Category Archives: Blackwork Forehead Cloth

CLOTH #2 – FINISHED, PLUS BONUS DOODLE

Waaayyy behind on my blogging, I’m now not only finished with the stitching on the first Forehead Cloth, I’m finished with the second one, too.

Because I have only a limited supply of the excellent hand-dyed thread, and the first triangle had a voracious appetite, I decided to work the second both smaller in size, and with only two plies of the four-ply silk floss.  I am not sure that the thread maker intended it to be used stripped into plies, but with patience and gentle encouragement, I was able to do so with minimal tangling and no losses.  Gentle finger spinning counter to the direction that the plies were assembled helped, as did tension on the strand while separating.  And it worked!  I have more than enough to finish, as you will see below.

On the design – I went through a couple of iterations.  I started with one from my forthcoming book:

Forehead2-01

I liked the larger motif, but not the smaller one.  It has a very prominent cross, and while it might not have been so apparent when a large area was worked, I noticed it.  I am not comfortable wearing crosses, so I drafted up a new companion motif to use in its place.  You can see the old one just peeking out at the top of the photo below, for comparison.

Forehead2-03

I liked the visual balance of this one better. While I lost some of the light/dark checkerboard effect of the original, I gained an interesting play of curves and frames.  Considering that this pattern conforms to the 45-deg/90-deg/180-deg composition rule found in just about every historical piece of linear stitch count-work (“Knight’s Move” two-over-one up stitches are exceedingly rare), seeing curves at all is almost an optical illusion.

Here is the final, plus a bonus doodle on top, which I’ll discuss in a bit:

18301651_10154449352136892_2707133055147831397_n

 

After I finish the bonus bit on top, I will remove the basted guidelines, gently clean my stitching, and draft out the lining and strings.  I’ve got some pre-shrunk muslin I’ll use as the lining.  I may use a length of this even weave, folded or rolled into a quarter-inch strip for the ties.  That appears to be the treatment most like the extant historical pieces.  The other option is using some purchased woven tape, which I think would look clunky and mismatched, by comparison.  In any case, there is no needle lace trim, adornments on the tie strands, or other embellishments for these.  I suppose I could add paillettes to this one, but I’ll save that bit of effort for a future matched coif-cloth set. 

On to questions from my inboxes:

You said you proof against established work.  What do you mean by that?

I cue my work off established, stitched areas.  Unless there’s no way around it, I rarely establish a very long outline or outlying branch teetering off into as yet unstitched territory.  I tend to bend my working logic so that I am usually stitching relatively close to finished bits.  That way I can easily confirm that I am still on-count and parallel to the rest of the piece.  If I am off, it’s almost invariably because I missed count on a diagonal, going over or up an extra thread (sometimes both).  I can reduce the chance of error if I do that diagonal by eyeballing a one-stitch horizontal or vertical displacement from an established grid point, rather than making the diagonal with no point of nearby reference.   In this way I am constantly checking my work for “true.”

Another way to proof off established work is to work attachment point stitches when they are encountered, if I intend on finishing up that divergent design segment and making that meeting later on from another direction.  It’s much easier to see and meet up with a little “twig,” and to spot potential deviations early on, than it is to meet up with a solid line of stitching, where identifying the individual stitches can be tricky, later on.

What thread are you using/Where did you get it?

I got it at Birka – four ply filament silk hand dyed using iron and tannin (full disclaimer here) by my Stealth Apprentice.  She is launching a small venture producing historically inspired Roman jewelry, plus embroidery threads and ribbons dyed with historically accurate materials and methods.  I am helping by being an early customer, sponsor, and “beta tester” for the threads.

 

Now on to the doodle.

That little lump in the hand-held frame above the two triangle-shaped forehead cloths… What the heck is that?

It’s a doodle. I had thread and ground fabric left over after I finished the two cloths, so I decided to just aimlessly stitch away, trying out some of the larger fills or smaller all-overs that rarely have scope to come out and play (like those on the forehead cloths themselves).  This particular design is from my free collection of fills, Ensamplario Atlantio. No plan here, just idle stitching while the ground is still in one easy-to-handle piece.  Along the way over the past week or so, my doodle has decided it wanted to bear a motto and become a mini-sampler.  So here is progress to date:

18620390_10154483535381892_4591261068933098213_n

I’m not sure what will be below the motto, but whatever it is will keep me doodling for another week or two.  For those who want more info, the alphabet I used is here.

