Yesterday, after completing the recent appliqué work for the 14th century XL hood project for my friends Pelican elevation, I was able to finally move on to the surface couching embroidery for the appliqué border.
And with the surface couching embroidery the fun part of this hood project just started for me. Yes, you can tell – surface couching for the win!
Please don’t take me wrong. With good cause the appliqué embroidery technique takes up its rightful place among several other medieval embroidery techniques. And though I think that everyone should have at least a basic knowledge of this technique in ones embroidery repertoire, I have to admit that I am actually not very keen on working it.
I guess everyone of us has one or more embroidery techniques they favor and in my opinion there is nothing wrong in doing so. There are embroidery techniques which we can work easy and which we might find more rewarding or more beautiful than others. And if you followed my work in the past, some of my past projects might quite evidently indicate that I really enjoy surface couching embroidery.
But please don’t allow anyone to limit you to one or two techniques. Actually one advice I tend to give to people who start with medieval embroidery is to try all techniques which they find interesting and to play with them as they wish! This way you can find the technique which suits you best and the more your enjoy it, the better the final embroidery will look like.
One of my friends recently stated that the most important ingredient for a good tasting home cooked meal is love. Well, I would say that this does not only count for cooking – you can actually elevate everything you do with love and passion – especially handcrafts. Love and enjoy what you are doing and it will take your work to another level! 🙂
But well, enough about one of my favorite topics – favorite techniques, love and passion,… Let’s take a look at the most recent surface couching progress for the border of the appliqué work now – enjoy! 😀
It might not look like much but it took several hours to complete the surface couching along the outer border of this patch. And here a closer look at the bottom part of the patch for you:
And here a closer look at the small detail executed in surface couching which I added at the top and the bottom of the patch:
For the surface couching which you can see on the pictures above I used some lovely chinese silver thread which I got from my awesome mom Sandra – mom, thank you very much for the opportunity to work with this lovely thread! For the couching stitches on top of the silver thread I decided to use some of my white silk thread from the Handweaver Studio in London (England).
Btw. the general rule of thumb for surface couching – regardless of the materials you use for it – is that the couched thread should be thicker than the couching thread. Really nice effects can be also achieved with a wool/cotton/silk/… thread couched down with thin gold or silver polyester thread. You can normally find this thin and rather affordable metallic polyester threads in well assorted crafting shops. And though metallic polyester threads might not be medieval – they are affordable, washable and tend to keep their shine and color for a long time.
And now let’s examine the surface couching executed with chinese silver thread (some also call it japanese silver thread) and white silk thread a little bit further:
I have quite some experience with surface couching but as you can see at the picture above, I couldn’t manage to get the lines along the border perfectly straight. The body and nature of the fabric underneath and the thread on top make it sometimes quite difficult to achieve a perfect straight line.
Regardless if thick or thin silver thread is used, we always have to face the same problem: Too much tension on the top (couched) thread and the couching thread and we get a wavy fabric underneath – too little tension and the couched thread starts to break out to the left or the right.
As soon as you start working at your own surface couching embroidery you will see that it sometimes can be quite tricky to get the tension right – especially if you are working without a frame, as I am in this case. But even if you use a frame, you can also get a problem with the tension unless you back up your fabric with a fabric which doesn’t stretch at all and manage to connect both fabric layers without tension differences.
Btw. this is actually the reason why I backed up the silk for my 14th century pattern worked in surface couching with some cotton/linen fabric at the back – to prevent any shifting of the fabric and to keep the tension applied to the whole piece to a minimum.
Furthermore – especially when you use a silver thread like this with a little bit more body – you also have to watch the tension of the thread with which you are couching the silver thread down. Too much tension can be applied very easily – at the picture underneath you can actually see at the left side of the upper surface couching line how too much applied tension forced the silver wrapping of my thread to escape the line.
Sometimes, even if you are working your most favorite technique, it can take some time to “get into” the technique again. Most important rule for this cases is: A) don’t panic and B) don’t get frustrated! Just keep on working and try to regulate your tension better for the rest of your project! 🙂
Yes, irregularities happen and as you can see on the picture above and on the left – they even happen to my embroidery. Therefore you really don’t need to feel bad about them. And to be honest – as soon as you add some eye-catching details to your embroidery nearly no one will notice your small irregularities anyway… 😉
And now to another detail I would like to point out to you:
It can be said that during the medieval times several different versions of the basic surface couching technique which I featured in my surface couching handout were used. Some medieval extant embroideries actually show the use of two basic threads instead of one couched down with a thinner thread.
Though I normally prefer working with just one basic thread, I decided to use the two basic thread surface couching technique for the border embellishment of the appliqué work. The great benefit of this version is that you can cover twice as much space with two threads than you can with just one. And as you can see on the picture above, just two rows with 4 silver threads already allow me to cover all stitches of the appliqué work underneath.
But it also has a slight disadvantage to it – by working with two basic threads and a couching thread you have to take care of the tension of three threads. If you haven’t worked surface couching before I would highly advise to start with just one basic thread and one couching thread first to get used to the technique before you try this version.
Btw. I have never seen the use of three basic threads at once on any medieval extant embroidery. As you think about it a little bit more it seems kinda logical. By using three threads you actually have one thread in the middle that doesn’t get any direct tension from the couching thread and might get pushed up on top of the other two threads or pushed to the backside as soon as you apply tension.
Well, this posting got actually much longer then I initially intended, but I hope that you enjoy all the extra information I provided about surface couching – it is indeed one of my favorite medieval embroidery techniques. *lol* Now, that I think about it – it seems that I enjoy discovering all possible technique details far too much – I really deserve the “geek” title, don’t I?! 😉