Stitch of the Month
February 2004: Pattern Couching

by Ann Strite-Kurz

In silk and metal embroidery, pattern couching is a specific type of couching where the couching stitches form small-scale patterns over the horizontal laid rows of Japanese gold. Most patterns use scattered arrangements of simple geometric repeats or familiar shapes like hearts or fleur de lis, but more complex arrangements may have alternating motifs in several colors. If a more random flower shape or larger figure is formed with this type of technique, it is usually referred to as or nué. 

In or nué, dense colored stitches are used to establish the design motifs and fine gold couching stitches are used to hold the heavier gold laid threads in the background areas. These stitches are always staggered in alternating rows to form a "bricked" arrangement. Stranded silk floss is normally used for the design motifs, and these colored stitches are heavy enough to touch adjacent stitches and completely cover the laid threads underneath.

Both of the traméd brick stitches that were introduced in the January Stitch of the Month can be used to form examples of pattern couching on canvas. The solid traméd brick stitch will produce a dense pattern that is closer in appearance to the actual fabric technique, and the individual brick stitches will appear square since the tips sink under the laid thread at both ends. The same pattern in an open traméd brick arrangement will be the same width but the wider spaces between the laid rows will make the pattern motifs more elongated and the brick tiedown stitches will be completely visible. The examples that follow show the same simple band of diamond outlines interpreted in both stitches.

Example 2. Open Tram?d Brick 
Example 1. Traméd Brick

   Charted View
Charted View


 Example 1. Tram?d Brick 
Example 2. Open Traméd Brick

   ?Charted View
 Charted View

In the open version, it is more difficult to keep the stitches upright. The longer distances between the stitches in pattern couching causes them to lean more, but in the solid version, the stitch ends are covered by the laid threads, making any lean less conspicuous. The use of adequate strands for full coverage will usually eliminate this, but the sample presented is in velour which does not completely fill the holes on 18-count canvas. The laidwork in all of the examples is a #16 Kreinik cord. This metallic has a gorgeous sheen. It is also slightly heavier than the regular braids in the same size so it fits 18-count perfectly for pattern couching.

NOTE: I contemplated replacing this distorted sample with one with ideal coverage after viewing it in the magnified view presented.  However, I decided to leave it in order to show you the inherent hazards of executing these open versions with threads that do not fill the holes.  In velour these stitches look like little caterpillars but even they are not this crooked when they crawl!!

To execute patterns like this in the solid version, use the same procedure of adding one horizontal laid row at a time followed by the row of horizontal couching stitches. Always lay the couching stitches in the same direction as the laid row to keep it flat and smooth. In other words, if a thread is laid from left to right, start stitching at its left end when you couch that laid thread. Two or more needles are needed, depending on the pattern, so it is important to keep the threaded needles on top of the canvas and never dangling underneath. Use stranded floss in either cotton or silk for the couching stitches and lay them in smooth side-by-side strands with a laying tool.

Start with an away knot for each couching thread rather than a waste knot. An away knot is a knotted starting tail that is parked away from the pattern area so that it is not covered or trapped as the stitches are laid. This tail needs to be at least twice the length of the needle so that it can be rethreaded and secured later. Park it in an area that will be covered later (or in a shared hole at the edge of a completed area) in order to avoid enlarging holes that will be left exposed if the design has open areas. A waste knot is parked ahead of the starting row (and preferably in alignment) so that it is wrapped and covered as the pattern emerges. Once the tail has been adequately secured, the knot is snipped on the back so that it does not interfere with later stitches.

I prefer to end these tails within the same color after the pattern is completed. This postponement enables you to spread out the ending tails better and avoid excess bulk in any one area. I also try to park each working needle in the next entry hole if it can be anticipated. This is less predictable in the solid version, so simply park these "idle" needles a few threads below the row being worked to avoid having them snagged by other working threads. 

Below are two simple patterns to stitch as practice samples in the traméd brick technique. Example 3 is a diaper arrangement of the same open diamond motif used in the solid band (Example 1). Instead of using a fine gold couching thread for the "blending" gold brick stitches, consider substituting a second color for these stitches as I did in my sample. A multicolor braid could also be used for the metallic layer with the patterning stitched in two of these colors. Two values of one of these colors can also be attractive.

Example 3. Tram?d Brick Diaper of Diamond Outlines
Example 3. Traméd Brick Diaper of Diamond Outlines

 ?Charted View 
 Charted View

Example 4 is a second diaper arrangement. This time there are small diamonds in between the larger diamond outlines so three colors or values are needed for the couching threads. Having long traveling threads on the back of this pattern is unavoidable but keep the back side as tidy as possible.

Example 4. Tram?d Brick Diaper of Alternating Diamond Outlines with Small Diamonds.
Example 4. Traméd Brick Diaper of Alternating Diamond Outlines with Small Diamonds.  

