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Extracting A Pattern from the Extant Embroidery Image Part I

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12 March 2012

Extracting A Pattern from the Extant Embroidery Image Part I


Ages ago, I saw an entry on the Historic English Embroidery blog by Helen Cowan.

The blog is unfortunately now defunct, but fun to have a look at for a précis of costume history and some great costume and embroidery images.

I instantly fell in love with

All the information I had, or ever found, on the piece was the date 1661.

It was the right hand image – an enlarged detail from the sampler (top left hand corner), and shown enlarged on the right hand side, that I really loved. It reminded me a little of a Bargello piece (one of my interests) in the way that the colours were blended.

Plus, it was just plain weird, which I liked as well.

Recovering from a long year of extra-illness, the time came at the beginning of this year that I was ready to do the piece. It was simple –  tent stitch plus a few other simple stitches, ideal for getting back into practical embroidery. A “Zen” sort of piece, where I could just embroider, and not think too much.

I didn’t have a *clue* what to call this *blobby thing* so I ran a competition asking for a name, here on the blog. Lia de Thronegge won, with her suggestion of “The Heart of the Thistle”. It does have a heart in the middle, and the outside is kind of thistle-y. I do love thistles.

Also, a friend gave me a beautiful Birthday book for Christmas that I intend to use as an Address Book. This piece would make a fine cover for my new Book.
“The RHS Birthday Book showcases the work of Lilian Snelling MBE (1879-1972), in particular her mature style, which formed the outstanding model for the British botanical artists of the latter half of the 20th Century.”
An example of Ms Snelling’s work ……
Beautiful, hey! A whole book of these hand coloured drawings (aproximately 60 of them) deserves a special cover!

Extracting a Line Drawing Pattern

The Image to Examine

I needed the highest resolution copy of the image that I could get in order to draw the lines pattern as precisely as possible.

Working from a image scanned from a book is better than working from an image from the Net. Internet images are, only ever 72dpi (dots per inch) at most, but you can scan images from a book at a much higher resolution and see the image in much more detail. I’ve had 300 dpi suggested to me by experienced embroiderers as a scanning resolution.

The best that I could do was enlarge the image in Photoshop.
There are software utilities available on the Net to increase image resolution, but that’s a topic for another time.
I’ve found that altering the colour balance in the image helps to see the image more clearly – making different details stand out. (Photoshop/Image/Adjustments/Variations)

(more magenta)
(more cyan)

I started a rough drawing over the top of the printed copy of the cyan adjusted image, which I found to be the clearest. This was most definitely in pencil, with a rubber (eraser) in the other hand, drawing around the different coloured sections and outlines. This was to discover the ‘look and balance’ of the pattern.

The Charm of Wonkiness versus the Need for Truth

Sometimes the original embroiderer stitched the pattern a bit out of true. Going under or over pattern lines. Or the original pattern was (very often)a  bit wonky. The physical thread itself (especially with wool or other thicker threads) blurs lines.

I could have simply traced the embroidery as is,  but then I’d add my own wonkiness through those factors above, and end up with a piece that was pretty out of kilter.

Given part of the charm of these pieces is a certain uneveness, I needed to balance ‘wonkiness charm’ with a well designed line drawing.

Finding the Basic Shapes

What I was looking for was
  • repeated elements
  • straight lines, at whatever angle
  • smooth curves
  • reflected curves (or converse or other related curves)
  • mirrored elements
  • (white space or ‘background’, although this isn’t relevant to this piece)
  • balance in the pattern, which is judged by eye and experience.
I find that judgement of eye is best achieved by taking long breaks from looking at the image (a day or two) then having a good look, and listening to your gut instincts. The human eye is very good at picking up imbalance and unevenness.
The way to build experience is to look at a lot of contemporaneous pattern line drawings and look how they are put together by various shapes, how the shapes balance with each other, and the white space (unembroidered or background part). Looking at the image in a mirror can help, giving you a whole new perspective.
This involves an awful lot of staring at the image. I didn’t expect to get the final drawing from drawing on this first copy – it was just to give me a rough idea.

For example, look at

I wanted to get those sort-of-semi circles to balance with each other in size, and the rate at which they enlarged at a regular amount.

I went through the same process with the center of the piece :


The outermost ring is a definite heart shape, but it took a lot of peering to determine that the innermost ring was a wedge shape. That innermost ring is almost indiscernible in the image I see before me on the screen as I write.

Repeated Shapes 

One particular aspect to look for is any repeated shapes and if there is any variation between them. I’ve found that there usually is. Then to decide which version to go with.
Because this piece is vertically symmetrical, I principally studied just one side on the image, but looked at the other side for any variations. I also had the repetition of the thistle ends down each side, which echoed each other in their shapes.

For example, did I want  pattern_extraction_detail (LH side)pattern_extraction_detail (RH side)

My choice here contributed to small choices/decisions I was making throughout my study. I went for the more rounded right hand side version, rather than the pointier left hand sided version. So – other thistle ‘ends’ would need to be more on the rounded side as well, if they were to fit in with this one.

