embroiderers, all women at that time, wouldnot have been familiar.The original materials, linen and wool,were all hand-made and dyed with plantdyes. Nowadays we have a far greater rangeof fabrics and threads at our disposal and soexperiments with the technique can produceexciting and unusual results. In learning how to develop a technique, first identify itscomponents and then decide how they canbe changed.0n the Bayeux Tapestry, only one colourwas used for the three elements: the threadslaid on the surface, the second set of threadslaid at intervals across them, and the tiny couching stitch used to hold the two layerstogether.Not only can we use a different colour foreach part but we can also use differentthread thicknesses, fibres, random-dyed andmetal threads. We can also work in differentdirections and on a huge variety of fabricsnot known to the Anglo-Saxons.
Using a frame
The use of a frame is essential when working Bayeux stitch developments because the laidthreads require an even tension over larger-than-usual areas. Any kind of frame will doas long as the fabric stays drum-tightthroughout. If it slackens, tighten it.
Because of the way the stitch is made, coarsefabrics create problems where the needle may emerge through the same hole as it wentdown, and vice versa. So choose medium-weight fabrics that are fairly closely wovenrather than open-weave ones. Calico is ideal,as are other cottons, linen, silk and somesynthetic fibres.To give the background extra body, Irecommend an under-layer of fine cotton-calico which is framed-up with the top layerand treated as one piece. This makes it easierto place the stitches very close together, tohide the beginnings and ends of the threads,and for finishing-off the ends of a stitch.
Originally, the same kind of thread was usedfor each part of the stitch and for theoutlining. However, the laid threads on thebottom layer will cover the shape moreefficiently and quickly when they are thickerthan the couching thread and holding stitch. All the threads must at some stage bepulled through the fabric, even the couchedthreads that are laid on the top, so smooththreads are best. The thickness of the toplaid thread will produce different results, asit will either mask the colour of thelower laid thread or allow it to showthrough. Generally speaking, I usedoubled or thick threads for the bottomlayer and finer ones on top.The colour and type of fibre being used,whether it is shiny or matt, plain or variegated, whether it reflects the light wellor absorbs it, all affect the look of thefinished piece. Light reflection is importantas the stitch has a strong directional elementand the colour of the threads changesaccording to the direction of the light on it.Be aware of this and use it to advantage.Make use of wools, linens, cottons(stranded and single), synthetics, silks, andany combination of these. Matt and shiny threads are equally useful, as are random-dyed (variegated) threads and metallicthreads, in skeins or on reels, whether forhand or machine embroidery. Remember thatdifferent threads can be mixed together inthe needle.Ultimately, the thickness and type of thread will depend upon the scale of thework: fine threads for small-scale pieces,coarser threads (and fabric) for large-scalepieces. Experiment to see what works best.
Use whatever size crewel needle isappropriate for the thread; keep a range of sizes handy for different thicknesses andpurposes.
Traditionally, each shape was outlined witha variation of stem stitch called ‘outlinestitch’. The outline can be worked eitherbefore or after the filling, thoughtraditionally the outlines were always madefirst. Today, either stem or outline stitch may be used, or even no outline at all.
Outline stitch is made in thesame way as stem stitchexcept that here the thread isheld to the left instead of tothe right, creating a twist tothe stitch in the oppositedirection. The point of theneedle comes out at the headof the previous stitch, not atan angle to it.