ALMOST THERE

As you can see, progress on the first blackwork forehead cloth has been quite swift:

Forehead-02

I have just two corners left.  Although I have been using my sit-upon tambour (round) frame for this project, I will now switch to a hand-held hoop.  That’s because it’s significantly smaller, and better able to get close to the edge of the cloth.

On thread consumption – I started out with a 100-yard skein of the hand-dyed filament silk.  What you see here is the entire thing.  Every inch.  Luckily, I have another and will use a bit of it to complete.

Here are some more answers to questions posted here and other places where I’ve shown this piece.

What does the back look like?

Pretty much the same as the front:

Forehead-01

That’s because I’m primarily working this in double running stitch, which the assiduous can make entirely double sided.  I am not bothering (note the presence of Evil Knots) because this cloth will be lined.

How do you keep your knots from pulling through?

I never just make a knot, then push my needle up through the ground cloth, trusting entirely on the bulk of the knot to keep the stitch in place.  I either knot around a bit of established work, or if no previous stitch is handy, I make a knot at the end of my thread, stitch up, then down again leaving about an inch not pulled through to the front.  Then I use my needle to pierce the working thread.  I gently pull the thread into place, snicking up that inch of extra, and manipulating the just-made noose-join so that the knot isn’t in peril of being pulled forward.  Yes, I could make a waste knot on the front, then trim the thread back in a more traditional method, but in this case at least, the thread is prone to shedding color, and I prefer not to make a mark “outside the lines.”

On the terminal knots, I run the thread under an established stitch and do what amounts to a double hitch knot, then use my needle to pierce the newly made knot, pulling the thread tight.  This acts as a second lock and prevents unraveling or pop-through.

How do you determine your double-running baseline in a complex design like this?

I know I’ve written extensively about finding the baseline, but in this case, there isn’t just one stitching logic.  There are many, and they are all situational.  Do I want to go “out and back again” so that the active end of my line of stitching ends up near the point of origin?  Do I want to just head out in one direction until I run out of thread, then follow up with a second strand, filling in my every-other-stitch?  Do I want to establish the location of a design element, then go back and fill in detail later; or do I want to do every detour and departure on the first pass, leaving only a minimal amount of work for the second pass?  How much thread is left in my working strand?  Lots?  Just a little?  All of these thoughts combine and influence my path planning.  I can say that the stitching logic in no two of these repeats was identical – it was all done to optimize the remaining thread, cover the design without omissions, and to make counting and alignment as easy as possible; and the mix of those factors at any one time varied wildly.

However there is one thing that ended up being of great help in keeping everything properly lined up and accurately on-count. When I have a T-intersection, on the first pass I include the “attachment stitch,” so that when I come back and link up to that segment, the exact spot is easy to find.  Otherwise, if I continued straight along the top of the T, when I came back later and had to add the vertical, it would be harder to know if my alignment was correct; if the new addition had synched up correctly to the prior work.

Forehead-04

You can see this in several places on the snippet above.  Look at the heavy stacked diagonal at 1:00. On its base, where it joins the circular plume-flower medallion, I’ve left a little vertical hanging off the foundation 1×3 rectangle.  That’s an attachment point.  As I near it on my next stitching pass, I can cue off it to proof my work as I go, and know that I am on target for an absolutely aligned attachment point.  That’s also why I have those little barbs sticking out on the base of the as-yet-to-be-stitched diagonal at 5:00.

What are you going to do with the rest of the cloth?

It would be a shame to cut out my completed triangle, leaving a difficult to handle remnant.  So I am going to stitch a second, smaller triangle opposite this one, leaving cutting room between them. After I’ve finished #2, I’ll assemble both forehead cloths.  Not sure what motif to use on the second one, but likely it will be less dense, because I have less thread.

What are you using for the ground?  Do you like it?

I’ve had this piece of MCG Textiles even weave in my stash for at least a year, maybe two.  It was the last bit of 32-count linen ground on the shelf at a local JoAnn’s big-box crafts store.  I do not recommend it.

I have to say that I’m spoiled by higher quality linens at this point.  I am finding too many irregularities – thick/thin threads, slubs, surface matting, and the like, that are affecting the look of the finished project.  There’s one area in particular that drove me crazy – a segment of a few inches in which every other thread was super narrow.  Countwork there was not fun at all.  In addition, it’s not really an even weave.  There’s a distortion if you compare north-south to east-west.  (I can’t tell which is warp and which is woof because the bagged segment had no selvedge on it).  I grabbed it off the top of the stash when I started this because it was a nice coarse count, the size of the piece was suitable (minimal waste), and I wanted to begin quickly, without ordering or hunting for materials.

