The necessity for something like what is called "LAID-WORK" is best shown by reference to satin-stitch. It was said in reference to it that satin-stitches should not be too long. There is a great deal of Eastern work in which surface satin-stitch, or its equivalent, floats so loosely upon the face of the stuff that it can only be described as flimsy. Nothing could be more beautiful in its way than certain Soudanese embroidery, in which coloured floss in stitches an inch or more long lies glistening on the stuff without any interruption of threads to fasten it down.
Embroidery of this kind, however, hardly comes within the scope of practical work. Long, loose stitches want sewing down. Some compromise has to be made between use and beauty. The problem is to make the work strong enough without seriously disturbing its lustrous surface, and the solution of it is "laid-work," at which we arrive thus almost of necessity.
It involves no new stitch, but is only another way of using stitches already described. In laid-work, long tresses of silk, as William Morris called
them, floss by preference, are thrown backwards and forwards across the face of the stuff, only just dipping into it at the edges of the forms, and up again. These silken tresses are then caught down and kept, I will not say close to the ground, but in their place upon it, by lines of stitching in the cross direction.
Laid-work is not, at the best, a very strong or lasting kind of embroidery (it needs to be carefully covered up even as it is worked); but by no other means is the silky beauty of coloured floss so perfectly set forth. It is hardly worth doing in anything but floss.
Laid-work lends itself also to gradation of colour within certain limits - the limits, that is to say, of the straight parallel lines in which the floss is laid ; the direction of these is determined often by the lines of sewing which are to cross them. In any case the direction of the threads is here more than ever important. The sewing down must take lines and may form a pattern.
The sampler, Illustration 46 (Laid-Work Sampler), wants little or no explanation. It illustrates the various ways of laying. In the leaf the floss is sewn down with split-stitch, which forms the veining. Elsewhere it is kept in place by "couching," a process presently to be described (page 122). For the outlines, split-stitch and couching are employed. The last row of laid work in the grounding is purposely pulled
out of the straight by the couching in order to give a waved edge. The diaper which represents the seeding of the flower is not, properly speaking, laid-work : separate threads of white purse silk are one by one couched down with dark.
For the transverse stitching, for which also it is best to use floss, either split-stitch may be used, as in the leaf in the sampler, Illustration 46 (Laid-Work Sampler), or a thread may be laid across and sewn down - couched, that is to say - as in the flower. The closer the cross lines the stronger the work, but the less lustrous the effect.
Laid floss may be employed to glorify the entire surface of a linen material, as in the sampler, or for the pattern only, as in Illustrations 47, 48, 49, if the ground is worth showing.
Laid-work will not give anything like modelling, and it is not best suited to figure design, except where it is quite flatly treated. An instance of its use in figure work occurs in Illustration 79 (Fifteenth-Century Figure Work). It is effective when quite naively and simply used in cross lines which do not appear to take any account of the forms crossed - as, for example, in Illustration 47 (Japanese Laid-Work), where the stitching does not pretend to express more than a flat surface. The floss, however, is there carefully laid at a different angle of inclination in each petal, so as to give variety of colour. The lines of sewing vary according to the lines of the laid floss, but do not cross them at right angles. The important thing is, of course, that they should
catch the laid " tresses" at intervals not too far apart. If the lines which sew down the floss have also to express drawing, as in the case of the bird's wings in Illustration 48 (Indo-Portuguese Laid-Work), the underlying floss must be laid in such a direction that they will cross it. In the case of the leaves in the same piece of work, the floss is laid in the direction in which the leaf grows, and the stitching across, which sews it down, is slightly curved so as to suggest roundness in them.
A more finished piece of work is shown in Illustration 49 (Italian Laid-Work), where the laid floss crosses the forms, and the sewing down takes very much the place of veining in the flower, and of ribs in the scroll, expressing about as much modelling as can be expressed this way, and more, perhaps, than it is advisable often to attempt.
The sewing down asserts itself most, of course, when it is in a colour contrasting with the laid floss, as it does in the leaves in the smaller sampler overleaf (50).
The stitching down makes usually a pattern more or less conspicuous. On this same sampler it does so very deliberately in the case of the broad stalk. The rather sudden variation of the colour shown there in the leaves is harmless enough in bold work, to which the process is best suited. One may be too careful in gradating the tints : timidity in this respect prevails too much among modern needlewomen: an artist in floss
should not want her work to look like a gradated wash of colour. The Italians of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries (Illustration 49 (Italian Laid-Work)) were not afraid of rather abrupt transition in the shades of colour they used for laid-work.
When laid floss is kept in place by threads themselves sewn down across it, such threads are
called "couched," and the work itself may be described as laid and couched. Hence arises some confusion between the two methods of work - laying and couching. It saves confusion to make a sharp distinction between the two - using the term " laid " only for stitches (floss) first loosely laid upon the surface of the stuff and then sewn down by cross lines of stitching of whatever kind, and " couched " for the sewing down of cords, etc. (silk or gold), thread by thread or in pairs. Laid floss is sewn down en masse, couched silk in single or double threads. Accordingly laid-work answers best for surface covering, couched work for outlining, except in the case of gold, which even for surface covering is always couched.