Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Testing Threads, Part 2

See my previous post for the background to the test results below.

When all threads were applied to the three fabrics, I had 63 separate samples.

The Kreinik silk (light blue) and Trebizond silk (gold) were the hardest to work with. I had to use incredibly short lengths to keep the twist, which, on a full size piece, means more stopping and starting. I did not wax the threads, but I now know probably should have tried that (thank you Crystal).

The Kreinik silk was very delicate, but also wonderfully soft. This was my least favorite in comparison to the others, but some of that was because I had to change a lot of my stitching habits quickly to keep from destroying the thread! It worked best overall on the cotton canvas, particularly the brick stitch. It also produced a nice bit of long-arm cross stitch on the 32-count, but some of the trick was to loosen the twist a bit so that it created a more subtle braid.

The Trebizond silk was much better at keeping the twist on the worked stitches, but about 2" at the end had unraveled as I stitched. It also did well on the canvas, but seemed to be best suited to the stem stitch across all three fabrics. A full-sized piece with this shiny thread would be quite beautiful, and I doubt a lack of metallic threads would even be noticed!

The navy blue Grandeur silk was the most like the pearl cotton in terms of the working process, but I still needed to use shorter pieces than I would with cotton to keep it smooth. It held the twist with no problem, but it was just as sensitive to the act if being drawn through the fabric as the Kreinik and Trebizond silks. Overall, I loved using this thread, and I found it to be the best choice of the bunch for making the transition from cotton to silk. It worked well for all stitches on all three fabrics, but how it looked in long-arm cross stitch was especially nice, particularly on the 32-count.

The Impressions 50/50 (gray) is to die for in texture. It is smooth and soft- the best qualities of silk and wool respectively. I had high hopes for it, since it is also very similar to the pearl cotton. The gauge is smaller, however- more like a #8 pearl cotton than #5. Similar to the Grandeur, it held the twist well. Its smaller gauge made it seem finer than the others, particularly on all three samples of split stitch. It did well on the canvas, but worked brick stitch better than the others on the 32-count (once again owing to its size).

When I got to the Bella Lusso (light pink) wool, I did go through a learning process about using crewel wool. The thread is incredibly soft and fluffy to hold, and the results were unbelievably delicate in look. I was concerned that the wool would fuzz up as I worked it, but that wasn't a problem. The best sample was the double strand split stitch on the 28-count linen, but the long-arm cross stitch done with a single strand on a 3x3 grid (instead of 4x4 like the others) was also nice on all three fabrics. The clean look of the brick stitch with a double strand on the canvas was a nice surprise.

The Medici wool (rose pink) was slightly rougher in feel than the Bella Lusso, and could be described as hairy. Since I'd figured out that a double strand was the better way to use the crewel wool, I did not bother trying any single strand samples. It worked well for all the samples, but had a more pronounced hairiness even after being used. The long-arm cross stitch stood out on all three panels.

The other result of the test showed that the stiffer ground of the cotton canvas performed well for all thread samples and all stitch types. While this is somewhat disappointing, since it is a modern ground material, it's also nice to know that my stash of it won't go to waste! It would make a very good ground for a large bag. However, since the point of all this was to locate a thread and ground combination as my first foray into more authentic materials, I'll save the canvas for a future project. I included it basically because I had it, and I didn't know if it would be good for anything.

After several minutes of staring at each sample, I finally decided that the Rainbow Gallery Grandeur Silk in long-arm cross stitch on the 32-count ground was the best of the bunch. It was followed quite closely by the DMC Medici wool in long-arm cross stitch on the 28-count linen.

So I need to now take some time to research long-arm cross stitch to discover the possibilities for something appropriately 15th century. I have already come across a few, but if you have any links you can share in the comments, I'd love to see what you've found.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Testing Threads for 15th Century Embroidery

I enjoy medieval embroidery, and it's one of the few SCA arts besides garb that I'm usually willing to devote lots of time, energy and a reasonable amount of money to. In terms of medieval techniques, I like doing German brick stitch, but I also have an interest in all forms of embroidery accurate for 15th century Europe. The problem is that I have had very little experience doing embroidery with authentic materials (beyond decorative stitches on a some garments I've made). My thread of choice has been DMC #5 Pearl Cotton. It's a great embroidery thread in general, as it's easy to obtain, relatively inexpensive, and very pleasant to work with. I like the color range it comes in, and I like the smoothness and sheen it has in a finished project. It's not going to leave my craft supplies any time soon, but it's time to spread my wings into more accurate materials.

