Stitch of the Month
January 2004: Introduction 

by Ann Strite-Kurz


This year's Stitch of the Month program will feature stitches that combine well with laidwork foundations to produce interesting couching patterns. Laidwork, or rows of tramé, are extremely versatile since the arrangements can be one-way (vertical, horizontal or diagonal) or two-way (with perpendicular rows in vertical and horizontal directions or in diagonal directions). Two-way patterns with vertical and horizontal laid rows usually form square networks whereas patterns with diagonal two-way patterns normally form diamond networks. It is also possible to lay perpendicular oblique rows to create elongated diamond frameworks. I have even combined square networks with compatible diamond networks in a few patterns, and although these layers are usually the foundation of a pattern, I have occasionally added them as top layers as well.

A traditional couching pattern is a minimum of two steps. First the laid rows are placed and then the long unstable rows must be secured with an arrangement of couching stitches, or what I commonly refer to as 'tiedown' stitches. These are usually taken at regulated intervals to produce a pattern with even repeats. Below are four examples of one-way laidwork arrangements with the recommended sequences indicated. Each example has parallel rows of even spacing in only one direction. The lettered sequences indicate that the rows are laid back and forth from top to bottom until the area is filled except for Example 2 which is laid left to right. No couching stitches are shown.

Ex. 1
Example 1: 
 One-Way Horizontal Sequence

Ex. 2
Example 2:
One-Way Vertical Sequence

Ex. 3
Example 3:
  One-Way Diagonal Sequence
Ex. 4
Example 4:
  One-Way Reversed Diagonal Sequence

With two-way arrangements, normally all of the rows in one direction are laid first as Step 1. All of the rows in the opposing direction are laid next as Step 2. These are followed by the Step 3 couching stitches, which are usually placed over the junctions where the perpendicular rows intersect. The reason for laying all the rows in one direction before the reverse rows are laid is to keep the top layer consistent. If every overlapping intersection is tied down with a couching stitch, this order is not important, but some patterns leave exposed tramé threads, so the use of a systematic sequence will make any visible crossed intersections identical.

The Step 1 rows must be seated firmly to enable the Step 2 rows to lie straight on top of the first layer, especially if the laid thread is a cord or twisted thread instead of a flat ribbon or braid. If either row is loose, it is harder to place the couching stitches accurately, so keep the tension taut throughout the procedure. Below is a pair of examples of two-way patterns with continuous sequences as if both layers are executed in the same thread. A different thread could also be used for each layer to produce an atypical appearance, but any trellis or lattice effect from the perpendicular rows would be less apparent without matching threads.

Ex. 5
Example 5:
 Two-Way Arrangement of Horizontal and Vertical Rows - a Square Network.

Ex. 6
Example 6:
 Sequence for Two-Way Square Network 

Ex. 7
Example 7:
Two-Way Arrangement of Diagonal
 Rows - a Diamond Arrangement

Ex. 8
Example 8:
Sequence for Two-Way
 Diamond Network 

A simple change in the number of canvas threads between the laid rows, in the stitch used for the couching or in the spacing between the tiedown stitches can alter the basic framework of a pattern dramatically to produce interesting variations. In the monthly selections planned, I will feature a number of such 'mutations' to demonstrate how these changes affect the original arrangement. In addition, other accents can be placed in the remaining open areas when the spaces between the laid rows are large enough. Substitutions in these added accents offer further opportunities to form different solid or open composite patterns from a single arrangement of laid rows.

In two-way patterns, the vertical and horizontal rows are easy to arrange because they are placed in open channels, making it is easy to 'read' the canvas around them. Diagonal rows are a bit more challenging since they straddle intersections and impair your ability to count the spaces between the rows somewhat. Later I am planning to introduce some concepts that make it easier to lay these rows accurately without tedious counting; however, it is not feasible to use these unconventional methods in most situations so I will start with patterns that use traditional approaches to the laidwork.

Historically these patterns are associated with silk and metal embroidery and with crewel embroidery as laid fillings, but they are especially beautiful on canvas since it is easy to arrange the elements evenly on a counted grid. Although a metallic is generally chosen for the laid rows to produce an elegant effect, I also find other threads very useful and effective. My two current favorites are the velours (Rainbow Gallery's Very Velvet, available in two weights, and Fleur de Paris's Fine Velour) and Sparkle Rays. The fine velour forms a nice ridge and the Sparkle Rays is a flat matte ribbon with metallic highlights that comes in two sizes and a large range of colors. Ultrasuede strips, Ribbon Floss, Neon Rays, Fyre Werks and other Kreinik metallic ribbons are particularly useful for laidwork on 18-count canvas.

As discussed earlier, an unusual feature about laidwork is that the long stitches are laid back and forth rather than wrapped like most regular stitches. This approach is more economical when expensive metallics are used, but an added advantage is the elimination of unnecessary bulk on the back that would either show in the open areas or interfere with later stitches. On the other hand, such a minimal backing makes it difficult to bury the starting and ending tails of the tramé rows. However, the couching stitches usually provide an adequate traveling path for securing these tails so simply park them until this later step is completed.

One key reason why I like to use couching patterns in my work is that they fit comfortably within even irregular shapes as long as simple couching stitches and accents are used that compensate gracefully. When I stitch geometric designs, I can actually control the size of the shapes and make them fit the patterns in a manner that avoids any awkward compensation, so it is possible to use fancy stitches inside symmetrical shapes. For irregular shapes, however, I keep it simple, but the patterns can still look intricate when several different uncomplicated treatments are combined in a couching pattern.

With two-way patterns, I also try to visually center the pattern so that the viewer's eye is drawn towards a center square or diamond, making the partial repeats along the edge less conspicuous. Again it is easy to do this with symmetrical shapes like circles but even irregular shapes can be divided in half horizontally and vertically. Below are two views of the same leaf. In the first view I drew vertical and horizontal lines that divide the main body of the leaf in half in both directions, ignoring the tapered end. The point where the two lines intersect marks an approximation of the visual center of the shape since an exact measurement is not possible. The second view shows a square network placed inside the same leaf with one square centered around the intersecting point. This extra effort to center a repeat within irregular shapes not only makes the pattern appear comfortable, it generally makes more whole repeats visible in every direction. The essence of pattern is repetition and 3-4 repeats in at least one direction are needed to make a pattern appropriate for a given shape.

Leaf w/Intersecting Lines
View 1: Leaf with Intersecting Lines 
Leaf w/Centered Square Network
View 2: Leaf with Centered Square Network

Important Note: Since most of the patterns in the Stitch of the Month program for 2004 will have laid foundations, I decided to provide examples of the technique in the introduction so that the method of laying the rows is clear. Hereafter, the sequences for the laidwork will be provided only when the order is unusual. Otherwise, these rows will be laid first using the back-and-forth method, and the sequences will begin with the couching stitches.

This completes the introduction.
Click here to continue to the January Stitch of the Month:
Burden Stitch and Variations.

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