Wednesday, 10 February 2016

English Work: Embroidery Short Course – Part 3

Classes, courses and workshops are what have kept me stitching while my mojo has been in hiding and I have done several over the past year or so.

Towards the end of November 2014, I did the last of a three part short course in English embroidery at the Ashmolean Museum with Tanja Bentham. The subject of this lesson was the main reason I enrolled for this course – reverse couching. I have read about this technique and am quite fascinated by it. On paper, it does not seem difficult but I had a strong suspicion that it would be more difficult that it sounds.

In most couching techniques the couched thread lies on top of the fabric and the couching stitches go over the couched thread; they are visible on the surface. In reverse couching the couched thread still lies on top of the fabric and the couching stitches go over the couched thread but it is then used to pull the couched thread through the fabric. Only the couched thread is visible on the surface. So if you are reverse couching a gold thread the visible area is pure gold! The effect of pulling the couched thread through the fabric is also visible so the couching stitches can be arranged to form patterns on the surface.

© Carol-Anne Conway
Couching with the couching thread showing on the right side

I first did a practice area using imitation gold on the edge of my fabric.

© Carol-Anne Conway
Practicing with imitation gold

As I suspected, pulling the couching thread through the fabric is not as easy as it seems. Firstly, the couching stitch has to come out of and go down into exactly the same place in the fabric forming a small loop around the couched thread. Then, as with many techniques, the tension is important. When stitching with a sewing machine, the aim is to have balanced tension between the bobbin thread and the upper thread so each thread is looped around the other. When surface couching, the effect is as if the bobbin tension is too loose and the bobbin thread loops over the upper thread which lies flat on the surface of the fabric. In reverse couching, the effect is as if the upper tension is too loose and the upper thread loops around the bobbin thread which lies flat on the underside of the fabric.

© Carol-Anne Conway
The reverse side showing the gold thread pulled through and looped around the couching thread

I found it fairly easy to achieve regular couching on my straight practice area but I found it far more difficult to do so on the curved halo. Much more practice needed!

© Carol-Anne Conway
The front with no couching thread showing

I really enjoyed this mini course. Tanja is a lot of fun and her classes are fairly relaxed while being very informative and professional. Tanja’s own work is very impressive and, as usual, even better in real life than any photographs suggest. It has given me a taster of opus anglicanum and an appreciation of why, when done well, it was the most celebrated embroidery of its time.

© Carol-Anne Conway

Happy Stitching


Cynthia Gilbreth said...

Wow! that technique certainly gives a different texture to the stitching. That sounds like a fun course. We actually went to the Ashmolean museum several years ago on a visit to London. It was absolutely wonderful!

Rachel said...

It's a lovely effect, and like you, I rather suspect that the technique is harder than it appears..

Anonymous said...

Beautiful stitching.

Deborah said...

Lovely stitching - this is one of my favourite techniques at the moment, there is so much to learn!