Still Life from Quimper

Still Life from Quimper
A shot of an almost-completed still life needlepoint

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Sunday, August 19, 2012

Pretty Sparkly Wings

Oh those pretty sparkly wings.  On my lovely fairy.  They will be glorious when they are finished.

In case you had forgotten, here is said fairy before I started (really started, that is) on her wings:

Fairy before her wings

All that blue fabric, hidden behind the pattern and going up and up above her head, all of that fabric will soon be covered in pretty, sparkly, metallic thread.  All of it.  Beads, too, but that's another post.

It's a lot of stitching.  A lot.  I try not to look at all that empty fabric, because I know what it all means:  I have to stitch her wings with metallic thread before she is finished.  And my goal is to finish her this year.

Have I mentioned how much I dislike stitching with metallic thread??

It's pretty.  It's sparkly.  And it's a bear to deal with.

You see, it unravels.  It's sparkly because there is a light metallic stitchable thing wound around a light-as-air thread filament.  And yes, you read that right, it's wound around.  There are more recent metallic threads where the filament is braided with the metallic, making the thread less difficult to stitch with.  But that's not where we are.

We are with an earlier design, mid-90's, when designers who were extremely good artists were combining the two talents (not always possible, I might add) and creating works of art.  Many of these works were fairies and angels and they had wide, swooping gowns and wings and lovely faces.  Not to mention the exquisite fantasy characters of myth and lore:  castles and dragons and griffins and unicorns.  All of these designers made extensive use of then-available embellishments:  metallic thread, beads, and new colors of linen fabric.

So that's the backstory.  The designers designed, the stitchers stitched, the stitchers complained, and the thread companies came up with better threads, and the designers designed with metallic threads.  But many of the older designs, and still many of the new ones, call for regular embroidery thread combined with metallic thread, because they give the finished work a look that is unparalleled and will be worth it when all the stitching and grousing is finished.  Combining regular embroidery thread and metallic thread allows for shading and depth for three-dimensional effect on a two-dimensional fabric.

In the meantime, I am spending many weekend mornings being vewy, vewy careful with my stitching.  I make sure that I thread my twin-pointed needle in several steps, and I am grateful that I heard the manufacturer recommend this step to shopowners years ago:  first, you thread the needle with metallic thread using a needle threader.  Then, you tie with a once-over knot the two strands of metallic and filament together in the eye of the needle, as though they were one thread (they are).  You do this at the outset of using that piece of metallic thread because the metallic and the filament are still well-molded together.  Doing this loose knot prevents fraying and unravelling of the metallic thread.  Finally, you thread the same twin-pointed needle with the regular embroidery thread (one strand).

I also insist on using a piece of metallic thread that is as long as the piece of cotton thread that I usually use.  I do not hold with the "stitch with smaller pieces" theory of stitching:  it wastes more thread because you are beginning and ending more often, and it cuts into your stitching time because you are spending most of your time beginning and ending your threads.  It may sell more threads, but it may not because eventually the stitcher will wake up and realize that the theorists are taking up her valuable time.

Once your needle is threaded, you take a deep breath, tune into the Car Guys or relaxing music or a favorite book on tape and begin to stitch.  And you relax.  Because just as you've hit your stride, the knot will come undone or the filament will begin to come apart and you'll need to start the whole process over again, sometimes at the beginning of your thread and sometimes halfway through and sometimes when you're almost finished with that thread or that section.  It's all very random.  And while the intention of all of these little bits is not to aggravate the relaxed stitcher, that can be its unintended consequence.

Once you take another sip of coffee or your favorite adult beverage, or get up for a break to switch out your CD's, you will take a look at the stitching with metallic you've done in that session and in previous sessions, and gasp with wonder at the effect all of your hard work has accomplished on your linen.  Because this is what you will see:

Fairy with wings begun
You will see three different shades of thread, all combined with the same shade of metallic thread, creating an upswoop of wings that look completely ephemeral.  Absolutely gossamer, with sparkles and shimmers randomly catching the light.  The shading is difficult, because you're using 3 shades of the same color family (DMC 451, 452, and 453 for stitching geeks) with one strand of a copper-y metallic thread.  The DMC thread is a greyish mauvey grey, and the metallic makes all the colors at first bleary-eyed glance all run together.  But then, I take a sip of my coffee, laugh at the Car Guys, and look very carefully at the swoops of slightly darker threads, and realize where I am in my pattern.  I take a look at where I left my needle the weekend before, and I get out my laying tool and begin to stitch that's day's section.

The fill-in is simple:  I combine white with the copper-y metallic and just sit back and stitch.  As of this posting, the white on the large wing section is complete, I've started on the inner white section (nearer her hair), and it will shortly be time to start outlining more sections of her wings.  I'm continually planning where I will go next.  Onto blank fabric.  This is an exercise that almost needs its own blog post . . .

Enjoy the sparkle, brought to you by thread and pattern designers who are constantly pushing the boundaries of what it means to stitch.  I'm very grateful to them.