Theory and practice

It was a Bank Holiday weekend and so I decided to do some much-needed maintenance in our much-neglected (but much-loved) garden. We’d bought some bedding plants (marigolds and violets, I think, but I’m still not very well up on English plant names) at the local car boot sale, and the idea was to plant half of them in a bare patch of back garden, and half in a bed in the front garden where there is also a cotoneaster that needed a haircut. Of course it’s never that simple. Sunday afternoon saw several hours of all-out war on ground elder before we could even think of planting anything, and on Monday the cotoneaster’s short back and sides turned out to need a machete rather than dainty seccateurs. Still, we won! Two small patches of our garden are now fit to be seen by other people besides ourselves. It’s not exactly Chelsea Flower Show material, but it’s a lot better than it was.

The back garden after a LOT of weeding and a little planting a shrub with a haircut, and some new plants

Fortunately the gardening did leave some time for experimental needlework. Unfortunately, both the experiments were unsuccessful. Occasionally you come up with this great idea, and in your head it works absolutely beautifully, and on paper it looks perfectly feasible, and then you get the fabric and needle and thread out and it simply will not work. I’m afraid this was the case with my ideas for beaded picots and buttonhole bar fillings.

Ordinary buttonhole bars are worked on one or more foundation stitches (see below), and apart from the ends of those foundation stitches the bars are unattached to the fabric; it is sometimes known as detached buttonhole stitch, and you can fill whole shapes with it. One day, as I was trying out some new Hardanger bars, I looked at the four fabric threads that make up a bar, and thought, “what if I used two of those as the foundation threads for a buttonhole bar?” It’s a simple enough idea – come up in the cut hole beside the bar, then take the needle over two threads (so going down the centre of the bar) leaving a loop, and come back up in the cut hole, catching that loop. Continue in the same way until the end of the bar, and hey presto, buttonhole bar filling.

If it works like this...

The beaded picot also seemed uncomplicated both in my mind and on paper (see below): weave half a bar, then instead of making a little knot or loop to form the picot, knot your thread around a bead, then continue weaving. The bead will sit snugly against the bar, making a novel, colourful and slightly chunky picot replacement.

A promising sketch

The theory looked promising – so I got out my “experiment hoop” to try them out in practice. Alas. I tried several ways of attaching the bead picots, and none of them would stay where it was put; the ones that did stick in roughly the right place had a lot of thread showing. You will note that in my sketch I’d drawn the bead with its hole running away from the bar, whereas what happened in practice (and what I should have forseen) was that the hole ran from the front of the work to the back. The buttonhole bars were, if possible, worse. They twisted. It turned out to be absolutely impossible to keep them flat with a pretty buttonhole edge on the outside of the bar. I tried them over two threads (red arrows), over two with the buttonhole edge on the inside (green arrow, the edge has completely disappeared), and covering the whole width of the bar (blue arrow). None of them worked.

Unsuccessful experiments

I would have said “back to the drawing board”, if the drawing board hadn’t turned out to be so unreliable! It just goes to show there’s nothing like actually stitching something to see if it will work. Oh, and those two fuzzy, blurred bars in the top right of the picture? They were experiments that did work which I’m not revealing just yet smiley.

4 comments on “Theory and practice

  1. Ah, but it is indeed possible to produce buttonhole bars in exactly the way you describe. Mary Hickmott calls them ‘semicircles’, and they are included in the run-up to the stitching of a ‘historical’ piece of hardanger. If you can find issue 245 — the current issue — she gives chapter and verse about their creation.

    Having said that, judging from the photos, they are extremely difficult to achieve for all the reasons you site. One thing you haven’t taken into consideration is that you have to anchor them at their centres across the middle of the cut area. MH uses spokes with spiders webs.

    I’m not even sure I like the result on the original antique piece, frankly. It ought to work; it ought to look lovely. I suspect (along with the sneaking anchoring) you’d have to work them very taut in a frame.

  2. Serinde, I haven’t seen that issue but I think I have seen the filling you describe in an earlier design, and also in the Anchor book of Hardanger stitches — but if I recollect correctly they are a filling stitch in the cut hole rather than the bars themselves?

    As for the finished look, I have found with some stitches and variations that what is possible is not necessarily a good idea. Some stitches can be done but after a lot of effort don’t actually look that nice… At that point I try to be sensible and leave them, and choose one of the many stitches that I _do_ like the look of 🙂 !

  3. The Mary Hickmott semicircles start a three-quarters of the way up a needlewoven bar, taking the foundation thread back to a quarter along the bar, and working the buttonhole stitch back to the start and finishing the bar. So, in effect, you have a buttonhole bar running the length of the woven bar.

    Other buttonhole bars I’ve seen — and Emie Bishop is the mistress here — run from one woven bar to another across the cut space. They give a sort of “tick tock” effect which I think is terribly cute.

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