Sunday, May 13, 2012

Sleeveless / Convertible Spencer: Embroidery Experiment 2 a Success!

The working milieu
After the annoying and coarse results of the first embroidery experiment, I decided to order flat silk thread that would divide more easily. When the Eterna silk thread I chose finally arrived, however, most of the threads I had ordered turned out to be out of stock, and the few colors that I did order lacked the fine shine of the Au Ver a Soie thread, although the threads certainly divided easily and so could be used for fine motifs. Depression. What to do?

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.
 A final note: really good light is essential for this kind of embroidery. You want indirect bright light, and as few shadows as possible. This table sits at a double window, direction north-northwest, and it's barely good enough. A sixty watt bulb at night is not enough at all, and a bank of overhead lights only causes shadows, at least in my house. I've had to experiment a lot.
Good light is essential.
 So, onward ho, the greenery on this flower, and 15 more flowers to go!


Kleidung um 1800 said...

Dear Natalie,

Yahoo - for finally finding a way to treat the purchased silk in that particular way! Isn't it a wonderful thing when this happens?!
The new embroidery looks amazing and even more so as there's so much research and "learning by doing"!
A truly inspiring project!!!


Cassidy said...

I'm so glad everything's worked out! It's great when that happens. And your flower is beautiful.

ZipZip said...

Agreed: it was a happy moment when I knew I could continue the project, and not just tear everything out :}

Tomorrow morning? Embroidery time!

Very best,