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Filled Up

Ah, the hell wth it.  I can't keep apologizing for not writing.

We've got people coming this weekend, and I've gotten the place ready.  In between moving things into their proper places, cleaning, fighting dust mastodons and vacuuming, I've been working on my jacket.

Well, the fill stitching is done.  1287.5 hours, 1410.5 yards of thread, a new callus on my middle finger that will stop bullets, and it's done.

Now I start on the GST.

So, taking a break from that, I thought I'd post with an update.  This is the first item I've made with fill stitches more complicated than a simple speckle, and it's been... boring.  Okay?  It gets totally mind-numbingly boring, doing the same stitches over and over and OVER again.  By the time I was on the last piece, I wanted to scream every time I worked on the lily or the pomegranate, since I decided I hated those fills the most. 

The fills looked like this:


I spent some time at the V&A (while pinkleader  and I were staying in London) looking at and making notations on the fill stitches used on the coifs displayed.  One of the big problems we have reproducing them is that the thread count of most linens simply can't compare to the quality of 16th century linen.  I've counted threads on various coifs, and I've found a thread count anywhere from 75 to 150 threads per inch.  The nice quality linen I'm using?  50 tpi or so.  And I did quite a bit of sample shopping before I bought my linen, shopping for a variety of things, from thread count, slub factor, density (I have some gorgeous 2oz linen that is airy and delicate and perfect for drawn work and making collars, but it's way too loosely woven for any kind of embroidery), and general feel.  I bought pricier linen than I would buy for shifts.

And still, I simply can't get a really high thread count, which means that the more complicated fill stitches that rely on using two or three threads to pass over simply won't work in scale.  When you pass over only one thread, you fight a constant battle with the embroidery thread wanting to slip under the weave.  Make the design complicated, and you may as well ball everything up and throw it into the corner at the start, since you'll be doing just that sooner or later.

So, the thread count limits the types of fills used.  That still leaves a lot of options - really, there isn't a design you can think up that hasn't been thought of before (except maybe if you do a fill that's little spaceships and aliens, but hey).  Knowing this, I felt pretty confident about designing various fill stitches.  Still, you do eventually run into a kind of embroiderer's block, where finding yet another fill for yet another motif seems terribly tiring. 

Fortunately, small variations on a theme produce very different looks.

Such as this one:

This is a basic two thread passing fill, using squares that are then joined at each corner with an X.  It's really simple, and looks nice.  But, you don't want to use that stitch for everything, so:

Cross the X.


Put lines in between the X and the square.

It's that simple.  And the designs really look different.

While you're designing and working on the project, I really recommend keeping a workbook; in fact, I can't stress that strongly enough.  Your workbook isn't just a notebook, it's a reference, an inspiration, and a great way to show people what you're doing (plus:  Documentation).  I sketched all my possible fills on graph paper, then put all those designs into my workbook (a three-ring binder).  Whenever I found another fill stitch I liked, I noted it - and then, when I got bored of the same old designs on the minor leaves, I changed them up.  I kept the major motifs consistent, but there's no reason to keep rigidly to one design for the little stuff - I've seen plenty of coifs with varying designs (some even changed in the middle of a single motif - someone got bored, I'm guessing).  The overall effect is not changed at all, and everything looks good.

Well, not everything - be sure not to skimp and make your fill too thin.  I started on one leaf with just a series of X shapes, and it looked... crappy.  Then I simply outlined each row with a running stitch, this is what I got:
Awesome looking, and it made the leaf look like a leaf.

The only way to really know whether your design is good is to work it up - keep a sample cloth handy (or, if you're lazy like me, work the tests on a part of the garment that won't be seen as much.  But I really recommend a sampler).  The design you draw on graph paper will not look like the finished embroidery.  The fabric bends and softens the edges, and what looks crisp and clean on graph paper can look like a hot mess on fabric. 

For instance:

While it looked pretty good on paper, it looked just terrible on the fabric.  Fortunately, I tested it on the edge of a piece, where it will be under the seam (or covered by gold).  This, by the way, is why I recommend a sampler - picking the threads out sucks, and leaves marks on the linen.

My takeaway from this is that counting is tedious - but it does look nice once it's all done.  The overall effect is part of the look, as well - do you want it all the same level of intensity, or do you want to create a more varied look? - so making a planning sheet is a good idea, especially if you're going to work in multiple threads or colours - it helps you work out how much thread you'll need.

Here's a partial pic of my work sheet (I'm not showing the whole thing, because you can buy this pattern from Reconstructing History ["Alice"], and sadly, with embroidery patterns, I've found that people will take them from my pictures without asking me if I put up the whole pattern):

Using this sheet, I planned not only the general layout of the fill stitches (with the larger motifs referenced in my workbook), but also the sable GST, and the gold thread (plus spangles, but that's more so I can get a feel for the look, rather than an exact placing reference).  I love using a worksheet - I never completely memorized which stitch went with which leaf, and each time I switched to a new pattern piece, I had to remember all over again.  With the worksheet and the choices of fill stitches in my workbook, I had a handy reference giude and a lot less stress in my life.

A few more pics of the major motifs:


This has been an amazing project - and I'm still really only half-way.  I'm slightly less than 22 months in, calendar-wise, and 2031 hours time-wise.  For reference, my first jacket took 1947 hours total.  I still have all the GST and the gold work (plus spangles) to do, then I have to partially stitch it together, work over the seams in gold, and then learn how to make lace so I can trim the whole jacket out with lace.  I'm not doing the collar and cuffs, because it's a low-necked jacket, so no collar is needed, and I have linen drawn-work cuffs to go over the wrists, but I still need lots and lots of lace to go around all the edges.

