In a very old book on church embroidery (Church Embroidery and Church Vestments by Lucy Mackrille), I was quite taken by a technique that the author called the “Italian Stitch.” Why she called it that, I couldn’t tell you. I would guess that it was a stitch common on Italian-made vestments back in the day. But that’s just a guess. And I could be wrong.
I played around with this Italian Stitch once upon a time, and I did end up liking it a lot. In fact, I used it on the background sky in my Agnus Dei project.
I was thinking about using the same technique in the project I’m working on now, so I played around with it – with some variation.
I started with a dark blue flat silk. Flat silk is made from filament silk (straight off the cocoon, as opposed to spun silk, which is made from “left overs” from the cocoon). Flat silk is filament silk that is not twisted, or that has very little twist to it, so little that you can’t really detect the twist. It’s usually stitched in with a laying tool (in Japanese embroidery, a tekobari). I’ve got a handy-dandy video on how to use a laying tool, if you’ve not used one before. The laying tool helps keep the silk nice and flat.
In the photo above, my stitching leaves a bit to be desired. The edge isn’t exactly nice, is it?
When laying silk threads like this, instead of using a regular satin stitch (where you take the thread across the back of the fabric to begin on the same side of the design area with each stitch), you use a laid stitch, where you bring your thread right up next to where you ended your last stitch, to start the next stitch. This technique, since the stitches are much longer than they would be if you were using regular satin stitch, has a few advantages over satin stitch: 1. it saves thread; 2. it helps keep your stitches from becoming slack; and 3. it reduces the chance of long stitches on the back snagging on everything under the sun.
The thread I’m using here isn’t the best flat silk in the world. In fact, it’s probably the worst I’ve ever used. It was incredibly fuzzy (flat silk isn’t characteristically fuzzy!), it tended to pill, and the filaments that made up one strand were irregular in size (some extremely thin, some fat) and tended to break individually. For those of you who have used flat silk, you probably are thinking what I was thinking: this is a nightmare! On the bright side, the American company that produced this particular flat silk (not mentioning any names here) discontinued their line. Smart move, since they didn’t seem to be doing it quite right.
Still, the thread served ok for this test.
After laying down a bit of the flat silk, I couched over a gold thread in a random pattern, to hold the laid stitches down. I’m using Elizabethan twist here. This is a real metal thread made up of two strands lightly twisted together. It is very fine and tiny, and very pretty! To couch the Elizabethan twist, I used 100 wt Tire silk, since it’s the finest gold-colored silk sewing thread that I have on hand. The Tire silk hardly shows on the Elizabethan twist, which is advantageous when doing this kind of couching.
After couching down the dark blue thread, I decided to try a lighter blue, just to see what it would look like. I like this color, even though the couched Elizabethan twist does not show up as well on it. But you know, it’s ok that it doesn’t show up as well, because the purpose of this Italian stitch is not so much to see the pattern of the gold that is couched, but rather to hold the laid threads down and to give the gleam of gold over the silk, without actually “noticing” it in the overall look of the piece.
Chances are, I won’t be using this technique in this project, after all. I was considering it, as a background, but I don’t really want a dark or colored background for the center of the design. The outer edge of the design is made up of about an inch-deep circle, where I would like some color of some sort. This is the outer border area that I’m talking about:
That’s not quite the color of blue, but that’s where I’d like some darker color. How I’ll achieve that color, though, is a topic for another day!
Any questions, comments, suggestions? Feel free to have your say below!
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