Projects · Small Projects

To Needleloop, or not to Needleloop?

In my last post, I wrote about a fascinating group of embroideries that I found from Asia in the 1300s which exhibit a “needle looping” technique.

Of course, I decided to attempt to replicate this lotus flower.

I began by purchasing some threads in like colors. I chose Vinyard Silk, because its fluffy and fun, and I thought replicated the quality of the silk in this piece. However, upon the completion of a sample, I found that the thread was much much bigger than the one used in the extant piece.

Additionally, I found that the extant piece was stitched in a much more open style of button hole, than I initially thought. The leaf on the right was stitched before the leaf on the left, resulting in a much tighter and clumsy looking weave. Where as the leaf on the left has open holes, from which to view the gilded paper through.

I also felt the codonets, or the base threads that make up the outline of the needlelace, were too thin, and appear much thicker in the original, so for my piece I decided to use four strands of floss to provide thickness. Through the degradation of the extant piece, we can see that the cordonet is made of a single thick thread (or a stiff reed).

For my piece, I chose a remnant of silk sari fabric, and backed it with a similarly sized piece of linen. I used a light box and archival marking pen to mark down the pattern onto the piece. (I traced it from a photo of the original scaled down to an approximate size. Then I added the cordonet using silk sewing thread in white for the lighter colors and black for the dark blue. These will largely be covered in buttonhole stitch eventually.

One of the most interesting things about these needlelooped pieces is that they include gilded paper which shimmers underneith the embroidery. While I do not know exactly how this paper would have been made, China has a long history of gilded papermaking. Therefor, I purchased some gilded paper made for origami. It is ultra shiny, and creases and dents in a similar way to aluminum foil, rather than paper.

I placed a sheet of the paper on a table, and put a copy of my pattern over top of it, and then traced the edges of each shape with a pencil. This marked the paper sufficiently that I could cut out the shapes. Though, each of the shapes ended up being much smaller than the traced version, and led to lots of little snips as I went.

Then I used button hole stitch to cover the gilded paper areas.

As you can see, my stitches nearly completely cover the paper, but under the right lighting conditions you can see the shimmer peak through.

And before I knew it it was done!

What did I learn?

Firstly, the thread I chose was too large and bulky. The thread of the original was much smaller. I intend to do additional samples to determine how small it was.

Second, cutting out the foil shapes is a fiddley process. It is far more likely that in the original, the paper is cut to the size of the overall piece and sewn directly to the fabric.

Lastly, the extant piece is not button hole stitch as I know it. You can see from my piece it creates a different texture entirely. Further exploration is needed to determine the exact stitch used.

What next?

My goal, is to reproduce a piece that is as close to the original as possible, and thus require additional experimentation.

I need to complete additional samples to better understand the materials and techniques of the original piece. I believe the original was made with much smaller silk thread, likely filament silk, and was stitched in a stitch akin but not exactly buttonhole stitch.


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