COUCHING is the sewing down of one thread by another - as in the outline of the flower on the laid sampler, Illustration 46 (Laid-Work Sampler). The stitches with which it is sewn down, thread by thread, or in the case of gold, two threads at a time, are best worked from right to left, or, in outlining, from outside the forms inwards. A waxed thread is often used for the purpose. Naturally the cord to be sewn down should be held fairly tightly in place to keep the line even.
It is usual in couching to sew down the silk or cord with stitches crossing it at right angles, except in the case of a twisted cord, which should be sewn down with stitches in the direction of the twist.
Couching is best done in a frame; but it may be done in the hand by means of buttonhole-stitch.
When a surface is covered with couching, as in the seeding of the flower in the sampler, Illustration 46 (Laid-Work Sampler), the sewing down stitches make a pattern - all the plainer there, because the stitching is in a contrasting shade of colour. It is quite per-
missible to call attention to the stitching when there is some artistic advantage in so doing. To disguise it by sewing through the cord is not a workmanlike practice. A worker should frankly accept a method of work. There is character to be got out of it.
Embroidresses have a clever way of untwisting a cord before each stitch and twisting it again after stitching through it - between the strands. This device by which the stitching is lost to sight is rather too clever. It shows a cord with no visible means of attachment to the ground, which is not desirable, however much desired. There is no advantage in attaching cords to the surface of silk so that they look as if they had been glued on to it. Conjuring tricks are highly amusing, but one does not think very highly of conjurers. Personally, I would much rather have seen more plainly the way the cord is sewn down in the graceful cross in Illustration 51 (A. Bullion. B. Couched Cord), a design perfectly adapted to couching, and yet unlike the usual thing.
Where it is softish silk which is stitched down, it makes a great difference whether it is loosely held and tightly sewn, or the contrary. Contrast the short puffy lines nearest the corners in the sampler, Illustration 52 (Couching Sampler), with the longer ones between the broad and narrow bands. The broad band is worked in rows of double filoselle, of various shades, sewn down with single filoselle. In the narrower bands twisted silk is sewn down with stitches in the direction of its twist. This is more plainly seen in the upper of the two bands, where the sloping stitches are lighter in colour than the cord sewn down.
Characteristic use is made of rather puffy couching in the ornament of the lady's dress in Miss Keighley's panel, Illustration 61 (Applique Panel By Miss Keighley.), where it has
very much the richness of embroidery in seed pearls.
It was a common practice in Germany in the sixteenth century to work in solid couching upon cloth, employing a twisted thread and sewing it with stitches in the direction of the twist, so that at first sight one does not recognise it as couching. It looks like rather coarse stitching in the direction of the forms, and expresses shading very well. The cloth ground accounts, perhaps, for the choice of method : the material is not otherwise a pleasant one to embroider upon.
A rather earlier German method was to couch in parallel lines of white upon white linen, and so get relief and texture but no modelling, though the drawing was helped by varying the direction of the parallel lines.
The entire surface of a linen ground was sometimes covered with couched threads of silk or fine wool - some of it in vertical and horizontal lines, some of it in the direction of the pattern. This, again, was a German practice, as may be seen in the Hildesheim Cope at South Kensington.
All-over couching may be used with advantage to renew the ground of embroidery so worn as to be unsightly ; and it is more lasting than laid-work for the purpose. It is laborious to do, but more satisfactory when done than remounting; and one or the other is sometimes a necessity. The effect of age is, up to a certain point, pleasing: rags are not.
Couching, however (except with gold), was more commonly used for outlining, and is quite peculiarly suited to give a firm line. A beautiful example of outline work in coloured silk upon white linen is pictured in Illustration 98 (Simple Couching On Linen), in which the lines of delicate Renaissance arabesque are perfectly preserved. The rare practice of such work as
this, notwithstanding its distinguished appearance, is sufficiently accounted for by its modesty. It wants well-considered and definitely drawn design. There is no possible fudging with it.
The value of a couched cord as an outline to stitching (satin-stitch in this instance) is shown in Illustration 99 (Renaissance Ornament), in which the singularly well-schemed and well-drawn lines of the ornament are given with faultless precision. This is a portion of an altogether admirable frame to an altogether foolish picture in needlework, of which a fragment only is shown.
The appropriateness of couched cord to the outlining of inlay or of applique is seen in the two examples which form Illustration 62 (A. Counterchange). In the one (A) it defines the clear-cut counterchange pattern; in the other (B), being of a tint intermediate between the ground and the ornament, it softens the contrast between them. An interesting technical point in the design of this last is the way the cord outlining the leaves makes a sufficiently thick stalk, coming together, as it naturally does, double at the ends of the leaves.
This occurs again in Illustration 63 (Applique - Silk On Silk Damask), where the double threads which form the stalks, though separately stitched down, are couched again at intervals by bands crossing the two - at the springing of the stalks and tendrils, for example, where joins inevitably occur. The cords forming the central stalk are in one case looped.
Fantastic use has often been made of the looping of couched cord. The Spanish embroiderers made most ornamental use of a wee loop at the points of the leaves where the cord must turn ; but the device of looping may easily be used to frivolous purpose. A regularly looped line at once suggests lace. A perplexing Chinese practice is to couch fine cord in little loops so close together that they touch. A surface filled in after this manner, as in the butterflies on Illustration 53 (Couching In Looped Threads), might pass at first sight for French knots or chain-stitch : it is really another method of all-over couching.
A double course of couching forms the outline in Illustration 100 (Leaf Treatment In Applique), one of filoselle and one of cord, separately sewn ; but the tendrils, which are of silver thread, are sewn down, both threads at a time, with double stitches, very obvious in the illustration. Over the couched silver threads which form the main rib of the leaf a pattern is stitched in silk.
A propos of couching, mention must be made of a
way of working used in the famous Syon Cope by way of background (Illustration 54 (Reverse Couching)). The ground stuff is linen, twofold, and it is worked in silk, which lies nearly all upon the surface. The stitch runs from point to point of the zigzag pattern; there it penetrates the stuff, is carried round a thread of flax laid at the back of the material, and is brought to the surface again through the hole made by the needle in passing down. That is to say, the silken thread only dips through the linen at the points in the pattern, and is there caught down by a thread of flax on the under-surface of the linen. The reverse of the work (Illustration 55 (Reverse Couching (Back))) shows a surface of flax threads couched with silk, for which reason the method may be described as reverse couching. On the face it gives an admirable surface diaper, flat without being mechanical. It is easily worked with a blunt needle; with a sharp one there would be a danger of splitting the stitch. It is a kind of work on which two persons might be employed, one on either side of the stuff.