Category Archives: An Unstitched Coif…


Obviously I am still working on the Unstitched Coif project, and have a bit of progress over the past week or so. I might have had more, but we went to visit family in Buffalo, New York (about a 7.5 hour drive from Boston if you make no stops), and were too busy over the five days for me to steal more than an hour or two to stitch. We did have a great time, and got lots done – just not stitchy stuff.

I will report though that working outside in bright sunlight, even when sitting in the shade is the best illumination I’ve found. For those who look at fine stitching and wonder how folk in the pre-indoor lighting eras did it by firelight, candlelight, or tucked up next to a window, I would suggest that relying on natural sunshine is not a handicap at all, although it is time-limited by its very nature.

Yes, I am sitting in my mother-in-law’s garden, working the design upside-down. It’s upside-down for no other reason than when I first put my frame in the stand it happened to be in that orientation. I’ve just continued on that way. When work on the next vertical swath I may flip it over, but for now I’m just marching to the edge, which is now only a few design elements away.

Here are two clear progress shots, first showing the whole area I’ve done (about half of the first pattern sheet as displayed magnet-tacked to my work, above). Plus a detail shot of the latest bits.

A second, larger bird has joined the first, along with the multi-petal flower with its leaf, the rather odd looking columbine (the bit with the three gold petal ends) and some of the foliage, curls, and spangles that surround them. I’m now working on the first of two large grape leaves below the columbine. This area features some larger shapes to fill and I am having lots of fun with them by using some larger, more complex fills. The interlace currently being worked in the grape leaf looks complicated, but once the rhythm of the thing is started, it’s really quite logical.

And I am still on target for not repeating a fill between units. With one tiny exception, while the same fill design may appear more than once in a pattern element like a flower or a bug where a design may inhabit more than one petal or body segment, once that element is done I consider that fill to be “burned” and have not repeated it again. I suspect this will be more of a challenge as I move along, especially in the smallest spaces where there is little play for the more complex repeats.

In any case, I wish I were further along, but I’m also pleased with the progress to date. Gotta stitch faster, I guess…


I’m edging into a new neighborhood on the Unstitched Coif Project. This one is inhabited by birds. The first one is stitched and I’m thinking on the fills for the second. You can see him at the center bottom of the piece, now presented in the correct orientation.

I think he looks a bit like a tiny raven, A slightly confused one at that. I could not resist the visual pun of using the feather fill from the collection presented at the official website for his body. You can make out another oddly shaped bird sketched in below and to the right of the pansy/viola flower.

All in all, I’m pleased with the way this is turning out, although like all participants, I wish my project was proceeding faster. Working so tiny is taxing. Mr. Raven for instance took about four hours to complete, counting the fills, outlining, sequin eye, and couched gold feet.

My game of not repeating fills between units is still afoot, although I am finding it harder and harder to find or devise fills for the particularly tiny areas, like the sepal-leaves on the pansy. And I have to go back and add lighter gold banding the the wings of the big bug.

One more challenge is that of adding the overstitched elements – the couched vein leaves and feather markings on Mr. Raven. I do the fills first, then neaten up their edges with the heavier outlines. But the fills obscure the placement of the overstitching. I do that by eye, referring to a printout of the master design. I’ve mentioned before that others do the outlines first, but with the heavy, embossed reverse chain stitch, working inside tiny spaces would be extremely difficult. I leave that to those who are using outline stitch, freehand fills, and speckling.

Today’s agenda will be filling out the spray of leaves at the (now) right edge, adding the gold stems to it, and flooding the few newly surrounded white space areas with spangles.

In other news, last weekend I visited Younger Spawn and surrendered the bespoken Eyeball Bolster Cushion, seen here in its forever home, on the target low back mid-century modern sofa for which it was designed. A perfect fit. The recipient was totally thrilled.

The sharp-eyed will spot my stitching set up near the sunny window. I added a hex wrench to my stitching kit, and can take the thing including the disassembled stand with me when I am on walkabout.

While I was out in Spawn’s neighborhood we went to a garden center/plant nursery. Spawn added to the resident collection of exotic houseplants that make the apartment a livable and calming oasis. I noticed that the prices for large, healthy outdoor plants were much lower there in the suburban Albany/Troy New York area than they are here in the outskirts of Boston, so I bought some plants to augment my growing perennial collection. Here they are, just before I plonked them into their spots.

