In my opinion it is important to know the basics to be good in something. To know the basics enables creativity and the ability to create lovely things.
Even if the focus is on medieval hand embroidery, it doesn’t hurt to look into the basics of hand sewing if you don’t want to spend the rest of your life creating wallhangings… but well, even for that you would need some basic hand sewing techniques if you don’t want a wallhanging with untreated edges… 😉
But let me share a nice little secret with you – the stitches for hand sewing are rather easy and can be found in the same form or a very similar form also in the medieval embroidery.
Therefore – if you can do embroidery, hand sewing should be no problem for you, even if it takes some practise. … and if you are good in hand sewing, I am sure we will find a medieval embroidery technique you will enjoy. Well, hopefully we will find more than one.
Btw. my points of view concerning hand sewing are:
- Hand sewing is just a way to produce more stuff which can be embroidered
- Some hand sewing techniques can work like embroidery – you can elaborate and decorate what you are sewing while you are sewing
- Hand sewing can be fun, really!
For example – a simple but regular line of stitches next to a seam or a nice worked blanket stitch along the edge of a dagging… – done in the right (contrasting) color is simply beautiful. Why in a contrasting color? Well, when you do something by hand, which takes a rather long time in relation to machine made stuff, you can be proud of it and show it. You can definitely use it as a stylistic device. Yes, simplicity has its own beauty and it’s just waiting for you to use it and to play with it.
All this single embroidery and sewing techniques are just possibilities for us to create beautiful things, to use them, to play with them and to have a lot of fun. I was never a fan of taking our hobby to serious. I guess that is also my little secret why I am still so productive and never stopped enjoying it….
Ok, back to hand sewing and also to the basics of hand embroidery. A simple line of stitches or a knot is the most basic thing I can think of – regardless if concerning hand sewing or hand embroidery. I think it’s not that important how you call the result. Since the first woman or man took the first thread and used it with a needle and introduced sewing to the mankind, it became a rather important part of our life. Though now, in the modern life, it seems that we have lost the appreciation for fabric and handicraft because fabric is “cheap” and clothing is ready made and rather affordable. Well, it got so far that some people wonder why something handmade should be so much more worth than anything from the store… But if you look back just for some years, back to WWII, you will see, that this is a rather modern progress. Back then our grandmothers were taught the female “virtues” like hand-sewing, cooking,… But on the other side, as a “modern girl” living or growing up in this time would be really the last thing on my mind or I wish for. The only thing I regret is that what they were taught and what they knew – at least according to my favorite crafting books from this time – we have to rediscover and to relearn, as well as the old techniques they already neglected and forgot at the start of the 20th century.
Yes, it all starts with a simple row of stitches – therefore lets start with the most easy and basic sewing and embroidery stitch:
This is just a very simple row of stitches – one after another, all in one row. As easy as it is, as useful it is to keep fabric together.
How this stitch looks like:
How to use the Running-Stitch for hand sewing:
Well, though it might be good for the beginning to practise this technique stitch by stitch.
I can tell you from my past working experience that though your stitches might look beautiful, that you won’t get far with your projects. If you have to insert several gores in a dress and are as tall as I am, stitch for stitch would definitely take too long. … Or well, let me put it this way – it takes definitely too long.
When I started with hand sewing I worked my complete seams in back-stitch (the next technique I will post about) and though I was already a very fast sewer every project took nearly forever. Then I started to read some interesting books about costuming – especially about the aspects of ancient/medieval sewing techniques – but I was very reluctant and couldn’t believe that using a running stitch would be really constructive. Well, I didn’t trust this technique at all and was afraid the seam would rip as soon as I put too much tension on it or step on my dress… But I have to say that I figured out that this stitch really works – but caution – it works in combination with the medieval seam techniques! 🙂
OK, back to the stitch – one stitch at a time is really insufficient – my “eye-opener” was my dear friend Gunnhild from Hamburg (Germany) who showed me that this can be a very fast technique too. During one of my visits I watched her while she was sewing at a new dress and I was fascinated about her tiny stitches and how fast she “collected” the fabric with tiny little stitches on her needle. Believe it or not, I didn’t have this idea myself before. As an embroiderer who learned nearly everything from books or just by trying things out, normally working with a frame and stitch by stitch, I really didn’t imagine that it could be also worked so fast and easy… *lol* …it was really amazing and eye-opening to watch her.
And this is still the fastest way I know to sew my seams – I take stitch after stitch on my needle – several stitches before I finally pull the needle through and start again. Though it can be a little bit painful when worked with needles which have a point, it is a very nice technique when worked with a needle without point. But regardless if point or not – it is possible and it is rather fast. Btw. while working with thick wool or through several layers of wool or other fabric it sometimes can be necessary to get back to work the running stitch again stitch by stitch. If you wonder how you can add a little bit more security in case your running stitch seam should rip – I will explain that in the next posting/step.
Concerning the stitch length to work this stitch – like everything we do, this is a matter of personal taste, used fabric and thread, practice and skill. There is no general rule – just a rule of thumb method. You maybe would like to place the stitches close enough that nothing can fall through and if you can see and read a book through your stitches, your stitches might be a little bit too long. 😉
Depending on what I am sewing my personal stitch length varies – possible factors therefor are the used material (silk, linen, wool,…) and its thickness, as well as the used thread and needle. My running stitches normally vary from about 1.5 – 3 mm for silk, thin cotton or cotton-linen blend, 2 – 4 mm for linen and thicker material and about 3 mm or more for wool thread.
