Drawn thread embroidery involves removing threads from the ground fabric (drawing them out – hence the name) and stitching around the remaining threads in an endless variety of decorative ways to create a kind of lace-like effect. Drawn thread is not necessarily categorized as soley whitework, but it is typically seen in whitework, and many types of whitework involve drawn thread techniques. I started my whitework sampler very simply, then, by drawing out threads…
A little information on this whitework sampler: it isn’t a “planned” sampler. I have some ideas in my head concerning where I want to go with it, but there’s no grid or design I’m going by. My point is to work out various whitework techniques and photograph them along the way. Different types of whitework techniques may seem rather daunting, but I want to wipe away that idea and hopefully pique people’s interest in trying out new embroidery techniques.
For the sampler, I’m using a 32-count Belfast linen in a natural color, cut 18″ x 20″, and mounted on an Evertite stretcher bar frame.
Concerning the count of the linen, for newbies to certain techniques, it might be best to start with a lower count, such as 28 or even lower. For most of these techniques, Aida fabric (commonly used for counted cross stitch) is not really a choice. Linen is the fabric of choice for most whitework, though there are some decent linen blends or cotton that can also be used.
For threads, I have a line-up of quite a variety of white threads in various types and sizes: coton a broder, perle cotton, cordonnet, cebelia, floche, some silk (soie 100/3, soie perlee, soie gobelin, soie d’alger), Mountmellick threads, and regular stranded white DMC cotton… and I’ve probably forgotten some. Seems like a mish-mashy sort of mix, and it is! You don’t need this variety to undertake any of these techniques! Some perle cotton #8 and #12, along with white floss, will serve fine for starters.
For tools, I’ve got my tiny Dovo scissors (they’re 3.5 inches, by the way, for those of you who asked), tweezers, a tiny crochet hook (#12 – I find this handy when withdrawing threads), a needle threader, and several sizes of tapestry needles.
Drawn Thread Work – Reweaving the Edge
The first step in this sampler is to work with some drawn thread techniques, so I began by withdrawing some threads and re-weaving the withdrawn threads back into the fabric so that I would have a clean edge. This process is a bit more complicated than other ways of finishing the edge of drawn thread work, but I figured I’d at least do it once to show you.
To make the whole drawn thread process easier, think ahead. To keep it simple, I started with an even number of vertical threads to work over, since I’ll be bunching my threads either in groups of two or four. So I wanted my first drawn thread strip to be over an even number of vertical threads divisible by 4. I picked 80.
I basted in blue around a strip on my fabric that was 80 threads wide and 8 threads high – or 2.5 inches long and a quarter inch high.
Basting should never be underestimated in drawn thread work – it can save you from accidentally cutting threads that will take you ten forevers to repair. So do baste!
Once my first strip was basted, I starting cutting and drawing out threads. Here we go:
You can see where I basted off my strip for withdrawing the threads.
First, snip the top two horizontal threads inside your drawn thread area, at about the half-way point in the strip. I’m going to re-weave the second thread into the holes left by the first beyond the edge of the basting, so it’s easiest to work with a pair of threads at a time, rather than to cut all the horizontal threads at once.
Second, withdraw your first thread to about an inch past your basting line.
Third, withdraw the second thread up to the basting line.
To withdraw the threads, you snip the horizontal threads at the halfway point in the strip or area you’re withdrawing from. Then, using a tapestry needle (they have a blunt tip), run it under the thread you’re withdrawing and pull the thread out of the weave. Try to be careful with the threads – you don’t want to fray them up too much – but keep in mind that they will soften as you take them out of the weave.
Here you have the first two threads withdrawn to the place they should be. Now, to re-weave…
Take your tapestry needle and weave it in and out of the spaces where the first thread was withdrawn. Make sure you are following the same path the first thread took, alternating up and down over the threads. Once you have the tapestry needle worked into the fabric correctly, use a needle threader to pull the second withdrawn thread into the eye of the tapestry needle.
Now pull the tapestry needle through, so that the second thread fills up the empty path of the first withdrawn thread.
Thread the first withdrawn thread into your tapestry needle, then take it to the back so that the weave matches.
Continue working with the threads, two at a time, in this manner until all the drawn threads are rewoven and sunk to the back.
Then… move over to the other side of your drawn thread area, and do the same thing there!
Securing and Finishing Rewoven Threads
Methods of re-weaving drawn threads vary from book to book. For example, in the old Reader’s Digest Complete Guide to Needlework (I have the 1979 edition that I picked up at a used book sale many years ago, and I love it!), they show every thread rewoven (not every other thread as I showed you above). This creates a rather crammed, tight look on the edge of the drawn thread area. I prefer re-weaving every other thread because of this. In Beginner’s Guide to Drawn Thread Embroidery by Patricia Bage, the author demonstrates the every-other-thread method. But in neither book do they go into detail about how to secure your threads after re-weaving. They basically just say “trim the threads on the back.”
Well, I do secure my threads, in a way, before trimming them on the back. This is what I do.
To demonstrate here, I picked the first thread back out again (kind of messy!). You can see the first thread in the photo above (I have a magnet holding it back for photo purposes) and you can see where the second thread (already rewoven) ends. There’s a little gap there, with a vertical thread still in place. The first drawn thread needs to pass over that vertical thread, then back down into the fabric, for it to look finished.
Take your tapestry needle, and, working from left to right (from the first thread towards the second re-woven thread) weave the needle over the one vertical thread that’s showing, under the next vertical thread, and then over the next thread (now you’re working into the end of the second withdrawn thread) and to the back of the fabric. You will have one intersection of fabric threads that has two horizontal threads in it, but it won’t be noticeable.
This isn’t the best photo in the world, I suppose, but the arrow points to the finished area for this thread. It’s very fuzzy because I over-worked the first withdrawn thread in order to get the photos! But notice in the red circled area below the arrow. This is where the other threads were rewoven, and it looks fine.
The photo above is of the back of the work. Turn your work over, and you will find a long, hairy mass of thread on the back of your fabric where all the threads have been sunk. Trim them.
…. And that’s how you secure and finish the threads on the back.
There’s the strip with only the vertical threads remaining. It doesn’t look too impressive, does it? But if you patiently worked that far, you did a good job! The sides are a bit fuzzy from working with the withdrawn threads, but that cleans up significantly once the stitching is started.
Withdrawing and re-weaving threads in this manner to get ready for the fun part (decorative stitching and bunching of the remaining threads) is, admittedly, somewhat tedious. But it is the only way to provide a finished fabric edge on your drawn thread work. I’ll show you other ways of securing the edges later, but they involve a patch of stitching on the edge, whereas this technique gives you a clean edge that matches the rest of the fabric.
So, after the first venture in drawing out threads and getting into this project, I’ve noticed a couple things: 1. Natural colored linen – it’s a bit darker than a golden wheaty color – doesn’t photograph well, either. I should have picked something darker, like the oatmeal color of my monogrammed towels; 2. an 18 x 20 piece of linen might be a bit too adventurous, if I’m really planning on filling the whole thing up….!
Actually, I’m having fun so far – I’ve managed to stitch a few areas of drawn thread work, which I’ll share with you (along with how-to’s) in upcoming days!