Silk threads

Spring is here, and there so many distractions. For one thing, the garden needs to be prepared for the seeds and plants, and it is so nice to be out in the sun.

Even so, my Su embroidery project is progressing at a steady rate.  I spend between 2 and 4 hours on it most days, with the occasional day doing other things which need to be done.  I am enjoying it but as the weeks pass my perception could change.  I have already broken off to prepare another, much smaller project which I can take to an Embroiderers’ Guild meeting, and it is tempting me.  I once took a project of this size to a meeting and found it very difficult not to keep knocking the people to either side of me.

Today I will address thread problems, knot-problems, and not-problems.

When I unpacked the thread for my Su embroidery project and spread it out it looked beautiful, gleaming up at me. On Youtube I had found how to deal with a skein.  Quite simple, straighten it out, find the knot, and snip through all the threads.  Then hold the thread in the middle and braid before putting onto a rod.  Professional embroiderers simply drape or knot the threads unbraided over a rod which is beside them as they work, so they can select each thread as it is needed.

By the time I got to deciding how to deal with the thread, some of the skeins were a little tangled and the brown was very tangled.  So the brown was straightened out, and cut as described, and eventually braided.  I did not cut the others, as I was not too sure about the length of thread to work with.

Someone who embroiders for a living can probably work successfully with a much longer thread than most people.  The others were just twisted and put onto a card.  It was a mistake not to braid the brown threads, as this stops them getting more messy.



The point I want to make here is that this is a problem, but not a disaster. It helps when working with any fine thread if your hands are not rough, to avoid snags.  However, filament silk is very strong, and a tangle like this can be remedied in a few minutes.  I simply took each thread in turn and pulled between my finger and thumb a few times and voila!


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These are the same threads.  If you closely you will be able to see how the thread splits naturally in two roughly equal parts.  There are still a few fuzzy bits, but these tend to straighten out as the thread passes through the fabric.

The other problem I  had with the thread was to do with the colours.  As I mentioned, the printing was paler than the threads.  This means that I have tended to use less of the darker colours colours when stitching the leaves and stalks.  Maybe I have used the threads correctly, but I won’t really know until I have stitched the flowers.  At the bottom left there were more leaves which were not green.  Cream and coral pink and brown  were needed.  The  yellow thread is too bright and the pinks are too rose-y. I considered using some of my other silk threads, maybe splitting them and untwisting – too much effort.

Eventually I came up with the idea of colouring some of the silk with silk paint.  I tried a length of the first and third shades of pink, using yellow paint in an egg-cup, with a little water added.  It takes a little practice, to drain the thread without squeezing the colour out, before drying it.  Two immersions worked well.  The colour was a little uneven, but it really did not matter in this instance.  The dried threads then had to be ironed to set the colour before they could be used.


In case you are wondering I am working with a thread length of about 16″ (40cm), which is not so different to the length of a cut skein.  The demos on YouTube show the thread knotted onto the needle, leaving a small tail.  In the demos the stitches are quite long, so the end of the thread is reached before the knot comes undone.  Not so with mine, as my stitches are quite small in some areas.  Also there are a few occasions when I want to undo a stitch or two because the angle is all wrong.  That doesn’t happen in the demos!

As it comes off the skein, the separated thread has a slight twist, which straightens out as the thread passes through the fabric.  I keep giving it a little twist back, as this helps the individual fibres to stay together.

I have found it interesting to use a thread which I had not previously tried, and to learn how best to handle it.  Another thing I found as I used thread straight from an uncut skein, is that it becomes difficult not to tangle the skein.  To avoid this I wound all the threads except the brown onto the middles of used toilet rolls. Two colours fit on one cylinder. They have so many uses!

This has proved successful, as I don’t need to touch the wound thread.  I just pick up the card cylinder, hold the loose end, and unwind a length before snipping it off.

Next time I will discuss various aspects of this project with the benefit of hindsight


April 15, 2016. Tags: , , . Chinese embroidery, Embroidery, Filament silk, Su embroidery, Thread. Leave a comment.

