Some actual stitching begins on the monstrous goldwork monogram project! I love working on slate frames but by the time you’ve finished setting them up, getting the design pricked and pounced on, then I guess you have plenty of time to reflect on whether attempting a project of this magnitude was really a good idea with all the free time I don’t have recently… Answers below the cut!
I expect it’ll be a few months before this goldwork piece actually sees any gold. Part of my insane ambitious for this piece, as well as learning five billion new techniques, experimenting with creative metalwork and trying my own design, was also to use a lot of very raised areas and experiment with texture. This means lots and lots of padding and prep work…
The first part of this was something that I expect will be the most subtle piece of design work, which was to couch down some ruffled organza between the gold outline of the monogram to add a tiny bit of interest. To do this meant cutting the organza, Fray Checking the edge just to stop it self-destructing while trying to get it attached, and using tiny stitches in invisible thread to couch it down, while constantly manipulating the surface to create the texture. I loved this, while it is something that it feels like an octopus has a better evolutionary design for, it’s incredibly tactile and engaging to stitch. Invisible thread is horrible to get through a needle, feels wrong and weird after too much time working with silk threads, and good lighting or an excellent memory is essential to keep the stitch size minuscule but the whole process of shuffling around the organza, trying to create different ripples and shapes is so pleasingly tactile I found myself a bit sad when it was all over.
As you can see from the photographs, the area of organza I’d cut was much larger than the space it needed to fill. This was to accommodate for the extra fabric use coming from creating all of the ruffles and that it could be ‘trapped’ under the areas of felt padding that were going on next. However, this did require a little trimming and tidying of the organza so it would fit there. Bringing scissors near embroidery fabrics is always sweat-inducing and, while I am entirely enamoured with this wonderful slubby silk dupion, it doesn’t look like a fabric that would take well to be being poked, prodded and scraped. It’s an excellent trap for any organza or felt fibres too; you can see how grubby the piece looks in some of the later photographs.
Then, to the felt padding. The plan was to do a colossal four layers of padding to get the elevation I was after. Now, before any experienced goldworks start looking at how I’ve couched down the padding going ‘ewwwwwwwwwwwww, what were you thinking?’, the short answer is I have no idea how or why I suddenly started doing my couching completely wrong and in a colour of thread which can only be described as choosing to live dangerously. The worst bit is I’m even sure I remember looking at a goldwork book beforehand to check what I was doing and apparently managed to absorb either no information or interpret it completely incorrectly! Even more shamefully, this isn’t even the first time I’ve done multi-layer felt padding…
For those of you who perhaps don’t appreciate quite how grotesque the stitching on the felt padding is, there are two major sins I have committed here. While it’s not so important for the underlying layers, it’s best to use a thread colour that matches the final gold/metal that will be going on top of the padding, just in case there is any gapping and anything shows through. The other, is that by taking long stitches (as measured from the outside to the inside of the shape), you end up just vertically compressing the felt and will end up with a ‘cliff’ at the edge between the layers of padding and fabric surface, rather than a smooth domed shape. Tiny stitches, closely spaced ensure the whole edge of the felt is held down securely, are the way forward.
I had to unpick the top layer to rectify some of the mess I’d made but as the layers of felt started to pile on and I found myself starting to worry about the spacing of the design… Maybe in retrospect I should have opened up the voids in the shape as I think they’re going to get a bit swallowed by the gold when it goes on… I’m hoping maybe the contrast between the felt yellow and blue/green silk is making it look more crowded than it will when the metal threads are in place but I’m somewhat committed now to keep it as it is.
The other sections of padding are too thin to get felt padding to work well, so I was going to use some soft-string padding, which is a great technique that will make your local embroidery shop wonder exactly what you are doing with the tonnes of beeswax you’re ordering by the week. Here I’m using about 5 strings of ‘fine’ thickness soft string (from the Golden Hinde), couched down with the most traditional of goldwork threads, Gutermann’s polyester, in a more tasteful colour matching that I had initially tried.
It’s tough on the hands keeping the tension on the string as you work and because you make the strings all hard and sticky with gratuitous amounts of beeswax the whole thing feels a bit messy but it’s good fun to see how it shapes together. Of course when pulling the couching threads through they always seem to snag and rumple the surface of the strings, which isn’t what you want as, ideally, you want the smoothest surface possible for laying the gold on later. I’ve started the padding at the thickest point of the shape, as to make the padding narrower, what I’ll have to do is cut away some of the strings from underneath and try to keep the whole thing looking even. It’s going to be an interesting challenge getting the quite rapid change of thickness at the bottom of this section of the letter.
It feels as if I have a few miles of padding still to go and I normally hate preparative work like this but somehow, I don’t really regret taking on a project of this size. You often hear ‘learn to enjoy the process’ when people talk about crafting, and right now, the mindlessness of padding and prep work is just perfect for my overexhausted brain. Plus, there’s still all the shiny gold to come to keep me motivated! Lots to do but I promise to keep you all updated and keep trying to make progress at a semi-reasonable pace!
- Soft string padding on started section, section to the left… and maybe the other two sections at the bottom of the letter
- Finish the felt padding (right side) and the in-progress layer on the left (final piece on the left side to be left for next lesson!)
- Some goldwork sampling (?!)