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The Thistle gets the Trellis Stitch Treatment

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25 May 2012

The Thistle gets the Trellis Stitch Treatment

The information record for the 1661 sampler by Elizabeth Short that my Heart of the Thistle project is based upon states :

“The embroidery is worked with silk, linen and metal thread in back, cross, two-sided Italian cross, satin, plaited braid and detached buttonhole stitch, with cutwork.”

Link to the original Victoria and Albert museum item entry

However, Sue Jones of the Tortoise Loft Blog said to me in a comment :

Well, it looked like trellis to me, from the close up photo on your blog. The outlines done first in cross and/or holbein, and then the spaces filled with trellis afterwards. I have seen this (in photos) used on several similar samplers, with the same sort of shading in stripes. (Sometimes it may be one of the other ‘semi-detached’ fillings, but mostly trellis.)

Have a look at a hi-resolution picture, downloaded from the V&A site. Blimey, I do believe that Sue is right!


Don’t get distracted by the border (that would be done last over the other embroidery) in herringbone stitch in orange red thread that runs along the bottom of this ‘spear’ or ‘petal’ of the Thistle.

For each separate section of the spear (light yellow, orange, darker yellow, reddish, darkest red) there’s a faint orange-red line at it’s edge. Then each section is filled with trellis stitch in the appropriate colour.

I’d been going *mad* trying to reproduce even close to the colour shifts in the piece using tent and cross stitch but the changes in hue were too abrupt so the colour changes weren’t blending At. All.

Here’s a bigger one of the picture above, if it helps at all, although I think the smaller image is actually clearer.


Those outlines are jagged, not smooth as you’d expect from a normal outline that supports a semi-detached needle lace stitch (chain stitch, reverse chain stitch, backstitch). A cross stitch outline makes sense.

Using the same colour for the outline in the differently coloured sections helps to tie the disparate colours in each spear together, and then the entire piece together.

In this particular ‘spear’ of the thistle, a purple-brownish thread is used for each outline:


It’s most easily seen at the top of the spear. The colours I’m using are purple, rather than these brownish colours (I couldn’t get them in the Renaissance Crewel Wools I’m using), and I’ll probably use the orange-red thread in all cases.

Holbein stitch outlines on the piece

Here, in the centre of the thistle – see how there are vertical stitches (vertical Holbein stitches) that overlap into the next colour layer? It’s exaggerated by an extra stitch in the outermost red layer that forms the actual heart.


In this case each section seems to use a stitch outline of the colour from the section before. I’ll have to experiment a bit to make sure that I’m getting the same effect, and check that that exaggerated effect with the darkest red is in fact an extra vertical stitch.

I tried to reproduce the ‘colour shift’ look of the original piece using tent stitch, by extending each second line by an extra stitch. It just didn’t give it the right look.


Cross stitch was even worse….I tried doing the colour for the next section as the first (under) stitch of the cross stitch. As the section (top) stitch. It just didn’t work. The colour changes were just too abrupt.


When I started the project, I was pretty wobbly health wise. It suited me to do tent stitch and cross stitch. But now I’m feeling much better. It seems like an absolute waste not to take this opportunity to master Trellis stitch. Especially since I’ve tried, and it’s defeated me before.


I’ve already frogged the purple sections above and below the red Heart. They are definitely going to be in trellis stitch hung on vertical holbein stitch outlines.

Whether I do the spears in the same way depends on whether I can do trellis stitch in such small spaces – each section of each spear. I know that the Thistle Thread Gentleman’s Cap students have had trouble doing trellis stitch in a very small area, so again, I’ll have to experiment. I’ll leave the frogging of the existing spears until after that.

I’m going to take the opportunity to learn Jacqui Carey’s version of Trellis stitch, which is different to the version that we are more familiar with. Unfortunately, I don’t think that I should show Jacqui’s stitch diagram here – I will show you my finished stitching, once I’ve done it.

I need to talk about why Sue and I think it’s trellis stitch, not detached buttonhole stitch as mentioned in the museum information on the piece. It doesn’t matter, in a way. I can already do detached buttonhole stitch quite happily. It’s a great opportunity to learn trellis stitch!

Thankyou, Sue. :-). Thankyou also to Mary, Kimberley and Louise for telling me where the original sampler was held – the V&A museum, Acc No T.131-1961.

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Blogger dulcinella said...

Thanks for explaining! It's always so fascinating to see how they used to stitch and get special effects on old cross stitch pieces.

Friday, May 25, 2012  
Anonymous meri said...

I admire you so much for your perseverance and research about ancient pieces.
I've never tried trellis stich - one day I have to
Hope you are feeling well

Friday, May 25, 2012  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, now I feel a bit guilty about making you redo so much of your hard work! I will be interested to see how trellis works out in woollen thread, rather than silk or linen. (One day I must try the stitch for myself.)

Friday, May 25, 2012  
Blogger Unknown said...

Dulcinella - we'll see what kind of effects I can come up with :-)

Meri - Thankyou for your good wishes. Finally I've gotten to the 'really have to' on trellis stitch!

