How to do an Insertion or Faggotting stitch

insertion stitch

For a long time, I’ve entertained the idea of doing a hand-sewn Elizabethan shirt.  I’ve done enough hand-sewing to know that I can just whip-stitch all the pieces together, but the Janet Arnold book “Patterns of Fashion 4” has all these lovely shirts that are sewn together with insertion stitches.  There’s not a lot of instruction though and I’ve had a hard time figuring out how they were done.

There is a diagram on page 6 that shows several insertion stitches, but not a step by step instruction which is the thing I was lacking. After combing through my embroidery books I finally found instructions for one stitch (the second one below) which is pretty easy to do.  There are some tutorials online that show an insertion stitch, but most of them call for pinning the pieces to be sewn together to cardboard or similar to maintain an even spacing between the pieces.  Because I wanted to do seams, I wanted something decorative but that could be easily done for long pieces, in hand, without a large gap. I’ll try figuring out some of the other insertion stitches in the future.

insertion stitch 9

I’m calling it a twisted zigzag insertion stitch.

First, finish the edges of the pieces you want to seam together.  For my shirt I turned the linen under twice and did a running stitch.

Place wrong sides of the pieces you are joining together.  Pin long seams if you need to.

insertion stitch 2

Use an embroidery thread or similar weight thread.  I’m using Soie Perlee which is a twisted silk thread. (Resist the temptation to cut your thread too long.)

Knot the end of the thread and bury the knot under the hem on the wrong side of the fabric.

insertion stich 1

Put your needle through the fabric going into the center (about an 1/8 of an inch from the edge), catching only the front side of the two pieces.  Pull the needle through, with the needle over the tail of the thread.

From the back, put your needle through the fabric going into the center (about an 1/8 of an inch from the edge), catching only the back piece of fabric.  Pull the needle through, with the needle over the tail of the thread.

insertion stitch 6

Keep going.  Try to be consistent with how far down you enter the fabric with the needle and how far apart you make the stitches.  (Don’t make yourself crazy though.  It’s hand-work and it’s not going to be machine perfect.)

When you get to the end of your thread, knot it, bury the knot in between the pieces.  I haven’t quite figured out an elegant way to start a new thread, though putting the needle through the fabric going into the center and looping through the last stitch and then continuing as before seems to work.

If you have questions, please let me know.   Happy Stitching!

(Sorry for some of the pictures.  I’ll have to figure out a better way than using my phone.)


Colorium, paint making workshop!

colorium 3

Yesterday I went to a friend’s house to do a workshop in making paint from dry pigments. Rebecca’s primary focus is painting and staining guilds so painting on cloth is one of her big interests (while mine is illumination).  The basic instructions are from Cennini (though we used rabbit skin glue to size the cloth before painting, and not gesso sottile.  I confess I’ve never read all the way through Cennini, just bits of it, so it may be that using rabbit skin glue instead of gesso sottile is mentioned elsewhere in the book.)

So, first we stretched out linen and silk on frames, using oversized embroidery hoops.  The linen was sized with the rabbit skin glue (which needs to be soaked for a while and then cooked) and the silk was sized with the rabbit skin glue plus some egg white. We left them to dry (which didn’t take long as it was warm out.)

colorium 5

Then we started in on making the paints.  We didn’t do a lot of measuring mostly working by eye, though we probably used about a teaspoon of each pigment.  The pigments were poured out on a glass slab, then water added to make a paste, and then ground with a muller.  We added about 3 drops of egg yolk and then ground again.  All the pigments (except two) were from Natural Pigments. Rebecca, Una and I took turns grinding the paints. I need to add that the egg yolk was from Rebecca’s adorable medieval chickens!

We decided not to do any toxic colors as Rebecca has pets and a child.  The colors chosen are mostly ones  available in Cennini’s time (though probably not all  known by these exact names): Malachite, Nicosia Green Earth, Verona Green Earth, Azurite, Lapis Lazuli, Blue Ridge Violet Hematite, Blue Ridge Hematite, Lemon Ocher, Zinc White, Chalk, Lamp Black, and Vine Black.  We added Yellow Ocher and Italian Brown Ocher which Rebecca had in her stash.

All the paints worked great except for the chalk (which flaked dramatically on both the linen and silk) and the blues.  The Lapis Lazuli flaked quite a bit on the silk, and a little on the linen.  The Azurite flaked a little on the silk. I suspect that those were all under-bound.  I think we also needed to add more water to all of them to make them flow more.

