The front of the dress has been gathered and pleated so in this post I’ll begin to talk about the hand-embroidery.
Before I could begin embroidering the scene on the front of the Rabbit Makes a Friend dress, I had to make sure that the pleats in the middle were secured. This I do either by smocking on the right side of the fabric as a part of the scene, as I did with the hills and a few rows above the hills, or by smocking on the wrong side of the fabric, which is called back-smocking. That way if the smocking doesn’t fit with the design or scene that I’m making, it won’t show. (I need to note that I’m now ready to begin embroidering the middle scene, but I still haven’t decided what that scene is going to be.) This happens often because every dress I make is an original. I make the scene up as I go, sometimes trying one thing and, not liking it, tear it out and try something else until I get something that I like.
I always start the embroidery with the head of the main character. I start with the head because I feel the most important thing is to create a face that is attractive; either cute or pretty. I want the character to be appealing immediately. If I can’t make that happen, I abandon the idea and try another. This way I’ll know before I waste time working on the body and the rest of the scene. Fortunately it’s not often that I have to abandon an idea.
March 21 was the first day of spring! When I sat down that morning and picked up my dress front to continue working, I had almost completed the rabbit and had finished embroidering one flowering tree. It’s extremely rare that I get that far into a scene without fully knowing where I’m going, yet that’s exactly what happened with this dress.
I was putting some finishing touches on the rabbit while thinking about what I was going to have her do. As I followed the curve of her arm with my thread, it occurred to me that she should be holding something, and then, “thank-you first day of spring, ” without another thought, I knew where my picture was going. If you look closely, you’ll notice a little bird in the rabbit’s hand. The rest of the scene will still require much time, but I am relieved that the main part, the most difficult, is basically finished and I finally know where I’m going with this picture! The remainder of the scene will be mostly background “fill-in” work. Even though I’m more than halfway through with the scene, it’s still going to require many more hours before it will be finished and ready to make into a dress.
There are basically two reasons the embroidery takes so many hours. The first is that it’s extremely important that all of the stitches lie smoothly, one right next to the other, if an area is to be filled in. They can’t be very long because then they will easily catch on something and pull, distorting the object they are depicting. This is especially important on clothing, because it is subjected to all kinds of things when it is worn. Because the fabric I work with is soft and pliable rather than stiff, it’s difficult to know how tight to pull the threads. If they are pulled too tight, the fabric pulls with them and alters the shape. If they are too loose, they lie in gaps, look sloppy, and get caught on things. They have to match exactly, the area being covered.
The second thing that makes it so time consuming is the embroidery thread itself. It comes in packets where six strands of thread are twisted together to make one thick strand. The floss can’t be used as it comes packaged because the thread is much too thick to make the nice, smooth-looking stitches that are necessary. When I smock, I split the floss in half and smock with three threads at a time. When I embroider, because I often sew such fine detail and because I want to have smooth stitches, I usually split the floss and use only two threads at a time. Because two strands of thread are extremely thin, I often have to go over and over the same spot to get the three-dimensional appearance that I like to have.
Enough for now, I’ll continue to talk about the embroidery in my next post and we’ll finish up the dress.