FOREHEAD CLOTH/KERCHIEF PROGRESS

This is working up to be a quick stitch:

kerchief-02

I attempt to answer questions submitted via email and on-line.  If you have other questions, please feel free to post and ask.  There are no secrets here.

Where/what is this pattern?

It’s one of the many designs in T2CM.  It’s quasi-original, based on a 15th century strip pattern from my all time fave V&A sampler, the famous (and infamous) T.14.1931.  I presented the strip in TNCM, but here have morphed it into an all-over. There are only two designs in T2CM that revisit some aspect of a pattern from the first book.  This happens to be one of them.

Here is the original historical design in strip form, as worked on my Clarke’s Law sampler:

plume-strip-2

What stitch are you using?

Mostly double running, with short hops in “Heresy Stitch”. But I’m not being slavish about the double-sided/double running protocol.  I am using knots, and I am strongly considering a muslin lining for my forehead cloth.  I think it will help it wear better, by reducing stress on the ground fabric.  Therefore, with the back well hidden, I am under no pressure to do a perfect double-sided parlor trick.  That being said, I do tend to stick to double sided logic for best thread economy and minimal show-through.

What thread and ground are you using?

The ground isn’t fancy – it’s a prepackaged linen or linen blend even weave, with a relatively coarse thread count of 32 threads per inch.  It is stash-aged, and parted company from the packaging long ago, so I am not sure of the brand name it was marketed under, or the retail source. I’m stitching over two threads, so that’s about 16 stitches per inch.  I tried stitching over three, but thought the look was too leggy.

I am using a special treat thread – a small batch hand-dyed silk from an SCA merchant.  I got it at Birka, and I hear it will be intermittently available at the Golden Schelle Etsy shop*.  The thread is dyed with iron, tannin, and logwood, and is a warm black in color.  In thickness it is roughly equivalent to two plies of standard Au Ver A Soie D’Alger silk, although it is not a thread that can be separated into plies.

Do you wax your thread?

Yes.  For double running stitch work, even in silk, I wax my thread lightly with beeswax; paying special attention to the last inch for threading through the needle.  While I would not as a rule wax the entire length of the silk for work that depends on sheen (like satin stitch), at the very short stitch lengths used in double running, loss of sheen is minimal.  Waxing keeps the thread from fuzzing against itself as it is pulled through the same hole more than once, and (if you are working with multiple strands) minimizes the differential feed problem, without resorting to using a laying tool – which I find tedious for such short stitch lengths.  Others adore laying tools, so use of them is a matter of personal preference.

What needles do you use?

I favor a rather unorthodox choice for single strand double running – ball point needles intended for hand sewing on tricots and fine knits.  They have a nice, rounded point, that slides neatly between the threads of my ground fabric, and a small eye.  Blunt pointed needles intended for embroidery often have large eyes, which make thread management for a single strand unwieldy, allowing it to slip out of the eye too readily.

ball_points (1)

How do you know when to “go back again” in double running?

A lot of people think that working double running means you head in one direction, then turn back and retrace your steps.  They carefully calculate the length of their stitching thread, and when they get to the half-consumed point, turn around and go back.  This works, but tends to cluster thread ends.  If you cluster your ends you end up with (for double-sided work) a large number of ends to hide in a very small space, or (for single sided, with knots) an untidy zone, with many knots and ends in the same place, which can show through to the front.

Instead I just keep going.  I use up my length of thread, following my stitching logic, headed in one direction.  Then I begin a second strand,staggering my starting point from my original start, first filling in the previously stitched path, and then extending the design further.  Since I tend to do offshoots and digressions as I come to them and these do eat more thread as I trace them out from and then back to my main stitching line, I rarely have more than two ends at any one point in my work, and those two-end spots are widely distributed, rather than clustering in one small area.

How do you determine the baseline and stitching logic in an all-over?

There’s a little bit of catch-as-catch-can, but the basic concept is dividing the work into zones.  In this piece the zone is flexible, and can be centered on either square area bordered by the spider flowers, connected by the twisted framing mechanism; or on the smaller area defined by the “root zone” of those spider flowers, again connected by the twisted framing.  I go around either one of those, hopping between them as needed.  In either case, the small center elements – the tiny quad flower, or the quad flower with the elongated tendrils, is worked separately, with no jumps back to the main motif.

