Some of the earliest articles that featured photos of my own hand embroidery here on Needle ‘n Thread were two posts that examined a project worked with silk threads on silk fabric. The two articles focused on one half of an embroidered stole worked predominantly in satin stitch and stem stitch filling. The first article featurs close-up pictures of the stole, and the second article featurs a photo of the whole stole.
This past weekend, at the request of a friend, I pulled the embroidery project out again, including the second half of the stole, which has been laced up on a scroll frame, neglected for many years.
In revisiting this project, I’ve had the opportunity to rethink a few things about it.
This is the beginning of the second half of the stole. In my mind, I remembered being about a third of the way finished with this half of the project. I’m not sure why I thought I was so far along. It’s discouraging, actually, to see that I finished so little on the second half!
What slowed me down on this project? Why did I resign it to the shelf?
The first thing that happened was that Life got in the way. I remember frantically applying myself to the first half of the stole, and, after about 3 months, finishing it, setting up the second half, and making a start on it. But it was the middle of the school year by then, and things just got busy. So the project was set aside for a time.
Then, one day, I had visitors, a lady and a little girl. And the lady wanted to see my current embroidery project. The little girl – about six years old – was playing outside when I took the piece down. I looked at the piece with the lady, and had just turned away from it, when the little girl came in. I didn’t think to pay close attention to her – her dirty hands were wet and sticky and a little muddy. And she made a bee-line for the frame. Before the thought could formulate in my head (I don’t think I got beyond the internal “Noooooooooooooooooooooo!”), she had applied one particularly grimey finger to the fabric and threads, leaving a big, wet, dark spot on both the embroidery and the ground fabric.
Do you know how it is, when you have a “big” obstacle to overcome in a needlework project, and the obstacle kind of takes the wind out of your enthusiastic sails? This was the case for me. At the end of that day, I wrapped the frame up in a cloth, and tucked the whole thing away on the highest shelf, in a box. And it has been there ever since.
But in taking it out again this past weekend, I discovered several things.
First, I discovered that the way in which I originally transferred the design had been a good idea, for the image has withstood the test of time magnificently. On the soft gold silk ground fabric, I had used white dressmaker’s carbon. The white, once embroidered over, is not visible at all – even if a little fringe of it is left beyond the embroidery. And yet, it is clearly visible on the silk ground fabric, due to its light white-ness and its matte finish against the shiny silk.
Dressmaker’s carbon can be an excellent way to transfer a design on smooth fabric. You can find transfer paper in the sewing notions section of fabric stores. Saral Transfer Paper is a good brand to use if you can find it. The variety packs come with a sheet each of red, white, yellow, blue, and graphite (greyish black). The sheets can be used many times over. If you can’t find Saral, Dritz also makes a wax-free dressmaker’s transfer paper in five colors. It is probably more commonly available at sewing stores, and the size is actually perfect for a project like this stole, which is long and narrow. It comes in 5.5″ x 19.5″ sheets.
Though the frame for the stole was wrapped in fabric that rested against the design, and then packed again in a box with other stuff, and put on a top shelf for several years, the design is still crisp and fresh and hardly smudged at all. I’m glad to see that.
The next thing I learned is that I tend to exaggerate in my mind how serious a “flaw” is on a piece of needlework. The wet, dark smudge (that I thought could never be cleaned away) was right here, between these two “petals” on the embroidery. Where is it now? Did time take it away? Or was the flaw not quite as bad as I had worked it up in my mind to be? Whatever the case, that excuse for shelving the project is now completely gone. There was only the slightest sign of a bit of dirt on the silk threads in the top petal. A little scratch with the fingernail, and it was completely gone.
I’ve learned a lot more about embroidery in general, ecclesiastical embroidery in particular, and individual stitching techniques since I embroidered this piece. In my mind, I recall this piece as being a “beginning” step in my pursuit of serious embroidery. As a beginning step, I somehow had adopted the impression, over the years, that I didn’t do a very good job on the piece. But in looking at it (and this isn’t to honk my own horn – just to make a point), my satin stitching was actually pretty darned good. Had I convinced myself that it wasn’t up to par, as a further excuse not to return to this project? It is Certainly Possible!
I can’t help thinking that I might be hard-pressed, now, to replicate this satin stitching!
Finally, there is the question of this frame. When I first started this project, I would’ve killed for a slate frame (not literally, but…). I looked high and low, here and there, and absolutely everywhere for one. I settled for a scroll frame, because it was the only thing that could accommodate the silk, keep it relatively taut, and roll up the excess fabric.
But in looking at the framed up piece now, I can confirm that I was right about my lousy lacing job. And, on top of that, using masking tape to “finish” the edge was probably just downright stupid (though there is actually about 6″ of excess fabric on each side of the design).
In my mind, whenever I thought of this project (because it does still hang over my head now and then, and I think on it with regret…), this lousy lacing job and the tape fiasco were obstacles to completing the piece. But are they, in reality, obstacles? Not really. It would be nothing, now, to take this frame apart, remount the piece on a slate frame using proper
fabric edges, and tighten it up to work on it.
Going back to the original first half of the stole, I took some photos of it again. Since that first post on the subject oh-so-long ago, I’ve had two different cameras, each progressively better, and I’ve learned a bit about light, and also a bit about photo editing programs.
I can’t help looking at images of the original finished half of the stole and asking myself if it would be worth revisiting this project and even finishing it.
But now that some serious time has passed since I shelved the project, some serious issues have arisen that are truly obstacles. Of course, obstacles exist in order to be overcome!
The greatest obstacle is that of thread: the original piece was worked with Au Ver a Soie’s Soie d’Alger. Though I had, at the time, purchased enough of the same dye lots for both sides of the stole, over the years, I have used those threads. Can I match them closely enough in order to finish the second half of the stole? Maybe. It is worth looking in to, but can’t be done until I visit a shop that carries the threads.
There are several – actually, many – things that I would do differently now, if I were making this stole from the beginning. And this is another obstacle for me! It is more of a mental obstacle, though – which are the worst types of obstacles, because they require overcoming self, rather than overcoming something tangible outside of one’s self.
I can’t guarantee what I will do with this – whether I will finish it or not. Most of the trivial barriers that I had built up in my head regarding the whole project are gone, but a few serious ones still linger.
So, those are my musings on this project from the past. What would YOU do at this point? How would you come to a decision about whether or not to finish such a project?