In progress: peony embroidery

I’ve had embroidery on the brain for a while now. I’ve been doing more thinking than stitching up to this point, and I’ve finally made some silk I’m happy with so I’ve started work on a project.

This is a sample for me to get my hand around working with the silk; by about the third petal, the silk was finally starting to talk to me and tell me how to work with it. I’ve looked at videos, read books – but I find with any tactile technique, having the actual stuff in my hands is the best teacher. This is about half the weight of the embroidery silk I had made previously; it’s four (instead of 8) of my forty-denier (or so) filaments, with a light twist that I can then work back out during the stitching. Dyes are Jacquard acids.

The peony underway. I started by drawing the peony freehand onto the silk, based on a piece embroidered by Young Yang Chung (photo taken from her book, below) and then stitching the outlines and starting to fill with long and short stitch. The main thing that took me a while, was figuring out that I could make LONG stitches… some of them an inch or more – to get the look I want. I’ve been looking at photos and actual pieces of Chinese and Korean embroidery, which is the look I’m after; they take some surprisingly long stitches, which brings a lot of sheen to the surface as the light reflects off the long silk.

The top two petals are before I had figured out how long the stitches wanted to be. The stitches are very short, and not nearly as satiny as the longer ones. It doesn’t look bad, but it looks… belabored. I went back in and “fixed” a couple of the petals, but the one on the top left, I haven’t. It mostly makes a difference in the optical blending of the colors.

THIS is what I want. It shimmers when you move it, the light reflects off the silk almost like it’s made of metal.

This is the model I based it on; it’s a photo from an illustration in a book (Yang Young Chang’s “Painting with a Needle”), which is a photo of an embroidered piece. So it’s a couple of generations removed (and I can’t sit and look at where the stitches go!) but it gives me the right places for the shades, and at least a sense of the angles. I want to figure out how to adapt photos of real flowers to do this; I did some experimentation with this a while back, and want to incorporate a more satiny long-stitch technique with that kind of realistic design.

0 replies
  1. webwawa
    webwawa says:

    sorry this is random
    but i was scrolling down my friend list
    and i thought for a brief second that “peony underway” was “pony underwear”! ;D

    that is really lovely, such smooth shapes

  2. byrne
    byrne says:

    Oh, so beautiful. I haven’t done any embroidery in years, but I think I’ll merely sit and admire yours.

    Gorgeous colors. Beautiful work.

  3. habibekindheart
    habibekindheart says:

    Beautiful. I’m a hands-on learner as well, so I know exactly where you’re coming from.

    It’s too bad you can’t make perle cotton…in silk…I needs it something awful. I’ve looked at trebizond but it says it’s between perle #8 and #5, and I need #5 AND #8 *sigh*

  4. admin
    admin says:

    You sure can make it in silk; it’s just a matter of getting the right amount of filament, and adding the right amount of twist. Unfortunately, they’re not going to be in the same kind of numbers as the perle cottons – silk is usually measured in deniers, and it’s a totally different scale. What’s your project?

  5. badgerpdx
    badgerpdx says:

    oh wow

    OK I had to try embroidery when I was doing my BFA in fibers/clay. It’s like anything else….very easy for it to be scary little old lady…But that tree peony on the bottom is outstanding. I love the blend from red to green in the petiole in the bottom of the screen. I admire it, if I really busted my ass to work at it, I’d probably be pretty good…but I daren’t open up one more pandora’s box of craft. I have enough yarn and fabric littering my house as it is.

  6. selkie_b
    selkie_b says:

    I so wish I had time to embroider more! I will get to yet this winter – I have a ritual skirt I need to finish for a friend. Needs some leaves and vines on it to go with the shisha mirrors and other embroidery (hand and machine) I’ve already done on it. Gotta finish knitting this BLASTED sock for my dad-in-law first *LAUGH* Been working on this pair for a YEAR already!!

    That is so gorgeous. Just wondering… do you sell any of your little skeins for embroidery?

