April 10, 2007

How To - Couching

Bayeux Bird - Detail

Couching is a great form of embroidery for the beginner. There are several types of couching:

Surface Couching - To Work Surface Couching - Lay down the thread to be couched, and with another thread catch it down with small stitches worked over the top.

This can be used for very simple line designs or can be used to outline other pieces of embroidery. If you have appliqued a design onto a ground fabric, use this stitch to cover the seam line or decorate it, if you use a fancy thread or gold thread.

Laid and Couched Work - Laid and Couched Work is a form of embroidery where a thread (usually wool ) is laid on a ground fabric (usually wool or linen). This stitch is created by laying a set of ground threads, that work from one side of the pattern to the other (Fig a). Over these threads, in the opposite direction, are laid another set of threads at regular intervals (Fig b). These cross threads are then held down by a series of couching stitches (Fig c). The whole process results in an area completely covered in thread. This technique allows for large areas of pattern to be covered very quickly. This is the stitch which the Bayeaux Embroidery (previously known as the Bayeaux Tapestry) is worked in.

Klosterstitch - Klosterstitch, a form of single thread couching is also known as Bokhara or Roumanian couching. It was widely used in 14th C German states, especially in works associated with convents, hence the name "kloster" or convent stitch.

To Work Klosterstitch - Klosterstitch is worked with one thread and needle. A straight stitch is made across the ground material and the needle and thread re-emerge to stitch the long thread down on the return journey (see diagram). Small, slanting stitches are worked over the laid thread or yarn to hold it in place.

Underside Couching - To Work Underside Couching - In the embroidery technique of underside couching, thread (usually gold) is laid on the surface of the ground fabric, couching threads are then passed over it. As each couching stitch is worked over the gold thread, the needle is carefully re-inserted into the hole in the backing fabric that the needle created on the way out. The couching thread is pulled tight and a tiny loop of the gold thread from the surface drops through the hole in the backing fabric to the underside (thus giving the technique its name).

This creates a hinge in the gold thread, allowing the fabric to bend and giving it a great flexibility. Fabric worked with gold thread in underside couching has much more drape than fabric with surface couched gold, thus making it a much better technique for working objects which will be worn, such as ecclesiastical vestments.

Why not use one of these techniques to work this funky peacock pattern (taken from the Bayeux Embroidery).



  1. I love your post but how does one do areas that are not straight, like the round bird tail? And how do you secure the ends of the fabric?