The big blue pot in back is a Chocolate Eupatorium (aka Joe Pye Weed). It’s a fall bloomer, with white flowers. The white pot in the middle is a red-leafed Astilbe variant, with purple/red flowers in mid to late summer. And the little guy over near the hose is a low-growing creeping sedum, that blooms purple in the fall. They join the transplanted peony, curly leafed Hosta, lemon Hosta, pink Astilbe, and two types of Brunnera (one red leaf, one green) that survived last year’s drought and fierce heat that doomed my Aconitum (wolfbane), and Hellebore. A less poisonous garden this year, but one I hope will outlive my ungentle care.


One last thing – if you are interested in buying my pattern collection The Second Carolingian Modelbook, you may want to do so before 30 June. Amazon Kindle is raising print fees, and because the thing is on a razor thin margin, I will be forced to raise the price. I am sorry for this. I tried hard to keep it under $30.00 US per copy, and it will remain so until the end of June, but after than the price will be going up.


Our Fearless Leader, Toni Buckby, has given permission for participants to share the original image and the design from it she has derived and provided for the Unstitched Coif project. I am doing this as an echo for convenience of the project itself, since the we have been requested NOT to share links to the in-group project repository. Since this design is not my own and is totally subject to project rules, I will remove this post when and if requested.

First – the project’s photo of V&A  accession number T.844-1974, Click here or on the image below.

Now the print-me files that make up Ms. Buckby’s rendition of the coif’s pattern. Click on the links below to open these PDF files, then save them locally. Note that they are formatted for A4 size paper. That’s a bit longer than standard US letter size. For best results, print on A4 at the presented size (don’t shrink in the print process), then tile the pieces together. There’s enough overlap to make this quite easy.

The official project website is here.

As for my own progress, there’s a tiny bit since the last post. But what’s always striking to me is how the designs bloom once the outlines are added. Compare!

Yes, I am working the design upside down right now. That little bug on the right is not supposed to be seen doing handstands.


I apologize for frequent posts on the Unstitched Coif, but if there’s something to say it’s usually very hard to keep me from saying it.

I want to thank everyone on the outpouring of support and appreciation, hints, and suggestions. I’m delighted that you are enjoying these notes, and that magnifies my own enjoyment of the process. Many of your recommendations and hints have been quite valuable. I have gotten some suggestions though pointing out that in the writers’ opinions, I am going about this all wrong. My sequence of attack on the piece – the order and manner in which I am working the components doesn’t synch with those folks’ opinions.

I attempt to explain myself.

First, I am a self-taught stitcher. I’ve never taken a class or workshop in this or any embroidery style. I fumble along aided by books and personal observation of artifact photos (and actual artifacts on rare occasion when I’ve been lucky enough to see them). It’s very possible I’ve missed lots of clues on working methods. I don’t claim how I go about my stitching is the one canonical and correct way to do it, it’s just the way that works best for me.

On lack of advance planning and charting – In general on an inhabited blackwork project (the type with outlined shapes and fills), I do very little planning ahead. Each flower or other motif is considered when I get to it, I pause, look at the new bit, decide if I want a dense/dark fill or something lighter; consider contrasts for any sub-components; and try to balance the types of fills used. Do I want the turned underside of a leaf to contrast with the rest of it? Should I put two fills that are angular and spiky next to each other, or should I try to maximize texture contrast in addition to density? Is the current space big enough to give play to one of the larger, more complex fills, or is it so small that a simple one would work better there; or should I abstract the “main motif” of a more complex fill to complete that space? Is a particular fill so stand-out that it will influence the choice of those around it? On that last one, the bead-like fill in the leaf just under the US penny is so striking that I would not want to use another rondel-based design nearby.

As you can see I’m still recalibrating for the tiny gauge. I have underestimated the display potential of these small spaces, and with judicious choice can begin using the larger, more dramatic fills both from my collection and from the ones provided by Ms. Buckby on the official project website.

Then there’s working order. One person who wrote a private note to me swears that the only way to work this type of piece is to complete all of the outlines first, then fill them in. Someone else says that I should be doing all of the fills for the entire piece first, and adding the outlines only after they are finished. Another person writes that I am a know-nothing for working the gold couching (and even worse the spangles) before finishing all of the black silk bits. And someone else chastises me for starting in a corner rather than the center of the work.

I reply that there are no Embroidery Police. I do what I do because it works for me, and because I have reasons for it – both as production procedure and as a bow to my personal temperament.

Here are yesterday’s additions – the finish of the little ruffled flower on the coif border, plus most but not all of the blackworked bits for the daffodil/narcissus like flower immediately to its right. I’ve used some medium-size fills from my notebooks for these bits, plus one of the fills cited on the website.