Su embroidery

Now I can unveil my ‘major project’.

I had often looked on eBay at kits for Su embroidery, from Souzhou Province in China, and wondered if they were worth the money.  Postage from China isn’t cheap.  So I looked for a while at the multitude of designs, in different sizes, before I chose one.  Even then I waited for another week or two, then checked the feedback for the seller before I took the plunge.  Some of the kits are offered on a ‘Buy it now’ basis, and some are for auction.  The one I selected was for auction, so there was a chance it would cost a little less. As it was, no-one bid against me so I got it for the starting price.

The things I particularly noticed in the feedback were that there were no instructions (it said exactly that in the listing), and someone had received the wrong kit.  The seller had obviously taken heed, because I soon received two emails.  One offered me a DVD in Chinese, but which would still be helpful.  It also offered scissors and a hoop.  The other asked me to confirm the reference number of the kit.

The correct way to do Su embroidery is not in a hoop, unless it is very small, so I purchased just the kit, in the middle of January. It took about 2 weeks to arrive, so not too bad.

When I opened the package which came from China I was amazed at how small the packet of thread was.   There was also the fabric, printed with the design, but not dark enough that it would show through the stitching.  Also included was a small packet with two tiny needles.  They were smaller than anything I had in my collection, but not shiny like the needles we buy here.




I spent quite a lot of time planning carefully, about a week in total.  I was unsure whether to back the silk, which was quite firm, with another fabric, or not.  At first I decided that it would be a good idea, so I tacked the two layers together, but it was till niggling at me.  I consulted with people on Facebook, and the most useful advice was that there were offerings on Youtube.  I had already looked there, so I went back and watched everything I could find.  It’s so relaxing to watch someone stitching, close-up, while enjoying a cuppa!  As a result of this, and reading my book on Japanese embroidery, I took out the tacking stitches, cut up the backing fabric, and applied strips to all four sides of the silk, and mounted it on a roller frame.




The design was traced carefully before it went in the frame,  scanned  into the computer and  three copies were printed , One A3 print at a larger size was used to mark the direction of the stitches. The other A3 print at normal size was used to make notes round the edges about the colours.   The edges of the petals are very indented, which I thought would be a problem, so I decided that they would need to be simplified.   On the A4 print I marked the simplified edges of the petals.

I also spent a fair bit of time making notes about order of work, and making decisions.  Usually the work would be completed by first working form the parts of the design that are further back, then forward, as in some methods of painting.  However, because of the alterations to the petals, I decided that it would be a good idea to use a different silk thread to outline the petals.  I did this before I stitched anything else. It took hours, but I think it will be worth the effort


Outline stitch completed

Outline stitch completed


Filament silk was supplied.  Professional Sou embroiders divide the thread many times before stitching with it.  I stitched a small practice area using the thread split in four.  If I did the embroidery in that way there was a real danger that I would never finish it.  The thread splits into two very easily, and that is how I am using it, else this project would take too long or even be abandonned to the UFO hiding place. (UFO = UnFinished Object)

A more difficult decision is how to stitch the knobbly twig at the bottom below the leaves.  I have decided to leave this until last.

The two tiny needles provide would not be enough.  I like to have a few needles threaded ready to use.  The smallest needles in my needlecase were just a little larger, but they had a round eye, and a longer eye is better for threading filament silk.  Then I remembered that I had been given a very old pack of Millward size 9 Crewel Needles.  These were what I used most of the time, more so after one of the kit needles snapped.




Here I have shown the two kit needles, the next is probably a ‘between’, and on the right the No 9 Crewel. Unfortulately the print on the needle packet has not fared as well as the contents..  I have also show the pin cushion with the ‘strawberry’.  I like to use this to keep my needles clean.  The ‘strawberry’ contains emery powder, so passing the needle through from time to time removes and dirt and grease.

At last I was ready to start stitching the design itself, starting with leaves and stems.  Two months in, I am thinking that this could be completed by mid-June. Photographs of progress will be given in later posts.

April 7, 2016. Chinese embroidery, Embroidery, Su embroidery. Leave a comment.