Stitch of the Month
August 2006: An alternative to the standard turkeywork technique

by Kathy Fenchel

Turkeywork creates a wonderful effect on canvas.  Used to create a fuzzy teddy bear,
the silky center of a flower, or a plush bumblebee body, turkeywork creates a wonderful tactile surface to any piece of needleart.

We all know what turkeywork looks like. It is thick and dense.  It resembles a rich pile rug, the fur trim on a coat, or a soft cuddly stuffed animal.  The question is, how is this effect achieved and what thread should be used?

Turkeywork or turkey tufting has become a generic term for a variety of stitches that all create the same basic effect.   The Ghiordes knot, the Surrey stitch and the Velvet stitch are a few of the traditional ones.  In addition there is my favorite...I have heard it called both the “lazy loop” and the “jump through the loop” stitch.  I confess that I don’t know nor have been able to find out the “official” name, but I do know that it is a very versatile alternative to the traditional turkeywork stitches!

If you are filling in a large area you can work the rows of this stitch back and forth, from left to right and then right to left.  It is easy to work with two needles if you want to use more than one color, or it is possible to completely skip an area and go back and fill it in later with a different color or thread.  The flexibility of this stitch is its’ major advantage. 

In the past, wool was the thread of choice for turkeywork.  But in reality, just about any thread will work.  If you choose to use a stranded thread, you do not have to strip it before you begin stitching.  Kreinik braid makes wonderful turkeywork! Overdye and variegated threads create an unusual effect.  But be aware that no matter what type of thread that you use, the color often changes once it becomes turkeywork!  So it is best to work up a little area in the margin of your canvas before you commit to a particular thread.

Generally it is best to begin in the upper left hand corner of the area that is being filled in with turkey work. The instructions below are written using this method. But, if you would prefer to start at the bottom and work your way up to the top, that’s fine too! Just remember that as you stitch, instead of holding the loops away from you, hold them towards you...it’s that simple!

To begin, anchor your thread in the area that you plan to fill with turkeywork. You will begin by bringing the needle up in a canvas hole and then take the needle right back down into the same hole, holding a loop of thread on top of the canvas as shown on the diagram below.

While you are holding the loop flat on the canvas, bring the needle back up to the top of your work in the hole that is one canvas thread below the loop, carry your needle through the loop, and take it to the back of the canvas using the hole that is one canvas thread above the loop. Refer to the diagram below. The first (of many!) turkeywork loops has now been completed! 

Continue making loops across the width of the area that is to be filled in with turkeywork as diagrammed below. Please note that you must leave one canvas hole, or two canvas threads, between each loop

The empty canvas hole between each loop.

Once you have completed the first row you can begin the second row as diagrammed by the aqua stitches below. You will be working from right to left. Please note that the second row of loops is offset one canvas thread from the previous row. The stitch that “jumps through the loop” comes up one canvas thread below the new loop and re-enters the canvas in the hole that was skipped in the previous row.

The third row of loops mimics the first row and so on.

Frequently asked questions concerning the loops:

How long should you make the loops?
I always recommend that the loops be long enough so that they aren’t hard to hold out of the way of the next row of stitching.  True, this wastes a lot of thread, but it reduces the aggravation factor!  If you make them too short in an effort to conserve thread they will be hard to hold flat and they will inevitably get in the way of the next row of loops!
Should all of the loops be the same length?
They should be approximately the same length but they do not have to be exactly the same length. Remember, you are going to be cutting the tops off of all of the loops.  If they are approximately the same length, the initial cut will be easier since you will be able to cut all of the loops more efficiently.  Occasionally a shorter loop doesn’t make the initial cut!

Once all of the loops have been made, it is time to make the first cut. The purpose of this first cut is to cut each loop so that it will be possible to begin brushing the thread.  Use small, very sharp scissors.  Hold the loops up straight with one hand and clip the tops off!  If your loops are too short to hold up and cut, then just slide the point of your scissors into the loops and cut.

Begin brushing the threads. This causes the threads to untwist or un-braid.  Bunca brushes work well for wool, but they are a little too rigid for any of the other threads that you may be using.  A Judy’s BooBoo Stick® is an excellent tool. You can also use an old toothbrush.  Don’t be afraid to brush enthusiastically!  It is the only way to break down the structure of the thread.

Once the threads begin to separate, trim them to a length that is a little longer than you want the finished product to appear.  Brush and trim the turkeywork, gently nipping at the threads until they begin to look fuller. The more you brush, the thicker your turkeywork will become.  You can then do the final “grooming” to sculpt the area to the appropriate shape. Many needlework stores sell scissors that have blades bent at an angle that makes it a little easier to trim your turkeywork.  These work well for the initial cuts. But as you brush, trim, and shape, you will find that it is more effective to use small embroidery scissors to get a sculpted look.

There are two schools of thought as to when turkeywork should be cut, either before the rest of the canvas has been stitched, or once the entire piece has been completed.   Trimming turkeywork is a messy business! Because you are trimming and brushing, the fibers of the threads get into everything.... including the other areas that have been stitched on your canvas.  If you cut it before you stitch any other area, it is very easy to get all of the excess fibers and fuzz off of the blank canvas, but the finished turkeywork may get in your way as you stitch the rest of the canvas.  On the other hand, if you wait until you have stitched everything else, you can then add the turkeywork and the bulk of it will not have gotten in your way.  Cover the canvas with plastic wrap and then carefully cut a hole in the plastic wrap around the turkeywork area. Cut, brush and trim as much as you can.  You will find that you cannot get as close as you would like if you do any sculpting around the outside edge of the turkeywork unless you remove the plastic wrap. And then the fibers will get into the areas that have been stitched! It’s one of many stitching dilemmas that just does not have a right or wrong answer!!!!

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