In general, I like to do the fills first, then go back and add the outlines. Note that along the edges of the fill areas there are half-stitches, eking the fill out up to the projected placement point of those outlines. Although they are a pain to do, they help avoid small gaps, and are much easier to stitch if you aren’t trying to bump up against heavier stitching. And when the outline stitching is finally done it neatly camouflages the ragged edges of the filled areas. Those little halfies barely peek out but do add to design completion (as seen in the “bone and cross” leaf in the lower left of the photo).

BUT there is a caveat. My traced pencil lines, especially in this area, are quite light and hard to see. I do my best to follow them, aided by an ever-present printout of the design for ready reference. I want to do the frill that marks the interior of the flower’s trumpet in a darker, denser stitch, but the edge of the frill separating the interior and the exterior of the trumpet is very hard to see. So before it was lost, I chose to do just that bit of outline, while I could still see it. I’ll go back and complete the rest of the outline on the flower as a whole once the interior dark part is worked.

Once the black silk is all laid down not only for this flower but for any other components touching its stems and sprigs, I will add the double line of gold couching for all of the leaf veins and stems in the group, and whip just the stem parts with black silk. Then I will work the single line couched gold curls, tendrils, and antennae (if any). And when most of the work surrounding a bit of “white space” is complete, I will add the spangles. Mr. Big Bug is missing the gold stripe embellishments on his body. I am still deciding on whether to do them in double or single thickness gold. Double stands out better, but there are so many that done heavily they might take over his look. I’ll get there, but not yet.

I am working each section to completion rather than doing all of the black silk work for the entire piece first, then adding the gold and adornments (or for that matter, working all of the fills or outlines first, then completing) because I need the variety to keep fresh. Each different component requires a different type of concentration and moves at a different pace. Mixing them up both gives me a better guide for the look I am trying to achieve, and keeps me mentally nimble as I go. This project would be stultifying for me if I were to break it down by type of stitching and work them singly to completion in sequence.

There are downsides to my mix-it-up approach. Those spangles and bits of bling catch threads, and can be abraded or otherwise damaged by clumsy fingers or needle tips as I go along. I will probably deploy pieces of well washed muslin or old, freshly washed handkerchiefs to cover previously stitched areas as the piece grows, taking them off only for progress photos.

And as for why I started in a corner – I point to visual focus and prominence. The center of a piece is the most scrutinized. By easing into the thing at one of the corners I commit my experiments in scale, pattern complexity, and density to the less ogled outer edge. Ripping out bits I don’t find totally successful is not an option at this gauge. Once I commit, that’s it. By the time I get to the center I should be better in command of the fill vocabulary on 70+ count, and the best of my work should mate up with the eventual viewers’ most exacting gaze. Note that if I had been stitching this coif with an eye to making it up into a hat and wearing it, I would have started at the center bit at the nape of the neck where the cap would have tucked under the wearer’s bun-bundled hair, that being the least viewed part.

The one thing I haven’t been doing reliably though is whipping down all of those plunged ends of the gold thread on the reverse, which already looks like a nightmare. I detest doing that and should be, but haven’t. For this sin I will go sit in a corner and contemplate my life choices, preferably while tending to those little monsters…

So that’s my working cadence, and my reasons for it. Should yours differ, that’s fine. What works best in the long run is what works best for each of us as individuals who understand the strengths and weaknesses of our materials and our own proclivities, instead of dogmatic compliance to an arbitrary set of rules.


Not to worry, it’s not a computer or programming glitch. It’s completion of the first bug on my rendition of the Unstitched Coif project. The bugs, birds and other inhabitants of this flowery sprawl are especially fun to work.

I may add a tiny motif in his “collar,” it seems a bit bare; and I may go back and darken up the bug body to get better contrast against the wings. But I do like the opposing directionality of the coil pattern on the wings. I am also still debating the density of the paillette spangles. Thinking on their original use, to provide both sparkle in dim interiors and by candlelight, and to signal the wealth of the wearer, packing them in for max bling seems right. However I know to modern eyes the look in full artificial light is cluttered, and I’ve gotten feedback accordingly. We’ll see.

As to new bits in execution – the bug’s eyes are also the same 2mm paillettes, but instead of being affixed with three little gold color faux silk stitches, they are held on with large French knots in the center. I thought about using beads, I have a large seed bead stash that I’ve kept since the 1960s. It came to me jumbled, and my sisters helped sort some of it out. I picked out three candidate colors – black glass, clear glass with gold foil centers, and an opalescent black/metallic glass, and have been experimenting with them both with and without the spangles underneath. You can see below how much better the flat spangle and French knot looks.

I haven’t ruled out using beads yet. There are some bugs with especially tiny faces. I might use them for the eyes of those. They are ever so slightly smaller than the paillettes, but not by much. But French knots may be the solution there, too.

