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The Thistle gets the Trellis Stitch Treatment

The information record for the 1661 sampler by Elizabeth Short that my Heart of the Thistle project is based upon states :

“The embroidery is worked with silk, linen and metal thread in back, cross, two-sided Italian cross, satin, plaited braid and detached buttonhole stitch, with cutwork.”

Link to the original Victoria and Albert museum item entry

However, Sue Jones of the Tortoise Loft Blog said to me in a comment :

Well, it looked like trellis to me, from the close up photo on your blog. The outlines done first in cross and/or holbein, and then the spaces filled with trellis afterwards. I have seen this (in photos) used on several similar samplers, with the same sort of shading in stripes. (Sometimes it may be one of the other ‘semi-detached’ fillings, but mostly trellis.)

Have a look at a hi-resolution picture, downloaded from the V&A site. Blimey, I do believe that Sue is right!


Don’t get distracted by the border (that would be done last over the other embroidery) in herringbone stitch in orange red thread that runs along the bottom of this ‘spear’ or ‘petal’ of the Thistle.

For each separate section of the spear (light yellow, orange, darker yellow, reddish, darkest red) there’s a faint orange-red line at it’s edge. Then each section is filled with trellis stitch in the appropriate colour.

I’d been going *mad* trying to reproduce even close to the colour shifts in the piece using tent and cross stitch but the changes in hue were too abrupt so the colour changes weren’t blending At. All.

Here’s a bigger one of the picture above, if it helps at all, although I think the smaller image is actually clearer.


Those outlines are jagged, not smooth as you’d expect from a normal outline that supports a semi-detached needle lace stitch (chain stitch, reverse chain stitch, backstitch). A cross stitch outline makes sense.

Using the same colour for the outline in the differently coloured sections helps to tie the disparate colours in each spear together, and then the entire piece together.

In this particular ‘spear’ of the thistle, a purple-brownish thread is used for each outline:


It’s most easily seen at the top of the spear. The colours I’m using are purple, rather than these brownish colours (I couldn’t get them in the Renaissance Crewel Wools I’m using), and I’ll probably use the orange-red thread in all cases.

Holbein stitch outlines on the piece

Here, in the centre of the thistle – see how there are vertical stitches (vertical Holbein stitches) that overlap into the next colour layer? It’s exaggerated by an extra stitch in the outermost red layer that forms the actual heart.


In this case each section seems to use a stitch outline of the colour from the section before. I’ll have to experiment a bit to make sure that I’m getting the same effect, and check that that exaggerated effect with the darkest red is in fact an extra vertical stitch.

I tried to reproduce the ‘colour shift’ look of the original piece using tent stitch, by extending each second line by an extra stitch. It just didn’t give it the right look.


Cross stitch was even worse….I tried doing the colour for the next section as the first (under) stitch of the cross stitch. As the section (top) stitch. It just didn’t work. The colour changes were just too abrupt.


When I started the project, I was pretty wobbly health wise. It suited me to do tent stitch and cross stitch. But now I’m feeling much better. It seems like an absolute waste not to take this opportunity to master Trellis stitch. Especially since I’ve tried, and it’s defeated me before.


I’ve already frogged the purple sections above and below the red Heart. They are definitely going to be in trellis stitch hung on vertical holbein stitch outlines.

Whether I do the spears in the same way depends on whether I can do trellis stitch in such small spaces – each section of each spear. I know that the Thistle Thread Gentleman’s Cap students have had trouble doing trellis stitch in a very small area, so again, I’ll have to experiment. I’ll leave the frogging of the existing spears until after that.

I’m going to take the opportunity to learn Jacqui Carey’s version of Trellis stitch, which is different to the version that we are more familiar with. Unfortunately, I don’t think that I should show Jacqui’s stitch diagram here – I will show you my finished stitching, once I’ve done it.