All in all, it was a fabulous experimental workshop day and I look forward to doing more.

Catching up on Projects

How do you get things done?  Most of us live pretty busy lives and the hobby stuff usually takes a back burner to everything else.  Sometimes you have to set aside a block of time to accomplish something, but it’s also possible to make progress with small bits of time like 15 or 30 minutes or even 5 minutes.  Over days and weeks that all can add up.

I started an embroidery project, collar and cuffs for a new Elizabethan shift ages ago, but the project kept getting set aside for other more urgent things.  I decided I really want to get it done and have been working on it for short bits of time over the last week.  The cuffs are done, and now the collar is almost done.

red shift embroidery 1

I’m also still working on an SCA award scroll, this one is a backlog court barony scroll.  While I would really like to block out some major time to work on it, I’m still making progress doing a little at a time.  I’m starting to lay down base colors.  There will be a lot of detail work coming later.

Cara scroll progress 6

On the big block of time end of things, a couple of weeks ago, friends had a sewing day and we spent most of the day sewing.  Sometimes, working with a group of people all doing similar things, keeps me going long past the time I would have stopped if I was working alone.  I got to work with an overlock sewing machine.  It’s a pretty cool thing if you want to finish the edges of fabric that frays like linen in a quick non-historical manner.  I made a couple of pairs of linen shorts to wear under costumes for those hot hot summer event days, inspired by this post from Whilja’s Corner:

How do you get things done?



Book of Kells

I’m taking an online class about the Book of Kells from Trinity College in Dublin through FutureLearn.  The class is in the second week, but I don’t think it’s too late to join.  You can join here:  It’s been fascinating (and most of the reading and videos are pretty short so it’s not like it will take a huge amount of time).

This week though, there was an exercise to try and decorate a letter in the style of the Book of Kells.  Most of my interest in illuminated manuscripts is much later period (and I haven’t done anything in an Insular style in a very long time) but I decided to give it ago.

I found a letter M in “The Book of Kells” by Bernard Meehan (which was on the book shelf and handy) and decided to write out the word March for the current month. I wanted to use some iron gall ink and quill, but the ink decided not to get very dark (I think I need new ink!) so I went back to Calli brand ink and a metal dip pen.  If I was doing an SCA scroll, I’d spend a lot more time practicing the calligraphy.

I traced the letter and then went to look for paint.  I need to source out better colors for this era of illumination.  The paint is a combination of paints I made from dry pigments and tube gouache.  (I really need to make better notes on paints I make.  Some had colors labeled, but none listed the binder used. Future scribe will do a better job.)

I think it probably took about five hours start to finish. It’s on an Artist Trading Card so the size is 3-1/2 inches by 2-1/2 inches.

Book of Kells

And a blast from the past, a Book of Kells style scroll I did eons ago.

kells scroll

Court Barony scroll diary

So last time I talked about figuring out the next step in the scroll making progress and dealing with procrastination.  And I find myself at one of those procrastination type moments.  I have outlined the scroll in walnut ink and gilded the one capital letter in the scroll and also re-gilded the baronial coronet that sits on the top of the design.  So, I should be ready to start painting (and I want to start painting) but I still have to design a little scene that sits at the top of the design.  I know what I want it to look like, but my drawing skills are not quite up to snuff.

I’ve been looking for reference images, both actual photographs and medieval scenes, and I haven’t quite found what I want.  Or maybe I’m just delaying because I don’t think the vision in my head will match the final outcome.

I do want to make progress on the scroll this week, so tomorrow, I’m just going to have to bite the bullet and tackle the scene.

In the meantime, I’ve set up my color palette for the scroll.  Last year I was fortunate to take a class at the Known World Heraldic and Scribal Symposium from the amazing Antoinette de la Croix, a Mistress of the Laurel in the Kingdom of Aethelmearc.  It was transformative!  While I’ve planned out the colors for scrolls in advance before (mostly), the idea of making a chart and writing down what colors I used and how I mixed them, is totally brilliant and I will be doing much more of this in the future.

cara colors


The Next Step

I’ve always wondered about scribes who take on award scroll assignments and then never work on them but I read an interesting article recently that I find very enlightening. It was a discussion about procrastination and that procrastination doesn’t generally come out of laziness, but out of anxiety. That people don’t do things because they are afraid it won’t be as good as they want and also because they really don’t know how to tackle the project.

