Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Dodecahedrons I and II

In the last post, I described basic goldwork couching. These two pieces, Dodecahedron I and Dodecahedron II, were both made using exactly that technique.

Dodecahedron I, the small gold one, is a geometrical solid with 12 five-sided faces, and is about the size of a tennis ball. For each one, I cut out a pentagon in yellow felt, stitched this to linen which was then stretched on an embroidery frame, and then gold passing thread (Jap gold, in this case) was couched onto it. I went round the edge of the felt shape first, then went in smaller and smaller in a spiral, until all the felt was covered.

When all 12 were done, I cut them out, leaving a margin of a bit less than an inch (about 1 cm), and then mounted each on a pentagon of card, folding the linen margin over the edge of the card. I then stitched these together to make the dodecahedron form. To hide the seams, I couched gold pearl purl wire over them.

Going back a step, if you look at it, it looks almost as though it has more than 12 faces. This is because on each one, I couched soft yellow string (proper goldwork string!) onto each piece of felt; on each one, I went from the centre of the pentagon to each point. When the string was couched over with the gold thread, it forms a five-pointed star.

Dodecahedron II was made in the same basic way, though without the string, and with a circle cut out of the centre of each pentagon. This means that the interior is visible, so after each completed section had been mounted on card, I backed it with a slightly padded deep navy silk satin, to contrast with the silver thread.

Couching is a very simple basic technique, but it can be used to quite eye-catching effect.

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Goldwork - basic couching

As I'm working on the second cross, this seems like good time to look at the basic goldwork technique: couching.

Couching is very simple - it's simply laying one thread on the surface of your fabric, and using a second thread to stitch it down. This can of course be done with any sort of thread, yarn or cord, but here I'm using gold passing thread. I'm also using two gold threads in parallel, which is quite common in goldwork.

As the threads to be couched don't need to pass backwards and forwards through the fabric, it's possible - and often easier - to keep them on the reel. As I'm not cutting lengths to use, it saves on wastage, and also leads to a neater finish, as one long length of thread is used for the entire piece.

I prefer to keep the reels I'm using in a bag. This minimises tangling, and stops them unspooling when I drop them on the floor (it happens!):

To start off, leave a tail of about an inch (2.5 cm), and stitch each thread down separately:

Keeping both threads flat and parallel, stitch them down together at intervals of about a quarter of an inch (about 0.5 cm):

At the corners, stitch each thread down separately, the same as at the beginning; this helps keep them flat, and prevents them crossing:

I also tend to fold the couched threads back at the corners - this puts a crease in them, that I find helps keeps the corner sharp:

It's also best to keep an even tension in the couched threads if you can, to stop any unwanted kinks appearing:

Here, I'm working the couched threads in concentric bands. When starting the second lap, I place the couching stitch half way between the stitches done first time around. On the next pass, the couching stitch lines up with the equivalent stitch in the first row; this gives a nice brickwork or basketwork effect.

I also angle the needle slightly, so that it goes under the first row of couched thread. This pulls the second row up close to the first:

Once all the couching is finished, stitch each thread down separately, very close to where the end of the thread will be. Secure the couching thread firmly on the back, but don't cut it. On the front, trim the couched threads, again leaving a tail of about an inch (2.5 cm):

These ends now need to be pulled through to the back of the fabric. Thread a thick needle with a loop of thread, and push this part way through the fabric at the point where you want the couched thread end to go through. Put the end of the couched thread through the loop:

Pull the needle through, keeping the thread end in the loop; try and leave yourself some slack in it, rather than having the loop right at the base:

Give the loop of thread a good tug - the couched thread end will be pulled through to the back of the fabric.

When all the ends have been pulled through to the back, whip them with the remaining couching thread to catch them down, and trim the ends:

You should be left with a nice neat finish on the front, and the ends will be well secured.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

First central cross completed

I've finished the first cross!

More detailing still had to be added after the appliqué was finished; on Fiona's design, there are some small red discs. These were coloured the same as the detail I've done as appliqué, which would imply working them in the same way, but I felt that I'd already reached the limits of both the technique and my patience, so something else was required.

Being round, they seemed to lend themselves to sequins, so that's what I did, using flat red ones, rather than the shaped sort. Stitching sequins down always looks a bit messy to me, so I fastened them down with a bead in the centre. These were spaced around the edges of the legs of the cross:

The design also called for a series of little gold triangles around the edge. Not knowing of any triangular sequins, sadly, I cut these out of gold kid leather. They're pretty small, and I was concerned that stitching them down at the corners would both look really obvious, and run the risk of splitting the leather. So, I opted to treat them in the same way as I'd just done the sequins, and stitch them down with a bead in the centre.

As I was using seed beads, I needed a beading needle to go through them. But, a beading needle is too fine to go through leather, even a soft one like kid. To get round this, I pierced each triangle with a leather needle first.

