Archive for the ‘Elizabethan’ Category

Modest progress


Huh? Huh? Is that okay? The knotted detached buttonhole stitch, on a practice cloth, using DMC cotton floss.

Now back to the plaited braid stitch. I’m still practicing that stitch on a curve, which is quite different from stitching it in a straight line. I’m going to show you the way I have devised to do this stitching. First of all, Eilzabethan stitching is traditionally worked on a frame held by a stand of some kind, so that you can use both hands for stitching, and so that the fabric will be held constantly taut. For my framed practice cloth, I’ve been using my Sit-on-it frame holder, working in my recliner.


That worked fine for the leaves, but the curved plaited braid stitching was giving me fits. So I took it off the holder and braced it between my knees, making it possible for me to turn the frame as needed. Here’s a glimpse of  me working the plaited braid stitch in this  manner.

The coiling vines are supposed to be 1/8 inch wide. That means very small stitches. Each pretzel-shaped stitch in the line  requires one stitch into the fabric under two threads of the linen, then the needle must pass under the right three threads of gold on the surface of the fabric along the top of the line, and then the needle must pass under the right three gold threads on the surface under the bottom of the line, coming out between two gold threads and over the working thread. The spaces between the gold threads where the needle must pass are almost non-existent.

Although I was wearing magnifying lenses, I found it exceedingly difficult to see exactly where to place the needle under and between the gold thread. Ernie said my nose was about six to eight inches from the fabric. You can see the various contortions I made in order to see where to put the needle. Here’s a closer look.

You can see me adjusting the tension of the gold thread and making spaces for my needle. This metallic braid is very springy. It coils, twists, kinks, and gnarls. I have constantly to straighten it, unkink it, even fight with it. Just letting it dangle, as you can do with cotton or silk threads that become twisted, doesn’t work. This braid is too stiff. Jane herself says, “Kreinik’s Japan Braid #8, used for all the stems and vine lines, tends to become rather ‘kinky’ and stiff as you work with it……difficult to handle.” Understatement.

Here’s a view from behind. You can plainly see the “kinkiness” and “stiffness” of this metallic braid. And how difficult it is for me to find the exact places for the needle to pass under it and to get the needle through them.

It takes me about five minutes to stitch half an inch of vine. It still doesn’t look as pretty as the most accomplished work. In Elizabethan stitches, so many of them raised, spacing and tension are critical; moreover, these must vary when you stitch curving lines and fill curved shapes. To get beautiful, or even acceptable results, it’s not enough to know how to make the stitch. Only by lots of practice can your hands get the technique–the right spacing and tension. It’s like the difference between being able to strike the right notes on a piano and making pleasing music.

I’m not there yet, and may never get there; but, as you can see, I’m still practicing. Here’s the bit of practice vine I was working on.


Still kind of rough. Quoting Jane again: “The finished appearance of this elusive [emphasis mine] stitch is very attractive and well worth the practice, practice, practice it requires to become proficient in working it. ….Do not be surprised if it takes a dozen start-ups before you begin to work out the repetitive movement and what is needed to keep the tension uniform.”

Yesterday I went back to trellis stitch, after the success with the knotted detached buttonhole stitch shown at the top. Not quite there, yet, but I think I’m about ready to start stitching the design.

Read Full Post »

Do you want to see why? Here is my framed practice cloth with all six different leaves stitched with the stitches called for in the chartpak.


I stitched these leaves with the specified silk thread and the different stitches I’ve been trying to learn. Not a single one of these leaves is acceptable. Not one. See how crude they are?

Now here are all my practice cloths.


Reading from left to right, upper row first, you can see the approximate order in which I worked the practice leaves. You’ve seen the ones in the upper row before.  I think I even showed you the first two or three leaves stitched on the framed cloth after I thought I could do them well enough. I was wrong.

It’s not that I haven’t learned how to make the stitches. I can do nice straight rows of all the stitches, including the up-and-down detached buttonhole stitch that I so struggled to learn. Here’s where I first tried that stitch.


Leaf A was my first attempt at up-and-down detached buttonhole. Sadly, this is the only practice leaf on which I got the curve down the middle between the two values of green and the stitch is wrong, lots of mistakes.  See how lumpy it is? This is a stitch I invented.

On leaf B I did basic detached buttonhole to see whether I could get that curve. Nope.

At C you see detached buttonhole stitch over “metal” thread (Kreinik fine braid) foundation and at D you can see knotted detached buttonhole over the same braid foundation–threads carried across the leaf.