And speaking of that tendril-flower – I am not entirely happy with it.  I may pick it out and draft something else to go there.  For the record, the nice, large square it inhabits would make a nifty place for initials, heraldic badges, whimsical creatures, original motifs, or other personal signifiers.

Why are you using a round frame?

Because I have two flat frames and one round (tambour) sit-on frame, in addition to several round in-hand hoops.  I have works in progress on both flat frames, and don’t want to dismount them to do this quickie. My tambour frame has a padded bottom hoop, and when time comes to move the fabric and squash bits of just-done embroidery, I will pad the work with some muslin to protect it on the top as well as the bottom side.  Again, working short stitches with no raised areas – even in silk – makes this a less risky proposition than it would be for other stitching styles.

Can I see the back?

In the next progress post I’ll include a shot of the back.

 

* In the interest of full disclosure (and the no-secrets here thing), the un-named proprietor of Golden Schelle is my Stealth Apprentice.  Shhh.  It’s a secret.

 

ADAPTING FOR MODERN USE

Yet another post only a stitching/historical clothing geek would love.

Forehead cloths.

What were they?  Why do I care?

Forehead cloths were triangular kerchief type items, often matched with a coif (a close-fitting cloth hat) produced during the 1500s and 1600s.  Some still exist today in set with their coif, some are separate – possibly parts of sets, now orphaned over time.  They appear to have been quite popular based on survivals, and surprisingly for a popular item – how they were worn is not an entirely settled issue.

64.101.1237
Blackwork forehead cloth in collection of Metropolitan Museum of Art
British, last quarter of 16th century – roughly 14.5 x 16.5” (36.8 x 41.9cm)
Accession 64.101.1237

Some suggest forehead cloths were worn underneath the coif, tied or pinned firmly behind the head under the wearer’s bunned-up hair.  In this configuration, the cloth would keep the hair contained, and provide a firm foundation on which to pin the coif itself.  Having worn coifs and hoods of the time, this is very logical to me, and makes perfect sense.

Others suggest that the cloth may have been worn over the coif; or even instead of it, for sleeping or indoors-at-home informality. I do note that in coif-cloth sets where metallic or linen lace trims the coif, the accompanying forehead cloth is rarely adorned to match. This makes sense if the cloth was worn under the coif, but would be odd if it was worn covering the coif’s fancy trim.  Were they ever worn alone?  No one knows…

64.101.1242                                 64.101.1243

Polychrome forehead cloth and matching coif, also Metropolitan Museum of Art
British, 1600-1630, cloth roughly 7 x 17.5” (17.8 x 44.5cm)
Coif – Accession 64.101.1242   Cloth – Accession 64.101.1243

What we do know about forehead cloths is that they come in as many stitching styles as do coifs – blackwork, other monochrome, polychrome, counted, freehand stitched,  fancy with metallic threads and sequin embellishments or plainer; standard Elizabethan/Stuart era scrolling flowers and vines (with or without insects and birds); all-over repeat or geometric patterns – you name it.  Some. like the one below, even look like they are remnants of larger embroidered items, cut down and re-used.

2006BF4614_jpg_lStippled blackwork forehead cloth from the Victoria and Albert Museum
England, 1625-1650.
Accession T.42-1938

About the only thing I haven’t seen yet is one that is mostly plain ground, stitched just along hypotenuse edge rather than being entirely covered with pattering.  Some cloths (like the first two above) have small tie strings, some are just triangles, with no tabs, ribbons, or strings (although those may have become disassociated over the decades).

Now, why am I so interested?  I rarely get to SCA events these days, and don’t have an outfit (or a finished coif) to match a forehead cloth.

I want to make one for mundane day-to-day, modern wear.

I like wearing a bandanna or kerchief to keep my hair out of my eyes, especially during “down times” on weekends, or when we visit windy Cape Cod.  It strikes me that a purpose-built forehead cloth would serve well, and be a bit more distinctive than a plain old paisley bandanna.  Being small, it would not be onerous to stitch, and would be a fun thing to adorn with one of the larger all-over or infinity repeats that I’ve charted over the years.

I’m laying out the size of the piece now, basting my dimensions onto ground cloth.  More news on this as the project develops.