In most embroidery styles, padding is completed before more decorative surface elements are added. However, there was one bit of padding that needed to go over the edges of the kid and might have interfered with sinking the ends of the background – the string padding at the edges of the ear. String padding is firmer than felt, and stands up much higher off of the fabric – providing the curved edge of the ear and hiding the tacking stitches of the kid leather. Covered in silk thread it can be used as a decorative element in its own right, or further covered with embroidery, metal threads, or beads. Although the hard cotton threads look like they are simply wrapped with silk, each wrap is a stitch that holds the bundle down to the surface.
Shaping is provided by starting at the widest part of the figure and snipping the cotton strings one at a time to taper the figure. The placement of the kid may have seemed off before, but it was necessary to leave room for the top of the second ear. I’ve had a special technique in mind for the edges of the ear since the beginning, and the height provided by this padding should show it off nicely. The biggest concern was padding the back ear, but keeping a low enough profile that it wasn’t directly competing. The elevation is difficult to see in photographs and we won’t really know until it is completed, but there is a noticeable difference in height between the two.
Silk painting, or nue, kid leather, felt padding – there are many new techniques for me in this piece, and one I was especially looking forward to was using Grecian twist. It’s not a terribly difficult thread to work with (just couched down invisibly between the twists) but it is an elegant finish. It’s a thick cord made of four plies, each wrapped with a very fine ribbon of metal. Two of the plies are quite bright and shiny and two of them are matte. Because Grecian twist is so thick the ends aren’t plunged through to the back like the passing threads were, and the ends must be finished on the front with a small join. Because the join is visible I’ve put it in an inconspicuous place and kept it as tidy as possible. It may be hidden later, if the act of concealing it isn’t too obvious.
There were several areas on the Rabbit that I planned to embroider with plate – a broad, flat ribbon of metal that is folded back and forth over an area. When my plate came in, however, it was much smaller than expected and certain sections were a bit damaged. Hunting for a replacement, I found a broader plate as well as an iridescent clear one. It didn’t take much re-working to substitute it in some areas of the design, and having a touch of color might help balance the gold. Unfortunately, what I had hoped to be a pearly, soap-bubble iridescence turned out to be quite decidedly pink. I very nearly unpicked it and stitched the areas in silver again, but two things convinced me to leave it – the hints of pink in the background and another more pressing problem – the beads.
I had planned to use beads from nearly the beginning, and large ones, too. Along with the plate I had purchased a silvery material to put under the beads to hide the felt between them without having to mass smaller beads around them. Like the silver and iridescent plate, this fell short of expectations. It was far too thick to put under the beads. My second choice was white silk, which didn’t work either. If the beads were whiter than the silk, the silk looked dirty, and vice versa. Far from being a vision in silver, the Rabbit was shaping up to be an exercise in subtle color theory.
Silver wasn’t an option, and neither was white. If we consider the gold to be yellow, and the pink as red, then the logical third color to balance them out would be blue. I found just the thing in a box of supplies from my grandmother – a piece of silk ribbon that shifted through shades of lavender, steel blue, and almost teal along its length. Nany loved to make things with ribbons and lace, pearls and sparkle; she would love to know her ribbon was being used in such a bright project.
I rarely use beads in embroidery because they stand so far off the surface of the fabric, and that goes double for round beads. To prevent them from sticking up like a silo in a field, I would need to reduce their apparent height either setting them lower than other elements or raising other elements around them. Because felt doesn’t fray, the padding could be trimmed to make settings for the beads to sit in. Sewing down the ribbon with enough ease to stand in wrinkles and folds softened the transition further. It would be nice to find beads that were half-spheres, but since they’re an uncommon shape they rarely come in the colors and sizes necessary.
There may be some people who can crumple a ribbon and have it fall artistically (likely the same people that can toss their hair up in a messy bun that looks glamorous rather than ratty) but I am not one of them. It took a miniature forest of pins to maneuver the ribbon into position so that it could be tacked down with tiny stitches. The beads themselves helped to shape the folds, so it was important that these large beads be sewn down now. Smaller beads will likely be nestled in the folds of ribbon much later. For now, it will be easier to do the next stage of metal threads with the ribbons complete and the pins taken out. With any luck these bright spots of color will become a cohesive whole.