So I tried again, on another piece of old bedsheet.


The arrows point to sections of the leaves where the up-and-down buttonhole stitch looks the way it’s supposed to. But notice the holes and the denser areas. And the curve is conspicuously missing. I haven’t figured out how to add and subtract stitches at either side, maintaining the spacing evenly; and I haven’t figured out how to achieve the inside curve. Nevertheless, I went ahead and tried it on my framed practice cloth of motifs, with the other leaves.


It’s very easy to see how primitive this stitching is. If you can see the numbers,

#1 is trellis stitch.

#2 is knotted detached buttonhole stitch.

#3 is basic detached buttonhole over gold braid.

#4 is up-and-down detached buttonhole stitch over gold braid.

#5 is knotted detached buttonhole where I used mostly dark green so I could just practice the stitch. It is better here than in #2, which is the same stitch.

#6 is my last attempt at up-and-down detached buttonhole. Notice that it is worked along the long side of the leaf, whereas the other leaves are stitched in rows across the length. None of these is good enough.

The curved plaited braid stitch, however, is not too bad. It’s the second attempt (on this practice cloth). Here’s the first try.


Oh man, what a mess. I just cut right through the middle of that line of stitches and brushed the bits into my waste basket. It is virtually impossible to unstitch plaited braid stitch. I know because I have done it.

Here’s a close-up of the second attempt.


Not as pretty as experienced embroiderers produce, but I can live with it. And I expect I will improve with working all the curved lines of the design.

What I haven’t done is keep track of the time I’ve spent on this practice. That’s probably all to the good, as it might further discourage me. Nor have I kept track of the time I’ve just spent getting the pictures for this post. Thirty-some shots, not all at once, but a few at a time. I looked at them in the computer, then tried getting better pictures. Over and over.

I can’t tell you how many times I have been tempted to give up or how many times I have asked myself, “Why am I doing this?”  And, “Why can’t I produce good stitching?” It is VERY hard for me to give up. That is a strength, but it is also a weakness, as I drive myself too hard, always trying to do things that are beyond my skill level, always trying to do better. But this is really bad. I don’t know…..

In case you’re wondering, I am still reading physics. A commenter directed me to two books on physics and metaphysics by a physicist. I am finding them fascinating, compelling. I can’t stop that project, either.

Read Full Post »

Well, I’ve done it. I’ve already shown you the diagram I had to work with. Here it is again:


I have really struggled with this stitch. Let me show you my practice cloth.


I started with number 1, just stitching lines inside a rectangle. It was a bumpy beginning, on the right side of the rectangle, but on the left side, I had gotten the stitch correctly. It formed the pattern/texture shown in Jane’s photograph. Next I tried using it to fill leaf shapes. Although I was making the stitches in the same way, at least, I thought I was, they didn’t produce the same appearance. By the way, I was using DMC cotton floss on a piece of old bed sheet, so the colors are not what will be used on the design. (I’m using up a lot of old DMC floss on this project.)

Frustrated, I kept trying, over and over. Finally, I thought, it’s easier for me to stitch this stitch from left to right. I’m just going to take the thread down into the fabric on the right and start the next row on the left, instead of stitching back under the previous row. Voila! It worked. Leaf number 6 looks the way knotted detached buttonhole stitch is supposed to look. Now here’s the back of the practice cloth.


You can see where I began to carry the thread across the back, and that’s where the rows began to look like the real stitch. In this shot you can plainly see that I was working on a piece of a worn sheet.

The next practice was done on my official practice cloth, with this result:


Worked with Needlepoint Silk on linen, it is still not good enough, but I think, I hope, I can do better on the design. Not keeping the tension uniform and adding and subtracting stitches to fit the shape has caused the holes.

While I was working all the rows from left to right, I vaguely recalled having read about that somewhere. At the bottom of the page, after she has shown a photograph of her knotted detached buttonhole leaf, Jane says this: “Technically this filling is executed with one row from left-to-right alternated with one row from right-to-left, as shown in the illustration. [the diagram above] On the model, [her photograph], all rows were executed from left-to-right only, requiring that the thread be carried across the back of the work. Also, the needle was taken through a chain link to begin and then end a row.”


For any of you who want to learn this stitch, I highly recommend Tenar’s (pseudonym) tutorial, posted yesterday. Instead of taking the thread across the back of the fabric, she just turned the work upside down for the return row. Great photographs. Could have saved me grief, and will help me do the next knotted detached buttonhole leaf better. I get to do another one on my old bed-sheet practice cloth. Thanks, my friend.

