RSN Goldwork: Day 5 Plunging

This post, in fact, is slightly out of order. I did all the plunging of the threads before I did any of the pearl purl.  It must have been a subconscious decision that I skipped over the plunging – it was my least favorite technique!

Plunging is the process where the tail end has softer malleable threads are pulled through the fabric to the back of the piece. There are two ways to plunge – as you go and when all the laid work is finished. I chose to do all the plunging of the Japanese thread when all of it had been couched down. The twist and the rococo I did after I applied each thread.  The reason was simply that I was excited to see how the Japanese thread would look when it was all finished and I didn’t want to stop.

The  crozier tapered from the bottom to the top getting narrower at the curved end. This meant that the Japanese couched thread had to taper as well. To taper the thread I simply stopped the row of Japanese couched thread at various points along the way so the thread stopped at a certain point. This meant that I had lots of tail ends of threads along the crosier.  At the bottom were the tails of all of the threads which had to be plunged in a row.

There are two ways of plunging threads: one using a lasso and a large needle and one using just the large needle. I plunged using the large tapestry needle because it was easier for me. To plunge you must put the needle through the fabric all the way to the bottom end of the eye of the needle. Then you slide the thread through the needle, bringing it most of the way through the eye. The next step is what feels so violent- you  pull quite sharply to pop the thread through to the back. It often makes a loud pop sound which, when doing embroidery, is unusual.

One trick Nicola taught me was to angle the thread when the plunging is at the end of one of the tapering off threads. When I plunged the threads along the curve of the crosier, rather than pulling them straight down I angled the needle toward the top of the crosier. This meant that when I plunged the thread through, it lay more flat against the felt and blended in better with the threads next to it.

After the threads are plunged it’s then time to secure them to the back of the work. The threads are folded over so they lie underneath themselves (folded 180 degrees back) and then, using small stitches going through the back side of the crouching stitches to catch the thread, secured down. Once some of the gold has been secured you can then use the already stitched down gold threads to secure the next pieces.

This leaves a big messy lump of gold thread on the back of the piece, but that’s the nature of gold work.

The rococo threads was plunged the way I’ve described above. The twist, however, is done a bit differently. Twist is three smaller threads twisted together. Because this makes the thread so thick, it’s better for the fabric if you untwist the three strands and plunge them separately but through the same hole.

Once all of the threads are plunged, then the top of the piece looks just beautiful – clean and smooth – but the bottom looks a right mess! Fortunately, we only see the top when all is finished!

Do you plunge all at once or as you go? Do you find it violent? Leave a comment!

RSN Goldwork Day 4: Pearl Purl

Pearl purl is one of my favorite threads to use in metal thread work. I like how stiff it is, how easily it will curve to the shape and even bend where you want it to. It doesn’t split or fray, although it can bruise if you aren’t careful. It is also just beautiful when it’s applied – just like little golden pearly drops of loveliness!

For the crosier, I used pearl purl in five places: on the outside of the crosier, around the edge of the vine leaf, as the veins of the long leaf, for the stem of the vine leaf and for the curlicue.  I used two sizes -#1 fine and #2. The larger the number, the larger the pearl purl. Pearl purl is made by wrapping thin metal wire – either gilt or plated with 2% gold – in a tightly wound spring. In fact, when you get pearl purl out of the package it’s springy and flips and flops all over the place! It’s as if it has a life of its own!

 

Prior to couching down the pearl purl #2 on the outside of the crosier, I stitched the curled shapes onto the silk with tiny stitches to help me couch the pearl purl in the right place. (See photo above) Since the thread is fine, painting the curls on with water color felt a bit risky so I decided to use this method of transferring the design.

The first thing I did before couching the pearl purl to the silk was to gently, slightly, barely stretch the pearl purl. Holding on to the end of the length of the thread with my fingernails, I pulled it slightly apart and let it spring back. This separates the individual pearls and also takes away some of the springiness. It was easier to do this with the #2 than the #1 just because the #1 is so fine it was hard to hold on to and tricky to see. In fact, I found the #1 pearl purl tricky to see whenever I was working with it, even using my magnifying lamp. Either I need new glasses or I need to accept that it is a small thread and the way I’m seeing it is good enough to work. Sometimes I think I get so used to seeing everything magnified that my eyes are lazy.

 

Pearl purl is attached to the fabric by bringing the needle up on the inside of the thread, over the thread at a very slight angle so the thread will slide gently into the grove between two pearls and taking the needle through to the back on the outside of the pearl purl. The thread is a single thread and is always waxed lightly to give it strength and keep it from getting tangled as you stitch. This process is the same regardless of what size you’re using. It’s usually enough to put a stitch in every 3 or 4 pearls unless you’re going around a tight curve and then an extra will help hold it in place. The thread should disappear down between each of the pearls and not be seen.

Before the edges of the crosier were finished, however, I needed to outline the vine leaf in #1 fine pearl purl..

