Sunday, July 27, 2014

In-Progress: Linen Alms Purse Background Fill

I figured it might be a good idea to follow up last week's massive tutorial by coming back to my in-progress linen alms purse. This project has no due date, and I purposefully wanted to keep it pretty flexible in that regard so I didn't burn out on it. So it got tucked to the back burner a while ago so I could get several other projects out of the way. And now it's time to bring it back out.

When I left off, I'd begun filling in the outer arch, and was still contemplating my options for finishing the background. When I came back to it, I decided that I didn't care for how the arch stitches were coming out. So I back-tracked by ripping those stitches out, and decided to focus on the background instead first.

For the background, I've waffled between self-couching techniques, regular couching techniques, compound techniques, and even counted thread techniques. I wasn't really in love with any of them.

When I extended the ends of the panels on the embroidered purse I showed last week, I used a really simple zig-zag technique that created a textured band without having to change colors or stitches. It worked just as I'd hoped, and I really like it. I wondered if a similar idea could work on the alms purse, just not as a counted technique.

So I pulled the panel off the frame to draw out what I wanted to do. My first few marks are a bit hard to see, but further down you should see what I was doing.

With a pencil and ruler, I measured and marked out each inch along the top. I centered the middle line since it didn't work out to exactly 6 inches. The two sides are more like 3/4".

I did the same at the bottom.

Then I matched the two tick marks and drew in the columns.

Which looked like this:

See the heart attack inducing coffee stain? Yeah, that was a close call.
 Then I rotated it and placed a mark on each side at every 1/4".

Then drew them across as well.

In retrospect, I really just needed to mark the 1/4" points on the column lines, but it's no big deal.
I switched to an ink pen, and column by column drew a diagonal line across each of the rectangles to achieve the zig-zag pattern.

Since I had the opportunity, having ripped out the stitches I'd done on the arch to start a bit fresh, I decided to re-evaluate my color choices. I was originally going to use the dark green Londonderry linen for the background and the pale gray DMC linen for the arch, but when I thought about how I wanted the background to look texture-wise, I realized the green wasn't going to easily accomplish that. So I decided to swap the two colors, making the gray the background.

To really make the background look right, I needed the help of a laying tool. I don't have a laying tool per se, so I decided I would try a few of the tools I did have to see what would work. I grabbed a metal US 3 knitting needle, a large plastic yarn needle, and my bone eyelet awl.

I knew, in theory how to use a laying tool, but I had not yet had the chance. I learned the method from a video tutorial on Mary Corbet's Needle 'n Thread blog (which is a fantastic resource for embroidery, btw.) After a quick re-watch of the video, I started stitching.

It didn't take long for me to decide that I liked the eyelet awl the most. It also didn't take long for me to realize that it was really difficult to use the laying tool in my non-dominant hand. So I ended up stitching with my left hand and laying with my right (my dominant hand). It was weird, but waaayyy better than the other way around.

The smaller stitches are not as good as I'd like them to be, so I'll need to really work on those and be a bit more patient in those areas to ensure that all the stitches come out smooth, and not just the longer ones.

The second line went better, and I suspect that's pretty typical of the technique. As you fall into a pattern, you get better at it. It will still be a bit of a time-consuming process, so I'll probably work in spurts, just completing a few "bars" in a sitting.

And thus far, I'm happy with my color swap, but there really isn't enough down to make a final determination.


  1. Have you made any progress since this last post? I love this project.

    1. I haven't. Actually, not too long after this, I got really disillusioned about it (I was REALLY struggling with the background) and I ended up cutting the figures out from the ground thinking I'd affix them to a better ground fabric that I could maybe do a counted background pattern on. It's all still sitting in my embroidery drawer since then. I did really like how the figures came out though, so there's always a chance this one will get a new life! Thanks for commenting and reminding me of it!