I need to talk about why Sue and I think it’s trellis stitch, not detached buttonhole stitch as mentioned in the museum information on the piece. It doesn’t matter, in a way. I can already do detached buttonhole stitch quite happily. It’s a great opportunity to learn trellis stitch!

Thankyou, Sue. :-). Thankyou also to Mary, Kimberley and Louise for telling me where the original sampler was held – the V&A museum, Acc No T.131-1961.


This is where I’m up to on The Heart of The Thistle ….


The centre, done in tent stitch, and two of the side thistle leaves. These are all the colours in the palette…the remainder will ‘pull’ the colours together. The Renaissance wool colours are just amazing!


The bottom leaf, done in woad colours in tent stitch.


I will need to blog past experiences and current posts, otherwise I’ll never catch up! :-)

Extracting A Pattern from the Extant Embroidery Image Part I


Ages ago, I saw an entry on the Historic English Embroidery blog by Helen Cowan.

The blog is unfortunately now defunct, but fun to have a look at for a précis of costume history and some great costume and embroidery images.

I instantly fell in love with

All the information I had, or ever found, on the piece was the date 1661.

It was the right hand image – an enlarged detail from the sampler (top left hand corner), and shown enlarged on the right hand side, that I really loved. It reminded me a little of a Bargello piece (one of my interests) in the way that the colours were blended.

Plus, it was just plain weird, which I liked as well.

Recovering from a long year of extra-illness, the time came at the beginning of this year that I was ready to do the piece. It was simple –  tent stitch plus a few other simple stitches, ideal for getting back into practical embroidery. A “Zen” sort of piece, where I could just embroider, and not think too much.

I didn’t have a *clue* what to call this *blobby thing* so I ran a competition asking for a name, here on the blog. Lia de Thronegge won, with her suggestion of “The Heart of the Thistle”. It does have a heart in the middle, and the outside is kind of thistle-y. I do love thistles.

Also, a friend gave me a beautiful Birthday book for Christmas that I intend to use as an Address Book. This piece would make a fine cover for my new Book.

“The RHS Birthday Book showcases the work of Lilian Snelling MBE (1879-1972), in particular her mature style, which formed the outstanding model for the British botanical artists of the latter half of the 20th Century.”

An example of Ms Snelling’s work ……

Beautiful, hey! A whole book of these hand coloured drawings (aproximately 60 of them) deserves a special cover!

Extracting a Line Drawing Pattern

The Image to Examine

I needed the highest resolution copy of the image that I could get in order to draw the lines pattern as precisely as possible.

Working from a image scanned from a book is better than working from an image from the Net. Internet images are, only ever 72dpi (dots per inch) at most, but you can scan images from a book at a much higher resolution and see the image in much more detail. I’ve had 300 dpi suggested to me by experienced embroiderers as a scanning resolution.

The best that I could do was enlarge the image in Photoshop.

There are software utilities available on the Net to increase image resolution, but that’s a topic for another time.

I’ve found that altering the colour balance in the image helps to see the image more clearly – making different details stand out. (Photoshop/Image/Adjustments/Variations)

(more magenta)
(more cyan)

I started a rough drawing over the top of the printed copy of the cyan adjusted image, which I found to be the clearest. This was most definitely in pencil, with a rubber (eraser) in the other hand, drawing around the different coloured sections and outlines. This was to discover the ‘look and balance’ of the pattern.

The Charm of Wonkiness versus the Need for Truth

Sometimes the original embroiderer stitched the pattern a bit out of true. Going under or over pattern lines. Or the original pattern was (very often)a  bit wonky. The physical thread itself (especially with wool or other thicker threads) blurs lines.

I could have simply traced the embroidery as is,  but then I’d add my own wonkiness through those factors above, and end up with a piece that was pretty out of kilter.

Given part of the charm of these pieces is a certain uneveness, I needed to balance ‘wonkiness charm’ with a well designed line drawing.

Finding the Basic Shapes

What I was looking for was

  • repeated elements
  • straight lines, at whatever angle
  • smooth curves
  • reflected curves (or converse or other related curves)
  • mirrored elements
  • (white space or ‘background’, although this isn’t relevant to this piece)
  • balance in the pattern, which is judged by eye and experience.

I find that judgement of eye is best achieved by taking long breaks from looking at the image (a day or two) then having a good look, and listening to your gut instincts. The human eye is very good at picking up imbalance and unevenness.
The way to build experience is to look at a lot of contemporaneous pattern line drawings and look how they are put together by various shapes, how the shapes balance with each other, and the white space (unembroidered or background part). Looking at the image in a mirror can help, giving you a whole new perspective.

This involves an awful lot of staring at the image. I didn’t expect to get the final drawing from drawing on this first copy – it was just to give me a rough idea.

For example, look at

I wanted to get those sort-of-semi circles to balance with each other in size, and the rate at which they enlarged at a regular amount.

I went through the same process with the center of the piece :


The outermost ring is a definite heart shape, but it took a lot of peering to determine that the innermost ring was a wedge shape. That innermost ring is almost indiscernible in the image I see before me on the screen as I write.

Repeated Shapes 

One particular aspect to look for is any repeated shapes and if there is any variation between them. I’ve found that there usually is. Then to decide which version to go with.
Because this piece is vertically symmetrical, I principally studied just one side on the image, but looked at the other side for any variations. I also had the repetition of the thistle ends down each side, which echoed each other in their shapes.

For example, did I want  pattern_extraction_detail (LH side)pattern_extraction_detail (RH side)

My choice here contributed to small choices/decisions I was making throughout my study. I went for the more rounded right hand side version, rather than the pointier left hand sided version. So – other thistle ‘ends’ would need to be more on the rounded side as well, if they were to fit in with this one.

Another choice….. Did I want to go with
pattern_extraction_detail (LH)
pattern_extraction_detail (RH)

And another…..

Looking at the light pink layer (4th from the top) of this top thistle edge, did I want the smooth join with the rest of the thistle (LH side) or the hillock sort of bump (RH side)? (I went with hillocks)

After awhile, the pattern starts to build itself.

Just so you don’t die of anticipation, here’s the final pattern that I came up with (which has been stretched out to fit the book) :-


with a quick repeated pic of the original for comparison


I’ll talk further about extracting the design from the image of the original piece, and then go onto drawing the final pattern, choosing colours, transferring the pattern onto the ground and so forth in further entries….I’ve cheated badly, I’ve already spent 40+ hours on the actual embroidery of the piece :-)

Competition Winner!

Thankyou for all of the entries. I have a lovely name now – “A Thistled Heart”, suggested by Lia de Thronegge.
 I have a bit of a thing about Thistles (as well as roses) – I collect images of them as well.

Thankyou Lia! Please contact me at a_velvet_clawATyahooDOTcomDOToz, where ‘oz’ is replaced with “au” with your address. Also, could you please leave a comment here, and also on Facebook Historic Embroidery on how you find the Merino wool to work with? I hope you enjoy using it as much as  I do :-)

Competition! My first!

In the post I said that I felt that after a long period of lesser health, I felt it was a better idea to re-start practical embroidery with an easy project, rather than The Bishop’s Cope project which I want to get as technically correct as possible.

New Project – to be done in Renaissance Crewel Wool, Elizabethan Range,


Now – I haven’t come up with a better name for the project than “Woolly Flower”.

I’d like to have a competition, just for fun.
If you can think of a cool name for this 1661 piece, add a comment below.

The person who provides the name I like the best will win a plait of 100% finest Australian Merino wool top. This is an absolute joy to do stuffing with – SO much easier to handle than normal wool or artificial filler.

This is a bit of a specialise present – really for the interest of er, people who stuff small things (such as raised work) but I’m a bit short on ‘cool things to give away’ but I couldn’t have a competition with a prize, now, could I?