10 August 2017

Secret Project: Intarsia Pillows

Two finished pillows
Two finished pillows
Originally uploaded by Catrijn.
This was one of 2016-2017's secret projects - a pair of pillows in sewn intarsia.

This was initially conceived as a no-occasion gift for a dear friend, whose heraldry includes a red mermaid on a white background. The original design featured only the mermaid. However, when she was announced for the SCA's Order of the Pelican, it was a little too perfect. The mermaids had already been cut, and one sewn back together, but there was enough space to add the border of blood drops, and this gave me a firm deadline!

Intarsia, as pertains to sewing/embroidery, not knitting, is sort of like an un-backed applique. Instead of putting a design on a ground fabric, two identical designs are cut and exchanged, and then carefully stitched back into a solid piece with a whip stitch joining raw edges that are just butted together. The examples I know of are late medieval and Scandinavian, I'm not sure if it was more widely used than that - when I first saw them in Stockholm, I'd never heard of this before, and there don't seem to be many resources on it in English. Extant pieces seem to be home and church textiles, such as bedcoverings and cushions. The fabrics I used were red and cream/white wool flannels, I believe from Wm. Booth Draper, sewn with linen thread. The couched edging and details are ~2-2.5mm strips of "gold" goatskin leather, surprisingly cheap from Tandy's outlet store. The wool was all joined before I started the couching, so there are two layers of stitching everywhere that the leather is over a join. The backs of the pillows are in the opposite color wool, and it all encloses a feather pillow.

This was definitely a learning project; I jumped in hoping to figure it out as I went along. Although I did simplify the mermaid design, I could have gone further with that. Points and sharp corners really don't work well here! Sewing around raw edges is tricky, too close or too tight and you can pull the weave apart. In general, tighter weaves would be better. Finally, for drawing in my detail lines, I used my soapstone marker on the red (brushed off fine) and pink chalk on the white, which remained way too visible! In the end, I had to wash the whole panel. Yes, that's right, I stuck non-prewashed red and white wools, plus leather, in a sink full of water hoping to get pink spots out (not add more)! Everything turned out fine, but it was nerve-wracking.

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