Sue - Don't feel guilty! It was a revelation! I really appreciate you pointing out the technique. Hopefully, being in wool, it won't fluff too much, or the knots not work. Experimentation, experimentation. The Renaissance Wool is a lovely find one ply.

Saturday, May 26, 2012  
Blogger Jennifer said...

I took a detached buttonhole notebook class from Chris Berry a few years ago. Chris is a past president of the Embroiderers Guild in the UK and she volunteers at the Burrell Collection studying and cataloging the needlework. I asked her about the Jane Bostocke sampler. There are strawberries on that sampler that are trellis stitch but the V&A description just says detached buttonhole and doesn't mention trellis stitch. When I asked Chris about this, she said "Trellis stitch is detached buttonhole". What I took from that is that was that English descriptions just consider trellis as part of the family of detached buttonhole stitches and don't separately identify it as trellis. It looks like that is also the case with Elizabeth Short because you're right, that is definitely trellis stitch.

Saturday, May 26, 2012  
Blogger Unknown said...

Jennifer, that is *absolutely* fascinating. It explains why the museum description is the way it is (saying "DBS"). Maybe they aren't able to identify a semi-detached needlelace stitch beyond allocating it to the DBS family, or maybe they don't care to. It would be helpful if they did provide further identification.
Thankyou for the backing up on the trellis stitch identification. I find trellis stitch is zig-zaggy to look at and DBS is loopy. Although when they are corded, I'm in trouble.

Sunday, May 27, 2012  
Blogger Unknown said...

Jennifer - I hope that you see this....Chris is on HHE (Facebook Historic Hand Embroidery). I'd like to talk to her further about this - since it's pretty important, and I think a lot of folk would like to know why the V&A description is always "DBS". May I have your permission to quote your comment?
HHE is *the* happenin' group in HE these days, just in case you aren't in it. You need to be invited by someone, just to save spammers etc joining the group. Or any other HE's that are interested that are reading this :-)

Sunday, May 27, 2012  
Anonymous Rachel said...

The details of identification, such as between DBS and trellis, are only obvious to embroiderers, and unfortunately not all museum textile curators are knowledgeable about embroidery. They do their best, but whenever an embroiderer studies a piece in a museum there is a good chance they'll be able to add to the information held about it!

Monday, May 28, 2012  
Blogger Jennifer said...

You certainly may use my comment. Thank you for telling me about HHE- I've joined it. But it's not necessarily a good thing as I get so interested in the beautiful things others are doing that I have to try and the stash keeps growing. I have little self discipline in acquiring historic embroidery - I love it and want to do it all.
Back to trellis vs DBS - I did a sample of the strawberries from Jane Bostocke. I first tried doing what we know as DBS. I tried it uncorded, corded, corded with a different color, it just wasn't right. Then I remembered taking a class with Diane Clements with trellis stitch and her commenting about the slant in the stitch and the light bulb came on. I did the strawberries in trellis and they look exactly (well almost) like the ones on JB. I could send you pictures if you'd like.

Monday, May 28, 2012  
Blogger Unknown said...

Thankyou Jennifer! :-) Have a search on any keyword that interests you on HHE - in the beginning we talked a lot about 16thc embroidery. Also be sure to check out the photos! Loads of great stuff.
The Bostocke strawberries...interesting that you bring them up. Sue thought that "another counted design with trellis added afterwards, although not attached to a cross stitch outline.".
Sue, can you clarify what you meant by this? "Trellis added afterwards"?

Monday, May 28, 2012  
Blogger Unknown said...

Rachel, I know there was a case a few years ago. To quote
"As many of you all know I went to London last year on the Thimble trip. While there I took particular interest in the embroideries done by Mary Queen of Scots.
I had believed that they were all done in cross-stitch, not in tent stitch as many sources list.
After looking a the pieces closely, I was able to clearly see that they were all done in cross-stitch.
I wrote to the curator of textiles of the V&A with my findings and they took another look at the embroideries and were able to confirm that they were done in cross-stitch!
They are currently reclassifying them to cross-stitch, but it will take a bit of time due to the cost involved. I just got a e-mail back from them two weeks ago and thought I would share this information."
Cellach of the SCA.
-- Wow! Those are some rather major embroideries!!!

Monday, May 28, 2012  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

By 'trellis added after' I simply mean that the design was stitched out as a counted thread piece first, and then the chunks of trellis and other filling stitches were added afterwards. On some pieces the counted stitching seems to have been used as the attachment stitch for the trellis. In others, there may be a chain stitch border under the silk, which we can't see. There are often parts of these sampler patterns where the design is left unfilled, the stitcher could then copy the counted threads when she wanted to use the pattern on something else. Once the areas are filled, it's much less easy to be exact about sizes and shapes when copying.

Monday, May 28, 2012  
Blogger Unknown said...

Sue - Ah - so simple! Like I did with the woad blue leaf in the Thistle (see photo at the bottom left)

Wednesday, May 30, 2012  

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