Sunday, October 12, 2014

In Progress: Silk Brick Stitch Bag

So my newest favorite thing is creating counted thread embroidery patterns. I have an Excel spreadsheet set up for satin and brick stitch as well as long-arm cross stitch. When I'm bored or not busy (which is, admittedly, rare these days), I'll fire up that file and start seeing what I can come up with. Pre-established patterns, like the ones on, are great for learning, but I've found that I understand and appreciate the period motifs and patterns better by playing around with what's possible. I also feel, as an artist, there's really only so long you can copy other people's work, even if that work is several hundred years old and therefore not copyrighted.

After finishing up the embroidered purse (which was another original pattern derived from a fragment at the V&A), I decided that I wanted the challenge of coming up with an entirely new pattern. I also wanted something that looked more French. That's not to say that the German counted thread techniques were used in France- just that I wanted something that might better, visually, suit my persona. I also didn't want to go overboard. I wanted the challenge to be the uniqueness of the piece- not the scope of the work.

Before even opening up my file, I knew I wanted to see if brick stitch could produce a fleur-de-lys motif, and allow it to still actually look like fleur-de-lys. I also knew that I wanted to create a flower motif that was not necessarily rote-copied from another pattern. Here's what I came up with:

The lozenge layout happened pretty organically. Brick stitch lends itself very well to a field of diamonds. Inspired by this piece, I'd been wanting to create a pattern that used simple, graphic elements, so on this one I included stripes and chevrons to create the neutral base for the gold and white lozenges. I was originally going to include red in the pattern, but when I set that up in Excel I hated it. The inclusion of a lighter blue came about instead.

The next challenge I decided to set forth for myself was to complete this project with silk. I have had very little experience with embroidering large pieces with silk. Brick stitch is such a good "beginner" method that I don't have to worry about battling the silk learning curve while trying a more complex technique.

Materials and colors picked out, I jotted down some ideas for how the whole bag might go together:

Then I chose a size of 10"x7.5". I'll be working these as two separate panels, rather than a continuous piece, so that I have a seam at the bottom to muck around with tassels in.

I went to my local embroidery shop and picked up cards of Splendor silk from Rainbow Gallery. You can also get that online (from Nordic Needle, for example). This is a 12-strand thread that is divisible. I'm using 4 strands for the 32-count linen ground.

Before starting the work, I made sure to finish the edges of my linen to keep it from disintegrating on me as I work. You could also use masking tape or even secure bias tape to accomplish this same thing.

Then I measured out my two panels and used a running stitch in maroon thread to outline the panels so that I didn't have to worry about where my edges were when I got going.

I also made sure to find my center point to begin the embroidery so that, unlike my previous embroidery, the pattern sits symmetrically on the panel. Unfortunately, I forgot to move down the panel a bit to leave room for the eventual drawstring area. Luckily, though, the embroidery I had done before I realized that could be flipped upside down and still work. So I'm working bottom up now.

I got started and snapped this picture to share with my friends on Facebook:

As I looked at it, it started to bother me that the blue lozenges weren't as sharp looking as I envisioned when reduced down to actual stitch size. As I stared at it, I realized that the borders I'd included around those were probably unnecessary, and were making the stripes and chevrons look crowded. I also realized that the top and bottom shapes of the flowers weren't really appealing to me and could really just use an extra stitch. So I revised the pattern:

I decided that I wasn't going to rip out what I had already done. It would have wasted the silk, for starters, but there's also precedent in medieval patterned embroideries for changes in the design that really look like someone changed their mind more than just made a mistake. They often occur on the edges of the patterns, just like in my case. Since the overall structure of the lozenge pattern hasn't changed, these few that I've already completed aren't getting in the way of the altered pattern.

I haven't gotten to work on it too much since making that change, but here's what the piece looks like now:

Thank you for making it to the end of this post. Because you stuck it out, I'm making my Excel file available to you to download! You will need Excel 2010 or later. Instructions are on the first sheet, then there are sheets for the three techniques. The template is provided as is. I will not be performing troubleshooting or lessons on how to use it beyond the instructions provided within. You can download it here. Have fun with it. Be fearless with your experiments! If you ruin it, just came back and download it again! (If you use the template and publish the patterns you create with it on your own blog, I would appreciate it if you would mention that I created the template, and provide a link to this post. Thanks!)

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Project Complete: Late Medieval Double Apron


A German "double", or midwife's, apron, from the late 15th century.


In various places throughout late medieval German art, such as in The Birth of Saint Roche (c. 1475-1485, St. Lorenz, Nuremburg) below, we can see a distinctive type of "double apron" in use. For the most part, the aprons appear to be used by midwives, giving them the monicker "midwife's apron" among some researchers. Karen Larsdatter includes a handful of them in her apron listing.

When I first found this apron style, I was intrigued by it, but since I wasn't doing late medieval German, it never made it much past the "hmm, that's interesting" phase. Then, some time back, I'd pinned an image of Lady Malina wearing a double apron. I really liked it, and decided that it should at least go on my "possible projects" list. When I decided that I wanted to include an apron in the new set of garb I was making for my daughter, I got poking around Pinterest, and re-found that apron. So, of course, now it was front and center on my radar, and I decided that I wanted to go ahead and make one.