In other developments, my kit has expanded. Thanks to the insight and generosity of long time friend and needlework confidante Kathryn Goodwyn (who took pity on me and came to the rescue) I now have a small clip on light for supplemental illumination. Kathryn says she found it in a Dollar Store (a low price bargain outlet for my UK visitors). I will probably jury rig a thin wooden yardstick across the top edge of my frame later on, as I get closer to the center of the piece and need the extra light there.

Another materials improvement to report. I have switched threads for the fills. I had been using YLI 100, doubled. One strand was too thin, but two looked a bit muddy. I am now using Au Ver à Soie’s Soie Surfine and I like the line and angles better. I won’t tell you when/where I switched, and I don’t think you’ll be able to spot it. Although the two approaches are very close in total width, the Surfine does stitch more smoothly and works up more evenly.

In addition, I attended the first Zoom meet-up for the project yesterday. Toni Buckby, our Fearless Leader did a great thumbnail intro to blackwork in general. its stylistic evolution over time, and the coif project in specific. We were truly inspired to plunge on in, or continue depending on our start status. There were enthusiastic folk in attendance from the UK, US, Canada, and New Zealand (that individual is truly dedicated, considering that it was 1:00am there at the time). It was fun to meet up, share questions, and generally get to know each other.

As promised, I did ask about plans to make the drawing of the coif accessible at the project website. Ms. Buckby assured us that it will be, although the website is still under construction, and it isn’t there right now. But if you do pop by, you’ll see a few of the V&A’s fantastic collection of blackwork artifacts, plus her invaluable hand drawn charts for the specific geometric fills used on them.

I admit the large cushion (V&A Accession T.81-1924) at the top of the official project page brings back wonderful memories.

A blurry image of that artifact was the first bit of blackwork I stumbled across, in Mary Thomas’s Embroidery Book. I was smitten, and shortly thereafter I had need of a special gift for he who would eventually become my Resident Male. Although I had already graphed up and stitched a number of sampler bands from book photos, I took the plunge into blackwork with no guidance other than Mary Thomas, and produced this. It’s now very well worn, and the needle lace around the edges is quite frayed, but for something stitched in the spring of 1975, on muslin, using mostly the wrong stitches, it’s not entirely discreditable.

After that there my fate was sealed.

My blackwork underskirt forepart (left and centers) – stitched in Fall 1976-Spring 1977. My Forever Coif, started in Spring 1990 and still unfinished.


Your periodic Unstitched Coif project update post!

First some progress on my own rendition. Having established my vocabulary, I’m gaining momentum, aided in part by The Right Tool.

The Right Tool? My size #12 rounded point beading needles finally arrived! What’s the difference? In the photo below, a standard John James brand size #28 gold finish tapestry needle is above, and a #12 blunt point beading needle from the same maker is below.

The beading needle is less than half the thickness of the tapestry needle, and it has a much smaller eye and more pronounced end taper. While that does make it harder to thread, it also makes the thread less likely to fall out of the eye while stitching. And that thin shaft and point are small enough to slip between the threads of the 70+ count linen I am using without distorting them. I said before that shoving the (comparatively) large point of the #28 through this weave was like passing a pencil through the mesh of a screen window, and I wasn’t kidding. The very rounded point and larger diameter made it hard to “stay on target” and hit the exact between-thread spot that needs to be pierced, and the thicker shaft, especially at the eye distorts the weave as it moves through, making subsequent counts close by all the more difficult.

So if you are working this project, or in fact any project on an extremely fine count ground, spare yourself, your eyes, and your fingers grief, and grab a #12. You will be happier, and more speedy for it.

Now the big news here isn’t my new needles or my minor progress. It’s that the official website for the group, has gone live! Right now it’s still pretty sparse, with a lovely selection of artifact links to blackwork pieces in the V&A’s collection, and some graphed fill stitches. I suspect that the content will blossom over time. But the best part is that it includes a link to a Discord chat group, dedicated to the Unstitched Coif project! I’ll be taking advantage of that under the user name Rotangus (the name I use on Discord for gaming forums), but I will wait to post until Toni Buckby, our Fearless Leader, posts. But I hope to be part of the conversations there.


The Unstitched Coif project continues.

After some experimentation, mostly documented in prior posts, I think I’ve hit on what will probably be the combo of threads and techniques I am going to use. I am still waiting for my fine beading needles and one last fine filament silk, which I may or may not work in. I like the look of mixed threads in a project, even mixed blacks, so even if that thread is late to the party, it still may be incorporated.

As usual, both US and UK pennies provided for scale.

