HNW - goldwork-underside & pattern couching

Chris Laning claning at
Mon Jan 22 10:51:53 PST 2001

Annora wrote:

>	Until I get better I've been practicing with cheapie metallic
>thread--DMC metallics from a spool (3 separate strands) and gold craft
>thread from Walmart (2 strands plied together).  Are these okay for
>practice?  What would be a better fiber to try?  Many of my sources say
>that 2 strands were couched down together but the DMC individual strands
>are too fine and Walmart just doesn't look right so I've been using 2
>'bunches' of the DMC.

I will hastily disclaim any special expertise in gold embroidery, 
since I've done little of it, mostly in classes from people who know 
*much* more than I do, but here's my 2 cents.

For practicing surface couching, try gold or silver elastic cord. No, 
I'm not kidding <g> -- it's inexpensive, smooth, round, flexible, and 
because it's covered with very fine thread, it tends to look less 
"cheap" than most of the cheapie craft store stuff. Don't let it get 
stretched *at all* as you sew it down; you're mainly using it for its 
size and smoothness.

Also you might try gold braided cord; it often doesn't look as good 
(at least, all *I* can find is the cheap stuff, which looks pretty 
tacky), and it tends to be rather large (about shoelace size) but if 
you're just starting out, "large" is good to try first.

Couching multiple strands at once is always going to be harder than a 
single strand, since you have the additional problem of keeping the 
tension even.  I'd say for surface couching, try to find a heavier 
thread rather than multiple strands of a fine one, at least until you 
get some practice. I'm not comfortable with anything smaller than 
carpet thread, myself.

>	What should I be using as a practice ground fabric?  I tried
>cotton muslin and that didn't work very well for the underside couching,
>although the pattern couching wasn't too bad.  Would a more loosely woven
>linen be better?  I have different pieces with thread counts ranging from
>about 40 to 55.  Would one of those be better? In photos of extant items
>where I can see the ground fabric it looks close to the 55 count linen.

I've used muslin (not that I've done a *lot* of underside couching) 
but you're right, it can be a bit of a challenge, especially if 
you're using one that's good quality and densely woven. Your linen 
should do fine.

>	When doing underside couching how do you keep the 'pops' through
>the fabric even?  Or does that just come with practice?

You want the top thread to just *barely* pop below the surface. Like 
all tension things, most of it's a matter of practice. Try keeping a 
bit of tension on the top thread as you let it pop to the underside, 
or pull gently on it before you take the next stitch to make sure 
there's no slack.

>And how do you
>keep your rows of laid threads even for underside _or_ for pattern
>couching?  After awhile one part starts to skew over and when I straighten
>a row to realign everything, there's a gap where the ground fabric shows
>through.  Should I be lining them up with the warp threads in the ground?

Either that, or draw some ruler lines on your fabric in the direction 
you want the threads to lie, so that you'll notice earlier if it 
starts to get uneven. The problem arises when the threads on one side 
of the filling area get pushed closer together than on the other 
side, causing the next row to slant a bit. Packing the couched 
threads closely helps. Medieval folks seem to have been able to just 
"eyeball" straight rows, but this stuff was usually done by 
professionals who got *way* more practice than we do. Going by the 
thread of the fabric is another way around this problem.

>	If you do pattern couching in a diaper pattern should the back
>have long floats of the couching thread in a negative of what's on the
>front?  I can't see how else it would be done but it just seems that
>there's so much thread back there.

Yup, that's correct. Remember that couching and underside couching 
were *always* lined -- usually with another layer of linen -- which 
would prevent snagging any long threads on the back side. Also, for 
underside couching you are also using strong but relatively 
inexpensive thread to couch with, since it doesn't show, so it's okay 
to use lots of it.

>	*sigh*  So many questions.  I wish I could make it to a collegium
>or one of Linn Skinner's classes but I'm at least an ocean away.  Thanks
>for any tips or suggestions that anyone may have.

You might look for a used copy of _Metal Thread Embroidery: Tools, 
Materials & Techniques_ by Jane Lemon, if you don't already have this 
book (1987, B.T. Batsford Ltd., ISBN 0-7134-5577-2, now out of 
print). A lot of its examples are modern, and it doesn't have a lot 
of "tips and tricks", but it has *very* detailed instructions and 
*lots* of photos and very clear diagrams. I think I got mine for 
about $30 and it wasn't too hard to find on the WWW used-book market.

Hope this helps, and hope others with more experience will chime in too.

BTW, I found this quote yesterday on another mailing list and thought 
it was appropriate to the subject!

>"Marvel not at the gold and the expense but at the craftsmanship of the work.
>Bright is the noble work; but, being nobly bright, the work
>Should brighten the minds so that they may travel, through the true lights,
>To the True Light....
>The dull mind rises to truth, through that which is material
>And, in seeing this light, is resurrected from its former submersion."
>-- Abbot Suger of Saint-Denis (Paris, 12th century)

O    Chris Laning
|     <CLaning at>
+    Davis, California
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