I did this before cutting them out, as it seemed less fiddly. Each triangle was pierced twice; while I could use one hole and pass the thread back down the way it came up, the kid piece would be able to spin round on this, and I wanted all of them to lie in a particular way. With two holes, I could put a proper stitch in, and keep them (more or less) pointing in the right direction. The bead is basically just to hide the stitch, but it does add a bit more sparkle.

So, put them all together, and that's the cross finished!

All in all, I'm quite pleased with how it's turned out. Which is just as well, as now I've got to do it all again...

Monday, 21 September 2009

I've finished the appliqué!

The appliqué detail on the first cross is now all done - and here it is:

So that's all the satin pieces attached, and edged with Jap gold thread. Some of them more than once - it's taken longer than I'd expected to get this far, as I wasn't happy with what I'd done on the second leg, and took it out and started again. I felt I had to - it just wasn't right, and it has to be, or as close as I can make it. Despite using tacking stitches as guidelines, I'd got the appliqué pieces too far to one edge. I don't know if I wasn't following the guide stitches as closely as I thought I was or if I'd got them wrong in the first place, but it was definitely out. I didn't notice until it was finished and I took a step back to look at it from a distance, which was a depressing moment. Still, all done now.

And now I have a whole week off work, so I should be able to make good progress. I've got other things to do too, but I'm still hoping to get a lot of stitching in. Which is just as well. Think that's the cross finished? Think again!

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Calligraphy cushions

The cross is coming along - I've got the appliqué done on two of the legs now. As I'm concentrating a lot on the appliqué at the moment, I thought you might be interested to see some other pieces I've made using the same technique.

These cushions show the Chinese characters for 'Friendship', 'Eternity', and 'Tranquility' (at least I hope they do - apologies if I've got that wrong!), and were done in exactly the same way as the shapes on the banner.

The basic idea was for the design to look like calligraphy, so the character would look like blank ink on paper. I used a natural silk matka fabric for the background; the character itself is in black silk satin.

I drew it up to look as much like brush writing as I could, then traced and cut out the shape in felt. Or rather the shapes - it was too complex to do all in one go. There are three separate pieces: the two smaller bits at the top, and then the entire bottom section in one go. I cut out the black silk in roughly the same shape but a little larger; snipping very carefully round the edge to get the turn-ins to lie flat, I folded the excess under the felt and tacked it into position, starting and finishing the tacking stitches on top.

I'd already transferred the design to the background fabric by sewing over a transfer on the cotton foundation fabric on the back with small running stitches; using this as a guide, I could then position the appliqué pieces onto the background and stitch them down, before removing the tacking stitches. I then went round all the edges in chain stitch in two strands of black stranded cotton.

I've used this basic appliqué technique a lot, and I think it works well both for simple and complex shapes, and for a basis for further embellishment, or left very plain, as here.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Appliqué detail - legs of the cross

I'm now working on appliqué detail down the legs of the cross. This is in exactly the same fabric and technique as described previously, so I won't go over it all again. Here's how the completed first leg looks, anyway:

Mary Corbet suggested a different technique for the appliqué shapes, and I'd been considering having a go at a different one again (the discussion is in the comments to the post I mentioned above, if you're interested), but I'm afraid I rather cravenly stuck to my original method. I'm telling myself that if it ain't broke, don't fix it, but I do intend giving the alternatives a try. Just maybe when I'm faffing about with slivers of felt and tiny scraps of fabric, it doesn't seem like the best time to start experimenting with something new. I've got a second cross to do, so I thought I'd test the alternatives on the slightly larger shapes around the central goldwork ring. I'll see how it goes and report back!

In the mean time, though, I've got the other three legs of the cross to do. I'll let you know when they're finished.

Saturday, 12 September 2009

Appliqué detail in satin

Much of the detail on the red velvet cross is going to be in appliqué. I'm using red silk satin, in as close a match to the red of the velvet as possible. The idea is to have the same colour but a contrast in textures, though as the apparent colour of the velvet can change quite a lot depending on the angle you're lokking at it, there'll often be a contrast in the shade, too.

I've made a start on the appliqué. I've used the same basic technique as I used for the red velvet cross itself, but on a smaller (and much fiddlier) scale.

I've started with the shapes surrounding the gold ring in the centre. I cut out the shapes in felt, and then slightly larger in the satin. I then placed the felt shapes onto these, turned the edges of the satin over the felt, and tacked it down.

I then stitched these into position on the cross shape, and took out the tacking stitches, leaving the satin shapes in place.

Finally, to neaten the edges and to make the shapes stand out a bit more, I couched a single Jap gold thread around the edge of each satin shape.

A lot more even fiddlier satin shapes need to go down the legs of the cross, but here's how it's looking so far:

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Goldwork centre ring

Continuing with the goldwork, I've now added a ring in gold thread to the centre of the velvet cross.

I first stitched over the relevant part of the transfer design on the back in small running stiches, to get the location for it onto the front of the fabric.

I then cut out the ring shape in yellow felt and, using the running stitch outline as a guide, stitched it onto the cross.

