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More about the rose embroidery for my friends hood .2 – starting the surface couching

2016-08 - Racaire - 14th century hood - rose - roses - surface couching - hand embroidery - medieval embroidery - rose embroidery - SCA - surface couchingWow! What a week! During the last days I was struggling with fighting off a head cold as well as finally facing my driving test.

As easy as embroidery and some other things might come to me, I really struggle a lot when it comes to taking any kind of tests. And the driving test, which took place yesterday, was definitely no difference. I was a complete wreck before, during and after the test and not even my dear husband was able to calm me down…

However, it seems like I am not the only one that freaks out completely when taking the driving test. But the lady who tested me was very friendly, patient and understanding. And though I made some small mistakes due to my nervousness, I was able to complete the driving test successfully!

Now I only need to wait until I can catch a ride to the registration office as I couldn’t get my driving license at the very same day. The computer system was unfortunately down the day I took the test. Yeah, it’s funny – I passed the driving test but I am not allowed to drive alone yet until I get my new driving license. But I am soooooo close now as it’s just a matter of time now… I can nearly taste my “freedom” now… 😉

Though one of the officers suggested jokingly that I could drive alone if I don’t get caught – yeah, no, I am not doing that! *lol* I know my luck – this would probably be the very first and last time in my life when I actually get pulled over… I am soooooo not doing that – now that I nearly have my driving license, I am definitely not going to risk it… 😉

And besides completing my drivers test successfully, it also seems like I am on a good way to fight my cold as I am feeling a little better today and can think more clearly again. However, in order to stay healthy, I will continue taking my vitamin C and drinking my ginger tea with orange juice – I really have no time and definitely too many projects on my list to get ill now.

Apropos being able to think clearly again – that brings me straight to the next part of my step-by-step tutorial of how I created the rose embroidery for my friends 14th century hood – todays topic:

How I started my surface couching embroidery!

2016-07 - Racaire - 14th century hood - roses - rose - surface couching hand embroidery - medieval embroidery - SCA - surface couching

Yeah, finally an embroidery topic again after all the recent sewing, calligraphy and event related postings. And now let’s take a look at how I started my surface couching embroidery for my friends 14th century hood after finishing the preparatory work – enjoy! 😀 [emember_protected not_for=3-4 do_not_show_restricted_msg=1]

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2016-08_Racaire_rose-embroidery-in-progress-08On the right side you can see the last picture with which I finished my very first posting of this tutorial – “More about the rose embroidery for my friends hood .1 – the preparatory work“. At this point the felt padding was already cut into shape and, with some simple sewing stitches, secured in between the bottom layer of cotton fabric and the top layer of silk fabric.

These simple sewing stitches not only keep the felt and the top layer – the silk fabric – in place, the back side of the stitches can also be used to secure the beginning of your gold thread, as you will see on the following pictures. But enough forestalling, let’s take a step-by-step look at how I started my thread for the surface couching:

First I started with threading the end/beginning of my gold thread (however you want to call it) into a needle and placed a stitch somewhere along the border of the circle in the middle, which is located at the front. Then I pulled the needle with the gold thread through to the back side and removed the needle – this is the thread which I am holding with my fingers on the picture underneath.


As my second step, I cut off some thin yellow silk thread, slightly waxed it by pulling the thread through a piece of bees wax and threaded a new needle – in this case one of the smallest needles I have in my needle book. And then I placed a stitch at the backside – as you can see on the picture above – in order to secure the beginning of my silk thread for the following surface couching. 

Hint: I always try to chose a needle with an opening which is just big enough for the used thread as too big/thick needles can make it quite difficult to work on fine embroidery.
And concerning waxing the thread – I not always wax my thread but due to some garden work as well as some hand sewing the skin of my fingers is not as smooth as I would like it to be. In order to avoid that the thin silk thread catches on to the small imperfections of the skin on my fingers, I slightly wax my thread by pulling it through a piece of bees wax. This not only makes the silk thread less likely to catch on to my rather rough skin, it also stiffens this very thin thread a little. This thin bees wax layer and the resulting extra stiffness makes it less likely that the very thin silk thread gets tangled up in itself while I am working with it…

In order to firmly secure the silk thread in its place, I use the left and the right part of the thread to make about 2 knots over the space where I put my very first stitch with the silk thread. I normally don’t like to use knots at the backside of my embroidery but this silk thread is so thin that two knots are hardly noticeable and I deem them therefore acceptable and helpful.

After firmly securing my silk thread I take the end/beginning of my gold thread as well as the end/beginning of my silk thread into one hand (my non-dominant hand) – as you can see on the picture underneath:


…and start to secure the end/beginning of my threads to the backside with some simple stitches with my dominant hand, in order to maintain a proper backside and to ensure fast work for the rest of the embroidery.