 ?Charted View
 Charted View

Examples 3 and 4 could also be stitched as open patterns. The inevitable "distortion" of the original pattern in an open version of traméd brick makes it somewhat harder to anticipate how a pattern will appear if you are adapting a charted pattern to the open version. The larger elongated interpretations are also a bit harder to use in a design since the vertical repeats are longer. However, "surprises" can be fun, and designing such patterns from scratch can lead to dramatic interpretations like the next one. Notice that in this "unconventional" pattern, the tiedown stitches are not limited to just brick stitches. The main motif is outlined in pairs of brick stitches but the accents use cross stitches and Gobelin stitches.

Example 5. Unconventional Pattern in Open Tram?d Brick.? 
Example 5. Unconventional Pattern in Open Traméd Brick

Thread Identification. In the stitched sample above, a red-orange Sparkle Rays braid is used for Step 1. A golden-yellow Petite Very Velvet thread is used for Step 2 and a #8 red pearl cotton is used for Step 3. The sample is shown on an 18-count black canvas.

 Charted View
Charted View


Step 1. This time all of the horizontal laid rows are completed as Step 1. These stitches are 32 threads wide and there are 7 rows that are two threads apart. Please refer to the directions for open traméd brick in January Stitch of the Month, if needed.

Step 2. The main framework of elongated diamonds is established with the usual brick stitches but an outline approach is used for the sequence that enables the left half of the diamond to be executed first with pairs of stitches in each horizontal row. This side is a downhill path and the mirrored side is connected with an uphill path. Notice that the traveling path between rows always carries the thread behind the patterning. This is achieved by changing the order of the pair of stitches when the direction of the outline changes (as done at I and J and again at W and X). I ran out of letters after Z so the last two stitches are marked AA and BB.

 Step 2 Sequence Chart
Step 2 Sequence Chart

Notice that the stitch directions reverse between O and P. This could have been done between N and O but the traveling path will not show between O and P because it will be covered by Stitch Q. Therefore this is a better option. At the top of the shape, the stitch direction changes again between AA and BB (where the path will be concealed by Stitch Z). This shift enables the traveling thread to travel behind the laid thread to get to the next diamond which starts with another Stitch A. Repeat the same A-BB sequence to add the second diamond outline.

Step 3. This step adds an X shape between the elongated diamonds and a small diamond with a cross center to the inside open area of each elongated diamond. This sequence is actually a maze path that connects all of the red elements in an efficient, continuous path that conceals the traveling threads. The side areas have partial figures of the large X so the sequence begins on the left side with a back stitch path for a-d. From d the middle stitch is taken in the lower half first as e, and a pivot stitch occurs at f to enable the thread to return to the center on g. Stitch h is added as a back stitch and then the thread travels to i behind a laid thread. The underneath stitch of the cross is executed next and then the thread travels south and connects k and l with a running stitch path. Finally the thread returns to the center and adds m and n to complete this figure before traveling to o (again behind the laid row). 

NOTE: There is no tension on stitches k and l where the traveling path passes behind the cross. The outside ends of both stitches are snugly wrapped with adequate tension, however, and they are more conspicuous. When I cannot avoid an inconsistency, I place it either in a shared hole or next to another stitch where it is less obvious, and this option is usually available with a little creativity. In this case, switching to the running stitch row enabled me to connect all of the stitches as well as solve this potential problem in an acceptable way.

 Step 3 Sequence Chart 
Step 3 Sequence Chart

The whole X shape begins in the middle at o and then adds the lower left side of the shape followed by the upper right side (p-u). Pivots occur at q, and stitch r was skipped to enable the thread to travel back to the center after q. After u the thread travels behind the laid row to v (another pivot) and then adds the upper left side of the shape and the bottom right half (v-A after z). Similar pivots occur at z, and A is skipped to enable the thread to travel back to the center again to complete the cross at B.

The second small diamond is executed in the same rhythm as the first one but the stitch directions are reversed in stitches C-H because stitch B ended below the laid row. The same principles are applied to the mirrored "half X" shape along the right edge of the pattern, but again the order is reversed in I-P because the sequence starts in the middle rather than at the top of the shape.

Because this pattern is a small symmetrical band, an orderly maze path could be developed that works efficiently, but such a haphazard approach is less practical for a pattern within a free-form shape. The same pivots and "skipped stitch" concepts can be applied to the sequences, however, to enable you to travel within the patterning instead of only along the outside edge.

The concept of combining the brick stitches with other stitches that straddle two threads within the same laidwork pattern adds a new dimension to pattern couching as well. Such options expand the number of potential variations that can be formed from a single main framework, so have fun exploring this concept!

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