INCHING TOWARD THE GATE
I amass materials for the Unstitched Coif project.
First, the recommended linen has arrived. It’s very densely woven, and fabulously fine. So fine in fact that my thinnest silk is way too heavy to work the fills. It’s even fine enough to make counting the threads with my Penny Method difficult.
Squinting as hard as I can, at max magnification, I really can’t parse out the count from my photos. I need a better photo set-up, but I can say that it’s significantly finer than 40 count (above).
What thread to use? I went back and asked Ms. Buckby, the project leader what was recommended for fills. She said that on her own piece she was using a a strand of 6 thread (120 denier) silk. So I went hunting for it here in the US, to save the overseas shipping cost.
No retailer of fine embroidery supplies I was familiar with listed denier on their catalogs, so I asked the wise folk at Needle in a Haystack if they had any recommendations. They did, and I ordered two possible candidates plus some wicked tiny #10 and #12 beading blunts to manage them. More on these threads when they arrive and I can beta test them. I will probably still use the silk I have for the more prominent outlines. Thankfully there’s plenty of linen, so I will probably mount a “sidecar” for experimentation, before making major commitments on my main piece.
I also ordered more of the 2mm paillettes I used on Two Fish. That’s only on 40 count, the leftover of which is what’s shown above, and you can see that they are just a smidge larger than the 2×2 thread cross stitches in the fish’s cheek. I am not sure that I will use them, but if I do, these tiny guys are about all that will fit in the “white space” of this intricate coif design.
I also ordered and received an adjustable head-mounted magnifier, much better suited to use with bifocals than the one I had. Thanks for the lead, Callie! I would not attempt countwork on this one with un-augmented vision.
Now while I wait for the threads, the next step is prepping the linen and transferring the cartoon’s outlines onto the fabric.
I did not wash this fabric prior to stitching on it. The weave is already so tight that stitching will be a challenge. Washing tightens linen. It may be a major faux pas, but I don’t want to take that risk.
I thought about using prick and pounce (stabbing tiny holes in the paper, affixing it securely above the fabric and sifting dark powder – usually crushed artist’s charcoal through the holes, then connecting the dots with drawing or painting), but in truth I have had a dismal track record with that method. Instead I am tracing, using glass and a strong light source. I usually do this by taping the design to my big dining room window, then taping the linen on top, but this time I am afraid that the piece is so large that even if I tape it, the weight plus the pressure of tracing will stretch the cloth.
Instead I have improvised a light table, using an old storm window, a utility light, some package padding I saved for no special reason, and some fabric scraps to keep the linen clean in case some basement filth remained on the window and sawhorses after I de-spidered and washed them down.
It worked well enough, although I kept knocking into those splayed sawhorse legs.
Next up was to align the grain of the fabric with the cartoon. Since it seems to be a bit more dense in the weft than the warp, I chose to align the design perpendicular to the selvedges. I’ll have to do some cutting and hemming, but we’ll get to that another day. And once the fabric was aligned, I had to decide on my framing method. I have two Millennium scroll bar sets. I could run them along the short edges of the design or the long edges:
Obviously if I did them the short way there would be lots of stitched fabric being rolled and stressed as I worked. Not optimal. Especially not so if I go through with my impulse to incorporate metal threads and paillettes. So long way it is with the design fully splayed out using my largest set-up.
Starting in the middle, I traced out the design using a plain old mechanical pencil with a thin lead. It’s not perfect. I did my best to secure the fabric, and it sagged/stretched far less than it would have had I taped it to a window, but I admit some of my lines are a tiny bit off. And then there’s that unfortunate bit I tried to erase. I’ll attempt to spot clean or camouflage that later. But the design is now on the cloth.
Tomorrow I cut my piece, and hem, with an eye to mounting on my frame. Since the entire thing will be laid out without being eaten on the scroll, I may even try edging with twill tape and lacing the sides for additional tension. Provided I can find the twill tape.
