My current embroidery project consists of a pair of Bavarian braces which will be worn at first communion by Maxi. The straps are nearly finished and then there is only the breast piece (Steg) to be stitched. These braces are part of the Bavarian folk costume and were first seen in the early 18th century. From what I have seen, the oldest surviving ones are from about the mid-19th century. These were stitched in tent stitch on a linen background. The patterns are the same as for Berlin Wool work: mainly roses and other flowers, as well as animals and foliage. Me and my husband find a lot of inspiration in the old patterns. It is great fun to use new colour combinations and introduce new flowers. Maxi's pattern consists of a rose, followed by a cornflower, a fuchsia and a pansy. The Steg will feature the coat of arms of Bad Bayersoien. We use Crossstitch Professional Platinum to design our patterns. It easily allows us to adjust colours and to shift or flip design elements about.
Nowadays, mainly canvas is used instead of linen. I am working on brown 18 count mono canvas made by Zweigart and I use a whole strand of DMC or Anchor stranded cotton. As the background of the braces are covered with black stitches, I have found that on occasions white canvas shines through. Please don't be tempted to remedy this by 'painting' your white canvas black with a thick marker pen! These inks are not stable. The embroidery will be steam pressed at high temperatures when the leather backings are put on and you don't want black ink spoiling your lovely pink roses. Another thing to avoid is the thin double canvas. It is not sturdy enough and may rip during the construction process.
As tent stitch is a repeated stitch in one diagonal direction, there is a heightened risk of the straps becoming askew. To avoid this, I use a slate frame. As an added bonus, my posture whilst stitching is better too. Quite important as only the straps have taken 101 stitching hours so far. It also allows me to work with both hands and to 'automatically' start and finish my threads. This speeds up the work enormously. First: working with two hands. My slate frame rests on two adjustable standers. For this kind of work, I like my frame tipped slightly towards me. As I am right handed, my right hand stays on the back of the frame, whilst my 'weaker' left hand is guided by my eyes on the front of my embroidery. With each stitch I pass my needle from my left hand to my right hand and back. Much more economical movements then when I would only use my 'good' right hand and would have to move my whole arm forwards and backwards.
Secondly: automatically start and end threads. This method was such a huge eye opener when I studied at the Royal School of Needlework in London! And now I am met with a lot of 'aha, that's genius' when I pass the skill on as a tutor. Have a look at the picture above. You might think my embroidery has a bad hair day, but that is not the case (the same can unfortunately not be said of me...). Every tail of thread you see is either the start of a thread or the end. When I now continue stitching these threads are caught on the back and secured. Once I reach one of these tails, I can snip it off knowing that it is indeed secured on the back. For this method to work, it is paramount that pattern and background are stitched more or less simultaneously. The practice of firstly stitching the flowers and then fill out the black background in one go is not only tedious, but also adds the risk of differences in thread tension. Occasionally, I do unintentionally pull up a fibre of a starting or ending thread. No worries, I just pull or push it back. With practice, this occasional annoyance becomes less frequent.
I hope you enjoyed reading about my current embroidery project. Soon, I hope to post some pictures of the end result. In the meantime, if you would like to learn how to stitch traditional Bavarian braces in a small friendly group. Then why not join me at the Gunklstube in Bad Bayersoien in March!
Jessica M. Grimm
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