Silk and wool threads are evident in the extant embroideries from the 15th century, as well as metallic gold and silver threads. It seems that embroideries produced with linen thread fell out of widespread favor before the 15th century, though sporadic examples of linen embroideries are certainly still evident.

It's probably fair to say that silk threads used in conjunction with metallic threads hold the lion's share of 15th century embroidery samples still around today. Many of the created images are figurative in nature, particularly those on clerical vestments. Silk and metallic embroidery was also used on certain types of bags, most notably alms purses (or aumônières), but I haven't been able to locate many 15th century examples. I don't, however, particularly care to do metal thread work at this point as the learning curve could be pretty costly.

Removing metallic threads from the list of 15th century embroidery types leaves mainly secular embroideries, or rather works meant for personal use rather than ceremonial use. Embroidered panels (commonly, mistakenly, referred to as tapestries these days), pouches/bags, and cushions or similar household objects are at the top of the list. I haven't conducted enough research at this point to be able to determine just what thread types were in use on which items where in Europe. I have, however, been able to identify 4 groups of stitch types that were in use:

1. Brick and satin stitches
2. Klosterstitch & other self-couching stitches
3. Long-armed cross stitch
4. Stem/split/chain stitches, often used in combination

For the purposes of learning how to use silk and wool threads, I'm going to assume that either fiber type could have been used for any of these stitches. That may or may not be true, but as production is the goal for now, each of these stitches provide a different set of technical aspects to learn through.

So I set about giving myself a test environment, primarily to get a better sense of how silk and wool behave as embroidery threads, as opposed to the more familiar cotton. The first component of the test was a variety of threads.

I purchased 6 threads to try out. Clockwise from left above: Rainbow Gallery Grandeur Twisted Silk, Trebizond Silk, Kreinik Silk Serica, Bella Lusso Crewl Wool, DMC Medici Crewl Wool, and Caron Impressions 50% Silk 50% Wool.

I then set my embroidery frame up with three panels to try each of the threads on. From left to right: 28-count linen, 32-count linen, and 28-count cotton canvas.

Each thread was applied to each of the 3 panels using brick stitch, long-arm cross stitch and split stitch. I chose to skip couching for now, since that's still a stitch method I'm learning, and I didn't want that learning curve to impact the results of the tests. The samples are small, but the point of each was just to get an idea of the behavior of each thread sample, and to maybe determine the most ideal application of each within my test environment.

Some of the difficultly in the test was that I needed to learn some things about using silk and wool on the technical/user end. When I identified something that I may have been doing wrong that was affecting the performance of the thread, I either redid the sample with a better technique, or I simply noted what I had done wrong and determined what about the thread/stitch sample was not affected by that error.

One error that I'd made at the start was that I'd purchased different colors. For a truer test, I should have located a similar color for each thread so that color did not need to be factored into the test. As it is, some colors show the stitch differently than others, slightly skewing the results.

After applying each thread to each fabric in all three stitches, I had 63 samples. I'll post my thoughts on each thread in my next post.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Pay It Forward Challenge Projects

At the beginning of the year, I took the Pay It Forward challenge in which, in order to receive something handmade by one person, I had to open my skills up to make something handmade for the first 5 people that asked.  I only had 3 takers, but they each asked for something very different.

The first project, a pouch suitable for an 10th Century Bulgarian persona, was completed and given to my friend back in the summer. I previously shared this on the blog, so you can click here to check that out.

The next project was an embroidered veil. While this friend does 11th Century Italio-Norman, I decided (after trying to find anything credibly appropriate) that this project would be better as just a way to try my hand at doing something fancy with an embroidered border. She provided me with a very nice tan silk, and requested gold and purple for the colors. This is what I came up with:

The edge technique is called Shell Hem Stitch. I used this tutorial to learn that. The embroidery technique is double herringbone stitch, worked in gold and purple pearl cotton.

The last project was an illuminated piece. In the last two years, I've really scaled back on the illumination painting I do, but I certainly haven't lost my love of it. This piece, for a gentleman who is involved in SCA heavy fighting as well as archery, was a great opportunity for me to recreate a panel from the Maciejowski Bible. I originally planned on doing one of the chaotic battle scenes, but ultimately decided that one of their most interesting qualities- their graphic/gory nature- was the most limiting in terms of creating a nice piece for a friend to hang on his wall. After some searching, I found a nice block of some knights on horseback, and thought that fit the bill quite well.

