Do you every wonder how to decide on the ground fabric you’ll use on a major embroidery project? I wish I were the type who could definitively say, “This is my design, and this will be the ground fabric I stitch it on.” For some hand embroidery projects – especially smaller, quicker ones – it sometimes goes that way, but for anything that I’ll be investing a lot of time and supply money into, I am not very quick at making a decision on the ground fabric.
The other day, I showed you my design process for this current embroidery project I’m working on. The project will be worked in silk and gold threads, that I know for sure. But I’m still a bit undecided on the ground fabric. So this is what I’ve been doing – trying to narrow down a choice of fabric, based on various considerations.
So, how do I narrow down my choices? By testing. Let me show you what I mean…
This is a bolt of white Italian silk, in a satin weave. It’s a beautiful, thick, buttery, wonderful silk fabric, and excellent for hand embroidering, especially in silk threads using satin stitch – it’s just beautiful stuff! Note that it’s not a glaring white. Real silk is never a glaring white. It’s a soft white, almost like a pearl. Wow. I just love this fabric!
Since I have it on hand, and since I love it so much, it’s the first fabric that came to mind for this embroidery project. Why not linen? Well, if the ground fabric is going to show, I want this medallion to be on silk, because the medallion itself will be eventually appliquéd to a silk vestment.
This fabric has a lot of body. It isn’t a flimsy, light silk, and it isn’t super crisp, either. It has a rich, beautiful drape.
Even though it is a thick fabric, it needs to be backed with something, so I cut out a piece of white linen to go behind the silk.
Right now, I’m just cutting small test pieces, about 9″ square.
My next step was to take different elements of the design, in the size that they will be stitched, and print them onto a thick vellum. Now, this is not real vellum – it isn’t made from lambskin or calfskin. It’s actually just the kind of stuff you can buy in the scrapbooking aisle at any hobby store – the type of heavier, half-opaque-half-transparent vellum that is often used in card making, on invitation overlays, and so forth. It’s perfect stuff for this part of the work – it is sturdy, so it doesn’t wrinkle if rubbed about; it’s sort of see through (enough to see marking lines); and it prints beautifully in an inkjet printer.
Unfortunately, I actually didn’t have exactly that type of paper on hand. The kind I had has a little pearlescent sheen to it. Oh, well! It’s all I had on hand, but it worked fine.
I cut out one of the small Tudor roses that will be repeated five times in the design. I made a mistake here!
I’m using the prick-and-pounce method to transfer the embroidery design. It’s always a good idea to leave a Large margin around your design – several inches at least – so that you don’t risk getting pounce powder all over your fabric. Oh well! It’s only a test design, right? Right!
To prick the pattern, I use a tambour needle holder, fitted with a very fine eyeless (tatoo) needle. Alternately, you can use a cork with the eye of a fine needle pushed into the cork. Underneath the pattern, I have sheet of craft foam, which you can buy at any craft store for some 25 cents or something. (Don’t pay $5 for a “pricking mat”! That would be silly! They’re made out of the exact same material.)
Once the pattern was pricked, I held it up to the light and made sure all the lines were covered with little holes. And they were!
I put the pattern on the silk, and rubbed on the pounce…
Ahhhh. Life is good.
Now it’s time to test how I would connect the dots on this type of silk. Remember, this is a satin weave – and that makes a Big Difference in the way it takes pens, pencils, and so forth. It is, in a sense, almost spongy.
And when I applied a sepia colored micron pen with the barely lightest touch I could, yep – I got a major bleed. (I knew that would happen!)
Then I took out the Bohin ceramic pencil, to see if I could get a satisfactory fine line. The ceramic pencil skips in the threads of the weave. Not very fun to draw on this kind of silk! And it left a dusty looking line, which I didn’t like.
Next up was a Prismacolor art pen, just for kicks. The bleed, actually, wasn’t as bad. It’s still there, but it wasn’t as bad as the first pen I used.
Then came the mechanical pencil. Same problem as the ceramic one: it skips in the weave, and it creates a dusty looking line. For a project that’s going to be up for a while, that’s going to take some time to complete, and that’s going to have a cloth lying over it in the areas where I’m not stitching, pencil is just not the right option, anyway. And I’m glad, because it is a Pain in the Royal Neck to draw on this fabric with a pencil!
But I didn’t think it would hurt to try.
You know what this is, don’t you? Not always considered an essential tool of the embroiderer’s trade, the fine paintbrush can become the stitcher’s best buddy, in a pinch.
Couple that sweet little brush with a palette of mucky paints, pair those up with prick-and-pounce, and you have one of the truly original methods of transferring embroidery design onto fabric.
It’s time consuming, yes. And it’s not to be done when you’re in a hurry. But it has some definite advantages, the greatest of which is that once the design is on, it’s on, and you don’t have to worry about it fading, smearing, or anything else. But it requires a steady hand (steadier than mine was when I finished this little guy up), and it requires time. And a certain relaxed approach. You have to be calm. A coffee buzz when you apply that brush to your fabric is not a good thing!
I will never fault the paint transfer. I do love it.
I’m not sold on this fabric, so…. back to the drawing board with another fabric! I’ll show you that test a bit later, and we’ll discuss the difference between silks used for ground fabric in embroidery. Any questions, comments, suggestions, frustrations, scoldings, and the like? Feel free to leave a comment below!
Don’t forget that yesterday, the Ask & Share section here on Needle ‘n Thread was officially launched. There’ve been a lot of good questions in there, on choosing frames, stands, and so forth, as well as some beautiful pictures in the gallery section – so do stop in!