Bruce’s tail was going to be the absolute final thing to be stitched – cutwork is generally the very last part of a project because it is quite fragile and easy to damage. But Angela suggested I start on the tail during class so she could cast an eye over it, and once I’d started I thought I might as well finish before moving on to the other remaining parts to keep the momentum going.
Cutwork and chipping both use chips, or pieces cut from purls (hollow flexible coils of fine metal wire), and in both cases they are attached a bit like beads, by taking the threaded needle through them and sewing them down. The difference is that in chipwork all the chips are small (ideally square or just a little bit longer than they are wide) and they are attached in random directions, whereas in cutwork the chips are longer, and generally applied in parallel. Whichever you are doing, the first challenge is cutting the purl to size. It’s springy and bouncy and trying to gauge the length when some bits are curved and some straight can be quite frustrating. Below is my small velvet board (meant to combat some of the springiness; it does but only to some extent) with smooth purl on it. This shows an average chip (red arrow), by what tiny degrees you trim a chip that is not quite right (blue arrow), and what happens when the cut end of a chip catches on the sewing thread (green arrow). There are no sound effects or the green arrow would have been accompanied by a loud Aaaaargh!
Now there is some cutwork in the project already: Bruce’s ears (of which more in a later FoF) and pouch. They were relatively easy (stress on the “relatively”) because they were almost flat, over a single layer of felt, and because they covered small areas; it also helped in the pouch that the cutwork was straight, with no change of angle. The tail is large, changes angle, and is worked over soft string padding. In the narrower part towards the tip this has quite some height to it, making it difficult to estimate how long the chip needs to be to cover it. Too short and you’ll have gaps where the chips meet the fabric, too long and the chips will buckle and crack, or at the very least make the surface of the shape bumpy; you can see these problems in a picture from a class I took four years ago – I think I’ve improved since then .
Traditionally you work from the middle in order to set the angle, which is why that first chip in the top picture is marooned on a sea of soft string padding. From there I worked down towards the tip, which would be my required 5cm stretch of smooth purl cutwork (the little black mark indicates where the smooth purl has to reach to as a minimum). Now quite apart from getting the length of the chips right (and frustratingly, cutting off even a few coils can suddenly and surprisingly make a chip that was clearly too long, clearly too short) there is the challenge of changing direction. Ideally the chips are at a 45-degree angle to the line of the padding, so if the line changes direction, so do the chips. And as the chips are straight, there will be gaps. The trick is to keep these gaps as small and unnoticeable as possible.
I did not fully succeed in that, especially towards the tip of the tail, which is a challenge in itself. There are gaps. If I had managed to squeeze in an extra chip or two along the entire bottom half of the tail, it would probably have looked better, although the danger is that you start crowding the chips on the inside curve. All in all I’m reasonably happy with how it looks, especially when I remind myself that this photograph was taken very close-up, that it somehow seems to make the yellow of the soft string show up more, and that the chips are only 1mm wide in real life so you can imagine what the gaps look like when viewed from a normal distance. Pity that the assessors do get rather closer than “normal viewing distance”…
I had finished class with ten chips attached, but I noticed that there was a slight crack in the second one. Angela pointed out that it was marginally too long and suggested taking it out by cutting the thread from the back. This is possible but fiddly and can end up damaging the chips on either side, so I decided to take out the first two chips, which would also leave me more unpicked sewing thread to secure instead of two very short ends. By the way, I think it’s an indication of how difficult this technique is that one of the cutwork aims in the Assessment Criteria is: “There is minimal damage or cracked thread (no more than 8 cracks in 5cm of smooth purl cutwork)”!
Now for the interesting part: the transition between smooth purl and bright check. I had worked out in my full-scale drawing that there was room for a 1-3-2-2-3-1 arrangement, so after a few more smooth purls to make sure I had the required 5cm and a bit over, I started the transition with a single chip of bright check. Can you see the difference in width? It’s only .2 of a millimetre (1mm vs 1.2mm), but it does mean you have to adjust how far away from the previous chip you bring up your needle, which has to be quite accurately judged. It does make for a lovely effect though.
And working up, finally I reached the base of the tail. This was never going to be covered by whole chips – the change of direction would be too much, and the chips would be too long. So somehow I had to make the straight cut ends of a few shorter chips follow the curve of Bruce’s backside. I managed by cutting them rather longer than I initially expected, and slightly tucking them underneath the previous chip. There is still some staggering, but on the whole I like the look of this bit.
And here is the whole tail. Negatives: the gaps, especially towards the tip. I will ask Angela if there is any way of improving this, if not on this project then for future ones. Positives: the outlines are quite crisp and even, and there is not too much staggering where the tail meets the rump. I’m a happy bunny! (Or should that be a Happy Haasje?)