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!)


  1. Absolutely lovely work! I've studied 18th century samplers over the years, and I always love to see the little mistakes, alterations, or changes the maker decided to do. Can't wait to see the finished product!

  2. I really, really love it! Brick-stitching is just so perfect! :) I did some myself -

  3. How do you like charting in Excel? It seem like a nightmare. Would it be easier to just use graph paper?

    1. I'm a pretty computer-savvy person, so I don't find it tedious. I like it because I can easily change my mind mid-pattern without having to completely start over. But I also developed the template I use, so there's no real learning curve for me.