I reached out to Facebook for some guidance. My friends Baroness Genoveva Von Lübeck (you may know her from her vastly popular and amazing blog, Honor Before Victory) and Sarah W. (author of A Most Peculiar Mademoiselle and Som När Det Begav Sig) gave me some pointers and helped me decipher the imagery. With their nudge, here's what I came up with.

I started with two panels of 57" wide 5.3oz linen, cut to 57" long each (giving me squares).
On a piece of 1" wide painters tape, I made tick marks every 1/4" along both edges.

Then, I attached the tape to the top edge of a panel, about .75" down (though it should have been less than that, in retrospect.) The trickiest part here was to keep it as on-grain as possible.

Using two needles to do the top and bottom at the same time (though, technically, I mean one, then the other as a group), I used white silk thread to weave a basting stitch in and out according to the ticks.

Instead of going all the way to the end, I left both needles in the fabric at the end at matching points. Then I removed the tape.

Using the needles as guides, I reset the tape along the next stretch. Wash, rinse, repeat.
At some point, I started to gather the fabric already stitched to have enough length to get to the end. Once I was all the way through, I pushed the fabric together into the initial gathered pleats.

They still needed some help, though, to look correct. Pleat-by-pleat, I corrected the fold as needed to get the final, neater row of pleats. This panel is about 7" wide.

Then I repeated the whole process (including the tape because the tackiness of the first piece had worn off), to get the second panel. In fact, almost everything is done twice in this entire process. It is a "double" apron for a reason!

I am going to pause here to briefly note that the period images suggest a longer pleated panel than what I've done. To do that, you just add additional stitch lines down to your desired panel length. I chose not to do that because I really like the look of this example, but also because I was concerned that a longer panel might accentuate the width of my bust in an unflattering manner. That may be entirely unfounded, but I wasn't going to worry about it more than that.

To create the strap, I took a 3" strip off the remaining fabric I had. This was also 57" wide.

I stitched the ends together to create a loop. Then, just by hand, I folded it in half, then turned the raw edges in.

Using the seam as one of the shoulder points, I folded it in half and then in half again to locate the center front and back points.

Meanwhile, back on the panels, I hemmed the sides using hem stitch.

Once the panels were finished (everything but the hem), I lined the strap center point to the panel center point and used the strap to bind the top. In this picture, it's pinned on both sides, then on the ends.

After securing the strap at one end, I stitched the binding to the pleats. I did this by picking up a bit of (almost) every pleat, the picking up the folded edge of the binding. This allowed me to further adjust and refine the positioning of the pleats.

When I finished one side, I turned it over and worked in the other direction across the back.

Then I did the same thing with the other panel. When I got to the end of that one, I just continued along the strap with and overcast stitch to secure it closed.

Same thing on the other strap. So, at that point, the apron was done on the top, and I was able to slip it over my head to determine where I wanted it to connect on the sides. The easiest way to do that was to stand in front of a mirror, pick a point I liked (lower that the hip, in keeping with the imagery), and place a pin on the front panel at that point.

After taking it off, I folded that panel in half to place a pin in the same spot on the other side.

I then lined the front and back panels up (right sides together) from the top, so that the opening is the same length on both front and back edges, and pinned them together down from my initial pin.

At this point, I switched from the thinner silk thread to a slightly thicker hand spun linen, and used the Elizabethan seam technique of using overcast stitches to secure the two finished edges together, creating a seam.

A simple hem stitch took care of the final raw edge.

Since it wasn't long before the original thread used to create the pleats snapped, I used the linen thread and secured the pleats on the back side with a back stitch to finish the apron.


I was concerned during the making process that this style of apron wouldn't be a good fit for me, but once I finished it and tossed in on at this weekend's event, I was pretty satisfied with it. There is, however one thing I would do differently.

Even though it made sense to create the apron as a symmetrical piece, the reality is that I'm far from symmetrical front-back. The apron hangs lower in the back, sort of accentuating my rear a bit more than it needs.

There are two solutions. I could detach the panels and reconnect them with the back better positioned (which would also involved re-hemming). But another issue I had wearing it was stepping on it when I stepped backwards. So the back could certainly use a bit of shortening up anyway. Which means the other, easier, solution would be to simply shorten the straps, bringing the back panel up.

Having a seam on both shoulders would then help me keep it properly placed.


I'm really satisfied with how this turned out, and having now worn it once, I have a better idea of how it will serve me in the future. It'll really help protect my gowns when the kids are in tow, and will of course work for any labor I might be doing. I was also really happy to have it at a particularly cold event as an extra layer.

This whole thing, by the way, came together pretty easily. I did the pleats on the two panels over two evenings, then spent Friday doing the hand sewing. The hem was done in the car on the way to the event, and I did the back stitching at the event after lunch.

As always, you can see the full set of photos in the Flickr set or on Facebook.