There’s a quotation I can never quite remember, allegedly from a Chinese philosopher, about how if you really want something to be a success you need to put the same amount of effort in at the end as at the beginning. How many of us eagerly dive into projects with high standards and expectations but by the time the last stitches are going in have lost all semblance of enthusiasm?
For embroidery, the final steps aren’t the last few bits of satin stitch, but the process of mounting the piece. Even if you’re breathing a sigh of relief about finally being free of doing two thousand French knots and ready to throw the piece in the back of the cupboard, it’s a process that is worth taking the time to do.
When I finished the ‘Roses Heart’ piece, as it was going to be a gift, I really wanted to make sure the mounting looked professional and well-finished. However, I wasn’t relishing the thought of trying to mount and frame it myself. Poor craft time-management and life chaos meant I didn’t have much energy to devote to running around looking for frames and mounting board either.
Thankfully, help was at hand in the form of the fabulous Deborah Wilding who had agreed to take me through the whole process, from cutting the mount board to getting it into the frame. Deborah graduated from the Royal School of Needlework’s Future Tutors Programme in 2015 and teaches a large number of RSN classes, as well as privately.
She’s an amazing embroiderer and designer too and you can see some of her work for the RSN on Pinterest here. Deb’s classes are always a really good laugh and as a left-handed embroiderer I particularly appreciate her amazing ambidexterity when it comes to teaching! She’s also full of sagely tips and tricks and exactly the kind of person you want around when you’ve stuck a bracing needle through the wrong bit of your work.
As ribbon embroidery is a 3-dimensional technique, I had the challenge of finding a frame that was deep enough that the embroidery could be mounted at the back to avoid squashing all the ribbons. If the frame is deep enough, you just need to measure some mount card to act as a spacer between the embroidery and front pane of glass.
Next came cutting the mount board. If you really want your embroidery to outlive you, use acid-free mount board so there are no unwanted chemical reactions happening in the frame to discolour anything. A snug fit for the mount board (bearing in mind it will have your embroidery stretched over it) is best so it doesn’t rattle about in the frame.
We then wrapped the board in some calico so the embroidery wouldn’t be in contact with the board directly. You can mitre your corners when folding in the calico so everything sits a lot tighter and more evenly.
Depending on how you want your design to look, you could consider putting some quilt wadding, or something similar, under the design. This is particularly effective for anything with raised stitching.
Next was pin stretching and putting the embroidery on. What you want to do is pull out as much slack as you can and insert a pin that goes through all the layers into the side of the mount board. Keep working as evenly as you can and go around several time until the design is stretched taught. This is also the time to wriggle the design around to make sure it sits in the centre of your mount board. It’s worth getting the ruler out at this point to take a few measurements unless you are very confident aligning things by eye.
When you’re happy with the design placement and tension, it’s then a case of folding the corners at the back so you can lace between them to keep the tension. Buttonhole thread or something strong works well for doing this as does a curved needle because you don’t want to have to faff with trying to angle the needle correctly to get it through all the layers. This stage really is a pain and involves lots of stabbing yourself and hurting your hands trying to keep as much tension as you can on each corner. Get a few extra stitches in the corners of the display side if you can as this is the part where it matters if it looks neat or not.
Once you’ve tightened all the corners and are no longer bleeding on your work, you then need to replace the tension of the pins on the piece by herringboning around the outside. The pins around the outside do make this a challenge, but once you’ve got the stitching holding the tension around the outside you can start to remove them as well.
With the herringboning finished, it was just a case of popping/hammering it into the frame!
Depending on how secure things are, it might be worth taping over the back of the frame too so the piece doesn’t pop out.
There are easier ways to mount things, mostly involving a lot of glue, but the advantage of doing it like this is there is nothing in contact with the embroidery that should discolour it with time. You might have to worry about the light-fastness of the ribbons/threads you’ve used but apart from that, it should survive for far longer than you can reasonably care about.
It took about two hours to mount up the piece, with Deb talking me carefully through every step. Sewing the corners and the herringboning were quite time-consuming for me as I was struggling a bit with getting used to the curved needle. However, given the time your average piece of embroidery takes, it felt like a worthwhile investment when I turned the piece over to see it in its frame. A bit of distance between you and the embroidery never hurts in terms of not seeing all those mistakes you’ve been obsessing over. I almost, almost felt a little proud seeing it framed up and hope it’s going to be enjoyed in its new home.