Obviously I am going to be using counted fills for most if not all of the blackwork fields. I may do a few areas in a freehand fill, but probably not speckling. I like the look but find execution of those tiny dots very boring.

Having tried multiple times to whip the gold around silk, I finally realized that whipping silk around gold is much easier to do. I used a double strand of the Japanese Gold #5 for the stems and leaf veins, in simple couching. But I thought that the plain gold lines looked quite wimpy for the stems, and the visually dense bits of blackwork look stranded, and not unified into a design. So I will be whipping just the exposed stem areas with silk. I experimented with two different silks in the bit above, the longer stem being the Golden Schelle hand-dyed, and the shorter one being the unidentified small batch silk I had in my stash. Both use two strands. I may end up using them both, with the Golden Schelle for wider, more prominent stems, and the other for smaller offshoots. Time will tell.

The curly tendrils are single strand Japanese Gold #5, again simply couched. The half-flower center (cut off by the edge of the coif) is the same gold, double strand, again couched. I will do the full circle flower centers in spiral couching. I thought about a spiderweb, but as I found out this wrapped gold does not play well as a passing thread, so I will stick to couching.

And the paillette. I know he’s all by himself right now, but as I finish areas I will be peppering the between ground with them, just for the fun of added bling.

To answer questions and issues from my inbox:

  • Are you planning or plotting out all of your fills beforehand?
    No. I’m just picking them at random whim, at most considering if I want a dense or a lighter one for the spot I am about to stitch. Since picking out on this fine ground is not fun, even if I am not 100% satisfied with my choice, I will keep going with any fill started, once committed. In general if a fill has an identifiable motif in it I try to center that bit in the “meatiest” part of the area being stitched, then work from that point out to the edges, but I don’t plot out the exact placement ahead of time, and fills in adjacent units can end up skew on count to each other. Sometimes I even do that on purpose to increase visual movement in the composition.
  • Where are you getting your fills?
    Well, if you know me you know I have endless notebooks full, some of which I have shared for free elsewhere on this site. Plus I have been known to make them up on the fly. But I do not intend to use this project as personal advertising, and won’t be mentioning them again.
  • Can you send me the pattern?
    It’s not mine to share. I’ve put in feedback to the project organizer suggesting that once the official website is up and running later this month, that the design be made available there.
  • How can you see to do this so small?
    Waybackwhen, my 25 year old eyes could do this un-augmented – nearsightedness being a bit of a natural magnifier. But that was long ago. I am using a lighted magnifying aid which can be worn over glasses. It does take a bit of getting used to, so it’s not a perfect solution but so far it’s working for me. Again, I am uncomfortable being a product shill, but the thing made by Beileshi, is easily found on Amazon, and is reasonably priced.
  • Where did you get the linen?
    I’ve posted the link before, so here it is again. It’s not exorbitantly priced for linen but shipping to the US doubles the cost, which makes it a bit spendy, and there’s no real break in the shipping surcharge for buying larger amounts and sharing the bounty. As far as quality, in my piece at least there is a fair bit of slubs and really fine threads, that makes counting a bit harder. The weave is also off a bit – you can see that my motifs are stretched a bit north-south as opposed to east-west. But at this scale I doubt anyone will notice.
  • Are you stitching 1×1?
    No, that would be a bit much even for me. I’m doing mostly 2×2 because I find it easiest to count, but the butterfly squares fill above was done 3×3. I may mix up the counts to achieve density effects. Again time will tell.
  • Where did you get the spangles? Are they handmade?
    No, they are not. They are tiny 2mm center-hole gold-tone circles, flat (no cupping like a faceted sequin). These are the same ones I used on my Two Fish piece. I will share the source again because I know paillettes this small are very hard to find in the US. I ordered them from General Bead in San Francisco, California.
  • Too bad, looks nice but I’m disappointed. You know you aren’t being historically accurate, right?
    I don’t pretend that I am. The base pattern cartoon provided by the Unstitched Coif project certainly is. The general aesthetic is. The project leader assures me that this particular linen is the closest she has found to the linen of museum artifacts. But this is my modern interpretation of that museum original, and I do not claim it to be a fully documented representation of a specific historical style or period-limited materials/technique set. Here are my aberrations:
    • My thread mix – For black, partially filament silks with modern dye, partially spun silks in a mix of modern and historically documented dyes. The gold tone thin silk I am using for couching and affixing the paillettes is “art silk” – rayon, that I found in India. I had it on hand, and it’s largely invisible in this project. I spent enough on the linen and other materials that I feel justified in economizing here.
    • The gold thread. It’s got the look (more or less) and is a thin filament of metal around a silk core, but it’s not exactly what was used contemporary with the base design, and is unsuited to use as a passing thread on a ground this dense. But again, I had it on hand and it is affordable.
    • The paillettes. Machine made, probably mylar painted gold. Again I plead my pocket.
    • [UPDATE] The density of the paillettes. Some people have stated that my use of them is too tightly packed
    • The fills. I know my fancy will run away with me (it already has), and my fills will be my own choice and largely of my own devising. I will not be able to be individually documented one by one to specific historical artifacts or blackwork depictions.
    • The stitch used for outlining. I’m using reverse chain. Yes, I know that Jacqui Carey specifically points it out as a modern stitch in Elizabethan Stitches, but given its gently raised line, speed of accurate execution, ease of handling tight curves, and its vague similarity to Elizabethan Twisted Chain (also cited by Carey), I can be forgiven this time- and effort-saving sin.
    • The whipped couched gold. No historical source for this I know of, but I also admit I am not posessed of encyclopedic knowledge.


