5th August 2020: on preparing cloth – looking at traditional methods of transferring designs

After being a little stuck on what to actually do as my next research investigation, I decided that I would attempt to make a copy of the coif (T.12 1948) that I have been digitally tracing.

Yesterday, I printed out the trace drawing – something of an ugly print out, low quality LaserJet on A4 paper taped together to make a 1:1 image. My thought today was about how to transfer this design onto cloth. In my own embroidery , I draw very basic outlines onto thin paper and carbon copy them onto cloth, rubbing graphite onto the back of the drawing, taping it down onto cloth and tracing the image using a biro to transfer the carbon. The lines this method leaves a faint but, as they are my own designs, I have enough to work with and can pencil in areas of detail directly onto the cloth if I need to.

However this design is more complex than one I would make myself (I add in detail directly in the embroidery with my own designs), so I decided to try traditional traditional ‘prick and pounce’ method – where are you pierce the paper designs to create holes and rub chalk or charcoal through them to transfer the designs before drawing in the lines with ink. Not having any ‘pounce powder’ (a commercial embroidery product), I made my own by crushing a stick of charcoal. I was struck by the clarity of the transfer!

I then decided to try a few different links for drawing in the lines – finding Indian ink to be the most permanent (other inks smudged – though not if left to dry properly).

I also needed to work out which cloth would provide the most similar stitch scale. In each case, I found working three threads per stitch (as it is worked on the original) to be too large, but, by reducing the scale to 2 threads per stitch I was able to get something close to the original – with the calico and linen given to me by SN being almost a perfect match.

I spent most of today pricking the design into the paper. Again this got me thinking about hidden labour – the pricking took almost 4 hours. But, it occurs to me that this sheets can now be used several times to transfer the design. And I’m also thinking about how this -pricking a design I have printed using a computer – is similar to the pricking of printed design sheets.

I was also struck by how the pricked sheet is in itself quite beautiful – the design sparkles when held up to the light and there is something delicate about the pierced white of the reverse. I also quite like the accidental trace left in the cardboard used underneath the paper… it’s an interesting thing, a bit like the marks left on a cutting mat – there is something I’m drawn to here about the disposable nature of these things, the marks left on them unintentional, never meant to be regarded as more than a thing to be thrown away once they are no longer useful. I wonder what they put under the original paper designs (not having cardboard), perhaps just a layer of rough cloth?

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