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Introducing Mr Leopard

Ok, this isn’t the best lit photo, but I’ve left it so long before writing about Mr Leopard – and I’ve just discovered the batteries in my camera are flat. Here are some more photos which show portions of the piece, rather better lit, so you can meet him properly :

I did this piece as part of the Thistle Thread Stumpwork Casket course, but it isn’t an official kit or design. I did my own design, wanting to put several simple techniques together. I hadn’t done a slip before, for example.
I learnt the design techniques, and suitable motifs and colours to use as part of the course.
I did the piece on silk from Golden Hinde, with a calico (muslin) backing, laced onto a slate frame. Learning how to dress a slate frame was part of doing this piece. I think I’ve more or less gotten the hang of it.
Except I did it backwards with the depth of the horizontal bars facing forwards.

The slate frame was from Western Australia (Ashley Verner), details available on request. On the subject of slate frames, here’s a link to RSN graduate, Sarah Homfrey’s vid on dressing a slate frame which I found very helpful as well as Mary Corbet’s tutorial.

The threads are a mixture of the AVAS Soie Ovale and Soie Paris (17thC colour palette range) supplied as part of the course. The bell flowers are in Soie Paris, the rest of the piece is in Soie Ovale (flat thread) or in Chinese flat thread.
The Chinese flat thread I used is described under the heading 
 Chinese filament silk from Suzhou 
in Fran’s blog La Soffita Del Tempo Perduto
17th C.English Raised Embroidery reproductions: materials. Part 3 – SILK THREADS (revisited)

Today, I’ll talk about how Mr Leopard was put together :

From the top down…..
* The clouds are done over 3 layers of wool felt, each layer larger than the one underneath. The top cloud was edged in gimp and the second, smaller cloud was edged in backstitch.
* I did the sun’s background first. Then I drew it’s face on tissue paper, tacked the paper over the stitched sun and stitched through it. Then I tore the paper off – voila, a face! Thankyou Susan Davis for the tip for this technique.
* The blue/cream hillock was done directly on the ground
* The green/yellow hillock was done on one layer of felt
* The flower was stitched directly over the top of the green/yellow hillock. I wasn’t sure if the felt would ‘pull through’ and show tufts, or if the long and short stitches of the hillock would be disturbed by stitching the flower – but it all worked out just fine.
* Mr Leopard himself was done as a slip.

in a small separate hoop on 34 count Legacy Linen. His design is based on the leopard in the piece The Five Senses and the Four Elements, on page 78 of Twixt Art and Nature, (Metropolitan Museum 64.101.1315).
After stitching him, I cut the slip down to around 6 threads from the border of the stitching. This photo shows how close – I’d just placed him on top of the main piece. This photo also shows the layer of felt attached ready for the yellow/green hillock :

 I then stabilized it using PVA and adding a muslin backing. When dry, I cut to the edge of the stitching. Then I attached him to the main piece using tiny stitches and a single ply of flat silk thread, then edged him in gimp. I learnt this from reading Jane Stockton’s blog, and it has worked just fine. She did have a document but it appears to be dead. The information can be found by reading

I love the piece and I’ve learnt lots. But there are several mistakes I’ve made. I’ll talk about them next. Yes, major bubbles in the silk!

Later : Various Blogger blog people have received emails from me in lieu of comments on their blog in the last few months, as I’ve explained that Gmail isn’t letting me comment on Blogger Blogs. It appears I can’t comment on my own blog either! So thankyou Rachel and Sue for your lovely comments …and to those who left comments on my last post ….. and if anyone knows which setting, on Earth, it is that I’ve set wrongly, please do let me know. I’ve spent hours on the problem.

Practical Matters – Plaited Braid Stitch Part III

Now for some fun!

Some uses of PBS other than in Scrolling Vines

Jeanne of the Just String blog shows her pea pods calyxes worked in PBS

The image below is from book The Embroidery at the Burrell Collection, page 106
(Sorry it’s not clearer – the original image is tiny). I’m pretty sure that the outline of the marigolds is done in PBS.


The following photos are courtesy of Kimberley Mitchell :


The Original Embroiderers Weren’t Perfect

Have a look at the following photo :


Look on the left hand side.(Click on it for a bigger image). The left hand ‘chain stitchy’ side is out of whack with the right hand ‘loopy’ side.

Also, on the right hand side at the bottom, the braid crowds in on itself as it goes around the curve to approach the top of that pale leaf.

And the Layton Jacket!