A bit of a challenge here, and almost like I invoked it through charms.

After making the big eyeball cushion and then these little crocheted cotton eyeball appliques abstracted from the big cushion, yesterday I was diagnosed with Shingles, and the point of invasion is around my left eye. It’s like I leaned out the window and yodeled the Elf Knight’s name. So summoned, he came.

I have been to doctors and am under the standard regimen to ameliorate and contain the infection, but the inconvenience of one-eyed stitching remains. Luckily, so far focal length complications have not set in. Still, I can’t just sit here, I have to be doing SOMETHING, so I soldier on.

And so today we have more experiments.

It’s getting confusing, so to supplement the last post, I have added identification letters. Items not discussed in today’s note are in the last one.

First off, the other fine silk and specialty needles aren’t here yet. Sadly one of the threads I ordered is a long lead item, and will not be available until after the September submission deadline for this project. So it has been nixed. With luck the rest of the order should be here by the end of the week. And on to this crop of equivocal results.

Gold Swirl AI liked the two strands of couched gold I did (Item F), but wondered how three would look. So I tried it, both with the gold color silk couching stitches and black ones. I couldn’t get the three strands to lay as neatly as the two, and the bulk just made handling and plunging them more difficult. So if I use couched gold, it will be the two-strand bit. And I am not that fond of the black threads holding down the gold, so I will use the gold color faux “art silk” I brought back from India.

Heavy Whipped Black Swirl B – This is two threads of my heavier unnamed silk, worked in reverse chain, then whipped with one strand of the Japanese gold. Love the look. Hate doing it because as I found before, the wrapped gold shreds itself. Plus the line is too heavy in company with the others.

Pekinese Stitch Black Swirl C – This started out as two threads of my heavier silk, a line of back stitch. Then I attempted to thread the gold through the stitches, in swirls. Bad idea, as this sorry little twisted tentacle shows. After this bit I have given up all thought of using Japanese Gold #5 as a passing thread, and will stick to couching it. That’s what it does best.

Counted Fills I and L – Two strands of the YLI 100 weight silk. It quite hard spun which works nicely for stitching over 3×3 threads. I think I have a winner here for the counted bits, pending receipt of my other candidate, still in the mail.

Heavy Black Outline J – Two strands of my unnamed silk, worked in reverse chain. I like the bolder line made by reverse chain over that produced by chain the “normal” direction. I do not pierce the fabric as I go under the legs of the previous stitch. I find that gives a more fluid line that better follows curves. There’s more on this stitch here. I like the stitch, but it’s too heavy in this particular thread. The motif outlines should not twice the thickness of the stems. If I go for the stems in the couched gold, this one just won’t do.

Lighter Black Outline K – Two strands of my Golden Schelle silk. This thread is only a fraction thicker than the spooled YLI, but it is more lofty. Two strands of it done in reverse chain is a much more suitable thickness for motif outlines. Again, I think I’ve got a winner. This is a hand dyed thread produced using recipes contemporary with the design of this coif, and my stash is largely from their initial dyeing experiments, therefore in some of the skeins there is a tiny bit of variation in the depth of the black achieved. The later Schelle skeins I have are a luscious, uniform and saturated black, but I am choosing to use the early ones. I won’t go out of my way to maximize the mixed tonality effect, but I do think that just using it naturally as it reels out will lend a very subtle historical look to the stitching.

Skinny Swirl/Outline M – Stem/outline stitch, in one strand of the heavier unnamed silk. First, I find it far harder to achieve a smooth and sinuous line in stem/outline than in reverse chain. And this is just too thin and wimpy for this design. I need a bolder outline than this stitch/thread combo can provide.