The leaf is a very intricate shape and my goal was to outline the whole shape using only two threads – one for the outside outline and one for the inside outline. The center of the leaf will be filled with chip work. (Coming soon!)

When outlining the leaf I discovered that the thread could be very slightly coaxed into the curves as I was working and that the couching stitches would hold the pearl purl in place. When it came to the tiny points both inside and outside the leaf shape, I used the sewing thread to hold the pearl purl in place as I gently bent it into the sharp angle.

Once I was around the corner with one or two couching stitches, I then used my tweezers to pinch ever so gently the tip into a point. This is where care and a slow steady hand help as pinching it too fast or too hard will smash or bruise the pearl purl and no amount of coaxing will return it to its shape.

I found it much easier to pinch the #1 fine pearl purl into a sharp point than I did the #2 just because the pearls on the #2 are larger. It was possible but the point was super sharp.

The other way I used pearl purl was to overstretch it and couch it down to make the veins in the long leaf at the bottom of the crosier. To do this I stretched the pearl purl more so that the pearls stayed separated creating a wavy texture. I then couched down the thread at each valley. These couching stitches were visible so I was careful to stitch them neatly and at the same angle.

I used the same technique of putting in tiny stitches to guide me as I couched the overstretched pearl purl for the veins in the leaves. The veins begin and end without touching the outline of the leaves so they look less heavy.

There were two changes to the original stitching plan that I made as I was working on the pearl purl. The first was to work two strands for the curls on the edge of the crosier. I initially worked only one in #2 pearl purl but it was too thin and flimsy looking against the weight of the crosier. I decided to add an line of #1 fine pearl purl on the outside and am really pleased with the change and how it looks.

The second was to fill in the stem of the vine leaf. Originally it was outlined but after putting in all the chip work, it again didn’t have enough weight in comparison to the leaf so I added #1 fine pearl purl to fill in the center.

 

What I loved most about working with pearl purl was the challenge of using a single strand for as much of the line as possible. If you look at the curlicue in the top right of the photo above, you can see that the loops are each one piece and only the tail is an added piece. It’s a fun, sculptural thread to use and when two sizes are combined it looks fabulous.

What’s your favorite thing about pearl purl? If you haven’t used it yet, what’s your favorite bit in the photo above?

 

RSN Goldwork Day 3: Twist and Rococo

After the center section of the crook or crosier (Bishop’s staff) was all laid using Japanese thread, I had to couch down some different threads.  A requirement of the gold work course for the RSN Certificate is to include in the design an area of mixed thread laid work. The Japanese thread was only one of the 6 different threads I would eventually couch down to complete the crook. I would use Japanese, twist, rococo, Pearl purl #2 and super fine Pearl purl.

On different threads I used different techniques to couch them onto the fabric. Japanese threads call for straight stitches stitched perpendicularly over 1 or 2 threads.

Twist thread, which is made of three fine strands all twisted together, calls for securing the gold thread to the fabric by bringing the needle up through the center of the thread – between the three individual threads and back down about 0.5 cm away. Angle your thread in the direction of the twist so the stitch sinks down between the strands. In this way the couching thread is hidden because it sinks into the twist.

Rococo is couched by coming up from the inside over the thread, angling the thread slightly and tucking it in from the outside under the curve. This hides the thread slightly. Because the thread is wavy there will be gaps between rococo thread and a flat thread like Japanese or twist.

The threads that make up the crosier (Bishop’s staff) are all attached by couching them down to the fabric. The crosier is an area of mixed laid work. (I will talk later about couching the pearl purl.) The threads are laid in a pattern that is symmetrical from the inside to the outside edge except for the final outside line of super fine Pearl purl.

Here is a list of the threads you see in the photo above with a very brief explanation of how to couch them onto your backing fabric.

1. Pearl purl #2 – I will talk about attaching this later
2. Large rococo – come up on the inside, making your stitch diagonal, going down on the inside
3. Single Japanese trend couched with straight perpendicular stitches
4. Twist couched by bring the thread up, through the split in the thread, angling the thread in the direction of the twist and taking it back down
5. Double Japanese thread, couched down two at a time in a brick pattern.
6. Twist again
7. Single Japanese thread again
8. Large rococo again
9. #2 Pearl purl
10. #1 Fine Pearl purl

What I found interesting is that Japanese thread – which is the smoothest thread I used and the one where the stitching would show the most – has a pattern to the couching. The couching pattern becomes part of the texture of the thread. With the twist and the rococo the couching thread is hidden a bit more because the thread itself is more textured.

Although I did a LOT of couching on this piece, I really enjoyed it, partly because I used different threads and therefore different techniques. But mostly I liked it because it looked so beautiful when I was finished! Although it’s not yet perfect, I can imagine the day when I will do things far better and with even greater skill and I’m inspired to continue improving my couching skills!