Read Full Post »

I am finding Jane Zimmerman’s $50.00 chartpak unhelpful. For each stitch, she shows only a single diagram. For example, here’s the one I’m trying to figure out now: knotted detached buttonhole.


No instructions, no step-by-step guidance. Just this.

Without the help of Linda Connors’ plaited braid stitch tutorial, I was totally unable to master that one. Without the help of Mary Corbet’s video, I was struggling with the trellis stitch. So far, I haven’t found any help for the knotted detached buttonhole stitch. Still trying to get it.

But, I have made progress. On this practice cloth, I produced a line of plaited braid stitch using the Kreinik gold braid called for by the chartpak. It is the correct 1/8 inch width line and the stitches are good.

Can anyone tell me what camera I need to show you close-up shots of this beautiful stitching? I’m using a Canon PowerShot A95.

Now for the trellis stitch. Here are my first attempts to learn the stitch:


I started with the Needlepoint Silk (far right), but soon saw that that would be a very expensive way to practice, so I switched to cotton, first trying with pearl cotton #5, the better to see what I was doing. You’ve seen this practice cloth before. Here I tried stitching leaves. Not even trellis stitch! With Mary’s help, I have done these leaves:


These are trellis stitch. It’s one thing to learn how to make the stitch. It’s another thing to fit the rows of stitches inside an irregular shape. See the holes? I still haven’t learned how to add and subtract stitches to fill the shape evenly. Nevertheless, I pressed on to my official practice cloth, with this result:


This time I used the Needlepoint Silk, which is quite different from working with DMC cotton floss. As you can see, the leaf is still “holey.” But I think I’ve learned how to avoid that when I stitch leaf #1 on the design.

And now back to the knotted detached buttonhole stitch.

Read Full Post »

Because I haven’t posted much, you  may think I haven’t been stitching. Wrong! I’ve spent about 20  hours trying to learn the plaited braid stitch.  I began working with Jane Zimmerman’s instructions and diagram.


This is the ubiquitous diagram, the same one in every stitch book and online source I could find.

Just couldn’t get it. One of my books offered a bit more word help, but I still couldn’t get it. As you can see:


I worked these vertically, starting out with a heavier braid than the design calls for  and working at twice the scale, so I could see what I was doing (as I showed you a few days ago). My book said to work with a stiff thread, so I waxed some #8 pearl cotton and tried with that–the yellow samples. I also tried using the finer braid that the design calls for. A few times I got the stitch right for an inch, but then made mistakes. The example on the bottom right, worked in medium copper braid, is correct except for the loops being too loose as I began. What a mess!

This is what the stitch is supposed to look like:


All the instructions said to work from the top down. But Megan told me about Linda Connors’ instructions which can be found at her Calico Crossroads website. Do go  look at the photograph of her plaited braid stitch. She offers completely different instructions in a step-by-step tutorial. Wonderfully clear instructions for working the stitch horizontally. It makes so much more sense. Megan has reviewed her tutorial, for any of you who may want to learn this stitch. What a difference it makes.

Before I saw the Calico Crossroads tutorial, I had already decided to try the stitch on canvas, thinking that the stiff, almost rigid canvas, would support and steady the loops so that I could see where to put the needle. So I pulled out all the canvas I had, including waste canvas of different counts, just in case, and a piece of Aida, count unknown. Fortunately for me, Linda’s tutorial is shown being worked on canvas.

Here’s my first attempt on the smallest count canvas I had–the largest grid, in other words:


This is done exactly according to the instructions, but it doesn’t look much like the stitch is supposed to look.

Here’s another try on a higher count canvas, still using medium copper braid:


Looking a little better. Then I tried it on Aida:


Getting better. It’s the tension that’s wrong. Once I learned the steps of the stitch, I found that the hardest part of  making this stitch is maintaining a consistent tension, so that the loops are identical in size and just large enough to cover the lines. And another thing that makes this work so time-consuming is that the metallic threads repeatedly kink and gnarl, taking lots of time to straighten out as I go.

Meanwhile, off and on, I was trying out other threads and just practicing on another piece of uneven weave linen:

(I’ve put this on Flickr so you can enlarge it if you choose, for a closer look.)