  7. admin
    admin says:

    Hee… thanks!

    I’m intrigued with Japanese embroidery, but the more I read about it, the more it looks like I’m not constitutionally fit for it – it’s very, very structured, and I’m kind of organic and sloppy.

  8. admin
    admin says:

    I haven’t sold it – mainly because if I tried to sell it anywhere near market rates, I’d end up making about thirty cents an hour. I have occasionally done trade projects, but I’ve been tardy and a bad trade partner lately. Anything in particular that you’ve got in mind?

  9. admin
    admin says:

    Re: oh wow

    Hee. The one on the bottom is the model I’m studying from, of course…

    I totally understand about the just-one-more thing. Although, I do find that after a while, everything is related under the skin… the silk that I originally started twisting to brocade my tablet weaving, is perfect for embroidery; the colored pencils that I have for artwork will draw indelibly and clearly onto the fabric for design laying – I just need a couple more specific tools, like the frame, and I’ve got the rest.

  10. habibekindheart
    habibekindheart says:

    Well *I* can’t make it in silk. My yarn is still 5wpi so I can’t imagine trying to make thread yet 😉

    I have so much more to learn…

    I’m looking at doing a single hardanger project right now of my own design with fresh water pearls as accents. I’d love to do silk, particularly a variegated or shaded silk, but I don’t even know how to dye.

    Heck, I don’t even know why perle cotton is measured in the sizes it is…

  11. admin
    admin says:

    Looking at the counts of perle cotton, it’s probably related (somehow) to yarn count… the three is really chunky, the five medium-chunky, and the eight pretty fine, right?

    There are vendors who regularly stock 1000 denier and 1900 denier silk, which is probably close to what you’d want – but it would have to be dyed.

  12. selkie_b
    selkie_b says:

    *raises eyebrow* Me? have anything in mind? *GRIN* I might… I know exactly what you mean sewing, knitting, and spinning for pay…

    I actually have some fabric that made me think of you when I saw it – accurately depicted scenes of Japanese silk processing. It’s just cotton fabric, but there’s enough to make something like a largish pillow or bag out of it. Heh, thing is – we both knit, we both spin, do you sew as well?

    If you would be willing to barter for anything my email is visible to you on my profile page 🙂 It could be fun!

  13. san_simeon_girl
    san_simeon_girl says:

    Was just about to nudge you… long time no hear. This is stunning and I am very intrigued. Are you using a round hoop for this? What type of silk works best for this kind of work?

  14. habibekindheart
    habibekindheart says:

    I assume dying is pretty hard. I mean it looks easy, but I’d hate to screw up my first attempt on silk.

    Yeah, there’s 3, 5, 8, and 12. 12 is typically for tatting. It looks like thick regular thread.

    Is the silk 2 ply – shouldn’t be separated? I can easily find 12 strand variegated silk floss (and it’s beautiful) but it isn’t really useful for hardanger. You *can* use it, but it’s a real PITA compared to perle.

    I can get trebizond in a zillion colors now from nordic needle, and I might be able to use it on 28 count fabric, but what am I going to use for the weaving? They don’t have smaller perle. They say use Soie Perlee, if you want…but it’s too small and it’s silk threads, not perle. Plus, I’m not sure if the colors match up. I’m still researching but I have to read a zillion sites because they don’t make it easy.

    They never make it easy, darnit.

  15. admin
    admin says:

    I’m using a Q-snap square “hoop” – it really ought to be tacked or laced to a frame for the tension. I’m using flat silk; there are a lot of different silk threads that will work for shaded embroidery, but the traditional Asian styles mostly favor the flat silk because of its high sheen.

  16. admin
    admin says:

    I’m pretty sure the silk I’m thinking of is a two-ply thread, although many of them are three-ply because it makes a rounder thread. You can also get weaving yarns like 2/20 and 2/30 (which I think are close to ) – you might want to email Treenway Silks and get some samples. They have a lot of undyed silks, and some are dyed also.

