Elizabethan sampler of raised embroidery
September 2014 – A long time ago now I started a sampler, trying out some raised embroidery stitches, and a top of merino wool fibres which was kindly sent to me by Elmsley Rose from Australia.
For my sampler I decided to do a tiny nightcap-look-alike pincushion, so that becomes basically eight distinct motifs.Four around the base (1 through 4 a), and four in each petal (1 through 4 b) that forms the domed top.
The first threads I used on this were moderately hard spun silk thread bought at the Handweavers’ Studio and Gallery in London. They are lovely threads, in 30/2 and 60/2 thickness, which are ideal for making cords and weaving, and will work up fairly easily for embroidery as well. However, compared to filament silks, which I soon also tried on the same sampler doesn’t have nearly the same shine. Having read something about embroiderers plying their own thread while working I also tried to pair the blue with a metallic thread to create a different look for one leaf on the first flower. It worked quite well, but also slowed me down quite considerably. This flower is a mix between a carnation and a cornflower. The green base (calyx) is carnation-shaped, while the blue leaves are cornflower-esque. Not entirely accurate, but it got me started. For the green base I outlined the shape first, then filled in with a raised stitch, but the blue leaves did not get an outline before the fill stitches. I think you can see how much more of a ragged edge that leaves, and it’s definitely not as attractive. In the photo of the finished pincushion, the metal foil I plied with the silk is also all but invisible.
For motif 1b I decided to try another silk I had in my stash. This was a filament silk which I was given as a present. It is hand dyed and is a lovely shade of green, so was perfect for a raised pear. You can definitely see a difference in the sheen of the twisted plied silk as opposed to the filament silk. This photo also shows how much lift you can get out of this detached stitch. The pear is a simple version of the detached buttonhole stitch, with no return thread, so alternate rows go left-to-right and right-to-left.
My experience was that while the silk I used for 1a was easy and pleasant to work with, the filament silk in 1b was a delight, and a joy. Also, a little bit of a hassle as it catches on anything rough, so you have to keep your hands and fingers in good condition. I got loads of tips (rub your hands with salt and oil, moisturize excessively before bed and wear cotton gloves) but I found I didn’t really need to do much, and even if my fingers were a little rough sometimes, I could avoid snagging the thread most of the time.
For motifs 2a and 2b I chose a pomegranate and a strawberry, both very popular in the Elizabethan era. The pomegranate is worked up in a black(ish) filament silk, this time attempting to fill the areas in an ever diminishing circle from the outlines with a normal buttonhole stitch. This is slightly tricky, as the stitch is best used for linear filling, and you can see unevenness in the middle of the black fields. I chose not to stuff them as well, which meant I couldn’t fill out with the stuffing. The green in both of these is the same as the calyx of 1a.
Since I had left the project alone for a long time, the red in this strawberry is also a filament silk which I acquired at Double Wars 2014. It’s a gorgeous berry red, and once I had it in my hands I had to try it out on a project at once. If possible, it is even a little more glossy than the light green filament. Since I had not done any raised work for a while when I started this back up, the stitching is a little uneven.
For the third panel, I went with a very simple lobed flower, and a slightly more complex butterfly. Towards the end of the 16th century they started incorporating creepy-crawlies in their flower vines, becoming a little more realistic rather than stylistic, even though most of the flowers retained their highly stylized forms. Both of these are done entirely with the new filament silk I got at Double Wars, so has a lovely sheen and worked up beautifully.
The flower is basically a rose, without the green cover leaves, which I probably just forgot to transfer onto the linen, or skipped because “I would remember them anyway” ™. This rose also suffers from being a practice for the stitch, and a couple of the petals are really very uneven. To the point that once I joined up the detached stitches to the centre of the leaf I didn’t have enough thread to cover the linen in the corners. However, in the centre I switched to trellis stitch, because I remembered it being for circular fills, and even though it is only a few laps around you can definitely see the structure forming, and it was so much fun to do that I decided to have another go on one of the wings of the butterfly. For the centre I didn’t go around again for an outline in yellow, rather I did one circle in yellow, and anchored all red petals into that, as well as the central trellis stitch. The outlines on the red petals of the rose also disappears into the body of the petals, which I was not entirely happy with.
The butterfly is altogether an experiment. The head is a tiny trellis stitch circle, using doubled thread. The body is also done with two threads, the first lap around with two yellow, then switching to one red and one yellow on the same needle. I wanted to see if I could create a little bit of interest by plying my own thread, which I know embroiderers of the time did. I used detached buttonhole stitch here, just going around and around, but now I had gotten som practice in, so the centre where I joined the two sides did not pucker and bubble as much as on the pomegranate.
The red wing was again a little bit of a mess, and ended up uneven, but on the blue wing I again switched to the trellis stitch, after filling in the upper left corner, and I think the resulting spiral is gorgeous and adds a fun touch, just like the red and yellow plied thread. It’s little black legs are just a handful of chain stitches.
On the final panel we have a honeysuckle and a peapod and leaf. I love Elizabethan peapods because they are so adorable, and there are peas! There are so many variations of the peapods. Either the surface is embroidered, and the peas are done in metal thread over the silk. Or there are metal thread peas underneath a detached leaf done in silk, or the outline is stitched and the peas are freestanding in silk or metal thread. I chose the last version, with spiderweb stitch making up the peas. You basically do an uneven number of spokes and then weave over/under all around as many laps as it takes to evenly cover all the spokes from the centre out. It’s deceptively simple, but to make a perfect one your spokes have to be placed perfectly. Also, all of the thread is on the surface, maximizing the effect. For the little leaf that is attached to the pod, I again did a simple detached buttonhole stitch and stuffed it for the raised effect.
The honeysuckle is entirely the wrong colours, but I decided I wanted to use the blue a little more, to see if it really was as electric as I thought it the first time. It is, but it is super shiny and nice. They are basically she same shape leaf as the motif in 1a, but the shine is so different.
I think the only two detached buttonhole areas I am really happy with on this sampler is this little green leaf on the peapod in 4b, and the lighter green pear in 1b. Overall, it was a fun little project, and I made it up into a pincushion, stuffed with some polyfill and given to the recipient as part of the Creative-Pay-It-Forward meme on facebook.