How to use the Running-Stitch for fitting purposes:
The nice thing is that this stitch can not only be used for sewing – you can also use it for fitting purposes. Worked in long stitches and a thinner thread it replaces pins and is used during the phase of pattern adjustment and fitting. Everyone who already tried on a dress or stockings which were just pinned together, knows how painful that can be. That means instead of sewing the garment or piece of clothing together right away, a close fit can be controlled and assured by just some long running stitches done in a rather thin thread. If the fit is not already perfect at this time, it can be rather fast re-adjusted. This way changes can be made rather easily without wasting a lot of time in a seam you have to un- and re-do anyway.
Furthermore also the fabric moves a little bit different when hold together by a running stitch than by pins. It is much closer to what you will actually get when you finish the hand sewing. In German this technique is called “Heften”. As far as I remember, there are even special kind of threads sold for this purpose which are a little bit thinner than normal sewing thread to make it easier to get rid of the thread when you want to remove it again. In relation to normal sewing thread this thread rips rather easily.
…and a short journey to the world of embroidery: Running Stitch used in Blackwork, Lagartera,…
You maybe remember the nice little secret I told you in the beginning of the posting – “the stitches for hand sewing are rather easy and can be found in the same form or a very similar form also in the medieval embroidery”. The counterpart for the running stitch technique in the world of medieval embroidery is what most of you know under the name “Blackwork”.
Though several subtypes exist which use the running stitch in one or another way, Blackwork is still the most popular and well known of all stitches from this category, at least as far as I know. In the most basic form Blackwork is not more than just some running stitches – which are first worked in one direction, then worked into the opposite direction and while following more or less difficult patterns. This “endless” running stitch is also the main secret how you can create embroidery in Blackwork which looks identical at the front as well as at the back.
While you can work rather freely while using a running stitch as a hand-sewing technique because there is no need to count, Blackwork is a very precise technique. Blackwork is – like German Brick Stitch – a technique which appearance and complete look depends on an accurate executed pattern. Though the connection between Blackwork and German Brick Stitch might not be evident to you by now, please consider that both techniques are what I call counting techniques and live from their beautiful patterns. Every mistake you make while counting can destroy this fragile symmetry rather easily – especially when you are using a very detailed and elaborated pattern.
For all of you who have never worked with “counting techniques” before – as soon as you make a counting mistake you will not be able to complete your pattern in this certain part of your embroidery like you did in the other sections. In both German Brick Stitch and Blackwork this can mean that suddenly you might have one little detail that is too short or too long, a line that is too thick and a line which is too thin next too it or a shifted line that suddenly shows more free space at one side than on the other… I can tell you – it’s visible and it’s annoying.
As far as I can tell from my own experience, an embroiderer is very aware of every single mistake or cheat he/she made while working at a certain project. While others might find this mistake or cheats marginal, when you love this techniques and have at least a small perfectionist inside yourself, you will undo the part with the mistake and rework it just to get rid of it. Because, however you turn it, this small mistakes are noticeable and they disturb the beautiful look and symmetry of your embroidery. And even if others don’t care – there is always one person who knows and cares – the embroiderer who embroidered this section.
Short side note – one of the most passionate topics an embroiderer can talk of are the mistakes which were made while working at it. It can be the most perfect master piece but they are absolutely aware of every thread or stitch that is not done right. Therefore my hint – if you find an easy reworkable mistake that doesn’t need much time to be undone and reworked – do it – undo it! Rework it! It’s definitely worth it!
This is one of the ways how you can achieve a better feeling towards your own projects. Furthermore it is also a good way to learn and to get better. Please take your mistakes as an opportunity to learn from them and if the only lesson is that you should not count while you are watching tv…
On the other side making mistakes helps you to develop strategies how you can ease your life and reduce them in the future. That’s for example also a reason why I started to search after basic patterns in my German Brick Stitch embroidery to avoid counting mistakes like I described it in my second posting for my first “Craft with Racaire” project – 2nd step and posting – just scroll down to the section about “how you can speed up the embroidery”.
Though I never did Blackwork myself and therefore have no photo of Blackwork for you, I started a project using a similar technique years ago – Lagartera. At the next pictures you can see two detail photos of my Lagartera embroidery for my table cloth U.F.O. in the colors of the coat of arms of my very first SCA shire.
Btw. the embroidered lines in blue at the picture above and underneath are worked in “Running Stitch”.
I am sure that I will never finish this table cloth but I think that I will soon turn it into some bottle covers to end its long lasting U.F.O. status.
U.F.O. = UnFinished Object 😉
Last but not least I have great news for you – recently I found a wonderful example of the most early “Blackwork” I have ever seen till now… I am just waiting for a suitable Craft with Racaire project to share it with you. 😀
In my next posting I will tell you more about the next basic sewing technique we will also need for the first stitches for our pouch. I hope you enjoyed our first step into hand-sewing and its interesting relations to medieval embroidery…. 😀