It's fun, but it's a seriously long-term project. 

Extreme costuming, natch.


( 22 brains — Leave a chunk of brain! )
Apr. 21st, 2011 04:40 pm (UTC)
That one little bit might look like a hot mess, but I think it also looks like little hugs and kisses!

Gorgeous. Maybe tedious for you, but a feast for the eyes.
Apr. 21st, 2011 05:38 pm (UTC)
The notebook is a great tip! I do one now, but wish I had learned this on some earlier projects.

And this will be finished for the Winterthur Conference, Right :)?
Apr. 21st, 2011 05:50 pm (UTC)
Your work is amazing. And inspiring.

On the issue of linen, and this might sound silly, but have you considered bedsheets? There 200ct is considered minimal ...

Apr. 21st, 2011 07:55 pm (UTC)
Hmmm, neat idea, though finding somewhere that carries linen might be difficult.
Apr. 21st, 2011 10:34 pm (UTC)
Bedsheets are usually a little too heavy (and expensive - the sheets I looked at for something else would have cost me over $600). Also, bed sheets are made high thread count by double-twisting the ply of the thread, so you get a higher thread count, while only still having a certain number of threads to work over.

But thanks for thinking of me!
Apr. 22nd, 2011 01:22 am (UTC)
I noticed the expensive when I started googling for linen sheets.

I should really learn how to use the loom in the other room. Will trade 150ct linen even weave for garb? :)
(Deleted comment)
Apr. 22nd, 2011 07:16 pm (UTC)
Webs has natural linen in 70/2 weight, which I imagine is getting down there, based on the 20/2 and 60/2 yarns I have.

(Deleted comment)
Apr. 22nd, 2011 07:21 pm (UTC)
I live on that website. I keep trying to convince myself to buy more silk. I love the stuff I have, but with four dark colours and one light (white, red, black, dark blue, and dark green) I'm feeling a little palette deprived.

UI just wish I knew that either of the yellows they have in 20/2 silk is a bright yellow rather than a washed out yellow. But a term like "grapefruit" does not encourage me enough to pull out the credit card.
(Deleted comment)
Apr. 22nd, 2011 02:52 pm (UTC)
Ditto. I am still working on the outlining (coincidentally, it is the Alice pattern, too). I think I like this pattern best of the ones I have purchased.

I have all sorts of fill stitches I have sketched or printed out and considered, but true to form, they are in various stacks of books and papers and not at all organized. I fear I don't have the discipline for a notebook -- I just want to jump right in.

Frankly, I am sick of outlining (I'm about halfway to two-thirds done)and it's all I can do NOT to do some fill stitches! Sigh.
Apr. 21st, 2011 06:19 pm (UTC)
Looks amazing! I can't wait to see the whole thing.
Apr. 21st, 2011 07:34 pm (UTC)
This jacket is SO LOVELY! I am really happy that you are posting project shots and summaries again; I have to admit that I have missed them and that I love the 'read along' quality of following projects as they progress.

And now…the GOLD! *does a happy dance*

I hope I get a chance to see the finished jacket in person at some point. I have a feeling it is going to be a glory to behold.

Apr. 21st, 2011 07:37 pm (UTC)
I love the idea of doing this kind of masterwork, but I am such an instant gratification girl. I think your work is always lovely and you spend so much effort to do it right, you should be pleased with it very much. I would be afraid to wear soemthing like that!
Apr. 21st, 2011 07:56 pm (UTC)
I think you're going to have to have bodyguards when you finally wear it out of the house! ;) I've been lax on working on my next embroidered coif, but this might just get me back working on it again since I'll be needing fill-stitches and the photos are wonderful inspiration. :)
Apr. 21st, 2011 07:57 pm (UTC)
Mmmm, seriously spifftacular, jacket envy...
Apr. 21st, 2011 10:35 pm (UTC)
Your persistence and organization is ASTOUNDING, and the artistry that proceeds from it is too!
Apr. 22nd, 2011 04:50 am (UTC)
Beautiful work, and stunning in the amount of work. After having done a geometric blackwork partlet (which got tedious after awhile), I can only imagine the hours and patience needed for this jacket. But Wow, it will be so worth it.
Apr. 22nd, 2011 02:55 pm (UTC)
Gorgeous, gorgeous, GORGEOUS!!!Elebenty!1!

If ever I see this beautiful jacket in person, I will do my best not to drool on it and just try to properly express my admiration ... and jacket envy.
Apr. 22nd, 2011 05:05 pm (UTC)
I am in awe of your patience.
Apr. 22nd, 2011 05:59 pm (UTC)
I am suitably stunned into silence :O

I would also like to show this to the woman who was gushing about my hamhanded blackwork at a demo a couple of weeks back. Oh well, if you've never had a croissant, horse bread must seem like heaven.

I am so amazed and proud to know you, you know that?

P.S. Of course, Lennie sez "HAI LADIE WIF TERTLES!!!! HAI!"
Apr. 25th, 2011 03:01 pm (UTC)
Hee. :)
Apr. 26th, 2011 08:08 pm (UTC)
stitch envy
your lovely stitches make mine look like crap, though I have patience for many things my embroidery does need some improvement, love your work.
Apr. 26th, 2011 08:11 pm (UTC)
Re: stitch envy
are you a night of the living dead fan, I see the zombie references and wonder if it was your inspiration?
( 22 brains — Leave a chunk of brain! )

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