not going to really be able to achieve everything I needed to with a double chain.  

Then I realised it has a lot in common with Plaited Braid Stitch and once I applied that kind of muscle-memory technique, it worked!

The rose I made to explore mirroring of outline stitches was OK, but only served in the end to bring me closer to my original conundrum, but I’ll leave that for next time…

Leaf with gold highlights

So, using the lessons of Stem Stitch on one side and its complement, Outline Stitch on the other, I made another leaf.

I was happier with this one because it worked up neatly and you might say the results are, pretty well consistent.  It looks slender, has a nicely defined tip, no holes and no long horizontal threads at the end of the row and no need to wrap the thread, to neaten any unsightly loose threads.  Like the original, the outer slanted stitches are symmetrical and sit very closely next to the last DBH stitch of each row.

Stem stitch outline leaf

But (and its a big ‘But’), even though things look better, they are still not right.  By that I mean, that the outline has the correct orientation but it is still not correctly tensioned – there is an important reason why I think this is happening, that I’ll tell you about next time…


Really gotta go !

P.S.  I’m going to sell the pattern for DBH even shaping on Etsy.  Along with my instructions of how to make Woven Sepal Stitch.  The reason for that is: I need more books!


Monday, 5 September 2011

Carnation 1

This post continues from the last and could (possibly) be described as text light/ picture heavy? – then again, maybe not !!

Detached Buttonhole Carnation Study

I found using a stem stitch outline together with the ‘Hook Method’, to be very easy to work.  If you recall, I mentioned I was not fond of the Hook Method prior to this, as I found it difficult to control and it meant I had to make lots of ‘little decisions’ that would inevitably slow me down.   

Below are some sequential images to show you how I tackled anchoring the cord row and the orientation of the needle. 

As you will be able to tell, the working thread basically ‘snakes’ its way up the piece, in a big wide zig-zag, that means everything you do after that remains very logical and flat

But what’s particularly interesting about using Stem Stitch to outline was, to my surprise, the subsequent rows of DBH blended in with the slanting stem stitch at the end of the row, instead of disrupting the pattern.    Once I realised this, I was able to pick up considerable speed and just stitched up the rest ‘on automatic’, as it were. 

I increased both red petals differently.  The one on the right is ‘correct’ but the one of the left was kind of, experimental, shall we say… 

The best way I have found to increase these shapes is to find the ‘little leg’ of the very end of the row, that is the horizontal thread before the first loop, and make a stitch in there.  Sometimes its quite hard to find, but believe me, its in there!  You do exactly the same for the opposite side. 

Below I have reached the end of the row, (working right to left if you are left handed - and visa versa for right handed) and am going into the stem loop at the end of that row but from the inside


I then go into the next stem loop, immediately above it, by coming in from the outside


Below you can see the new cord row is now anchored into the left side and tensioned thus far.  See how from this viewpoint, the ‘turning’ thread appears invisible because it ‘winds in and out’ rather than ‘wraps around’ the outline. 


I did exactly the same on the other side, coming out from the inside


and going back into the loop immediately above.


This sequence means that you are then in the best position to start your new row of DBH stitching, because the working thread is already in place, across the path of your needle, see below.


3-d Tips that emerge from a 2-d Shape

When I came to make the tips, I used the 3-d method I discussed last time.  I chose this method because I was aiming for a slender section of decreases that could then be moved slightly into position, according to the orientation of the petal.  But most of all, because it looks to me as if they constructed these details in a similar way historically. 

Detached tip

This way of working may appear time-consuming and fiddly at first glance, but quite honestly, I find the reverse to be the case, because you literally have more ‘freedom’ to work.

Red & White tips

I followed the logical 4,3,2,1 decrease for each tip but sometimes I needed to start with a row of 5 stitches to even-up the overall proportions.  This meant I ‘Made 1’ by going to into the first stitch twice.  I can see that they did this on the historical Carnation that this study is based on, too.  This is further evidence, perhaps, that they did not strictly count the stitches but ‘visually judged’ the size of some details.

The interesting thing about this way of working is, that each tip appears slightly different because they are literally ‘handmade’.  This ‘individuality’ always struck me on historic examples.

They are then secured with a detached chain at the apex, for which you sink your thread in the fabric.  Then I took 3 inconspicuous running stitches down each triangle to start the next.

If I could find a picture of the back of an historic example of these shapes, I could perhaps corroborate what I have interpreted?  I have been able to count the stitches as closely as I can though.  

A final word about the stem stitch outline

I find this way of working, personally, very encouraging but I had a small problem at the end, that I am not sure  is a larger problem with a twisted thread, than it would be with a filament? Looking down onto the piece the outline appears smooth, however, if you look at it sideways on, there is a tiny bump ‘extending’ the slant of each stem stitch.  


Gold Coiling Stem

For this part I selected a Threaded Twisted Chain Stitch, that is featured in Sweet Bags, for which there are very clear instructions. 


Considering I was using only gold knitting yarn, I found this stitch worked up very easily and was able to achieve consistent results quickly. 