Slightly Thicker Swirl/Outline O – Same stitch and thread combo as M, but using two strands. Better. But K just looks better to me.

Stippled Fill N – One strand of the YLI, taking tiny dot straight stitches. A very common treatment found in historical blackwork pieces. No counting required, the stippling is usually used to model the roundness of the shape being filled, with denser and less dense areas. While I’m not a big fan of this treatment I will probably use it on some areas that need filling but are too small for easy use of a counted design.

Am I now ready to go? Almost. I still want to get my hands on the remaining silk, plus the tiny blunt beading needles. But I think I have identified my preferences. I may start in on the big piece tonight, working a counted fill in one of the larger areas. Now which fills to use….

It’s a darned good thing that I have two free books full of them, plus more in my as yet unpublished doodle notebooks. And if you are following along and want to use those fills – a note of caution that I do include in the foreword of both of them. The overwhelming majority of those fill designs are NOT taken from historical works, and in fact have ZERO historical precedent. In general, the more complex, the more likely it is my own flight of fancy. But even my flights of fancy stick to the design precepts of the historical fills. I use only 45, 90, and 180 degree angles – simple straights and diagonals. No “knights move” stitches over 2×1 units. No other elongated stitches, either. One unit = 1 stitch. Those things are wonderful addition to the designer’s vocabulary, adding all sorts of new angles to play with. But they are also absolute markers for the modern style, and I leave them to others.

I will certainly try to stick to fills that are “historically plausible”, but if I transgress and include an identifiably anachronistic one, well, time (and with luck those who cast an appraising eye on the finished work) will forgive me.


I’ve started in trying out various approaches and threads for the Unstitched Coif project. Here’s last night’s progress on my sidecar companion piece. It’s the same ground and threads I will use on the main project, but done to keep mistakes off “center stage.”

This isn’t final work, just doodles. I am not proud of it, there are lots of things that are sub-optimal. Let’s go through the bits.

First, the couched double strand of Japanese Gold #5. Still getting my mojo back with metal thread couching, I did cross my strands at the beginning of the bit up near the sad little flower, but by and large it worked. And it’s much easier on the flat frame where I can use two hands to stitch, rather than on this little round, where one hand is used to hold the frame itself. If the other hand manipulates the couching thread, I still need a third to tension and bend the metal thread around curves. Sadly, I am only equipped with two hands.

I used a gold color “art silk” for the couching threads, and was able to plunge the ends neatly using a loop of polyester sewing thread to capture them. That thread does not remain in the project. I thread a folded strand into a needle that’s slightly larger than what I would use to stitch, and with the loop trailing, pass it from top to bottom through my ground, then use that loop to nab the metal threads’ ends and pull them through to the reverse.

As far as appearance, not bad. I’ve managed tight curves using this stuff before, and I am confident that I could do it again. But the contrast between the blackwork and the many gold stems might be too great. We will see….

The 2mm paillette sewn just south of the gold stem. It works. It’s the right size for the uninhabited spaces between motifs. I will probably use them to spangle the piece once the majority of the stitching is done. And yes, I used the same faux gold tone silk to affix it, with three stitches.

The thicker gold sprig at the top. Again, that’s the Japanese Gold #5, but used as a passing thread. Only partial success with this bit. I used a reverse chain stitch, and passed the chain loop underneath the legs of the previous stitch, but did not pierce the fabric. While I like the sparkle it adds, it was not easy to do. The wrapped thread denatures, and the #28 needle was impossible to thread. I most definitely need a different needle if I want to use this stuff as a passing thread. Still even though it’s not a heavy plaited stitch and may not be exactly documented as a specific stitch used on historical coifs, the texture sings to me, as an echo of Elizabethan/Stuart era aesthetic. If I can figure out a better needle size, I may use it for some of the logically thicker stem sections. But like the plain couched bit, I am afraid of overwhelming the blackwork. Even more so with with sparkle.

The black and gold stem. Two strands of one of my thicker, stash-aged filament silks. Very fuzzy and prone to catching. I tried out both regular chain stitch and reverse chain (top and bottom of the stem respectively), then I whipped the entire stem with a single strand of the Japanese Gold. Again I had problems with the gold thread unraveling, even though the only place I pierced the ground was at the beginning and end of the stem. Different needle, for sure. And possibly doing it in the other spiral direction. Perhaps I was unknowingly adding to the metal thread’s twist by working in the established direction. But if I can make it work, I do like the look. Perhaps as shown here, I could vary stem treatments, twining full gold with black/gold. Or I could try out a line of double running, back or outline stitch done off count, and whip that, or work another threaded-behind surface treatment with the gold. More thought (and a better needle) is required.

