Couching and Carving

Lately I’ve been working both ends of the textile conservation “spectrum”. I’ve been doing fairly fine couching, and I’ve been hacking a huge form out of Ethafaom.

First, the couching.

Recently I worked on some Chinese silk robes. These robes are covered in elaborate designs featuring dragons, clouds, flowers, geometric shapes and so on. The decorative threads were couched originally, so one of the goals was to match the threads and spacing so that the recent couching was as similar to the original as possible.

Below, a small section of loose threads.

Loose Threads

Note: the straight pins I’m using on these robes are insect pins (size 0 & 00).

Next, the same area, after couching.

Couched Threads

The most challenging part of this is making sure to not catch the robe lining when stitching. This could cause damage to the garment, plus the weight of the lining could rip out the new couching.

This was my first couching on the robes. I’m a little dissatisfied with the spacing of my stitches. I think they could be more evenly placed – more like the original stitches. (Though this will undoubtedly never be noticed by anyone else!)

I have many more pictures from this project on my Flickr page (see right).

The other big project I’ve been working on lately is a mount for a saddle. The saddle is very old and needs to be supported in all areas to prevent further damage, so the mount is rather large. It is perhaps bulkier than absolutely necessary, but this was done to insure that the saddle could rest on this mount without a stand and not fall over.

I started by building the basic form out of 2″ sheets of Ethafoam. This was very hard on my hands as I kept accidentally cutting my fingers with the blade that was easily dulled by the foam. Even though I had taken careful measurements, I found that I had to constantly add/subtract foam to get the mount to fit the saddle correctly. (There are several pictures of the building process on my Flickr page).

Eventually, I ended up with this basic form:

Mount 1

There was still more refining after this: the back pointy end was shortened, the “legs” were shortened by 1.5″, and the “dorsal fin” and all the corners and edges were smoothed and rounded.

The saddle will rest on this form, which will sit on a saddle stand according to the owner’s preference. Since saddle stands vary widely in shape and size, I decided to leave the inside space of the mount rectangular and a custom stand will be built to these dimensions.

Next I added batting to provide extra cushioning to the object. I piled a little extra on the top proper right side to make the saddle “lean” a little to the proper left, since the leg flap on that side had been damaged and hardened into a different shape. This way it would force the flap to rest on the padding.

The batting was basted into place so it wouldn’t shift while I covered the mount in flannel. The flannel, unlike the batting, wraps around the entire mount.

Mount 2

Mount 3

Left: Fitting the flannel. Right: Front view with flannel sewn.

Next I had to figure out a “pattern” for the outer (decorative) cloth. I decided to drape the form with muslin and ended up with 3 pattern pieces. I wanted to have the fewest seams possible, and make sure they wouldn’t show when the piece was displayed.

Mount 4Draping

Left: Close-up of draping underside of mount. Right: Me placing fine-tuning the placement of the seams.

Currently I am working on the outer layer: a dark brown velveteen. I machine-stitched the “front” seam, except for the top point. This area didn’t come out tight enough in the practice muslin, so I decided to it by hand. Except for a small curve at the “tail”, all the rest of the seams will be hand-stitched. I have aggressively pinned the velveteen so that all the pieces are placed exactly how they will end up after stitching. I hope to finish the mount tomorrow, and perhaps I will post the finished result soon!

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