I think people get very excited about doing scribal work often after they’ve taken a class in calligraphy or a class in illumination or seen a scroll display at Coronation.  They look at the scrolls and say I want to do that, that looks like fun, so they take on an assignment.  But then they sit down to work on the scroll and get overwhelmed.  Some get anxious that their work won’t be good enough, or that they don’t know any calligraphy or they just don’t know where to start.

I want to help.  I know what it’s like to feel anxious about my work, I know that looking at entire scroll makes it feel impossible to do something like that.  But it’s really a matter of breaking it down into much small steps.  I want to help.  Let me know what you are working on, and together we can break down the process into smaller steps and identify the next one.

If you don’t know calligraphy and don’t want to do that part, I can find a calligrapher.  If you don’t know how to do a layout, there are templates on line that you can use (half-way down this page , or classes that will teach basic layout.  If you need help with painting or color selection, I can help.

On the other hand, if your life has changed and doing award scrolls is something you really don’t want to do right now, that’s okay too.  You can come back to it when you’re ready.  If you don’t see yourself working on your assignment in the next six months, consider returning the assignment.  When you are ready, there will be more assignments in the queue.

But if you want to work on award scrolls and you are stuck, I want to help.  Let me know what you want to be working on and how to contact you and let’s figure out the next step.  You can leave a message for me here or on the Caid College of Scribes Facebook group.  Let’s tackle the next step!

Gideon scroll

Time for Scribal!

Remember what I said last time about trying to keep this blog up more regularly?  Still haven’t managed that.

When last we left our intrepid scribe she was working on an SCA Court Barony scroll.  In the meantime, a friend won Crown tourney in Caid and I offered to be their Court Scribe.  Court Scribe in Caid handles putting together award certificates for each event the Royals plan to give awards at.  And the new Queen has a Norse persona.  While other Crowns in Caid have also been Norse and there have been some fabulous award certificates in a Norse style, none of them made it in to the Court Scribe box (which has blank certificates for a multitude of awards.)

So I decided to make some new ones.  I was stuck on what exactly I wanted to have them look like, until a scribe friend from back East shared a scroll that she had done in a Norse style based on carvings from a Stave church.  Bingo!  There was my inspiration.

So here’s some pictures of the Norse-inspired award certificates.


I have also managed (somehow) to make some progress on the Court Barony Scroll.  Calligraphy is done.

Cara scroll progress 3

And I transferred the design to the paper I’m using.  The transfer was a little faint, so I decided to outline everything in walnut ink which is giving me a chance to refine and fine-tune the design.  I’m about halfway done.


Scribe stuff and other things!

Sheesh, it’s been forever since I’ve done a blog.  (I need to keep this thing up more regularly.)

So, the last year, I’ve been studying Hebrew and this past Friday night I did an adult Bat Mitzvah with my mom and 4 members of the Hebrew class.  It’s a pretty amazing experience and the study of Hebrew and the prayers and my Torah portion took a fair percentage of my free time.  Now, though it’s time to clear the decks and get my scroll backlog cleaned up.

I’m working on this scroll, it’s really not the top priority scroll on my list, but it’s the one that calls to me the most right now to get it done.

Scroll in progress

Here’s the rough layout. I need to do a little more clean-up on it. The vines will be white with grey shading.  The background will be an ochre color. The flowers will all be natural (more or less).


Calligraphy practice 2Here’s the latest calligraphy practice.  I think I ought to practice the entire text 2-3 more times before putting it on the good paper.  I’m planning on using pergamenata for this one.  I’m really looking forward to painting it! Continue reading


Work continues on the sweetbag.  It’s slow going but bit by bit things are filling in.

One thing that I will remember next time:  It’s a lot easier to do the outlining in black thread if the design on the linen is in a different color.  So better to use a sepia colored pen or a grey pen or something.  Stitching black on a black line is just confusing.

I also put the first little bit of plaited braid on the sweetbag, and it might have been easier to do that before the outline.  The plaited braid was a little nerve wracking and following the curve is a little awkward.  Hopefully I’ll get better with more practice.

People sometimes ask me why I’m all over the map on the stitching.  The answer is, I get bored if I do all the outlining first and wait until the very end to do all the background stitching.  So, I tend to alternate between black, color threads and metal threads.  It might not be the best method, but it keeps me from getting bored.

Here’s the sweetbag to date and the first bit of plaited braid.