Posts Tagged ‘goldwork’

On strands of purl

I do apologise for the radio silence recently.  A long story can be cut short by saying that first I was very busy and now I’m not well.  I thought I would get quite a lot of stitching done while signed off work, but it hasn’t really been the case until today, when I finally got out the purl and started doing some filling.

Many people reading this will already know perfectly well what purl is, so please either skip the rest of the paragraph, or bear with me for the sake of those who don’t.  I didn’t until I started this project, never having done any goldwork before.  Purl is a very fine metal wire which is wrapped in a tight spiral, either circular or square in cross-section.  I’m using the square cross-section, which is also known as “bright check”.  You cut it into short lengths and thread the needle through the spiral as if it were a bead, and, as you can see, I’ve been using it to fill the areas which are outlined in gold.  I tend to think of them as stylised leaves, although there is quite a lot of abstract in this pattern.  There will be more realism when I start putting in the non-repeating motifs.

Showing the purl fillings

This picture doesn’t give you a very good idea of what the gold actually looks like, but I rather like it.  It gives the design an autumnal look.  If I show you a close-up, you can see how I’ve done the filling.

Close-up of purl filling

Purl turns out to be a bit of a pig to work with, though it’s extremely effective once you’ve finished fighting with it.  Getting the pieces to the right length is the part I thought would be difficult, but it is actually the easy bit.  All you need is a fingernail, which need only be of very modest length, and a small pair of scissors.  I don’t use my embroidery scissors for this, as I suspect the wire may blunt them even though it is very fine and easy to cut.  I lay out the purl on the fabric where I want it to go, and stick my fingernail in at the correct length.  This separates and kinks the purl slightly, making it very easy to see where to cut.

The difficult bit, as usual, is the one I didn’t suspect.  It is very easy to stretch the purl out inadvertently while threading it, and, while you can coax it more or less back into shape, it still tends to end up a little longer than you originally wanted it.  This is why it turns out to be a really bad idea to use long sections of purl.  The shorter you keep them, the better they tend to stay in shape.  Of course, if you do stretch your purl or you have a longer piece that needs to be eased around a slight curve, you can hold it in place with one or two tiny couching stitches.  If you make these exactly perpendicular to the line of the purl, they will sink through the spiral and hold the wire in place invisibly at the level of the fabric surface.  Generally speaking, though, if you think of it as metallic beads you can cut to size, you won’t go far wrong with this stuff.

Another piece of advice I can offer is not to do too much of this at once.  It makes your fingertips rather sore, after a while.  Fortunately the way I work is to swap about between different elements of the design so that it builds gradually from one end, which means I don’t get bored doing one thing all the time.  It will therefore be a while before I do any more purl filling, but that’s fine.  I am delighted with the way it’s shaping.