Saturday, 22 January 2011

Plaited Braid Adventures, or through the rabbit hole, again…

Over the course of these seven years that I have been pursuing this stitch, I have left no stone unturned in my attempts to find THE method that is right. Because of course we all know that there is only one way that could have been used. If you don’t do it that one way, you are of course wrong. Or so the story often goes. In my search to find the one answer, I found many. Not one? Oh no, what to do?

I struggled, mightily, to understand this stitch, and tried over and over to get it right. I would start a bit, get frustrated, move over on the linen, and start again. I have a pile of scraps that I take out and show people when I am trying to teach them this stitch, to show them that no matter how frustrating it is, you just have to keep going.

My first forays into this stitch were through my handy old “Samplers and Stitches, A Handbook of Embroidery”, by Mrs. Archibald Christie. I had a lot of adventures along the way, and spent many hours trying to perfect my work. I am not nearly so nimble with the needle as some, and so do not always learn as quickly as I wish I could.

My best efforts at doing this stitch with those instructions can be seen here. I was somewhat content with this method, because I found a photo of an antique sampler and felt that mine compared favorably with how this one looked. I have somehow lost the documentation to that photo, and if I find it I will post it here, but suffice it to say that when I saw it I was confident of the provenance of the piece, and was assured that I was definitely doing it the right way. It had only taken me something ridiculous like four years to get to this point, so I was happy to say that I was finished with learning this stitch.

Not so fast, intrepid stitchers! I had been talking with Jill Hall at the Plimoth Plantation, since November, 2007, about the 17th century style jacket that they were making there. All that I really knew at that point was that it had coiling vine motifs and flowers, just like the coif that I was working on for myself. I wrote to her about stitches and materials, and she was so kind in her responses, telling me what they were doing, how they they were doing it, and where they were getting materials from. I was ecstatic, right up until the point that she told me that the plaited braid stitch that they were using was most definitely not Mrs. Christie’s variety. I was aghast. Jill directed me to Linda Connors, at Calico Crossroads. Linda has a set of directions up for plaited braid stitch that make it very easy to do. I would highly recommend this tutorial if you would like to have a nicely printed photographic method of learning this stitch.

At first, I was rather close minded about changing my method, because after all I had worked for years to perfect it. I ordered the directions, and let them sit in a corner while I stewed about it. I finally decided to give it a go, and fell in love with the stitch that had caused me so much misery and woe. The method that she worked out just made everything so much simpler.

I made up a little sampler design of my own, just something to familiarize myself with the stitch, and the results were very encouraging. I was thrilled when I worked this little needlebook, and felt that I could finally say that I had found The Right way of doing plaited braid stitch, and so could start to really get serious on my coif.

And then…fast forward to 2011. I heard through friends online that not only did Jacqui Carey’s wonderful new book, “Sweet Bags”, have a ton of info in it on, well, sweet bags, but it also had a rather nifty bit of research revealed on plaited braid stitch methods.

I gritted my teeth, and asked for further clarification. I mean, I have my fabric, silks, needles and design ready to go on the coif, and here is someone coming out and changing the rules again?

I bit. Hard, but I bit. And when my friend explained the theories behind this method, I gave them a try. I am still trying to decide exactly how it differs from the method that Ms. Connors taught, but I have not gotten my head quite wrapped around the logistics behind it yet. I have practiced two of the methods in this beautiful book, and I assure you that if someone does not get me this book for my birthday that I will go and buy it myself. I love how the stitch works up, and how easily it goes together. I am still discussing back and forth about exactly what the difference is, and will post here, but in the meantime, please do go and check out my friend’s blog, Bluebell Wood

Elizabethan PBS The first one is the traditional Elizabethan version of PBS. I stretched it out at the right side, going a distance of two threads rather than one, just to see how the stitch would look spread out a bit. I was using 26 count linen, and #4 passing braid from Golden Threads.

Elizabethan PBS1

Next, I tried one of the variations that is featured in the book. This method involves going over and under more threads than the other method. It is a bit more complicated, and uses a good deal more thread.

two braids vertical

Here are both versions side by side, with the more traditional Elizabethan version on the right, and the variation seen on the left. When I get a bit of time later, I would like to work up the other two versions that I know and add them here on the same bit of linen. It will be a nice way to compare them all.

two braids sides

And here, they are seen from the extreme side, and it is clear to note that there are no little legs spidering out along the sides, as sometimes happens when working the braid by other methods.

I will say that to me, I cannot yet see much of a difference between this method and the last one that I was working on. I know that Ms. Connors specifically teaches to work it horizontally rather than vertically. I never could wrap my head around doing it that way, and so I continued working it vertically, with her stitch directions turned sideways. I think that in the end, you have to do what is going to work best for you.

I have photos of a sampler (T.84-1946) from the V&A, that show several different methods of this stitch worked in the top left corner. This tells me that there were different methods of working the stitch even then. I think maybe we need to not look at this as having to find the one right way. Based on what I have seen, I believe that each of these versions that I have tried in the 21st century were all done in the 16th and 17th centuries, so I guess it is fair to say that they are all just different versions of the beautiful plaited braid stitch. I am very happy with how I am doing it now, and am going to keep this method to use on my late period embroideries.

I thought I was through with all of this learning, and was really ready to make that big purchase and have a slate frame custom built to make my coif. I was quite satisfied with everything, right up until Beth Lea let me know that there was new research that revealed a different way of doing the trellis stitch. Now I really have to get this book, “Sweet Bags”, by Jacqui Carey, and see what she has to say about this as well. I suggest that you do too, if you have a strong interest in the embroidery from this period.

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