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!



  1. I so enjoy reading of your progress, and particularly the history of the pieces.

  2. Shirley

    You are so kind!

    In all the ins and outs, I actually momentarily forgot how to do Trellis. Can you believe I had to drop by YouTube to watch my own lil ol' video to remind myself!!!

  3. Your comment seemed to come out of nowhere, so I had you down for a just another hater. But okay, anonymous or not, it wasn’t too hard to figure out who you are, (wow, that was ages ago, which is why I didn’t make the connection at all) and I understand where this comes from now. So, touché, you were right to be angry and I asked for that! Should not have said what I said of your video, I certainly was in a bitchy mood that day, frustrated by what I thought were inconsistencies in your terminology...basically what it all boiled down to was that I was too dense to follow your instructions, and took it out on the video. I sometimes forget that there are people (and not corporations) behind these painstakingly created videos. One nasty comment deserves another! Needless to say, my opinions are of no consequence at all. For the record, yes this is an apology, though whether you take it or leave it will make no difference to me, certainly I will be more careful about how I comment on other people's work, which is as good as one could hope for.
    Also, I do think you are an amazing embroiderer, and that—had I been in a better place that day—I would have seen that your video was wonderful as well. I have no fairy-floss hopes that this comment will get published, or replied to, or will "fix" anything. But once I knew who the vitriol was coming from, I could not help but get in touch. You needn't have hidden behind anonymity, though. :) I respect a bitch who can get good and angry about something. :)
    Anyway, thank you, I will take up your two suggestions and attempt my first stop-motion animation, featuring a septic bitch who sticks a pine tree up her ass…taking care of two birds with one stone, hopefully.

  4. Well Hello Smallest Forest,

    Believe it or not, your apology is accepted and posted.
    One cannot help but respond to humility and kindness in appropriate measure and when it is mixed together with dollop (or two) of humour, it makes for a very nice, evenly-baked slice of humble-pie.

    Life is too short and you take care :)