The legs of the PBS are showing on the underside of the top right vine. On the vine below it, the PBS braid rather stretches out as it approaches the edge. Maybe the embroiderer was in a hurry to finish? :-)

The Elizabethan embroiderers churned out miles and miles of PBS braid, but they were human too.
You can also see in the photo there was a a braid finished at the jacket edge with a single stitch over the last pretzel

Miscellaneous Tips

I found keeping a finger on the back of the pulled through thread helped check that I wasn’t leaving loose thread on the back, which would later work through the linen and loosen the pretzels.

I think that if you can use your needle to unpick several pretzels, you understand how the stitch is being done.

Other tips  
Yvette Stanton’s Left/Right Handed Embroiderer’s Companion Books contain important tips on 

    : thread thickness: working two lines of PBS to join at a point
    : working two lines of PBS to join at an angle

    I think that the key to learning this stitch is learning how to do the very first pretzel. Then learning the mechanism of doing a full pretzel.  I was so scared of Plaited Braid Stitch, but now I’m just fine with it. I need to work on my tension, but I think I have a handle on it now.

    I think that the next thing for me to do is to go back and look at heaps of historical embroidery and really examine  PBS, using what I’ve learnt. Particularly where it comes to width and ‘nesting’ of pretzels of the braid.

    BUT I know where to go from here, and improve my PBS. I have the resources to hand – all that information I’ve researched for this post. :-)

    Talking about braid width and intricate details of the threads used has stretched me a bit, given that I’ve only just learnt the stitch. I am absolutely indebted both to Kimberley for her help and allowing the use of her private photographs in writing this blog entry, and to Melinda for letting me borrow her brain as well as asking me to be involved with her Sampler Instructions. - this is the post I recently wrote about Melinda’s sampler

    Any mistakes are on my part. Do let me know in the comments if you don’t agree on any point or have something to add. I can add it into the final article with an acknowledgement if that’s ok.

    My blog template occasionally won’t let people make comments. You can mail me at if you have problems, and I’ll post your comment.

    Finally, I hope that these tips help you learn the Dreaded Plaited Braid Stitch as well! :-)

    Plaited Braid Stitch – Practical Matters Part I (published again!)

    Having managed to completely loose this blog entry (except in an old draft form) I’ve redone it, and here it is again :-)

    Part II is the next blog entry.

    I’ll publish Part III tomorrow. It’s a bit of fun – some uses of PBS in 16th/17thC embroidery in shapes other than the classic Elizabethan scrolling vine.


    There are many posts on the Net about which instructions to use for Plaited Braid Stitch (PBS), referencing many books. I’m not going to write another one. I’m going to write about my experiences of learning the stitch.


    Both Melinda Sherbring (Baroness Eowyn Amberdrake from the SCA) and Kimberley Mitchell gave me many tips to help me learn the stitch for which I’d like to give them many thanks.

    I would also like to thank Rachel and Francesca, my proofreaders.

    There are lots of links in this post. Some lead to posts in other blogs. Where I’ve quoted directly from other blogs clicking on the words will take you to the original blog entry.


    Several passes of the needle and thread form a single ‘pretzel’. This is to avoid confusion with the word ‘stitch’ which could be taken to mean either a single step in creating a pretzel, or the complete combination of stitches that form one pretzel.

    I’m calling a series of pretzels the ‘braid’.  

    Stitch Instructions

    I learnt from the instructions in Melinda’s Sampler which I wrote about in my last post. They are a redaction of Leon Conrad’s instructions from the Fine Lines magazine.

    Of the various sets of instructions available, I’ve made a list below. They aren’t in any particular order – it depends whether you like words, stitch diagrams, step-by-step photos or a video.

    • Interesting background posts from Mary Corbet of the ever wonderful Needle’n’Thread blog

    In Search of the Elusive Plaited Braid Stitch

    Goldwork Thread for Plaited Braid Stitch

    Leon Conrad’s 2 part article is the first of the ‘modern’ (turn of the 21stC) instructions.  Leon has a (now defunct) website where he has a page briefly describing the article. (Yay the Wayback Machine, since this site has now been archived)

    He comments on the page that

    “Although I was aware of sources which provided instructions on how to work this stitch, such as Grace Christie’s Samplers and Stitches (Batsford, London, 1930; recently reprinted), I could not get this stitch to work for me, and the result did not seem to me to look like the Elizabethan originals.”

    so he re-worked the instructions to find a stitch mechanism that he believed did look like the original Plaited Braid Stitch.