A Small White Rose

Then I revisited an image of a small white rose that led me to try something else out.

A small white rose

Small and unassuming as it is, this Rose represents a very exciting possibility for me.  I leave you to guess what is different about it….

Really must dash !

P.S.  I’m going to post ‘Pattern Part 1’ very soon.

Friday, 2 September 2011

A Strawberry for the last day of Summer

Believe it or not, this post started out being comparatively short…

Detached Buttonhole Strawberry

Well, as we are all aware, there are essentially 2 ways to fill a Corded Detached Buttonhole 2-d shape.  Either you

1.  Work into each inner loop of the foundation chain and do NOT pierce the fabric as you work up each subsequent row (aka Hook method), or

2.  The other way is that you leave the inner chain loop redundant and pierce the fabric, by sinking your needle within the chain stitch loop space to anchor your Cord row and re-emerge a little way up, (usually within the same chain loop space), to take your first stitch of DBH (aka Sink method).

Hook or Sink Method

Personally, I have never been able to get along with method 1. 

We are told of other ways to outline shapes that involve either a backstitch, a split stitch, small running stitches or stem stitch.  I suppose I have become distracted by trying them all out.

Especially as I am thinking now about how I might stitch very small interconnecting shapes, such as tiny calyx leaves around a rose etc.

So, the bold strawberry above was made with a split stitch foundation adopting the ‘Sink’ method.  In so doing, I realised that in a way, a split stitch outline seems a lot like an extremely slender row of chain stitch. 

More about sharp points

Between all those ways of making outlines, I sort of forgot what my original aim was, and that was to work out how they made their very slender, ‘lacy’ points, like those you see on Carnations and Cornflowers.

Below is virtually my first attempt to decipher how they did it. 

Because while making lots of 3-d DBH shapes recently, I was struck by how similar a simple 5-down-to-1 decreased 3-d point seemed to the 2-d points I could see on the macro images I have been studying recently.

To put it another way, I was reminded of other formations and something was becoming more ‘familiar’ to me.

This might sound completely outrageous and if anyone would like to comment on this ‘idea’, please do so, but I have a really funny feeling that a lot of these pointed details might have possibly been stitched 3-d and then stitched down into place?

The demo below was stitched in such a way and pegged down only at the tip.

Tips Version 1 

(I know, it looks a lot like a chicken’s foot!!) 

The decrease is 4, 3, 2, 1, ending with a detached chain that is the only part of the figure that is pegged down.

After that I decided to dive in and tackle a Carnation.  My first concern was to use a small running stitch to outline the shape.  I was not happy with those results but soon forgot about that disappointment when I realised that the little triangles were doing what I wanted them to.


3-d calyx made 2-d

After I finished the 3 points at the top, then I made a start on the lower two. 

3-d point


While I made them, I kept referring back to the macro image on my screen, which I had blown up about 30 times and with my magnifying glass, kept going back and forth to see what to do next.  The sequence was quite logical and the magnifier helped me to understand why I kept seeing strange little holes in historic points and how they occurred if you make these things for yourself.  I could be wrong of course and this might just be an enormous wild guess but…

I would like to draw your attention to the edges of the lower points, as they are easier to make out in this lighter green.  Notice how they appear as a kind of ascending chain stitch.  This peculiarity has always intrigued me, because mounting a foundation chain onto a pre-existing layer of DBH would be quite difficult.  If you think that through, the risk would be that you would pick up too many threads if you used the Hook Method, and if you used the Sink Method, the whole thing would be squashed down, perhaps, a little too much and maybe lose its delicacy?  Delicacy or ‘lacy’ was what I was aiming for. 

Then I started on one of the petals.  This time however, I first stitched a Stem stitch foundation, to which I applied the Hook Method.  I don’t know why I did this because I mentioned before I find that version very tricky.  But it was all quite weird really because I was staring so much at the huge macro image, that I kind of forgot to question and just ‘went with the flow’ of the visual data I was trying to decipher.  This proved to be a ‘uniquely’ worthwhile endeavour that I’ll talk more about next time…

first petal of Carnation

Apart from all of that, returning to the earlier Strawberry.  If you notice the Loop Stitch stalk pictured here.

Loop Stitch

This stitch was new to me and I found the instructions in Jane Zimmerman’s fine little black & white, self-published booklet. 

Ideally I wanted to make the more complex Loop Stitch Variation that she describes, but I can see that I will need to put some more time into understanding what goes where on that one.  However, the nice thing was, that while I struggled to keep the stitch loose enough to curve gracefully, I kept making a ‘mistake’ that I later discovered is actually another stitch the Elizabethans used, especially for little green tendril structures.  I am really pleased about that piece of serendipity because in all my stitch dictionaries I couldn’t find anything approaching it. 

The Strawberry is taken from a boldly worked Forehead Cloth at the V&A.  On the original, the leaflets are made of gold and silver Plaited Braid Stitch but as I was using Twilleys Gold Knitting yarn, I thought it would look best if I finished it with Zimmerman’s Double Chain Stitch. 


Must dash !