Sunday, November 12, 2017

One thread? Two? … None?

I diligently stitched two detached buttonhole filling samples on my doodle cloth – one using a single foundation thread for each row and the other using two.

Then Francesca made this comment on my previous post, which I’ve truncated a bit (thanks again, Francesca - your comment was not only fascinating, but also a huge help!):

I've studied and done a lot of detached buttonhole in historical reproduction embroidery and have never heard about two foundation threads. About the direction of the stitching, in some old embroideries the foundation thread can be a separate thread that goes from left to right and back right to left and the "working" thread, the one that makes the stitch, can be another thread so the stitching can go L to R and R to L.

I felt sure the words in my instructions said to use two foundation stitches and that the diagram showed that as well, so I pulled out all the instructions.  

Oh dear… what  was that saying about assumptions? 

While the text instructions for this band say to work the detached buttonhole within - and attached to - a chain-stitched border (as Mary Corbet’s video tutorial shows and as Tricia Nguyen’s directions show as well), there is nothing at all there about any kind of foundation thread. 

Okay, that’s fine – the directions are for stitching the sampler, not instructing me in the techniques for the various stitches used.  However, the stitch diagrams included are quite generic (of course it makes perfect sense for a designer to be able to reuse stitch diagrams).  But the one for detached buttonhole is apparently for executing the stitch without using any framing, whether chain stitch or back stitch or any other stitch.  So yes, it really DOES say to use two foundation threads, but that’s only for the *first* row – subsequent rows are merely worked through the first row, and call for no foundation thread at all.

Yeah, I’m a turkey.

So let’s take a look at my stitched samples anyway, since I really did learn something from this exercise … uh, something more than reading twice before starting to stitch.


The upper sample uses ONE foundation thread on each row, and the direction of the detached buttonhole stitches is always left to right.  The lower sample has those erroneous TWO foundation threads, and stitching direction alternates – left to right on the first row, then R to L, and so on.

I like the nice even look of the upper sample – see how the rows tend to slant back and forth a bit in the lower one?  And while I like the stability and sturdiness that the two foundation threads gave, I think the lacier look is nicer for Lady Jane’s dress, and I'll be using the single foundation thread when I next pick up the sampler and start filling in a sleeve.

Another thing I learned is that – for me at least – it’s easy to pull the stitches too tight.  While the stitches look nice and even for most of the top sample, you can see the bottom row looks rather wonky.  That’s because it’s really working to pull the detached part down against the chain stitch outline and each individual stitch is taller than it ought to be as well as tighter.  The high contrast of the blue border doesn't help that sample.  The lower box is stitched in the color that actually outlines the dress.

In the lower sample, I added an extra row even though it looked like there was no room for it on the sides, and that allowed the rows to be more consistent in height and tension.



  1. Wow---glad you figured this one out in the end...a better late than never moment perhaps? I learned something from your trials and errors too.....avoid this stitch whenever possible!!! :)

  2. I like the first one too, less bulky.

  3. Holy moly. I need to look up this stitch and then hope I never have to do it.

  4. Well I guess it pays to read twice and to practice first. Now you're ready to go!

  5. Amazing how different the two swatches look! I like the top one--it's much airier (is that a word?) and more delicate.

  6. I am glad that you were able to sort this out! I also like the top version, very pretty.

  7. I think we've all missed reading (or mis-read) directions when we've stitched, Deb! I remember one of the first ornaments I did was supposed to be done "over one." Somehow I missed that fact and couldn't figure out why it was turning out so huge! Needless to say--it became a pillow, not an ornament.

    Glad you figured things out--really admire your willingness to tackle these complicated stitches :)

  8. Glad my comment was useful, so finally the "mistery" of the meaning of two foundation threads is resolved ! There are so many different ways to make detached buttonhole, some have chain or backstitch foundation edges, some have foundation only in the first row and some have a foundation that is a simple thread couched with stab stitches that are all cutted away after the making of the buttonhole so you obtain a "free" piece that is after couched in place and sometimes stuffed with wool batting ( as for stumpwork hills, animal bodies, dresses...)
    The choice of an appropriate kind of thread is also important to obtain a regular look, this should be a twisted thread as is more rounded and a bit stiffer like Soie Gobelins or Soie 1003 or Soie Perlè if a thicker one is needed.If you like, here in the historical embroidery section of my Blog you can read more about.

  9. Yes quite a lot of difference between the two samplers, definately better the first and Jane´s dress will be lovely.