Monday, March 30, 2009

Needlepoint Lace III: How-To

Needlepoint lace is constructed over the top of a fabric, but only anchored to threads which are couched to that fabric. When the couching is cut away the whole piece is allowed to come free.

The book I learned from is the fantastic
Encyclopedia of Needlework by Therese de Dillmont passed down from my great, great grandmother.

While most books won't organize the information as being for needlepoint lace, you can find clear instructions about the two basic stitches– couching and buttonhole stitch– in any book on embroidery. If there are any terms you don't understand, by all means look it up!

image to turn into lace,
stiff fabric of a size to accommodate image,
fine-tipped permanent marker,
thread in all colors for design,
needle, and

1. Select a small, graphic, simple image for your first lace piece. In this example I drew one of my pet goldfish within a circle. Trace your image onto your fabric with a fine-tipped permanent marker. Starch the fabric heavily for ease of handling!

2. Couch a doubled thread to the outlines on your fabric. Plan to follow one long line if possible. Doubling back over a line is fine. Overlap the ends of the couched thread for an inch or so at joins. Because it is very easy to sew into the couching thread that will be cut away, try couching with a monofilament.

Goldfish filled with widely spaced buttonhole stitch for the scales, and widely spaced ceylon stitch for fins.

3. There are many options for what thread you can use. Tatting thread or linen thread are recommended because of their body. However, I have had great luck with doubled sewing thread and buttonhole twist. I cannot recommend cross stitch floss because it twists and tangles so much. Whatever you choose, the next step is to fill in the spaces between couching in variations on the buttonhole stitch. Let me emphasize that after you finish couching your needle never goes through the fabric again. Everything is worked on top of the fabric and anchored to the couched thread. Hide all of your ends in the couched edges if possible and work over them with your next stitches. Above all, use your common sense!
buttonhole stitch single and in rows

Rather than giving you a step-by step I am including diagrams of both basic and exotic combinations. I have found that this is more a matter of experimentation than planning.
By varying the size of your stitches and skipping stitches you can achieve very different looks.
open chain stitch

Instead of beginning with a buttonhole stitch along the couching you might consider working an open chain for a different look.
ceylon stitch

Ceylon stitch lends a knitted feel to the filling. In the fish above, I employed a loose stitch for a ribbed feel. 

a netting stitch

Try these insertion stitches on a narrow area.

Another example of filling

4. Once all of the desired areas are filled with stitching (in this case I left an empty spot between the tail and body), block the piece by holding a steam iron about an inch away on full steam until the threads relax. Don't touch it until it is cool and dry.

5. Cut away the couching threads from the back of the work. Peel the lace away from the fabric carefully!

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