|The working milieu|
I thought of ordering the gorgeous Japanese flat silk that Hallie Larkin of At the Sign of the Golden Scissors discussed in her recent embroidery post, but it goes for $7 a spool, and even though you get 60 meters per spool, I don't need 60 meters of any one color and would have dropped over $50 on more thread.
Depression deepened. I set the project aside to sulk.
It kept calling out to me from the closet. I listened, disgruntled, but gave in.
A sunny afternoon found me on the pine floor in the kitchen, with a 20" thread of the Au ver Soie on my knee, and a long, narrow beading needle in my fingers. I attempted to use the needle to divide the silk filaments into narrow strands. Both Hallie Larkin and Mary Corbet said it could be done, with care. Indeed, the almost liquid silk DID divide, half-way through. Then it fuzzed up and tangled. I picked it up in my fingers in desperation, and slid it through them back and forth, between my fingernails, attempting to work out the tangles.
A miracle. The tangles smoothed, the gloss returned to the silk, and it flattened out, easing into a tiny rivelet of vibrant color.
I had a thought. My applique needle had a round eye but my beading needle a long narrow eye. What effect could I attain if the silk were truly applied so that its filaments were all laid out really flat, flatter than they could become when trapped in a round-eyed needle?
The silk easily threaded the beading needle, and did lie in my fingers quite flat. I took an experimental stitch, and in a second burst of inspiration, changed out my laying tool, a long pin, for the flat side of a seam ripper, and when I finished the stitch, I ran the seam ripper along the threads underneath, guiding them into flatness. The result was lovely and smooth, with the many filaments laying side by side reflecting light and looking like many stitches, not just one. Could this be repeated? I brought the project upstairs, into more even light.
The beading needle's length was a help, because I could find the placement for the next stitch without a shadow or fingers getting in the way of my eyes. The second stitch worked too. The third not so much, but I kept trying.
I worked a basic flower shape in laid stitch in a deep coral pink, and then threaded a narrow section of Eterna silk, and overlaid the centers of the petals in a light pink. The laying tool flattened and guided each stitch into place.
Then, after all the stitches were placed, I ran the flat side of the seam ripper laying tool under the stitches composing each petal and worked with them, repositioning the threads, and making the light pink thread nest down into the coral color. I "petted" and stroked each stitch to flatten and straighten it. I'd read or heard (was it Robert Haven who told me when several of us toured the UK Costume Department in January) that you could do this, and for Pete's sake, it worked.
Here is what I ended up with. In the image the Eterna silk (the inexpensive Chinese dividable silk) is threaded in the beading needle; the seam ripper and the coral Au Ve a Soie lie nearby. I am very pleased with this second effort. If you consider that each petal is the size of a woman's pinky nail -- about 1/4" -- when looked at with ordinary eyesight and not the camera's magnifying lens, it's pretty darn satisfying.
So that's what I will keep doing! I'll pet and poke and massage and primp the stitches until I have them the way I want them, and the handsome little flowers will soon start blossoming all over their lilac ground.
Let's look at the original Met spencer again. Here's a similar flower. The flower center is a single spangle. If you look at the little divots at the end of each stitch, and especially at the light pink sections of the petals, you notice that there aren't that many stitches composing each petal...there are lots of filaments of flat silk, but not that many threads. When I had last looked at the flowers, I had focused on the filaments. They are numerous and make you think there are lots of actual threads, but it's not so. The low number of stitches is even more evident in the leaves.
|A similar flower design, from the original Met spencer.|
|Good light is essential.|