A good workwoman will not encumber herself with too many tools; but she will not shirk the expense of necessary implements, the simplest by preference, and the best that are made.
Embroidery needles should have large eyes : the silk is not rubbed in threading them, and they make way for the thread to pass smoothly through the stuff. For working in twisted silk, the eye should be roundish ; for flat silk, long; for surface stitching or interlacing, a blunt "tapestry needle" is best; for carrying cord or gold thread through the stuff, a "rug needle."
For a thimble, choose an old one that has been worn quite smooth.
For scissors, be sure and have a strong, short, sharp and pointed pair - the surgical instrument, not the fancy article. Nail scissors would not be amiss but for the roughness of the file on the blades.
For pins, use always steel ones; and for tacks, those which have been tinned; or they will leave their mark behind them.
For a frame, get the best you can afford; a cheap one is no economy; but a stand for it is not always necessary. It should be rather wider than might seem necessary, as the work should never extend to the full width of the webbing. A tambour frame is also useful, even though you have no intention of doing tambour work.
In stretching silk (not backed with linen) upon a frame, some preliminary care is necessary. The stuff should first be bordered with strips of linen or strong tape, and into the two sides of this border which are to be laced up a stout string should be tacked, to prevent it from giving when the work is drawn tight.
The way to put embroidery material (thus bordered or not) into a frame is : first to sew it to the webbing (top and bottom), then to put the laths or screws into the bars, tightening them evenly, and lastly to lace it to the sides with fine string and a packing needle.
Frames To Stretch Silk
The ordinary ways of transferring a design to embroidery material are well known : the outline may be traced down with a point over transfer paper; it may be pricked upon paper and pounced upon the stuff in chalk or charcoal, and then traced in with a brush or pen ; or it (still the outline only) may be stencilled. In any case, the outline marked upon the stuff should be well within what is to be the actual outline of the embroidery when worked. Another way, more peculiarly adapted to needlework, is to trace the outline in ink upon fine tarlatan (leno muslin will do for very coarse work), and, having laid this down upon the stuff, to go over the lines again with a ruling pen and Indian ink or colour. On a light stuff it is possible to use, instead of a pen, a hard pencil. On a dark material one must use Chinese white, to which it is well to add, not only a little gum (arabic), but a trace of ox-gall, to make it work easily. One gets by this method naturally rather a rotten line upon the ground-stuff, but it is enough for all practical purposes.
Delicate work is easily rubbed and soiled in the working. It is only reasonable precaution to protect it by a veil or covering of thin, soft, white, glazed lining, tacked round the edges on to the stuff. On this you mark the four lines enclosing the actual embroidery, and, cutting through three of them, you have a flap of lining, which you raise and turn back when you are at work. If the work is very delicate, you may make instead of one flap a succession of little ones ; but you see then only a portion of your work at a time, and cannot so well judge its effect.
In starting work, do not begin by making a knot in your thread ; run a few stitches (presently to be worked over) on the right side of the stuff. In finishing, you run them at the back of the stuff; for greater security still, one may end with a buttonhole-stitch.
Starting And Finishing
There is less danger of puckering the stuff if you hold it over two ringers (at least), keeping it taut and the thread loose.
Working without a frame, it often comes handiest to hold the stuff askew, and there is a natural inclination to pull it in that direction. This temptation must be resisted, or puckering is sure to result.
In working with double silk or wool, it is better not to double back a single thread, but to pass two separate threads through the eye of the needle. The four threads (where these are turned back near the eye) make way through the stuff for the double thread, which passes easily; moreover, the thread by this means is not pulled too tight, and the effect is richer.
The stitch wants always adaptation to the work it has to do. In working a curved line, for example, say in herring-bone-stitch, one is bound always to take up a larger piece of stuff on its outside than on its inner edge.
When a thread runs short, it is better not to go on working with it, but to take another; and, in finishing off, remember to run the thread in the direction opposite to that from which you are going to run the new one. In starting the new stitch, you naturally bring your needle out as if it were a continuation of that last made.
If your work is faulty, cut it out and do it again. Unpicking is not so satisfactory : it loosens the stuff to drag the thread back through it, and the thread saved is of no further use. Beginners find it hard to undo work once done; but a really good needlewoman never hesitates about it - her one thought is to get the thing right. Don't break your thread ever: that pulls it out of condition : always cut it.
In working, it is well to keep strictly to the stitch you have chosen, but not to the point of bigotry. One may finish off darning, for example, at the edges with a satin-stitch. The thing to avoid is fudging. Moreover, stitches should be laid right at once; there should be no boggling and botching, no working-over with stitches to make good - that is not playing fair.
When the needlework is done, do not finish it with a flat iron. That finishes it in more senses than one. But suppose it is puckered ? In that case, stretch it and damp it. To do this, first tack on to it (as explained on page 263) a frame of strong tape. Then, on a drawing-board or other even wooden surface, lay a piece of clean calico, and on that, face downwards, the embroidery, and, slightly stretching it, nail it down by the tape with tin-tacks rather close together. If now you lay upon it a damp cloth, the embroidery will absorb the moisture from it, and when that is removed, should dry as flat as it is possible to get it.
A rather more daring plan is to damp the back of the stuff with a wet sponge. The work, instead of being nailed on to a board, may just as well be laced to a frame by the tape. In the case of raised embroidery there must be between it and the wood, not a cloth merely, but a layer of wadding.
The damping above described may take the form of a thin paste or stiffening but upon silk or other such material this wants tenderly doing.
One last word as to thoroughness in needlework. Those who have really not time to do much, should be satisfied with simple work. The desire to make a great show with little work is a snare. Ladies make protest always, " There is too much work in that." Well, if they are not prepared to work, they may as well give themselves up to their play. There was no labour shirked in the old work illustrated in these pages ; and nothing much worth doing was ever done without work, hard work, and plenty of it. Should that thought frighten folk away, they may as well be scared off at once. Art can do very well without them.