It looks like a pineapple ring, doesn't it! I then couched two parallel Jap gold threads over it, going round in a spiral from the outside in, until all the felt was covered.

I worked the goldwork onto felt rather than directly onto the fabric as the pile of the velvet would come up between the threads. This did happen with the goldwork edging too, but as it was onto the ivory velvet, you can't really see it. With the red velvet, it would really be noticeable and would look messy. By using a felt base, I can prevent this from happening.

So, here's work so far on the whole piece:

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Goldwork outline

I've outlined the appliqué cross with couched Japanese passing thread no. 8 in gold, or Jap gold for short. I used two threads at a time; I don't cut the threads, but leave them on the reel, or reels, as I use two at once. This both cuts down on wastage (this stuff costs money!) and gives a neater finish as there are only two sets of ends - at the start and the finish of the whole thing - that need to be finished off.

Once all the way round helped neaten the edges of the velvet cross off nicely, but hardly showed up from a distance. Twice all round looked better, but still lacked impact. Three times round I'm happy with - it stands out, but doesn't look over the top.

That's not a good photo (the lighting's terrible), so here's a detail that shows it a bit better:

So, that's six Jap gold threads laid next to one another, couched two at a time, all the way round.

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Central cross - appliqué

With the background fabric ready, I can start on the appliqué cross. This is in red velvet, but to start with, I traced the outline of the cross, and stuck the tracing paper to some felt using 505 fabric spray glue. I don't like doing this, but it does lead to a more accurate shape than just pinning.

Cut out, this gives the basic shape.

I then pinned this to a piece of the velvet, and cut around it, leaving a margin of about 1.5cm.

The 'this way up' arrow shows the direction of the pile of the velvet.

Next, I made small snips in the velvet, almost but not quite to the felt. I turned these over the felt, and tacked them down. It's important to start and finish the tacking stitches on the front of the appliqué shape, as the back won't be accessible once you come to take them out.

This is what it looks like from the back:

And the front:

I'd already marked the outline of the cross on the background fabric as a guide, so I then laid the appliqué piece onto the fabric using the running stitch outline, and stitched it down, using small, evenly spaced stitches. I then removed the tacking stitches, leaving the red velvet cross attached to the ivory velvet background.

Goldwork next!

Saturday, 5 September 2009

Central crosses - making a start

The linen's arrived! I can finally make a proper start.

With the (pre-shrunk) fabric ready, I tacked the cross transfer to the linen, and with a hot dry iron, ironed it on. The same transfer worked fine for both the front and back crosses - I didn't need to make two.

I left a gap in the tacking so that I could check to see how well the image was transferring. As you can see, the answer was pretty patchily. I find the larger the transfer, the more likely this is to happen. With smaller ones, you can peer under the paper through the gap you've left and see the entire design, but with larger ones, this becomes more difficult.

As far as I could tell, it looked OK, but once the transfer was taken off, it was clear that some areas were pretty faint. I went over these with a pencil, to make the lines clearer.

I'm not sure how well you can see this in the image, but some areas also smudged a bit, which I also find to be a common problem with transfers. The transfer itself should wash off the fabric, but the banner isn't likely to be washed. But, the linen is just being used as a foundation fabric, the transfer will be on the back and covered up, and the smudges and pencil lines will never be seen.

I then attached the ivory velvet to the linen backing, overlocked the edges to strengthen them, and stretched the double layer of fabric onto a floor frame. I do not like doing this bit, but it's important to take time over it and do it properly. The fabric needs to be on straight, with no distortion, and stretched tight but not over-stretched. I use crochet cotton to stitch the long edges to the bars and for the lacing up the sides.

And after all that, a clean slate!

That's the top, the velvet that'll be the centre of one side of the banner. The cross will mostly be worked in appliqué, so I'll get the design onto the velvet a bit at a time.

Turning the frame over, I've gone over the outline of the transfer design in small running stitches, in red sewing cotton. Turned back to the right side, and the cross outline is now visible on the velvet.

Now I know where it's to go, I can begin the appliqué.

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Pre-shrinking fabric

Even though the banner is not meant to be washable, you can't be too careful - it's always possible that an accident might happen one day and it could get damp. So, it's best that all the fabric is pre-shrunk. If it hadn't been, and if did get damp, then the different fabrics could shrink different amouts, leading to all sorts of problems.

The linen will be easy, as that can just go in the washing machine, but I'm not happy doing that with the velvet. It's cotton, but even so - I don't want to take chances. So I'm pre-shrinking it using steam.

The velvet is laid on an ironing pad, wrong side up. The 'this way up' arrows pinned on are exactly that, by the way; I want to make sure I always have the pile going in the same direction.

Using a steam iron, I then steamed the fabric a bit at a time, until it was damp. The pad isn't big enough to do it all at once, so I had to steam it in sections, but I waited until the steamed area was completely dry before moving the fabric.

In case you were wondering, yes I tested it on a scrap first! I didn't think it would water mark, and it didn't, but there's no harm in being careful.