The sad little flower. Been over this one before. My initial stab at counting on this ground. Working over 3×3 threads with one strand of Golden Schelle thread. Not pleased. Nothing wrong with the thread but it but a touch too heavy for the effect I want. That plus my own eyes, the needle size and unfamiliarity with working so fine a count make this bit suboptimal. I also tried using two strands of my slightly thicker stash silk for the outlines, in reverse chain. Too thick. Good for stems at that thickness. Have to experiment with using only one. Or perhaps using two of the Schelle strands for the outlines. More work is needed before I settle on “just right.”

The bit of fill at the very top. This is the debut try-out of one of the finer, newly purchased threads. This one is the one I got off Amazon – YLI 100 weight silk. The tiny spool holds 200 meters.

It has a very smooth finish compared to the others I have, and is quite ethereal. I waxed it with beeswax (as I do all of my threads used for countwork), and that helped give it more body. It was difficult to keep my needle threaded though, because being that fine it could have held a state banquet for fifty more threads of its diameter in the ample eye space of my #28 tapestry needle.

On the effect achieved – yes, I made a mistake in the fill design I was playing with (Ensamplario Atlantio II, #29). I chose that one because it would magnify differences in warp and weft stitch length, both straight and on the diagonal. I am getting more used to working with the magnifier three inches from my nose, and although I have some stitches wrong, they are all in the right spots. The effect though is rather leggy and spider like. This thread may be too tightly spun and smooth for best effect. I will try it out with a double strand next.

So there is my first round-up of experiments. Nothing done yet on the main project. Some food for thought. Some nope. And I am on tenterhooks waiting for the other two threads and the finer needles. But until they arrive, back to the lab for more bench tests!


… Just waiting for my thread to arrive.

As I planned, after tracing the Unstitched Coif pattern onto my linen, I cut the cloth and hemmed the top and bottom of the piece (left below). Then I trimmed the left and right edges with a folded and ironed piece of wide cotton twill tape offset a bit from the linen itself, so that any side lacing would have something to bite into that would not distort the ground. That’s sewn on with simple running stitch.

Once the ground was prepped, I mounted it on my largest scrolling frame. Because the entire coif fits in the frame’s center, I don’t need to employ any scrolling functionality. That’s why I made advance accommodation for side lacing. I used plain old heavy cotton crochet string for the lacing. The ball of it lost its label long ago, but I think it’s Coats & Clark’s Speed-Cro-Sheen. Here’s the entire thing, set up on my stand using the large frame extender (the wooden arm with the metal tabs grasping the work), and laced tighter than most costume-drama heroines.

Note the brick just barely visible at the bottom right corner of the photo. Because I swing my frame out like a barn door to exit my knitting chair, two bricks of extra weight on the paddle foot of my stand are necessary to counterbalance the mass of this large frame when it is positioned perpendicular to the foot. Someday I’ll knit or crochet neat little covers for them as yet another household whimsey, but for now they’re kept tidy with plastic wrap.

Because so much of this is a trip into the unknown, I took the side slice of linen left over after I cut my project piece, and traced a couple of motifs onto it. That’s going to be my “sidecar” – an as-I-work sampler used to try out ideas before I trust them to the main project. I didn’t bother hemming this bit. You can see it on the arm of my stitching corner chair.

I’ve begun playtesting countwork on this linen on the sidecar, but I haven’t received my ultra-fine thread or needles yet. One ply of the Golden Schelle thread is almost fine enough for fills, but I want to see the others in comparison because my first efforts with it are wobbly enough to be unacceptable. Plus stitching on this stuff with a #28 tapestry needle is like passing a log through a window screen, and I am still adapting to the magnifier; both of which complicate matters somewhat.

I know one of the threads I ordered will be here later today, and hope the other two plus the blunt beading needles will arrive some time this week. For the record none are the Piper 30/2 that others are using – the cost of overseas sourcing plus the time to ship made me look for a domestic equivalent. More on all three when they arrive.

For journalistic veracity, I present the shameful and discreditably woebegone initial counted bits, and threaded #28 needle, plus a US penny (at 7:00), and UK penny (at 12:00) – both for scale. Be kind, I hope to work out the kinks before attacking the project, proper.

I will be testing out the Schelle silk, plus the Tied to History Allori and my other unnamed stash-aged silk in the mean time, trying out various treatments for the outlines and possibly the stems. I am still hoping to incorporate metal threads in the stems, but plain couched doubles of the #5 may be too stark.

Obviously for me at least having the sidecar is a total necessity on this one.

%d bloggers like this: