Wrapping pearl purl

Last time the outside border of the Hearts and Flowers Blackwork piece was only 1/3 finished. Today I will show you how I did the middle layer of the three and next time you’ll see it complete! Here’s how it looked last time with the layer closest to the center worked in chain stitch. To make the black substantial enough within the context, I used two strands of Pearsall’s silk.

When I began the chain stitch and had stitched about three segments, I called in my trusty set of second eyes (that would be my dear husband) and asked him if he thought it was too heavy. Well, he said, maybe. Keep going and let’s see. As usual, correct!  When it was all finished , it was clear that the heavier black line brought the blackwork fillings out more and made the gold recede into the background a bit. I am SO glad I didn’t take it out at the beginning!

The second layer of the border was stitched on the outside edge of the black silk chain stitch and is silk wrapped pearl purl. For this I used #3 pearl purl and wrapped it with 6 strands of black silk. For the pearl purl border that’s in the center, surrounding the flower shape, I used pearl purl #1 which is very fine. Carol suggested that I use the technique I will share with you today on the border of the flower, but because the pearl purl was so fine and the shape had so many curves, I chose to stitch down every trough or valley of the pearl purl rather than wrapping it. However, in the case, I think that wrapping the pearl purl before attaching it to the fabric is a great idea!

The easiest way I’ve found to wrap the pearl purl with silk thread is to spin the pearl purl while holding the silk threads in place. I held the metal thread horizontally in my right hand (I’m right handed) and slowly twirled it away from me while holding the silk thread in my left. The valleys of the pearl purl catch the thread and as the pearl purl is spun around the silk threads get wrapped around the metal thread. It’s important to leave about 3 inches of silk thread at the end of the metal thread so you have enough thread to pull to the back when you’re finished couching the combined thread to the fabric. The pearl purl will need to be cut to the exact length when you finish couching it down. The tricky part is to cut the metal thread but NOT to cut the silk.

Here’s what the pearl purl looks like when it’s all wrapped. To determine the length of the pearl purl I cut half as much as I would need to surround the border and, using a ruler, stretched it until it was just over twice the length.

To begin, I found the middle of the wrapped pearl purl and made a sharp bend, giving me a good point where I could begin couching it to the fabric. I lined up the point I created with the top of the border and then couched the wrapped pearl purl down approximately every 4 or 5 valleys or troughs. If I needed to couch it more often to ensure that it was tight against the chain stitched silk, I did. Using one strand of black silk which I ran through beeswax first for strength, it didn’t matter how often I needed to couch the pearl purl since the black silk blended in with the silk I used to wrap the pearl purl.


When I reached the point where the entire border had been couched down, I carefully cut the pearl purl but NOT the silk thread. I then couched down the ends of the pearl purl and, using a large eyed tapestry needle, I threaded all 12 stands of silk through the needle and pulled it to the back. This is a similar process to plunging passing thread through fabric. I then couched down all the silk threads firmly on the back

Next time I write about the Hearts and Flowers Blackwork project I’ll show you what milliary wire looks like and tell you how I attached it to the very outside of the border. I’ll also have photos of the finished piece and be sharing ideas of what I might do with it!

Have you ever used wrapped pearl purl? Do you do what I’ve done or do you have another technique? Which method do you prefer – wrapping it or stitching it down and filling each valley with a stitch to fill it in? I’d love to hear from you!

14 thoughts on “Wrapping pearl purl

  1. I cannot comprehend what you did. It looks like you threaded the thread through the pearl purl … and then somehow attached it to the fabric.

    Or … well, better let you explain!!!

  2. Hi Kathy, I would be very grateful for a post with pics as I’ve never attempted anything like this. Looks like magic to me, and BEAUTIFUL. I am so enjoying watching this project and am full of admiration and awe.

  3. Hi Cathy,
    I have been following this project since the beginning and it is magnifique.
    I like blackwork but your work is beautiful, the gold really adds to the work, and I think I understood what you did with the silk and gold thread, its what you do when you take the spiral plastic binding from a book… right. the twisting is the key.
    Thank you, I like your blog very much.

  4. Looks wonderful Kathy, can’t wait to see the finished piece. You must be really proud of this one. Did you have fun wrapping the purl – I love it and the effects are stunning.

  5. Kathy, this piece is absolutely stunning with the gold work.

    It’s inspiring me to return to a piece I started last year that I want to use wrapped pearl purl and give it a try for the first time. Thanks for posting on your method.

  6. Kathy, this is stunning! I have been following your posts with great interest and admiration. Thank you for sharing your blackwork/goldwork journey with us. I am so looking forward to seeing the finished piece.

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