I used a dip pen and ink for the outlines and then painted using gouache. My paper choice allowed the ink to bleed a bit when I painted, so I tried to use that to my advantage in the shading. I used acrylic paint for the metallic gold areas.

I find it very rewarding to do projects like this, especially when I make them for friends. I enjoy giving my talents, in whichever form they take. I think it's also wonderful to do these sorts of things to get out of your own head space and think from someone else's perspective for a while.

And since this is the best place to share it, I also made an illuminated portrait of my mom as a Christmas present. It's 2" x 3", and I used a dip pen and ink, then painted with gouache. It's based on a figure of a saint from the Alphonso Psalter, late 13th century. The blue tower and cross-crosslet are parts of her device, and the frilled fillet, which I made for her a few years ago, is one of her standard headdress pieces. It's the second piece in the personalized miniature collection I've started creating for her.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Making Fabric Buttons

I got waylaid by the flu in early November, and since I was stuck in bed anyway, I decided that when I wasn't sleeping, I really could be sewing. One of the projects that I'd put off for far too long was to correctly finish the wrists on my pink wool cote with buttons. So tucked in bed, I made myself busy.

I'm not sure why I'd found button making so difficult before. I used the circle method, and had no problem getting 12, nice, fair-sized buttons. There are several great button tutorials out there, but in case my blog is the first you come to, here's my version:

Cut a piece of your fabric about 1.5-2" square (mine are ~2"; a smaller starting square will give you a smaller button.)

Fold the square in half diagonally 2 or 3 times (creating a triangle), then cut the raw edges into a curve to make a circle. It doesn't have to be perfect, but it should be mostly even all the way around.

Thread your needle with about an arm's length of thread, and double it for strength. Knot the ends together.

No more than 1/8" away from the circle's edge (and not so close that the thread can easily tear out of the fabric's weave), sew a running stitch.

Once you've sewn all the way around, with your needle passing through to the back side at the end of the running stitch, pull the thread to create a tiny pouch. Leave the thread and needle intact- you're not finished with them yet.

Then using your thumb to guide it, press the pouch flat, with the raw edges at the center, to create a new, flattened disc. Alternatively press with your fingers and pull the thread to get the disc as close to a perfect circle as possible.

Sew another running stitch, this time around the very edge (as close to the "side" as you can) of the new disc. I only went through the top layer, so that the thread didn't appear on the exterior of the button, but I'm not sure how necessary that really was.

Once the stitch has gone all the way around again, pull tight. This is where the double-thread is needed, since you'll need to pull fairly strongly to make the running stitches close tightly. As you pull, use your fingers to guide the button closed with the raw edges encased inside.

Using your thumb and forefinger to hold the tightened button closed, run the thread back and forth across the opening as many times as you need to get an even, tightly-shut ball.

Knot your thread tightly. Cut your needle off at the end of the remaining thread. You'll keep that thread intact in order to sew the buttons onto your garment.

I did not get to put the buttons on, but now they're ready for when I am!

I had previously gathered several other button tutorials, so if you'd like to check out how other people are doing their fabric buttons, click here!

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

All the Frills

Back in September, I decided it was time to make a new headdress. I'd been inspired by Elina's teaser photos of her frilled hood, and had wanted to make one anyway, so I set out to make it a reality.

It didn't work out as planned.

Though I had done considerable math, my linen strips still came up quite short after pleating. I also failed to account for the discrepancy between the curve required for the lowest layer versus the top layer, so the ends where not lining up properly. Not to mention that the linen I used, leftover from the lining of my pink cote, was really too heavy for this purpose.

A true shame, really, since the pleats were turning out quite lovely.

So I scrapped that idea.

Then I saw that Elina had a new set of frills inspired by a set created by Cathrin Åhlén. Thankfully, Cathrin posted her how-to on her blog!

Cathrin's premise for her lovely frills is that narrower bands would create frills so tight and small that starching was unnecessary. This seemed like a perfectly reasonable premise to me. But what threw me was when she stated that her strips measured about 6 meters all told. That's about 20 feet!

So I had to run an experiment to wrap my mind around needing that much length. I also wanted to see if the gauze linen I've had kicking around would work for this technique.

After following Cathrin's directions, I had a cute little frill length. And the clarification that nearly 20 feet of linen was not unreasonable.