Hint: Experience in the past taught me countless times that it is better to invest some time into the backside of my embroidery to ensure proper and worry free embroidery at the front. Though it might look first like one might actually save time by neglecting the back, my work experience ensured me often enough that it actually takes much more time if you have unsecured threads at the back which might get pulled to the front at some point. Which is especially annoying when you work on a white Klosterstich section and keep on pulling red or black threads to the surface… 

Btw. at the picture above the end of the gold thread already untwisted that’s why you see four threads – three single threads of which my gold thread normally consists of and one silk thread.

For the next picture I unfortunately had to let go of the threads I was holding to take a picture for you. But I hope that it gives you a good idea of how I am securing the beginning/end of my (single silk + gold) threads by using the already applied holding threads which keep the felt padding and the silk fabric at the front in place:


By using just a very simple and fast sewing stitch, I attached all the threads for the next part of the embroidery to the holding threads at the back. This way I don’t need to worry how deep my stitches go through the backside of the padding and the felt as I am not even piercing the fabric at this point – just using the threads which keep the felt in place and centered until I either reach the beginning again or run out of thread to secure:


And by using the yellow silk thread to secure the threads, the same yellow silk thread with which I will start my couching later, I have secured it already 3 times – first: with making two knots, second: with having the end part sewn to the holding threads and third: using it to secure the other threads. I can tell you – unless you cut it, this thread is not going to move anymore and you can apply quite some tension to it… 🙂

Btw. I referred to my gold thread at the backside – which I just secured – as the beginning/end. And that was for a good reason as I tend to work my gold thread directly from the spool. You could say that I am kinda working with an endless thread.


This way I only cut my gold thread when my surface couching work at a section is finished and I just want to “close” the section by pulling the gold thread to the back and securing it.

Though the “gold thread” which I am normally using for this kind of work – ‘Ophir’ from the company Coats (machine washable!) – might not be very expensive in relation to other real or artificial gold threads, I can’t get it as easily here as I was able to in Austria. Furthermore I am also not a big fan of waste as crafting supplies are really not cheap. Therefore I made it a habit as well as a personal goal to get as much embroidery out of my supplies as possible and working directly from the spool has proven to be a very good way to do so.

But a spool – which seems to have its own mind when it’s allowed to roam free as well as having two cats which might think that it is just another cat toy I got for them – can be annoying while working at an embroidery project. However, this annoyance can be easily taken care of by just using some simple thread as you can see on the picture above and underneath. I simply cut a longer piece of sewing thread, thread it through the middle of the spool, connect both sides with some knots and then use this thread to attach the spool to any part of my embroidery frame for however long I need it there.

And voila – this is how my set up for the further work looks like after all the steps described above:


And I can finally start with the surface couching. Well – before you ask – sometimes I start with the outlines and sometimes I tend to directly start with the middle section. It does not really matter – it’s just a matter of how the mood strikes me.

And finally a picture of surface couching in progress for you:


As you can see on the picture above, while I am working I try to already hold the gold thread over the outlines which I marked on the silk while I am couching it and I am not actually making my stitches based on the markings on the fabric. I see the markings on the fabric as a good suggestion for my stitches but they are not per se a “must” for me.

Though I know that I have to cover up the lines, the width of the two lines of gold thread which I apply on top of my thin pencil outlines gives me enough room for little changes. By just already holding the thread in space and bending it into shape as I go to cover up the lines underneath, I can generate much more smoother round lines than I would if I would just follow the pencil outlines on the fabric.

And here a better close up picture of the couching stitches:


As you might remember, surface couching is nothing more than just a very simple technique in which a thicker thread is couched down by using another, thinner thread. You are building your surface filling or outlines by couching down the primary thread with the thinner, secondary thread – one couching stitch after another after another after another…

Yeah, working on surface couching can be as boring as it sounds – but you can “spice it up” a little and make it more interesting  if you use a couching thread in a different color to create pictures or patterns on top of your primary thread. However, the result is definitely worth the work! But sometimes it definitely helps to remind oneself of it while executing this stitch… 😉 

I hope you enjoyed todays second part of my tutorial of how I started my surface couching for the rose embroidery for my friends hood. And next time I’ll show you much more surface couching. 😀

If you would like to refresh your memory concerning this embroider technique in the mean time, please visit my page “Medieval Embroidery Technique Handouts” and download my Surface Couching technique handout!

Best regards Racaire

PS.: My husband and I were quite active the last weekends – we attended the SCA events Fighters Collegium and Bacon Bash and I even managed to take some pictures. You can find them here on facebook: