Archive for the Category » Historical Embroidery Sampler «

The End of the Sampler

I’ve learnt so much doing the first half of the sampler.
It’s hard to continue, in a way, because I see so many mistakes that I’ve made.
Primarily, I’ve used too many different colours. I should have only used a few colours, and 3-4 different shades of that colour.
Melinda Sherbring (Baroness Eowyn Amberdrake in the SCA) discusses this and other issues in a critique of my sampler at Sampler_Review_by_Melinda_Sherbring
which is an educational read in itself.
Also, being a self-design and the first one of this nature that I’ve done, motifs are ending up way way too close together.
The other thing is that it’s turning out to be basically a spot sampler, hanging off a vine. I’m wondering whether I should have used the vine at all, and just done a spot sampler.
At least it would be more historically accurate as a design, instead of being this strange hybrid

I really don’t feel that I can spend another year on the piece in order to complete it.

BUT the entire point of doing this sampler was to learn. To do as many different techniques as possible. And I have learnt heaps and heaps. And there are some motifs that I just love and am very proud of. :-)

Roses and Stems

I’ve started work on the mirrored right hand side of the sampler – the small red rose, it’s stem, and the big gold and pearl rose.
The Small Red Roses
Firstly, I wish I’d read Mary Corbet’s post Notes on Satin Stitch before embroidering the small red roses because there were several tips there I needed to be reminded of.
Oh well.
Here’s the original small red rose, on the LEFT (mostly completed) of the sampler.
The petals were satin stitched without padding using a single strand of YLI silk thread.
For the second, mirror rose, I decided to add a layer of satin stitch padding, to see what difference it made.
The padding is done in a perpendicular direction to the direction of the top layer (or following layer, if you are adding more than one layer of stitched padding)
To digress for a second, Mary says to do the outline in split stitch.
With such a small object as these petals, I found it easier to use backstitch. Then, if I went a bit wobbly, I could make the wobbly stitch into a split stitch on the next stitch, straightening it into the right direction.
You can see the outline stitches are tiny – over one thread of the canvas and I’m trying to curve, so it was easy to misplace a stitch a little bit.
I also exaggerated the ‘in’ part in the middle of the ‘heart’ of each petal – I’ve found that some shape definition is lost when the edge is outlined with purl on very small motifs.
The second rose, with a layer of padding :
Comparing the two roses, you can see that the stitching on the second rose (with padding) is less streaky, and much richer. It’s easier to see in real life. The colour is darker and richer.
Mary talks about the whys and wherefores of this in her post.
It’s double the effort, but I think it’s worth it for the final effect!
Also, I stretched the pearl purl a little on the first rose (it was the very first thing I did on the Sampler, and I thought you were supposed to), and knew better by the time I got to the second rose, whose Pearl Purl is unstretched (and consequently a little harder to couch down).
The ‘pop’ when the thread does go down between the ‘beads’ is very satisfying.
I used tweezers to do the V shape with the pearl purl in the middle of each petal.
The Stems
The stem from the left side of the sampler :
This was done with a strand of Jap, and 3 strands of dark green YLI in the same needle, in Ceylon stitch, and outlined on each side in a row of passing thread, as documented at

I’m not terrible happy with this stem – the stitching just looks lumpy – but I did it 3 or 4 times as it was. It’ll do.
The new stem :
I’m much happier with the stitching (heavy chain this time).
It was done with No 5 passing thread, and one strand of the same dark green YLI (in the same needle).
The first stem is primarily green with flecks of gold, and the second exactly the opposite.
The Overall Effect
(click for bigger pictures)

The Gold and Pearl Rose
The next reflected motif was the big gold and pearl rose.
I’ll show the original close up when I’ve finished the second one, for comparison again. I’m purposely using slightly different metal threads, and a different technique for the centre, although the filling of the petals with rice pearls will remain the same.
To start, I made a tracing of the existing rose, and then cut it from felt. I sewed the felt down, making sure there was room for the bird’s beak.
The centre of the rose got an extra layer of felt. I wanted it to stand up a bit. On the left (existing) rose, there is a curl of pearl purl as the centre, sitting on top of the end of the Greek Twist and so it stands up. I didn’t want this new centre to be sunken in comparison.
I then outlined the centre in some pearl purl.
I’m currently chipping inside the centre with bright check gilt.
Page 90 of A-Z Goldwork taught me how to chip very satisfactorily.
The chips are only 2mm or less long – um, 1/8” or less. Just tiny.
With all these photos blown up (now I’ve discovered how to do it – yay!), you can forget how small the motifs actually are. These roses, which are by far the biggest motifs on the sampler (except the bird) are just over 2” (just under 6cm) in diameter.
I’m very excited about doing more motifs. I’m going to use some silk covered purl, and some gold kid, as well as all those new gold threads I ordered.
The big project (shown on the cover) of the A-Z book has a satin and gold thread leaf, and a gold leaf that I’m looking forward to doing.
But symmetry first! I still have to do the rest of that right off- centre part :
Thorns (easy), two rosehips and two leaves. I won’t fill in it’s grey background until I’ve done the vine around it.
I’m thinking of doing one rosehip in green gilt sylke twist (same as one on the left) and one with green and jap thread in the same needle, in detached buttonhole stitch, to see the differences.

An Evening on the Couch

This photo show Tommy (front), Jasper (rear) and also happens to show the size of my sampler in proportion to them. Click on the photo for the full version.

They were very good cats for looking up at me when I called them. :-). No, they are not related at all – I just choose cats with similar colouring. Tommy is 5 and Jasper is 2. Tommy sleeps in my arms each night.

You can also see the discolouration I was talking about of the poor linen – especially at the sides where I hold it.

And that I’ve finished the red silk stitching on the new small red rose. Photos coming.

Playtime in Green and Gold

I’ve just made an order to Tanya Berlin :
9 inch Sample of Gilt Bright Check Purl – No. 89 inch Sample of Gilt Rough Purl – No. 8
9 inch Sample of Gilt Smooth Purl – No. 8
9 inch Sample of Gilt Wire Check Purl – No. 8
9 inch Sample of Gilt 8 x 2 Check Thread
9 inch Sample of No. 5 Dull Check Purl – Green
9 inch Sample of No. 5 Rough Purl – Green
15 Inches of No. 1 Bright Check Bullion – Gilt Bright
1 Yard of No. 1 Twist – Gilt
1 Yard of Gilt Elizabethan Twist
1 Yard of Twist – Gilt No. 1 ½
1 Yard of Gilt No. 6 Twist
1 Yard of Gilt Flatworm Thread – No. 6
1 Yard of Medium Rococco – Gilt
1 Yard of Very Fine Rococco – Gilt
Some serious playing to be had with these! It’s all gilt, but still – that’s an awful lot of gold thread for $35. I’ll have to get a bigger gold thread box.
I like it that you can get 9” samples of everything – plenty for what I want to do, with a bit left for future reference.
I’ve decided not to do the leaves shown in the photo in the last post. The biggest of them is 1cm long. I’d have to use the smallest size of each thread, and the thread details wouldn’t be visible unless you were close up to the piece.
I’ve got several leaves dotted around that end – I’ll use those, and experiment with various embroidery stitches on the rose leaves.

The Pomegranate and Roses

I realised that I’d forgotten to put up a picture of the finished pomegranate – with it’s top on.
It’s Lurex couched down with a green DMC thread. You can see the brick couching of the red in the middle as well.
I wonder now whether I should have gone for evenness in the ‘wings’ of the top and partially covered the blue leaf, rather than making it as big as possible whilst fitting it in.
Next time, I think I’d partially cover the blue leaf, even if it is a non-Elizabethan approach. I have to make allowances for the fact that I made up and drew this design myself, apart from the gold curves, which are based on the Douce bible cover.
I’ve finished that silver-grey backgroud – yay!
I had terrible problems. Every fourth stitch or so, doing tent stitch, 5 across 2, I suddenly discovered that the next available hole horizontally meant that I had to do 5 across one, or leave a gap. So there are an awful lot of 5/1 stitches, partially covered over with 5/2 stitches as I made the correction with the following stitch. Then it’d happen again.
The overall effect is ok – you can’t really see the overstitching. I bought evenweave linen, but it doesn’t feel very evenweave to me after that experience!
My tension could be better – I’ve done loads of Bargello, but it hasn’t been for years.
Here’s a photo of a big gold rose with pearls, with a long green and gold stem extending from it, topped by a small red rose.
And here is the same pattern on the other side of the design – pointing out the opposite way. The bird is in between them.
I’m going to do this second big rose/stem/small rose combo next because I want to bring out the geometricality of the piece before working on more of the motifs on the sides.
I’ll do the small rose and the stem first.
Thankyou Julie for your present of 18% Jap thread, as I seem to have lost my tube of my more ordinary Jap thread, and it’s used in the stem.
I used Grecian twist on the existing rose, and want to order a similar, but different thread from the Berlin site, where I get all my goldwork supplies, for the other rose, all in the name of experience.
And then
If you click on
at Tanya Berlin’s site and scroll down you’ll bring up some pictures and descriptions of how different metal threads can be used.
For example :
(purl with pailettes every third purl – yummy)
(rococco threads)
I have a 8 small leaves to do :
I plan to buy small quantities of each type of thread, and try the examples out. I might have to find a couple of extra techniques.
So that’s me sorted for the next couple of months.
Yes, I have joined the Tudor and Stuart Gold MasterClass from Thistle Threads, but I’m not going to do the kits until I’ve finished my sampler.
The course is great! And the people in the class are wonderfully supportive of my endless questions.
Back to the Sampler, I’ve made enquires about finishing it from Ruth O’Leary of and she very kindly provided me with a detailed method.
It sounds rather like an entire project in itself. Artist’s canvas backing with a rod to keep it straight, possibly curtain weights to keep it hanging straight down, then a ‘nice’ backing with a rod for hanging.
I’m not looking forward to sewing on the artist’s canvas!

Design and Stitch Decisions for the Background

I’ve decided against stitching the entire background.
Instead, I’m doing two sections of the design – symmetrically opposite sections.
Here it is on one side, coloured in red.
It’s a pity I couldn’t do a second print of this image, play around with paper and sticky tape, and show you the whole piece with both sections highlighted, so you could see how they reflected each other.
But my printer isn’t working atm. (dead printer head)
Below is a photo of the entire piece. You can see the second large pearl rose drawn in just right of the centre – the bird is between it and the first, finished large pearl rose on the left. These are the most distinguishable features.
And extending from the unfinished large pearl rose, another long stem and a small rose at the end of it, mirroring the design on the left.
Strawberries are at the end of the design, same as at the other, finished end.
The remaining unfinished flowers, insects and leaves are …. all sorts of things. They are all different to the finished ones and will explore more Elizabethan techniques.
I’ve decided to do this partial background, even tho I’ve never seen an Elizabethan extant piece have something similar.
a) because I think it’ll look pretty
b) really, because I’m only managed 2 or 3 lines every 2 or 3 nights, so it’s going to take me ages.
This is what I’ve done so far of this partial background :
So the ‘dome with ears’ will be filled in, down to touch the edge of the big pearl rose. I’ll fill in the oval with the single strawberry right at the top as well.
I’m using a silver/grey DMC cotton thread – 3 strands. (after a bit of experimentation to see how many strands fitted through the holes the best)
I’m having a little trouble with the tension, which is surprising, since I’ve done a fair bit of Bargello work. Perhaps because it’s on fine linen? There’s one line that really should come out, but it’s right in the middle.
The Stitch I’m using :-
A bit of background ……

“Inherently strong, the tent stitch was used to imitate woven tapestry by working it evenly across each intersection of the canvas. Tent stitch looks like half of a cross-stitch and is an excellent choice for designs on seat cushions, kneeling pillows, etc.”

from Canvaswork by Isela de Bari

“There are 3 types of tent stitch done during the period:
  • Half Cross
  • Basketweave
  • Continental

The greatest problem in using tent stitch is the tendency to create a noticeable directional slant, especially in large pieces. As a result, finished textiles such as the BRADFORD TABLE CARPET are noticeably slanted rather than being a perfect rectangle.
All three stitches look the same on the front, but different on the back.”

(Unfortunately, I’ve lost the reference to the above notes)

clip_image001 Half Cross stitches are worked in rows from left to right.
clip_image001[1] Continental stitches are worked in rows from right to left.
clip_image001[2] Basketweave stitches are worked in diagonal rows.
……Basketweave creates very little distortion of the canvas unless too much tension has been placed on the stitches. ……
Basketweave is the preferred stitch for both large and small areas.

from Introduction to Canvas Work – Tent Stitches
by Sue Kerndt and Ann Caswell

Now, …….
Encroaching Gobelin Stitch was actually the stitch recommended to me to use for the background by Baroness Eowyn Amberdrake, and Yvette Stanton.
At this point I need to refer you to Eowyn’s article
Sweet Canvaswork to read the information there about Encroaching Gobelin stitch.
I spoke to her about the article and she noted

“I went and reread the Filium article on sweet bags that I wrote — the editor had differentiated the diagrams by making one gray and one red. The red one is the historical method – the gray one is the modern method. But the words don’t say that.”

Now, encroaching gobelin stitch has the same advantage as basketweave tent stitch – because of the way it is stitched, it causes the least distortion of the canvas.
Yvette Stanton’s Left Hander’s Companion (which I highly recommend to every left hander) includes the stitch, so I was all set.
Unfortunately, the stitch method defeated me.
It was the skipping a thread (on fine linen) each time, counting the holes so often, and adjusting the stitch to work around the motifs.
Not that it was un-doable, but it wasn’t the ‘brainless, restful, do-while-I’m-very-slowly-recovering” sort of stitch that I wanted to do. I had to think while I was doing it, and I didn’t want that!
So I chose to do Half Cross Tent Stitch. I don’t think it will distort the canvas since I’m only doing two relatively small areas.
I would have had to do Encroaching Gobelin stitch if I had done the entire background to avoid distortion.

The Background

OK, the No’s regarding me putting in a silver Jap thread are running ahead – significantly when you include the ones in the Comments.

The comment always seems to be “too much bling” which would then put the focus on it, rather than the motifs.

Now. One thing is ‘having something to do when I’m not quite up to purling or whatever the motif I’m working on currently requires’. There’s also something else.

My piece is filthy ……. :

I live near a major freeway that trucks use to get from another city into Mebourne and have to keep the window open so the cats can get in and out.

Until recently I used to smoke – and the nicotine comes out of all of your fingers and stains the linen. I’ve confirmed this with another smoking embroiderer.

I haven’t taken very good care storing the piece.

Most probably when it’s out of the frame, and has trim added, it shouldn’t be particularly noticeable. The second half will be just as discoloured as the first half by then.

Or maybe not, because I don’t have nicotine-skin anymore. (That’s quite gross to think about, isn’t it!)

Others won’t know that the linen is several shades darker than it was when I started on it, but (this is the big ‘but’) I’ll know, and I’ll permanently see it as dirty.

I can’t wash it because of the goldwork.

What if I used another thread? Silver/grey DMC cotton thread or perle? Silver/grey wool or wool/silk mix? (Keeping in mind that it is only the background and I don’t want to spend a fortune on thread for it)

The motifs are in YLI embroidery silk (which I don’t recommend, and looks the same as DMC embroidery thread once sewn in) and DMC cotton embroidery thread. There are a couple of spots of Splendor and other silks, but you have to really look for them.

Since I’m not going ‘shiny silver’ , I could do:

Silver (as in very pale – a white that is slightly in the blue spectrum)
Silver/grey (A light grey)
Grey (A darker grey – hmmmm… might be a bit overpowering. Perhaps not)

The very pale Silver would probably get dirty as well. (although no where near as badly). So maybe in a light grey?

So, people – I really enjoyed and appreciated your input last time. Do you care to do it again? I’ve changed the poll. Use the comments for any thread or colour suggestions :-)

I’m voting Yes (light medium grey thread)

Does anyone know of any extant items that have metal thread motifs, but a non-metallic thread background?

I’m thinking of Julie Thompson’s suggestion of Tent Stitch rather than Encroaching Gobelin, because Encroaching Gobelin is over 4 or 5 threads. Motifs are placed randomly so there are going to be a great many places where it’ll have to be over 3 or fewer stitches in order to fit.

Tent Stitch will at least be even throughout the piece although I do feel a little weak at the knees at the amount of stitching involved. At least it’s easy.

Red Pomengranate

Well, it looks like the No’s are running significantly ahead of the “yes”s in the “Shall I put in a silver background” poll, if you include the votes in the comments.
The major objection is loosing the motifs amongst the bling.
An alternative ‘simple task’ would have been to couch some gold around the outside of the piece to give it a plain border, but unfortunately there’s isn’t enough room within my stretcher bars .
So – we’ll leave the ‘simple stitching task’ issue for the moment.
I decided yesterday that I’d reached a good finishing point on my black dress (it still has to be fitted but I need an extra pair of hands for that), and I took up my Historical Sampler once more. YAY!
The first thing I did was frog out a trefoil that has been stitched badly, and that I didn’t like the colours of. While I was doing it, I put a nice big hole in the ground material.
What a mess! I’d originally had a lot of trouble with the outline of the trefoil, which you can see.
A BIG mess.
I needed something large that would cover all of that over.
I found this :-
Unfortunately, I don’t have an accession record for it – but it’s obviously from an historical item.
I decided to do that, with a few modifications.
Firstly, the felt, to cover up that horror!
Much nicer, although now I’m committing the cardinal sin in Elizabethan embroidery of having motifs touching. It touches 4 (oh well, in for a penny…..)
I’m really going to have to build up the bird to make sure it stands out below it.
I then covered the red felt in a single strand of red YLI embroidery thread in satin stitch.
I find that placing the felt so that it’s just a tiny tiny bit inside the drawn outline, then sewing from the drawn outline on the linen– rather than coming up through the felt – seems to help my stitches not to slip around the place on this dimensional surface.

Next, I put some Grecian twist around the outline of the Pomengranate, and also in a semicircle one third of the way down the fruit.
The original has a row of purls in this curved middle section. There was no way I was going to deal with that many small (very small –  3 or 4 mm) purls in my version.
I decided to do battlement couching instead, using Lurex gold thread and red YLI silk to couch it down. If the photo were focused, you could see that it looks quite pretty- with a lot of red and the gold gleaming through.
The next thing to do is to add some more Grecian twist in a curve below the battlement couching to finish off that section.
I don’t feel I can include the original’s random chips of purl inside or around the Pom – it’s just too small, and the space around it too crowded.
I excluded the gold thread figuring 8’s in the body of the fruit for the same reason, although I would have to have done that.
I just have the crown to do. The question is – to purl, or to couch? I’ll have to see how fiddly I feel like getting when I sit down to do it. The crown is 1 cm high at it’s highest point. It will also be outlined in a gold twist thread.
I’m thinking – the two threads of the outline will cover the two outer small sepals, leaving room for purls only in the centre one.
Perhaps couching (with the gold outline) would be better. It would look more coherent.
Obviously, I’m feeling a lot better, to be able to do this. How long this will last, I have no idea. Another day, a week, a year? Here’s hoping for a year!

Silver Background?

I mentioned in my last post about the possibility of doing the background in silver in Gobelin or Tent stitch.
After all, it’s goldwork, raised work, stumpwork (from the next century), and Elizabethan stitches and motifs, all on an Elizabethan vine. Why not throw in some extra glamour, in the form of a silvery background (which more normally appeared on bags and purses) and make it all the more sumptuous? It is a sampler. and I’m not conforming to any rules here, except those of taste (I hope!)
I do actually have an ulterior motive for doing this, as I explained before. Once I’ve finished the black dress (I managed to sew on a button last night!) I’ll go back to the sampler – but I might not be up to doing the embroidery involved. Or some days I will, and other days I won’t.
But some simple background stitching could be feasible on my less good days.
It will give me the feeling that I’m progressing the sampler, rather than leaving it aside for so very long. I really want to get back into embroidering.
The piece will be a wall hanging in the end, with a heavy metallic margin (couching multiple threads?), then a fringe, (ecclesiastical trim from E-bay?) and possibly some tassels – so there’s a lot of richness on the surround.
Will it be too much bling to have the silver as well, or will the plain linen background look too plain against all this sumptuary of the embroidery and the surrround?
Here’s a historical example of a drawstring bag with a silver background :-
Drawstring bag
English, late 16th–early 17th century
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
The Elizabeth Day McCormick Collection, 1943
Accession number: 43.1075

Baroness Eowyn Amberdrake created a swetebag with a silver background, which can be seen enlarged at
(Any problems with the link, go to and click on the Swetebag – the first picture – to enlarge it).
It shows the stitching and the effect of the silver background rather more clearly.

Should I add a silver background as well?

After some discussion with Eowyn, she recommends the historical form of Encroaching Gobelin Stitch in Jap Thread.
I’ve ordered a yard each of the 4 sizes of Imitation Jap Thread from the Sampler section of Tanya Berlin’s site so I can see which provides the best ground coverage (before buying entire reels). This thread is “burnished so have an antique look with a mat surface”
I prefer a mat finish to the thread, rather than a shiny appearance of using real Jap thread. And if imitation Jap thread tarnishes, that’s fine by me. I think it adds character to the piece.
I’ve put a little poll up at the top left of my blog. Please feel free to indicate your opinion. I’m leaning towards adding the
background, and I’m not worried about the amount of work. But I don’ t want it to seem ‘overdone’.
Any votes/opinions (you can also comment) would be greatly appreciated. :-)

Some Vine

I based the vine for my sample on a Douce Bible,
It’s shown here at Plate 25, from Cyril Davenport’s “English Embroidered Bookbindings”, and it (the Bible) was published in 1583

The vinework has been manipulated by me – a section in the middle doubled, with one side of it reflected (reversed) to give me more “nodes” to hang motifs from.
I’ve been working on the vine lately, as a nice simple task to do while I haven’t been feeling well.
I’ve now run out of bits I can do, without encroaching into un-motifed territory, and risking my DMC/silk thread catching on the Lurex.
I was pushing it a bit by doing one side of each of two ovals, which will contain spiral trellis stitch buds.
The Thistle Threads blog was talking about vine width vs width drawn on the ground the other day –
I seem to have had the opposite problem to theirs– even tho I was “keeping within my drawn lines” the vine somehow ended up a bit wider than drawn. Notice how close the blue borage and the pansy are to the vine? They weren’t that close to the drawn vine (and I didn’t go outside the lines, promise!)
The solution is obviously to stay a bit within the vines if I, with my two lines of Heavy Chain Stitch, seen to be a bit close to a motif.
Everything is a bit close together in general, I think. I’ve carried “horror vacuii” a bit too far. They aren’t supposed to touch each other and often motifs/vines are, drat it.
In terms of spacing, the only one I think I’ve got really really right is the googly eyed bug, half way down the left side.
Now – that’s half of the vinework done. The other half is exactly the same, except reflected. 40 or 50 metres of Lurex so far– I’ve lost count.