    Matching Trebizond and Soie Perlee sounds like a challenging job. I would guess you’d be better off in one line.

  17. niamh_sage
    niamh_sage says:

    That’s beautiful! It’s amazing the nuances of colour you can get by the way you mix them through each other.

    My grandparents had a wonderful picture of a ship done by the same method – it shimmered in the way you describe, as if it’s metallic. I must ask my Mum where it is now. If it’s around when I go back to Australia, I’ll take a photo of it and blog it – it really is gorgeous and I’m sure there must be a story behind it.

    the silk was finally starting to talk to me and tell me how to work with it.

    I loved that.

  18. baron_rorik
    baron_rorik says:

    The Japanese Embroidery Center is located in Atlanta, GA

    My Lady, , took classes through the Smithsonian over a number of years. She treated it like unto a martial arts class in a formal dojo, but other students did not, being typical American embroidery people without the dojo background.

    Your examples are beautiful.

  19. admin
    admin says:

    yeah, I’ve looked at the JEC’s website, and contemplated their thread at great length (i.e., sat and carefully dissected a piece of it) and have looked in person at several people’s pieces from various levels – it’s not the fact that it’s formal that bothers me (or, I should say, doesn’t sit well with my way of thinking) – it’s the fact that so many things have to be measured and mathed. I took a class in Saga Nishiki weaving, and thoroughly enjoyed that, and it’s very formal – but it’s formal in a “hold your hands this way” type of fashion, not a “measure a seventeen degree angle” way.

  20. marith
    marith says:

    told me to go look at this post. The peony is astonishing enough, and then she pointed out that you made the silk. Um. This is me being slack-jawed over here.

    Why Jacquard acid dyes, if I may ask? Just curious because I’ve done some dyeing on silk with Procion and other coldwater dyes, but the heat requirements for the acid ones are intimidating. Do they work particularly well on silk threads in your experience?

  21. eressea
    eressea says:

    That is absolutely gorgeous! I may have to do some research and scribbling and come up with a pattern I can try out on the even-weave table cloths a friend gave me recently. It would be a nice change from cross stitch!

  22. admin
    admin says:

    Hee. Yup, made the silk – this is from purchased cocoons, because I go through about 4x as many cocoons as I raise in a year – and I want to do all my figuring-out work using the purchased ones before I start on the hand-raised ones.

    Acid dyes allow for the silk to be more translucent and give better sheen. Cold water dyes usually require soda ash, which can damage the silk fiber, making it dull or even brittle. The heat requirements aren’t really that bad – you have to simmer the thread in the dye stock for about 30 minutes, or you can use a microwave. I like the stove top best, myself – I have garage-sale sauce pans and kettles that I use for dyeing.

  23. admin
    admin says:

    It’s the new LiveJournal thing – anybody who has any “adult concepts” in their journal, it will mark every entry that way.

    I don’t often have adult entries, but from time to time I do, so I figured that it was easier to cover my behind, than to not.

  24. admin
    admin says:

    It’s filament silk that I reeled from cocoons. The threads that I was using for models, were Soie Platte and the Japanese Flat Silk.

    And thanks!

  25. fabricdragon
    fabricdragon says:

    woah. i would love to do that, but if i start raising silk worms . well. my husband has been patient with everything else, but that may be the last straw.

    i asked because i sell eternasilk and the soie d’alger line (which includes many cvarieties of silk) and i was wondering if it was one of them…

    and your peony is still gorgeous.
    sigh… i know what the steps are, but since the accident my hands dont do what i want all the time.. my stitches look good in my head, not on fabric… still…
    back to practicing…

  26. admin
    admin says:

    This is actually from cocoons I bought… I produce usually around 1000 cocoons per year, and I go through about 4,000 to 5,000, between demos and presentations and such. I’m working with the silk from the commercial China cocoons until I get the process very smooth, *then* I’ll try embroidery with the silk I raised. You can get them from Treenway.

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