After my burst of inspiration to finish the embroidery for my canvaswork piece, I ended up signing up to a few craft courses, one on sock knitting, the other on lace embroidery, to try and learn a few new things. A matter of days later, everything was cancelled, but I did at least have the chance to go to a class and, as for the rest, we’ll try again later…
The course was at the London Embroidery School that is part of the embroidery company Hawthorn & Heaney. The London Embroidery School offers a range of courses, mostly focused around goldwork, tambour and monogramming techniques. The designs and styles are a little more hip and trendy compared to a lot of the Royal School of Needlework classes so I was curious to see what the teaching style would be like.
I’m also always eager to learn some new techniques, and given my recent interest in making bobbin lace, going to learn some lace appliqué seemed like an excellent opportunity. I was intrigued by the prospect of this being a ‘quick to work’ technique too.
We started with a little pack of some Gutterman Sew All thread in grey, polyester organza, some tiny seed beads, needle and scissors. Part one was framing up. Polyester organza is a slippery, fragile beast and really a pain to frame. The only small mercy is that for lace appliqué it is recommended to not work with too tight a tension, especially for pieces that will be draped and ‘living’ such as clothing items. I would still really recommend using a dressed ring though, it makes a huge difference for the grip on a slippery material and if you have any small imperfections in the wood which might snag the organza, it’ll provide some protection from those.
With the organza persuaded into place, it was time for the main order of the day, cutting, cutting and cutting. We were using a lovely piece of lace in a colour I don’t have the vocabulary to capture with a floral design. I’m still learning to tell my lace types apart, so I’m not sure if it would be correct to call this lace point d’Alenon, but I really love the heavy cording worked through the piece.
It felt somewhat sacrilegious to take a pair of scissors to a perfectly beautiful piece of lace and start hacking it up, but such is the way of appliqué! The idea was to cut a selections of motifs that would be reassembled together on the organza. In a sense this is a genius idea, you take something beautiful and create something completely unique out of it, but I’m not sure the idea of cutting up perfectly good lace will ever quite sit right with me!
The heavy cording made it easy to find shapes to cut out but this was both an elasticated and slippery lace and it turned out a complete nightmare to handle because of it. With the type of stitching we were going to be doing (just oversewing the edges) it was not going to be possible to hide any raw or unfinished parts, so I was trying to cut as close to the cording as possible. The cording however was very keen to slip and move away from the scissors, exposing more of the net and requiring quite a bit of poking and prodding while couching it down to get back the original shape of the design.
Starting threads in organza is tricky but if you don’t care to see the back of the design the usual few holding stitches (plus a bigger waste knot that usual) works well and then it’s just a case of being sympathetic to the shape in terms of stitching direction. If it’s going to sit flat and mounted, then securing the middle is not so important, but if it is for a garment then generally everything would need to be sewed down.
Putting together a ‘design’ was interesting – I have originally tried to opt for a flowing piece with space out pieces of lace but I think for appliqué going for a lot of density and layers looks a bit more striking. We were also decorating with some beads – nothing too complicated for securing these – but if you want to add beading it might be worth thinking about the tensioning again. Loose is good for securing the lace but tightening the fabric is preferable for the beading.
As promised, given it is very simple in terms of the stitching, the design does grow fast. In a two hour class I’d managed to cut all these pieces, get the main piece fully secured, with some beading and make a start on a second and I wouldn’t say I’m the fastest embroiderer in the world. When I’d put aside any horrified feelings about slashing up the lace fabric, I did find it an incredibly liberating technique. It works up so quickly that you can really get more into the designing and embellishing, rather than meticulously planning the order of the embroidery so the prep work is done in the correct fashion…
For me, one of the most challenging parts was dealing with such delicate fabric and pieces. I know I tend to be a bit of a brute with my tension and it took a while to adjust to the more relaxed, flowing style of stitching. Overall though, I think this is definitely interesting as a technique but perhaps the exciting part comes more from pouring over lovely laces and beads and working out how to create really fabulous embellishments, which working from a kit removes somewhat. Appliqué was never something I had considered much before but I will definitely be keeping an eye out for some scraps for this and there is something fun about working with organza – it’s a gorgeous fabric that I don’t usually get a chance to touch. Definitely a technique I’ll be keeping an open mind about!