Unattractive as it is, I did have some successes on this cloth. Number 8 is good, worked in Japanese gold medium braid. Number 2 was an attempt using Lurex 371. I is so much easier to work with than the metallic braid and there are some good sections, such as the middle of the row. Number 9 was my first attempt to work PBS on the curve. I didn’t find that difficult, no more difficult than following a straight line. I think the stitches may be a little too tight, though, too crowded. But it’s the correct width and size of braid called for in the design. Row A was pretty good, too. There, from left to right, I used #8 fine braid (which is what the design calls for), #4 very fine metallic braid, and finally, Japanese gold twist–the real metal thread. It is so much prettier than metallic threads.

I find it almost impossible to stitch a 1/8″ line using #8 braid. Here’s how the needle has to be placed in order to get the line of stitches as close as I can to 1/8″. Just try this with the #22 tapestry needle on fabric stretched tight on a frame.


And finally, the practice cloth I’m currently using:


This is 32 ct linen, similar to the linen I’ll use for the final stitching of the design. The row of copper plaited braid stitch is better but still not good enough. While I’m waiting for delivery of the #8 Japanese gold braid that had to be ordered for me, I’ve begun learning the trellis stitch. First, I used the silk thread called for. Terrible. Next I decided to try the stitch using #5 cotton pearl, the better to see what I was doing. That’s more like it. Then I used DMC cotton floss, which is about the thickness of the Needlepoint Silk. Why use up expensive silk thread for these attempts? This stitch needs to be anchored on all sides. I’ve gotten it right, but I need to stitch it inside an outline, a shape, that will support the looping, on-the-surface stitches.

Hours and hours of trying and trying again, for almost two weeks. But I am getting there. I hope!

As for my physics study, that is ongoing. I’ve entered 32 pages of rough draft and passages from the books that I may want to cite. But that’s for another post.

P.S. What you don’t see is all the unstitched attempts.

Read Full Post »

Having decided to learn the most difficult stitch first, I’ll show you my first attempt at the plaited braid stitch. I’m working large scale, at least twice as large as the vine is supposed to be in the Elizabethan design, and I’m using a much heavier metallic thread–the better to see what I’m doing. It is daunting and fiddly and these stitches took me half an hour. Despite the appearance, the stitches are correct. I got the needle and thread in the right places, just not the right spacing or tension. I can see that mastering this stitch is going to take a lot of time. And there must be a better way to go about making it. I’m looking forward to Mary Corbet’s video tutorial on this stitch. Meanwhile, here’s my first try.


Read Full Post »

Preparing to stitch

I have not gotten off to a good start. You may remember that I am not good at following instructions, nor do I like to do so. But I’ve really been trying to do that with this Zimmerman design. As instructed, I carefully ironed the linen for the panel and for a practice cloth. (Yeah, I have a practice cloth for the practice cloth Zimmerman design. Then I “dressed the frames,” as Jane says.

I did it exactly as she had taught me years ago in her book,

The Techniques of Metal Thread Embroidery,

and the way I’ve prepared fabric for most of my stitching ever since. I like having the whole design stretched over a frame that I can leave in my floor stand. And I like stitching with both hands.  (I’m also having a hellava time getting what should be the first paragraph posted. In Edit, the word order is correct and the book title is italicized. I’ve redone this first part four or five times, and WordPress keeps screwing it up. Sorry about that. In Edit, it looks fine.)

Here are the panel and practice cloth , “dressed.”


Next I got ready to transfer the design, again, per Jane’s earlier instructions, using graphite transfer paper. That’s when I saw that she directed me to transfer the Elizabethan design by placing the design on a light box and tracing it on the fabric over the design. The frames were not wide enough to fit over the light box. Now, I could have used the transfer paper method, but I was trying to follow the instructions. So I undressed the panel frame and got out my light box. Here you can see the light box and the design partially traced.


Jane’s instructions called for tracing with a #2 lead pencil and having a white eraser at hand in case of need. That’s what I did, and it has never been so difficult to trace a design in all my experience. It took 45 minutes. The pencil kept catching in the spaces between the threads and I had to go over and over, slowly dragging the pencil. For the practice cloth, I rebelled. I used transfer paper under the design. Much, much quicker and easier. Here are the two results, both having been re-attached to their frames.


The design of the panel, shown with the pencil with #2 lead and a white eraser, is darker, but the motifs on the practice cloth, done with transfer paper shown to the left, are perfectly satisfactory. So much for following instructions.

On the practice cloth, I traced only those motifs that call for stitches I have not done before, and there’s plenty of room to learn and practice the dreaded plaited braid stitch.

So far I’ve spent over three hours, just getting ready. And that doesn’t count the time for shopping.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »