How Couching is "Worked - Its Use and Application - Couching Gold and Silver Thread - Laid
It is a useful form of embroidery for various purposes. Applique work is usually fixed to the ground material by means of a couched outline ; it can be used for attaching cord outlines, and is essential where gold or silver thread is in use.
Couching. A. The simplest method. B. The use of herring-bone stitch in couching
As in the above examples, couching is generally used to outline a design, but it may also be employed to cover over a background, or as an open filling to a leaf, flower, or bird. To work it a frame is necessary, as a rule, though there is a pretty method of buttonholing the thread which can be worked in the hand.
The simplest way of couching is shown in the first illustration. Here two strands are first threaded in. a needle and brought up at the required spot - for example, at the base of a leaf. A second needleful is then threaded with one strand only, of some contrasting colour, and short stitches are taken across and across the first threads at regular intervals. Care must be taken on turning a sharp corner, such as the apex of a leaf, to preserve its pointed character.
A second row of couching inside the first is often very effective, and the short crossing stitches should then be taken between each of those in the preceding row.
Diagram B shows another way of attaching the threads with a herringbone stitch ; and a third way has already been mentioned - namely, a row of buttonhole stitch. If a second or third row is added, each should be worked into the heading of the preceding row.
In working an open filling in couch stitch there is great scope for ingenuity. The long lines may be taken across the leaf, etc., so as to make small squares, diamonds, or oblongs, and these can be caught down in a variety of ways by crossing stitches, and the intervening spaces afterwards filled with tiny recurring designs.
Couching has been used ever since gold or silver thread has been employed in embroidery, for, since the material was too valuable to waste, it has always all been displayed upon the front of the material. The nature, also, of the thread prevents it being drawn through more than is absolutely necessary at the beginning or end of a row, so some form of stitching had to be devised to hold the thread in place, and, being there, to treat it frankly as part of the scheme of decoration. Various colours can be used for the purpose, and each has its influence in modifying the colour of the gold or silver thread. Silk of their own colour, yellow or silver, of course modifies the colouring least; red gives gold warmth, and green coolness.
It has always been a convention to use two threads at once in working gold or silver thread, so that in describing the methods of couching it must always be understood that the stitches cover two strands.
In the sampler of couched stitches shown in the second illustration two examples of pattern stitches are given in the two upper drawings. In the first, to the left, the stitches form a series of zigzags or chevrons ; in the second, groups of diamond shapes are arranged at regular intervals.
The two lower diagrams show two methods of interlacing gold threads over a padding made of white threads, laid first upon the material and afterwards covered with gold silk, so that the white does not show through. In the diagrams the underneath threads are shown in the two lower corners.
As a rule, gold thread is worked with each pair of threads closely touching the preceding row, but where the ground material is of brocade, or some other rich material, the threads are sometimes used more sparsely with a very beautiful effect. The gold threads may be slightly waved, which does away with any monotony in appearance.
This work is closely akin to both couching and satin stitch. It is really a way of getting over the difficulty of embroidering by laying long, loose strands of silk upon the surface of the material. It is obvious that as soon as a satin stitch is prolonged beyond a certain length it must be held down to the material in some way so as to preserve it. But at best this method of working is not very durable, and should not be employed where the embroidery is likely to sustain hard usage. It is much used in Eastern embroideries, also in Italian and modern church work. It must always be worked in a frame.
Very beautiful effects can be obtained by using stout floss, the silkiest of the materials for embroidery. Indeed, it scarcely seems worth while to carry out laid work in any other material. The long threads of silk are thrown across the design, usually from side to side, though the direction may be varied at will. No silk shows on the back side, and the best way is to work each stitch, leaving sufficient space between to fill in with a second stitch afterwards, as was described in Article V. on satin stitch worked in a frame.
Variety in the colour of the silks may be introduced with good effect. Tulip shaped flowers, for example, may have their streaky character indicated Very happily in this fashion, and leaves may be worked with light and dark silk. A good deal of variety can also be shown in the short stitches which catch down the longer threads.
An interesting example is given in the third illustration of a spray from an embroidered robe in the Indian section of the Imperial Institute, which shows several ways of catching down the silk. The large round flower has long lines of silk raying towards the centre, confined by circles of silk, which in their turn are caught down at intervals by short crossing stitches.
In the third circle, counting from the centre, the silk runs round and round, and is kept down by pair stitches at regular intervals. The two inner circles are small enough not to require any catching down. The leaves have the outlines and veins made by couching lines, and the silk which fills them is held down by straight lines laid across it. Often, however, the lines branch out from the main rib, indicating the smaller veins. In the form which projects from behind the flower small crosses hold down the silk filling. Restoring a Background
A beautiful spray from an embroidered robe, showing several methods of catching down the silk
Laid work is a useful way of restoring an old and frayed background. There are two methods of repairing the damage of time, one by carefully cutting out the embroidery and applying it on to a fresh ground by means of a couched outline. The other is to back the embroidery with a fresh piece of strong material, and then to cover the background entirely with laid work, being careful to match the original shades.
If this latter precaution is not observed the result will be a failure, and the worker's time and skill will have been thrown away, since the difference between the old and the new work will be glaringly apparent. Indeed, it might have been wiser to have left the matter alone.