An S-ing dilemma, surprising purl and a finished leg

With my 6th class coming up, there was work to be done – but not all work on Bruce involves putting gold on him, or even on the sampling cloth. There are what you might call the theoretical bits as well. I don’t mean that I will be quizzed on how pearl purl is made or when to use a double waxed thread, but preparatory work as well as decisions, possibly even dilemmas to navigate. At this point in Bruce’s development (desperately trying not to call it a “journey”) it’s a scale drawing of the cutwork that will cover his tail, and a decision about S-ing.

S-ing (pronounced “essing”) is a technique for applying hollow purl in such a way that the resulting line looks like stem stitch. As you can’t take purl through the fabric this is achieved by manipulating short pieces of purl (chips) so that they deceive the eye into thinking it’s one long piece which has been taken through the fabric to create that cord-like look that stem stitch has. I first tried it on the goldwork racehorse, and when deciding on what materials and techniques to use for the sun’s rays in the Certificate design, S-ing was very much my first choice.

S-ing in a racehorse

What was in my mind were drawings I’d seen of suns with pointy wavy rays, and I thought that if I didn’t put in the usual compensating half-length chip at the end furthest away from the sun, that would be really effective. Unfortunately all three tutors were distinctly unenthusiastic about this, with their reactions ranging from “don’t do it, it’s not allowed in the Certificate, it’s a Diploma technique” through “well, it’s your call” to “the assessors won’t like it”.

A wavy sun Samples S-ing

So I scrutinised the brief and found absolutely no reason why it shouldn’t be allowed. The brief is very clear about the materials: it says about the threads and wires (in underlined bold print) “The following are the only gold threads that will be used in this basic Goldwork project.” But about the techniques it says: “You MUST include the following”, which to my mind means that you can include other techniques as long as they use allowable materials. On the other hand, do I want to risk being marked down for something I’ve been warned by the tutors that the assessors won’t like (even though I believe they have no reason to)?

There is an alternative – a double line of rococco, one a little shorter than the other. It would be wavy. It would be safe. But it’s not the look I had in mind, for one thing because I’ve already used rococco to represent the billowy outline of the cloud and for another because I like the idea of the sun’s rays having no visible couching threads to detract from their shine. I’m hoping to have Bruce on my wall for a long time and seeing rococco in the sun’s rays instead of the S-ing I envisaged there would niggle me every time I saw it. So I’ve decided to go with my original design decision, and take the consequences.

Right, enough soul-searching; on to something a bit more practical. Bruce’s tail will be covered in cutwork, shorts lengths of hollow purl snugly fitted over the soft string padding with the cut ends just touching the fabric. Well, that’s what we’re aiming for anyway! I’ll be using two types of purl, smooth (a shiny round shape) and bright check (a shiny angular shape). I knew I had plenty of the smooth, but the bright check is used for chipping as well (it’s the stuff used in the sun) and there wasn’t quite so much of it in the little bag in my project box. Fortunately I remembered I had another bag of the right size in my stash, but when I got it out I also remembered that there was a reason why I hadn’t put both in the same bag:

The two bright checks in their identical bags Both bright checks, but different

That’s right, they look different. As you can tell from the bags they both come from the same supplier, but one is noticeably shinier than the other. As I want to make sure there is enough of the less shiny one for the tail, I decided to do the chipping on Bruce’s haunch in the shinier one. The difference between two fairly far apart areas of chipping won’t be nearly so noticeable as it would be to change chips halfway through the tail!

There was more measuring to be done. For homework Helen McC had asked me to draw the chips onto a print-out of the tail at full scale, to show the changes in direction as well as the transition from smooth purl to bright check. To do this I needed to know exactly how wide both purls are. Mr Figworthy to the rescue with his trusty calipers! And what he found was another surprise: although the two purls (smooth and bright check) have the same size number (no.6), the outer diameters came out differently, at 1.0mm vs 1.4mm wide. I wrote to the supplier, Lizzy Pye at Laurelin, and she very quickly replied, “in my experience there has always been some variation between the types of purl. The check is usually a little larger. If you think of how it is made, wrapping the wire around a core – it makes sense that the inside width is the same, but the corners stick out.” Good point. And in fact a re-measure showed that the bright check was actually about 1.2mm wide, so not too much difference. I was ready to start drawing.

Making a start at the arrangement of purls in the tail

It took quite a bit of measuring, drawing, rubbing out, re-measuring and re-drawing, but it turned out to be a very useful exercise indeed. As I mentioned, one of the key things the drawing needs to show is the transition from smooth purl (at the tip) to bright check (by Bruce’s backside). My idea was to use the sort of transition that you see in satin stitch, the shortest version of which is “all A, 1 B, 1 A, all B”. More often it’s the slightly longer one which runs “All A, 1 B, 2 A, 2 B, 1 A, all B”. Although my aim was the next longer version after that, I wasn’t sure whether there would be room for it, as the brief specifies a continuous stretch of smooth purl cutwork that is at least 5cm long. But because all this is drawn to scale, it showed that there is in fact enough space, so it will be a very gradual transition using “All A, 1 B, 3 A, 2B, 2 A, 3 B, 1 A, all B”.

Starting the transition It all fits

And finally, some actual stitching smiley: the chipping on the haunch. Chipping, while not as daunting as all that spaghetti I’ve been dealing with, poses its own challenges – mostly the fact that the chips are tiny (and this is not even the smallest size they could be…) and that they jump around like fleas on acid at the smallest provocation (or none).

A very small chip

Does it sound silly to say that I felt rather emotional seeing the whole thing filled in and complete? That hind leg has been quite an undertaking, and now it is done. I glow with a sense of achievement! And fortunately the difference between the shinier and the not-so-shiny chipping doesn’t seem too obvious.

The chipping section on the haunch The finished leg

The chipping had gone a bit more quickly than I’d expected and I was on a roll so I got on with the long smooth chips on Bruce’s ears, and the mixed cutwork on her pouch. Not as challenging as the cutwork on the tail will be, but good practice! They may, of course, turn out to be no more than practice – I’m not sure they are quite to the standard I’d like to see, so it may be another Echternach moment. On the other hand, Angela may look at them and say I’m being too fussy; now that would be a lovely outcome! But whatever happens tomorrow, all in all I’m very pleased with where I’ve got to before my 6th class.

Long smooth chips on the ears Cutwork on the pouch Where I am before my 6th class

2 comments on “An S-ing dilemma, surprising purl and a finished leg

  1. Oh my, what challenges this project has given you and how well you’re handling them. I would have thought using a more difficult technique should earn extra points not less. I’m definitely with you that f something would offend the eye in years to come, don’t do it. Bruce is looking splendid and your dedication is certainly paying off in my humble view.

  2. Thank you! I’m thinking of bringing him to Embroidery Group on Monday if I can transport him safely, so you can have a look for yourself smiley

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