Another choice….. Did I want to go with
pattern_extraction_detail (LH)
pattern_extraction_detail (RH)

And another…..

Looking at the light pink layer (4th from the top) of this top thistle edge, did I want the smooth join with the rest of the thistle (LH side) or the hillock sort of bump (RH side)? (I went with hillocks)

After awhile, the pattern starts to build itself.

Just so you don’t die of anticipation, here’s the final pattern that I came up with (which has been stretched out to fit the book) :-


with a quick repeated pic of the original for comparison


I’ll talk further about extracting the design from the image of the original piece, and then go onto drawing the final pattern, choosing colours, transferring the pattern onto the ground and so forth in further entries….I’ve cheated badly, I’ve already spent 40+ hours on the actual embroidery of the piece :-)

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Anonymous Rachel said...

That's very clear, and you've identified the stages in thinking about the design much more clearly than I usually do. I'm sure I follow a similar process, because I recognise the steps as you describe them, but I couldn't have described it as clearly!

Monday, March 12, 2012  
Anonymous kbsalazar said...

Very interesting, thanks! I'd probably go about it a tad differently, but (admittedly) I'm count-fixated.

I'd have started with the little green curlicues, charting them out as double running or back stitch. Then I'd use the measurement of a know quantity of stitches (based on the curls) to determine count between them, and then chalk in the main design, made of 90, 180 and 45 degree angles - with wonky kludges as you so rightly note. That would give the outlines of the major elements, but placement of the shading inside would have to be eyeballed and drawn in freehand, keeping as much to the original count as possible, given the stitch directions/configurations.

I think we'd each come up with patterns that were very close. But I think that yours would probably have more soul. :)

Again thanks for the insight! Looking forward to part II.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012  
Blogger Elmsley Rose said...

kbsalazar (it's kathy, isn't it?) - I should have noted that I am thinking "freehand" and "hand drawn" - I'll add that into the next post. I'm allergic to counting. I think I should have done *some* counting, as I actually embroider I'm finding some of the small/narrow areas that are repeated are of slightly different widths, because of exactly where I placed the pattern on the linen.I was going to make a comment on that later as a problem I'd found in my method once I got to my practical stitching blogging...any further comments you care to make about incorporating some counting into a freehand pattern on evenweave linen to make sure it stitches up ok would be most useful and welcome. :-)

Tuesday, March 13, 2012  
Anonymous kbsalazar said...

No historical basis here, but I'd probably set up a count for the outline of the base shapes; using it as basting, over which the freehand stitching is worked.

It looks to my uninformed eye that the outline of your flower was established in a marking stitch of some type (possibly cross stitch), and then the magnificent shaded flower sections were then worked on top.

I did something like this on my Forever Coif - establishing base outlines using marking stitch, then totally overworking them in the course of the project. Mine was only blackwork - not elaborate colors, but the idea is similar. Here's an up close - you can see the cross stitch marking stitches laying out the path that the later raised chain stitch outlining overworks.

Again it may not be THE way, but it's certainly a possible way...

Hope this gives some food for thought. -Kim

Tuesday, March 13, 2012  
Anonymous kbsalazar said...

(sorry for two posts instead of one)

ooohoohoooh! Looking more closely at the origin sampler and not just the enlargement of your target detail: I think it's clear that the stitcher established the flower on the count, just like the upside down one next to it in the other half of the repeat.

The upside down flower has all of the base outline shapes of the filled one - the petals, the center heart, etc. The only difference in the two being the different working methods used after that outline was set down.

I can't see it well, but upside down flower looks to employ small diaper fills, instead of the raised work (semi-detached buttonhole?) of the filled right-side up flower. So cool! -Kim

Tuesday, March 13, 2012  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thought you might like to know that this is a sampler by Elizabeth Short 1661 and can be found online in the V&A museum, accession number - T.131-1961 - link I think your idea to stitch it in tent stitch is very inventive and based on all your previous work, I think your flower will be absolutely lovely. Keep up the good work. Louise.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012  
Blogger elmsley rose said...

Thankyou very much Louise! 2 friends independantly tracked it down for me....I'll talk about the original in a future blog count and the changes I've made in the stitches. I'm doing my piece on a finer linen count than the original (40 vs 35) LOL!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012  
Blogger Flora said...

Hi Megan,

Your book cover project idea sounds great. As usual, you put in a lot of hard work to make it the best one. From tracing to finish, your work is always perfect.

I should thank you for this link!

Just my kind of stuff. I love botanical drawings, and silk shading with these drawings, how lovely it will be. Again loads of thanks to you!

Sunday, June 03, 2012  
Blogger elmsley rose said...

Dear Flora,
I'm so glad that the link was useful :-). And my work is by no means perfect, but I try, like us all :-)
I haven't seen you on-line for awhile (hint, hint)

Sunday, June 03, 2012  
Anonymous خياطة وتفصيل said...

very nice thank you so much :)

Thursday, July 19, 2012  

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