“AN UNSTITCHED COIF…”
Those of you who are tuned into various historical embroidery info feeds may have seen a call go out a few weeks ago. Toni Buckby, a serious embroidery researcher and PhD candidate was looking for volunteer embroiderers to join a blackwork project that will lead to an exhibit at the Victoria and Albert Museum, plus provide fuel for her dissertation. I’ve long been a fan of Ms. Buckby, having first seen her work on the animated Wet Nuns music video “Why You So Cold?”. Her piece was one of the inspirations for my own static Memento Mori strip of dancing skeletons.
I am delighted to report that I raised my hand and was accepted. Obviously being a US resident, I’m not at liberty to attend the in-person workshops, but I hope to attend the project’s Zoom meetings.
Now for the specifics.
The project’s title is “An Unstitched Coif…” There will be an official website, but at the time of this post, it is still under construction. Ms. Buckby’s goal is to collect experiences, plus process info and images from the army of 140 volunteers. There will be both in-person workshops for folk resident in the UK who can attend face to face, and remote sessions for we further flung folk. At the conclusion of the effort the completed pieces will be displayed for a time at the Victoria & Albert. Those that are not kept by the museum will be returned to the stitchers.
What are we making?
Our own renditions of this coif (V&A accession number T.844-1974 in case the link breaks, image quoted from their website). The original shows evidence that someone indeed did begin working on it, but the threads of the stitching have been lost. I am really looking forward to Ms. Buckby’s forensic observations on the holes left behind.
The dimensions of the stitched area are approximately 44 x 25 cm (17 1/3 x 9 5/6 inch), and the project is to be completed by September. I will be working like a demon, for sure.
The instruction packet with a full size cartoon of the stitching design landed today. The workshops and zoom meetings begin in late April. I have ordered the linen recommended for folk interested in doing historically-inspired stitching. With luck it should be here next week. It’s moderately pricey, and shipping from Italy doubles the cost. Still, if I’m in for this, I’m gonna do it full on, although if the shipment is delayed I’ll have to find some other ultra-fine ground. Fingers are crossed. Still, I’ve always wanted an excuse to work on 70 count. Now I have a very good one.
As far as techniques and materials go, guidance is “use of historic Blackwork techniques is encouraged…but final choice of technique, colours, stitches in-fills and other embellishments are up entirely to you.”
I’m not sure exactly what I will do. Yet.
I need to see the ground and figure out whether or not countwork over 3 or 4 threads is feasible for me. I have experience working over 2×2 on muslin at that gauge (below), and based on that that I can say the effect of the fills is lost any further away than about six inches – they blur into indistinct gray scale notes. Three or 4 should be much more visually appealing. Plus, my eyes are no longer 25 years old.
If countwork is precluded, I will use freehand fills and/or stippling: the other popular historical modalities for working blackwork foregrounds.
If I do go with black thread (highly likely), I will be experimenting with my stash of finer silks. They are thinner than cotton floss strands, and probably better suited for the finer ground, whether they are worked counted or freehand. I have two lots of black filament silk I have been saving for The Mythical Perfect Future Project. I think it’s their time. One lot is Allori Silk (from Tied to History). The other looks very similar but its provenance has been lost to the erosion of time. I also have a small quantity of the historical recipe spun silk hand dyed by my no-longer-stealthy stealth apprentice. It’s fine enough for this, and I would want to honor those efforts by including it in the piece. (Note that being small batch produced and very popular, it flicks in and out of availability, please don’t be disappointed if you hit the website and it’s not there. It’s worth waiting for.)
Depending on scale and stitch experimentation, I might also include passing gold stitch work on the stems. Possibly a narrower one like Elizabethan Twisted Chain from Carey’s Elizabethan Stitches. I have some Japanese #5 gold in my stash. It plus a few 2mm paillettes are left over from my Fishies piece. That one was done over 2×2 on 40 count, so over 4 x 4 on 70 count should visually present just a smidge larger. The paillettes are AWOL right now, but I think I can lay hands on them with a bit of searching.
And to round it out, I have a pair of magnifying goggles. Not optimal since I like to stitch and watch TV at the same time, but if visual acuity stands between me and completion, they WILL be deployed. I don’t remember where I got these though. Possibly a gift or hand-me-down from a pal. They’ve been sitting unused in my gear boxes for several years at least.
So there you have it. New project. I am bound by word and honor to complete. And I will.