The gauze proved difficult to work with as a long strip, since the open weave and narrow width made it susceptible to ripping. I had to remove and replace the fourth strip before I'd even finished hemming the 2nd. It would have been better to sew each individually first, then sew their ends together.

As I sewed along, using a small running stitch to make quick work of it, I got a bit frustrated by how wobbly my hem was. It wasn't terribly wobbly, but since I'd gone through the painstaking effort of cutting the gauze on grain (which is impossible to do on gauze linen without pulling threads as a guide (thanks again to Cathrin for the idea!)), it was irritating that my hem was not consistent.

I decided to just finish the frill and leave it as a single piece to add to other items, just as Cathrin and Elina had done. I used more of the gauze to bind the pleats, but the light weight linen isn't sturdy enough to straighten the frills. I tried some machine sewing to make the binding sturdier, but even with a zipper foot, it was too difficult to actually get a straight line. I decided to just leave it and experiment with basting into place on other things to find out if it was really necessary to do anything more with it.

I particularly liked the idea of attaching it to my huvet and wearing my hood over it. Which is probably not incredibly accurate, but....

Cute. But still not quite what I was intending. So it's back to the drawing board on the frilled hood, though this set will certainly tie me over in the meantime.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Mundane Sewing

During my blogging break I did a LOT of mundane sewing. With a baby shower for a friend, Christmas, and a couple of other odd projects, my sewing machine was certainly busy! I took pictures of everything, so if you don't mind the diversion from medieval sewing, I'd like to briefly share those projects with you.

I started off with creating a messenger bag for Owen, who is a huge fan of bags. I had recently purchased a wonderful book, "Oliver + S: Little Things To Sew" by Liesl Gibson, which is full of great accessories and toys for kids. I didn't do a great job, but it was also a learning experience for me, since sewing a bag like this requires a very different set of machine sewing skills than the medieval items I make!

Still on a roll with bags, I designed a bag for myself inspired by a hoodie sweatshirt. I drafted it myself and learned a bit more about bag-making in the process. It's not perfect, but it was fun to make something completely from scratch based on a vague idea.

I took a break from sewing to try my hand at a basket making technique I'd seen on Pinterest. It was very fun and I got a nice little bedside bowl out of it.

Then I worked on creating some items for my friend's baby shower. Knowing babies as well as a person with 4 would, I decided that a much more valuable gift than just something for a newborn would be something to help with that most fretful of baby things- teething. In addition to some helpful things, like boogie wipes, quick-action pain-relieving gel, and a chart I found on Pinterest that details when each of the baby teeth come in, I made a couple of things as well. I used the "Bapron" tutorial from Craftiness is Not Optional and made 2 for those slobbery teething days, a rabbit ear teething ring similar to the one I'd made earlier this year, and a bag to put it all in, which I used Truly Myrtle's tutorial to create.

I liked the Bapron so much, I made another one for Archer as a Christmas present. He's had a pretty rough go of teething himself, and has had many slobbery days!

For Christmas, I wanted to make sure that each of my kids received something handmade. Hats are toys in our house, especially for my son Lee, so I made him a really cute bear hood, also from the Oliver + s book.

After cleaning out a section of the garage, my mom located an old fabric doll of mine. She was in good condition, but I wanted to get a lot more good years out of her. I had recently thought about making a medieval dress-up doll for Kara, which would give me a great opportunity to show my only daughter what dressing well and lady-like was as she grew up. I made some modifications to the doll itself to make it work, then I completed her with a mid-15th century German outfit. Everything is removable so when Kara has an interest in a different look, I can swap out the outfit easily. I posted more about the doll, including the before and after, on my other blog.

It took me some time to determine a good homemade item for Owen, since I'd already recently made a him that messenger bag, but then I realized that he's started to amass a collection of Hot Wheels, and could probably use a place to keep them. I made him another bag based off an old Martha Stewart tutorial. It's got 8 pockets on the outside for cars, and a large pocket inside for track pieces and additional cars. This was my first time working with felt in this context, and I really liked it.

I also taught myself the basics of knitting, which I always thought was too hard for me to learn. After practicing for about a week, I made my first knitted item. Actually, two items, since I made a pair of boot cuffs. I used a pretty teal wool yarn, and they're soft and warm. I need to put the needles down, though. Knitting is VERY addicting.

All of these projects allowed me to perfect my skills and know-how, which is never a bad thing, but I think I'll go at a slower pace for a while!