Yesterday, I showed you the frame up on the church embroidery project I’m working on, and as the project unfolds, I’ll show you my progress on it, including tips and techniques that would be useful for all kinds of embroidery, whether church related or not.
So today, let’s look at the start. It isn’t too impressive right now, but there are a few tips here worth sharing.
The central monogram will be worked in blue silk outlined with gold. Originally, I had planned on doing the lettering in gold threads entirely. When I was practicing this basketweave technique in metal thread, I was planning on using that technique to fill one of the letters in the monogram.
You may be saying to yourself, “Oh, but gold would be so much prettier!” and you would be right, to a degree. The problem is that the background behind the monogram will be a kind of champagne-y off-white, a color called “brut,” in Soie Ovale, which is a flat silk. The flat silk will be couched over with the tiniest of gold threads, in a winding random pattern, using a goldwork technique called “vermicelli.” When I was originally testing that concept, I was testing on a dark background, against which gold lettering would stand out quite well.
However, since then, the fabric of the vestment on which this will be appliquéd has changed, so I’m going with a light background behind the letters, and a dark edge on the whole medallion. Against the light background, the colored monogram will stand out better. When it comes to church embroidery (or any other embroidery that’s seen from a distance), contrast is very important.
You can see the stem stitch just starting the fill up here – with two Whole Rows done! Because of the lighting and the fact that the thread is silk, you’ll see that in some places it looks darker than in others. But that’s just the light playing on the thread. The monograms will be solid, with no shading. They will, however, be outlined in gold.
You might be wondering about my choice of stem stitch as a filling, thinking it’s a bit on the ho-hum side. On the contrary, stem stitch when worked as a filling is quite beautiful, but more than that, I’m thinking two things: 1. It has a textured look to it, and against the flat silk background, this texture will add another level of contrast, which is what I want. 2. It’s relatively fast. I’m not taking shortcuts, but I’m glad it’s relatively fast!
The stem stitch is worked in two strands of Soie d’Alger, which is a spun silk sold in skeins, with 7 strands that can be divided and then put back together, just as you would do when “stripping” DMC cotton floss. So why two strands of the Soie d’Alger and not one? One strand doesn’t give enough lift and texture to the letter. I need the letter to sit up off the background, without padding it. So … stem stitch is providing me with just what I want: texture, contrast in texture between the letter and background, and, worked with two strands, a little “lift” to the letter.
This is the thing, though: when working stem stitch with more than one strand of floss, you can get slowed down with uneven strands. If you’ve worked stem stitch with two or more strands of floss, you’ve probably experienced this. You’re stitching along, and suddenly you notice that you’ve got a little lump in your stem stitch (or any other stitch, really!), where one strand of your thread pulled through just fine, but the other didn’t pull through equally, and it left a tiny bump on your stitch.
So how do you get a perfect stem stitch, every time, working with more than one strand of floss? Well, in most embroidery, I don’t really worry about it too much. In this embroidery, though, obviously it won’t do to have stitch flaws, so I use a laying tool to hold the two strands in perfect tension. Especially when working with silk, it’s easy to pull one strand of floss out of kilter (rough spots on the hands can snag the silk, or it can catch on the back of the fabric or on the frame somehow…), but with a laying tool, you always know that both strands are lined up and tensioned equally. It is a great tool for making a really nice stem stitch when working with more than one strand of silk.
So that’s my progress so far – not a whole lot of progress, admittedly, but I’m glad I got over the hurdle of starting. Sometimes, that’s the Main Event of any big project!
If you’d like access to all the tips and techniques discussed in the Medallion Project, including complete coverage of the Tudor-Style Rose, conveniently collected in one document, interlinked, referenced, and indexed, why not add the Marian Medallion Project e-book to your library? It’s packed full of all kinds of embroidery tips for undertaking a project like this, all in a convenient electronic format for easy searching.