This Moon is nearly full – and most of what remains will be done in one of my favorite goldwork techniques, chipwork. Chipwork refers to cutting small pieces of the metal threads and sewing them down like beads. Whether they are cut long and laid in stately rows or cut tiny and sewn randomly to make a glittering field, they always catch the eye. Chips are chips, but I’ll use ‘patterned chipwork’ and ‘random chipwork’ to differentiate between two slightly different ways of applying it.
One purl at a time
I’ve used random chipwork before in our Heraldic Initials but never had a really good place to use patterned chipwork. From the very beginning the edge of the ear seemed destined for it. Patterned chipwork is best worked over padding, and the high, rounded string padding would provide a sturdy base and well-defined edges to make the ear really stand out. Many of my favorite examples of chipwork alternate between different types of metal thread; in this case two pieces of smooth purl and one of bright check purl. Smooth purl is a very tiny wire wrapped like a spring with a hollow core; the slightest pressure can crack or displace the coils, making it very delicate. Bright check is the same sort of thing although the wire is wrapped not in a circle, but in a sort of triangular spiral, and all those twisting facets break up the light. It’s a bit sturdier than smooth purl but still quite delicate.
Patterned chipwork is very slow work. Each purl must be measured in place and cut to fit before it can be threaded onto the needle. Marking them to cut isn’t hard – a little press with the side of a needle will do – but handling them without accidentally marring them is very difficult. Every piece is precious, so off cuts are saved for other areas and pieces are carefully planned around coil breaks and kinks. It took hours of work over several days to completely cover the edges of the ears, complicated by the fact that there was very little room to maneuver the needle between the string padding and metal threads (and kid leather) already in place. Bringing the tip of the needle up in the leather or in one of the purls already worked could mar it, so the placement of the needle at the start of each stitch had to be just right.
This sort of chipwork can be varied in all sorts of ways – using all one type of thread, using repeating patterns of multiple threads, or using one kind of metal thread as an accent in a base of another are all stunning. To keep it from being too repetitive, I decided to do one area of each. My favorite is repeating patterns, which ended up being a surprisingly good fit for the ear. Each section was started with a single diagonal purl in the middle to establish the slant, and worked out to the two ends from that point. I expected the ends would require a little neatening up, but the pattern of the purls lined up far better than I could have hoped through all three sections of the ear. I did end up unpicking a little of the bottom at the very tip; the purls were lining up so well that I was able to smoothly join the lower and upper ear with a single purl and continue the pattern without a break.
The small area of pattern chipwork on the rabbit’s flank is a little small to establish a pattern, so it was worked in smooth purl. The edges of the purl tuck under each other in a way similar to stem stitch in order to follow the shape. Preventing the purls from cracking or warping gets progressively more difficult the further they have to bend around a shape. The almond shaped area of the paw is the third area marked for this sort of chipwork; I had no clear idea of what kind of pattern to work on it but wanted something as a sort of visual bridge between the plain smooth purls of the side and the strict alternation of the ear. A couple lines of bright check in a field of smooth purl highlight the curve and echo the lines of the arm.
After finishing the big chips, all that’s left is the little chips in the bottom of the bag – and those trimmings were a bit of a head start on the hundreds of tiny pieces necessary to fill the remaining felt areas. Random chipwork isn’t as exacting as patterned chipwork, but the pieces are usually much smaller. Tiny pieces of purl are stitched down in a random pattern, either scattered or completely covering an area. It is hard to capture the effect in pictures, but all those random facets glitter and sparkle as they catch the light. It makes a good contrast to the smooth shine of the plate and the structure of the patterned chipwork.
With the entire Rabbit completely covered with embroidery the end of this enormous project seemed much closer. It’s not quite finished yet, though. Way back when the ribbon was couched down I mentioned that I had only put in the largest beads to help give it dimension, and I’ve gathered several different kinds of beads since then to incorporate. Tucked into the folds of the ribbons and clustered around the larger beads, they help to soften the difference in height and break up the blue a bit. Stitching things in a random fashion is difficult for me, as is leaving areas only partially filled (who could have guessed?). These bead clusters are a good way to get more comfortable with that.
The Moon Rabbit itself is finished, and gleaming in the sun. Phew! It’s been a massive undertaking; honestly probably my largest project to date and has given me the chance to try so many new things. But with so much complex work in the face of the moon itself it can’t stand all alone in the middle of the fabric. Hints of clouds are showing up on the horizon. So is the deadline – March 15th. I hope to have the last article up for you before then, but it rather depends on how this next part goes.