The Owl is Finished!
Last week I shared with you my progress on my first attempt at metal and gold work that I am stitching as part of a little stitch-a-long with Natalie at Sew by Hand and Dima at D1-D2. This is a fun little project, and for me, is a good introduction to this technique.
I’m actually surprised at just how quickly this project worked up. Dima’s foxy is a little more involved, but this little owl was a good introduction to the technique for me. It was small enough to be manageable, but it also introduced a number of techniques used in metal and gold work.
Finishing the Couching on the Wing
Last time I shared this little project with you the wing had started to take shape. Unfortunately, the problems I started to have with the wing ‘sinking’ rather than raising up continued the more rows I completed. This means my wing has a bit of a dip in the middle of it, rather than plumping up, which is a tad disappointing. Next time I work this technique, I will be making sure I use 100% wool felt to try and minimise this problem.
The other problem I had with the wing is a learning process for me – going around the bend at the bottom of the wing. I can definitely see improvement from row to row on my turns, but I do need to work on this a little more. Some of my gaps are a tad too wide on that turn! I found using the mellor to position the passing thread first made quite a big difference, and I probably should have used it earlier on. It is quite the balancing act between getting it turned around the corner so not a lot of the felt underneath shows but also not on such a tight turn that the rows sit on top of each other around the bend.
Here are a couple of photos showing what it looked like before the wire was plunged, and the finished product. To plunge the ends, each piece of passing thread is taken to the back separately and carefully in a large needle. Once onto the reverse of the piece, it is secured in place with a sewing thread by whipping over and over it.
And then a body appeared
This is where my lack of experience in this technique really shows, as I would have thought you would fill in the body before you add the outline. But each technique has it’s own order of work that we have to learn about! So just as with canvas work you work the items that are closer to you before you work the background, but in silk shading you work from the background to the foreground, goldwork has it’s own order too!
The body is outlined in a silver pearl purl. Before doing anything, you have to carefully stretch the pearl purl. To do this, you gently hold one end of the length with your scissors, and then gently pull the other end to slightly open up the coil. Im not sure I opened it up enough, but as my couching stitches ‘disappeared’, I think it was probably sufficient!
There is no sinking of threads with the pearl purl. It is couched on entirely to the surface. The first couching stitch is placed in the first coil, and then at intervals of every third coil, finishing with a final couching thread in the last coil. I thought this would take forever, but it was actually quite a quick process!
A little face – with big eyes!
The instructions said to stitch in the eyes, and then the nose, which to me sounded a bit backwards. After a quick chat with Natalie about this, she too had the same idea, and stitched the nose in first, followed by the eyes.
The nose is also stitched in pearl purl just like the body is – just a much smaller area. This nose was my second attempt. I really wish I had gone over the design lines gently with a pencil before starting the project. They were very faint to begin with, and by the time I got to stitching the poor owl’s head they had all but disappeared, which meant a certain degree of guesswork with where to place his nose and face outline. I found turning the corner on the nose a little tricky, and the first time I attempted his nose, one side was very ‘stretched’. It’s still not perfect, and again, something else to practice! I should have consulted with Natalie before attempting this, as after I had put it in she said that she actually started at the point to help get the shape of the nose correct.
The large eyes are sequins – an easy part. They definitely look very large and owl like!
The face is stitched in with over-stretched pearl purl. The first step was to stretch the pearl purl so you could definitely see between the coils, as the next step was to wrap two strands of cotton thread between them! I felt like I was all thumbs when I first started doing this, I couldn’t work out how to hold it and wrap it all at the same time. Once I got about half way round I had finally developed something close to a system, so could continue along quite nicely.
You use the same method to stitch on the overstretched pearl purl as you do the non-stretched pearl purl. Again, I was wishing I had darkened the design lines, as I couldn’t really see them. So, after a bit of manipulation and guess work, his face is finished. It’s a little wonky, but I’m saying that’s just to add character. Nature isn’t always perfect is it?!
Cutwork for the body
This project really was a good introduction to a number of different techniques found in metalwork – the last technique covered off was cutwork. It is much like placing beads on the piece, except you have to cut the pieces to the correct size. I found myself cutting a piece, then threading it on, to find it was too long, to take it off and adjust, before threading it on again! So whilst it was a lot of going backwards to go forwards, it actually filled in quite quickly.
One thing I was surprised about was the space needed to leave between each piece of check purl to ensure they lay flat against each other, and not ‘on top’ of each other. The instructions gave some good guidance on leaving a gap of about 2mm as you work your way up the owl, to keep the angle correct. But I initially thought I needed to ‘tuck’ the other end into the previous stitch more than what was actually required. So I ended up with bulging ‘beads’ of check purl. And whilst I haven’t been overly picky about pulling things out and starting again on this project, I did decide that I needed to re-do that part. I actually found the initial gap needed to be closer to 4mm, as the other end of the purl was stitched in at about 2mm from the previous bead.
And a few details to finish him off!
It was time to add in the last little details.
On his body, in a brown DMC thread, ‘shading’ was created by carefully putting in a straight stitch over the check purl. This needed to be done carefully so as not to crush the check purl it was sitting on.
For his wing, sequins were added. i roughly followed Becky’s diagram for where these should be placed. But as I firstly, had more sequins than were on the diagram, and secondly, had some parts I wanted to hide, I did go off on my own tangent a little!
The final piece in the puzzle was the branch for him to sit on.
And there he is, all finished!
Framing him in the hoop
To finish him completely, I chose to frame him in the hoop Becky provided in the kit.
Becky gave great instructions on how to do this, and I will be using this method in the future! The only thing is she didn’t back it completely with anything, so the stitches on the back are still visible. I’m not worried on this little piece, but if I were to do this as a gift, or if it were a larger piece, i would add in an extra step and put a further piece of fabric over the back of the hoop.
To frame it in the hoop, I placed the hoop over the owl so I could see where it would be sitting, and then cut the fabric with a 5cm hem all around the piece. Then, I folded about 2cm of this in so the raw edges weren’t visible. Using a double thread, a gathering stitch was then placed around the seam allowance about 5mm from the fold line. Next up it was a simple process of gathering the fabric and securing it all in.
The final touch was to add in the ribbon so he can be hung up!
My thoughts on the project and kit
As my first foray into metalwork, I have to say, I think this little piece has me hooked! It was a lot of fun to play with ‘new to me’ materials, and learn new techniques. It was also quick to work, which is always a bonus when you are just starting out with a technique. It covered off a few different techniques that are particular to metal and gold work. As I mentioned, there were certain elements I found more difficult than others, but that is part of the learning experience!
If you are considering trying this technique out, I can recommend this kit. Though, I would say that replacing the felt with 100% wool felt might result in a better finished product. I would also recommend backing the linen before commencing. It is a small piece, so it isn’t particularly heavy, but the linen, whilst of good quality, isn’t a particularly thick linen, and your threads will show if you don’t back it.
You will need something to straighten out the passing thread before using it, as it is kinked from being placed on the cardboard bobbin. My mellor helped me with this, as did leaving a longer working thread than suggested.
And finally, I would recommend gently going over the design lines with a sharp pencil. By the time I had completed the wing, all other design lines had basically disappeared. So whilst I don’t mind a ‘characterful’ owl, you might prefer yours to be a little more exact, which is where a clearer design line will help.