    Many other PBS instructions are based on this article. Tricia of Thistle Threads notes

    “Fine Lines is out of print and the parent company is bankrupt, so you can’t purchase back issues as far as I know. “

    Some people may have a copy of the magazine filed away

    • The Thistle Thread Blog by Tricia Nguyen when it was the Embroiderers’ Story Blog describing the embroidery and construction of the Plimoth Jacket

    Step 1 – PBS (Step by Step Photo Tutorial)

    Step 2 PBS Tutorial

    Hit “Next” to see posts for all 19 steps, including how to taper a braid.

    A relevant post from the Thistle Thread blog is

    Correction to Leon Conrad/Calico Road Instructions

    And finally,


    A tapestry needle with an eye of a suitable size to take the thread or cord used, is used for PBS.

    A Japanese needle is always the best to use with any gold thread as the eye is burr-less and will not strip the metal from the silk/cotton core. Available from Japanese Embroidery Centres, they range in price from $11 to $21 per needle, depending on it’s thickness.

    Tricia notes at the Plimoth Blog “We’re using the hand made Japanese needles with it, which helps make a large enough hole in the linen for the gold to pass through, and also is gentler on the gold at the eye.”


    The thread used for PBS needs to be stiff

    Gold threads with an artificial, silk or cotton core are the recommended threads for Plaited Braid Stitch.

    Gold cord of a suitable size to pass through the fabric can also be used.

    This is because they are fairly stiff.

    “Work the stitch in a heavy, fairly stiff thread as the loops will tangle and pull out of shape if a soft thread is used, and stretch the fabric in an embroidery hoop or frame.”

    from Mary Thomas’ Dictionary of Embroidery Stitches, page 51.

    Mrs Christie says the same thing on page 51 of Samplers and Stitches. (yes, the same page of this other book, funnily enough)

    Using Gilt or 2% Metal Threads for PBS

    Gold metal threads may be artificial (gilt) or 2% real gold that has been mixed with copper.

    I used Benton and Johnson #371 passing thread when stitching – this is a very popular choice for PBS. I used the 2% #4 passing thread from Golden Threads.

    2% gold threads are stiffer than gilt threads and so make it easier to make the stitch.

    In the photo below, see how the 2% thread loops around the spool, because it’s relatively stiff? The B&J flops off to the front of it’s spool.


    I think that the B&J looks a little like cheap Christmas tinsel when side by side with the 2%.

    My photo 2 percent vs Benton


    However, PBS uses a lot of thread (see the section PBS Eats Thread below), so as a cost effective option, many people choose to use gilt thread rather than 2%.

    Tricia of Thistle Threads looks at gilt vs real metal threads (photos)

    Some of the Suppliers

    2% are available from such suppliers as Golden Threads, ThreadNeedleStreet, Hedgehog Handworks or Tanya Berlin Goldwork Thread Supplies.

    Bill Barnes made a special #4 Gilt Passing Thread for the PBS stitching on the Plimoth Jacket. This thread is available from Golden Threads.

    Tricia of Thistle Threads talks about gilt metal threads for 16th/17thC stitches here.

    This photo shows the various threads used to make PBS. It’s from the Thistle Thread Blog (Plimoth Jacket Blog).


    Other Thread Options for PBS

    Still more options include Japanese Thread (discussed more below) and tambour thread, which Tricia Nguyen mentions as making a nice PBS braid

    Yvette Stanton from VettyCreations looks at using Benton and Johnson T71 Japanese Thread and Krenik Japan No 7. thread in this blog post

    Yvette Stanton talks about experimenting with various Benton and Johnson threads (passing thread #371 and the Japanese threads T69 and T71) in this blog post, and how the wrapped nature of Japanese thread affects the appearance of the PBS braid.

    PBS Eats Thread

    Plaited Braid Stitch just eats thread. Trisha Nguyen estimated that the vines and a few small extras like flower centres for the Plimoth Jacket would need approximately 1000 metres and later found her estimate to be more or less correct.

    To quote Jen Thies (PinkLeader)

    I found that 50cm of the gold passing thread would work up ~2.5cm of the Plaited Braid stitch.

    This is why an embroiderer needs to consider the issues of using gilt versus 2% gold metal thread for this stitch. The gilt thread is much cheaper but the 2% metal thread is easier to use to construct the stitch because it’s stiffer.

    I think the 2% looks a lot better, and I know that a lot of people do. It’s easier to embroider PBS using 2% because of the extra stiffness. But if I was doing a project using a significant amount of PBS, I think I’d have to use gilt thread to remain within a reasonable budget.

    Plaited Braid Stitch – Practical Matters Part II

    Here’s Part II – the meat of the matter. Please see the *next* post for Part I.

    As a note, the stitch diagrams apply equally to right and left handers.

    Spacing and Width of the Pretzels

    Because I was only practising, I was working by simply inserting my needle into every second hole in my #28 linen fabric ground.

    I’d like to emphasize here that PBS is NOT a counted stitch. It’s a surface stitch. The width and length of each pretzel are judged by eye, following the general directions of guidelines (discussed below). However, when practising, it’s a lot easier to count threads and be able to concentrate on the mechanisms of the stitch.

    Spacing of the Pretzels

    I found that doing it over 1 thread gave the pretzels a bunched look – they were spaced too closely together:

    Doing it over 2 threads on that sized linen looked about right :
    Oh! Still so wobbly at this stage – I was concentrating on stitch mechanisms, not on getting the tension of the loops in each pretzel even. One thing at a time!

    Doing it in 2% gave me much better control over the tension of the loops in each pretzel :
    Yes, this is where my camera lets me down a little, but not as badly as I thought it would :-)

    You can check the evenness of your spacing by seeing if there are evenly spaced horizontal lines on the back of your work.

    So, it follow that to reproduce PBS with the same spacing as a particular historical piece, check out the spacing on the back of the historical piece, if the image is available.

    Pretzel Width

    Yvette Stanton talks about PBS stitch width on her blog

    Tricia talks about pretzel width, pretzel spacing and thread thickness

    Mrs Christie comments that when plunging the needle into the fabric, to always scoop up the same amount of fabric.

    In summary (including the information in the links above) the overall size of the braid is affected by  

    • pretzel width  
    • thread thickness  
    • the snugness with which the pretzels are placed one below each other (or above each other, depending on which direction you are working) the tension used in making the loops of each pretzel.

      Which Direction to work the Braid In?

      I found, from reading all of these sources I’ve listed and my own experiences, that it doesn’t matter whether you work PBS

      • away from your body 
      • towards your body 
      • sideways (yes, I have 2 friends who do this!)

      I work upsideDOWN compared to the diagram given in instructions, but working towards my body. That’s just weird, but it’s what works for me.

        I really think it’s a matter of ‘work the braid in whichever direction feels most comfortable for you”.
        Tricia of the Thistle Threads blog describes how to tell which direction some PBS was embroidered in.

        Stitch Guidelines versus Actual Stitch Width

        Normally, two parallel lines are drawn to serve as a guide for the stitching of PBS.

        It’s a loopy (braid) stitch. It will end up being wider than the stitch guidelines that are drawn. Tricia of Thistle Threads talks about this issue here, where the issue was significant in embroidering the Layton Jacket.
        To work out the guidelines to reproduce an existing piece of PBS, look at where the thread enters and leaves the ground. Looking at the back of the embroidery is the easiest way to see this, if that’s possible. That’s the spacing over which the two lines should be drawn.

        Starting The First Pretzel

        Most instructions start with 4 legs to start the first pretzel as illustrated in Mary Thomas’s diagram in her Dictionary of Embroidery Stitches (page 51)


        This is how it looks on the Layton Jacket


        The “Cross” Start to PBS

        There is a less well known start – a sort of cross stitch start – which I personally think is neater.
        Kimberley Mitchell found an example of it in a piece at the Victoria and Albert Museum :
        T 13-1956 strawberry

        Closeup :

        And as done by Kimberley, showing the ‘cross’ from a bit of an angle :

        Kimberley has very kindly diagrammed how to start with a cross stitch start :

        PBS start fromKimberley

        To accompany the diagram, Kimberley wrote

        “I know that there are a lot of variations, and I wish I could point my finger at ONE of them and say that it is THE way, but the truth is that there were quite obviously many different ways that it was being done during this period.  Some of the differences may be due to different teachers adapting it and then teaching it “their” way.  I think that it could be due to people thinking they knew it when they sat with a teacher, then going home and doing it, but perhaps going under two instead of three on one side, and three on the other.  Jacqui Carey states that this particular variant was the most common method used, but it just never made any sense to me for it to be asymmetrical, so I do it the way that I have for about eight years now.  If you look at the sides of the stitch, you will see what I call little legs.  I count back two, slip my needle under three threads without piercing the fabric, then come up in the middle of the opening, cross over the two vertical threads, and do the same for both sides.”

        If you are a step by step person rather than a diagram person, Genoveva from the HonorBeforeVictory Blog shows photos for the same start here

        Tricia of ThistleThreads uses the same start.

        Jacqui Carey uses the Mrs Christie/Leon Conrad start in Elizabethan Stitches.

        Working the Stitch

        The first pretzel doesn’t look like proper PBS. Don’t worry, it will look better in a stitch or two.
        When making a new pretzel, it doesn’t look quite right until the final stitch (the lower right leg) is made.

        Melinda Sherbring says

        “Don’t do plaited braid in small pieces — do a large amount at one sitting, or without doing other stuff in between. It is easier to make the plaited braid look all “of a piece”, and to do it exactly the same way. “

        Tighten the thread very gently after each step of a pretzel to form nice shapes, first using the needle and then finger. Pulling on the final right leg to tighten the stitch ruins the pretzel shape. Be careful when tightening not to pull the linen holes out of shape.

        Shape each pretzel so

        • it’s loose enough hide the ‘legs’ of the stitch and to enable the next pretzel to be ‘hooked into’ this one
        • it’s tight enough to nest the pretzels nicely along the braid 
        • each pretzel is the same size as the existing ones.

          A little flattening with a fingernail or very gently with tweezers doesn’t go astray, especially with 2% passing thread, and especially when working the stitch over a curve. Using actual finger flesh is a less good idea, as you’re not really supposed to touch your metal thread because of the dirt and acid in your fingers.

          Kimberley Mitchell suggested a laying tool for this use which I think is a better idea – no dirt/acid, and tweezers can easily damage the delicate thread.

          Working PBS Over a Curve
          Elizabethan work contains masses of vines done in PBS as scrolling vines so it’s important to know how to work the stitch in a curve.

          Kimberley Mitchell says

          “As you go into a curve, gradually change to over 1 for the inner part of the curve, and gradually to over 3 for the outer part of the curve for the same pretzel.”

          My_PBS_simply stitch compensation

          She also advises to practise using an “S” shape :

          My_PBS S Compensation

          I’ve found that as you work around a curve, you need to keep the drawn line facing you directly. Move the frame appropriately, or else you’ll end up working the pretzels at an angle.

          The hardest things to do were

          • judge by eye just where you needed to change from over 2 down to over 1 on the inner curve, and from over 2 to over 3 on the outer curve. This doesn’t happen simultaneously – ie not all pretzels are over 1 on the inside and over 3 on the outside when making a curve. At the beginning and end of the curve the pretzels need to be over 1 on the inside curve and over 2 (as normal) on the outside.
          • making sure that I kept the stitch *width* the same. I was going over 4 horizontally, and I had to keep checking and counting threads, even tho this is a surface stitch, not a counted stitch. You’d need to judge the distance by eye on very fine linen, of course. 

          If You Run Out of Thread

          Secure the existing thread on the back (see the section below). You don’t need those first steps you use when first starting a PBS braid because the structure is already there, just as if you were continuing on stitching with the old thread. After securing the new thread, go on to do full pretzels, hooking into the last pretzel.

          Finishing the Braid Neatly

          The Thistle Thread tutorial (Steps 16 to 19) explains both how to taper the braid into a point, and how to finish the braid. The final stitch is shown here :

          To Secure the Thread on the Back

          Melinda Sherbring says

          “Don’t weave the end of the thread back through the stitches already worked. Instead, carry that last bit of thread under the stitches that will be worked next, and bring up the metal thread to the front on your stitching line.

          Then when you work the next thread, that old tail will be trapped, and you can cut it off when you get to it.
          The advantage is that the pull on the last stitch of the old thread is in the same direction as the the other stitches. It makes the join that tiny bit harder to find.”

          Leon Conrad said

          “I studied the reverse side to work out the stitcher’s starting and finishing points. I noticed that the finishing ends had been slipped under the stitches on the back of the work. To start a sequence, the stitcher had used a knot.”

          Sampler of Elizabethan Linear Metal Thread Stitches by Melinda Sherbring

          Melinda Sherbring aka Eowyn Amberdrake (within the SCA) has developed a Sampler in order to teach various Metal Thread stitches from the Elizabethan period. The Sampler has been yet to published with the first audience being within SCA. Melinda is considering further publication, possibly self-publication, for a general audience.

          I am honoured to have been asked by her to test the left handed version of the stitch instructions and to provide general feedback.

          I can’t show her stitch instructions here, but I can show you my finished work, and comment on my own thoughts and discoveries as I work through the stitches. Melinda has also found publicly published photographs of some of the stitches that I can show you.

          The stitch list is as follows :

          Plaited Braid Stitch Variations

          • Standard
          • Flopped
          • Long Right
          • Long Left
          • Jumble
          • With a Twist

          Ladder and Ceylon Stitches

          • Ladder Stitch
          • Silk Pair-Wrapped Ladder Stitch
          • Pair Wrapped Ladder Stitch
          • ZigZag Wrapped Ladder Stitch
          • Chained Ladder Stitch
          • Ceylon Stitch

          Miscellaneous Stitches

          • Elizabethan Ladder Braid Stitch
          • Corded Lark’s Head Filling
          • Purl Chain
          • Double Pekinese Stitch

          Chain Stitch Variations

          • Chain Stitch and Reverse Chain Stitch
          • Interlaced Chain Stitch
          • Elizabethan Double Vandyke Stitch
          • Heavy Chain Stitch
          • Long Armed Cross Chain Stitch
          • Threaded Double Back Stitch

          Van Dyke and Pekinese Variations

          • Twisted Chain Stitch
          • Vandyke Stitch
          • Pekinese Stitch over Couched Thread
          • Bundle Couched Guilloche
          • Double Pekinese Stitch with silk edging
          • Pekinese Stitch, Skip 3


          • Maltese Cross

          This list will be expanded in the future.

          The Sampler can be done as a single piece or in a notebook format. I’m choosing to do the notebook format to give me room to record my experiments with each stitch.

          Melinda recommends working in either Benton&Johnson #371 or #4 Passing thread. I’m working in B&J 371.

          I have already worked my way through most of Jane Zimmerman’s “The Art of Elizabethan Embroidery”. The list of stitches in that book are listed here in a blog entry that I wrote a couple of years ago.

          I have already “done” Plaited Braid Stitch.

          Yes! I can now do Plaited Braid Stitch, thanks to Melinda’s instructions :-). I have 2 pages of notes that are all ready to write up and have completed my ‘page’ of stitching. I must also thank Kimberley Mitchell for some additional tips in working the stitch. I am *not* going to get into the “which diagram works” issue, but address practical issues such as which are suitable threads to use, how to work the stitch over curves and getting the thread tension correct.

          So this post serves as an introduction to a series of postings about these stitches that will extend over the next few months.

          I will be alternating working on the Sampler and on my Heart of the Thistle project and hope to complete the Sampler Stitches before my kits for the Thistle Thread Casket course arrive.

          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 :-)

          Needlepaintings that I DO intend to do :-)

          I used to paint medieval grotesques when I did calligraphy and illumination. I love them. You’ll see examples that I’ve painted in the past come up my on screenshow.

          For example,


          I’ve called him “Leonard”. :-) (painted in gouache)

          I intend to do more …. but in needlepainting. These will be just a bit more approachable than the Archimboldo – I was only joking about that one! ~grin~. Sorry to the people that took me seriously, although Kimerbley Servello’s suggestion in the comments for speckling was lovely.


          The two images above from The Luttrell Psalter, 14thC.
          Image source and more on the Psalter :

          More images from the Luttrell Psalter (hey, it’s a good source!)….source :


          And these last images are from the Giornale Nuovo post entry

          “One manuscript in particular features such an abundance of this type of illumination that it has become known as ‘the Book of Drolleries’ (Le Livre des Drôleries)……”

          More information and images on Giornale’s post.


          I think I’ll have a lot of fun :-) They are great creatures! I’ve certainly never done the design analysis to make a needlepainting from an ordinary image before. It’ll be a new skill to look forward to learning in the future.

          Looking at Opus Anglicanum’s (Tanya’s) recent piece ( I’m tempted to think about using trying out the Opus Anglicanum approach as well as needlepainting (long and short stitch).

          Has anyone ever designed a needlepainting directly from a picture?

          A Needlepainting Project that would be really silly to attempt

          But I think it would be beautiful. Maybe when I’m really really really skilled at needlepainting? ~grin~


          Giuseppe Arcimboldo (also spelled Arcimboldi) (1527 – July 11, 1593) was an Italian painter best known for creating imaginative portrait heads made entirely of such objects as fruits, vegetables, flowers, fish, and books – that is, he painted representations of these objects on the canvas arranged in such a way that the whole collection of objects formed a recognizable likeness of the portrait subject. (wikipedia)

          I’ve always felt a little sorry for this poor fellow :
          Lots more images of Archimboldo’s work at