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If you would like to learn how to couch like they did in 13th century Europe and medieval times, the ancient method of couching is for you!
Ancient couching was developed in the 13th century as a means to attach very fine strands of gold to cloth. These strands were difficult to work with sometimes and so the method of attaching them was done in a very similar way our sewing machines work today with a lock-stitch.
In ancient couching, the very fine thread, typically made of silk, gold, silver or other precious fibers act as your top thread, and your bottom thread is usually of a similar weight but more utilitarian in nature, and is typically linen or cotton.
Usually the couching is worked in rows so that the threads are evenly spaced apart, although of course you could use this technique for any kind of design you like!
The ancient couching method works very much in a similar way as our modern sewing machines do today – the top thread is what you see and the bottom thread (which would be your bobbin thread on your machine) is what locks it in place.
Here’s an example of ancient couching and what it looks like from the top and the bottom.
On the surface of the work, the silk thread travels alternately up and down and at regular intervals dips through to the back.
On the reverse side, the linen thread passes in the same way down and up, following always the lead of the surface thread. Through these regular intervals, the surface thread will encircle it.
It may sound all confusing but it’s actually pretty easy to do and once you do it a couple of times you’ll quickly get the hang of it! Ready? Let’s get started!
What You Need to Couch the 13th Century Ancient Way
To couch in the ancient method, you will need two needles: one threaded with strong linen, cotton or polyester thread, and the other with fine silk or polyester thread.
Actual gold thread like they had back in ye olden days is hard to find and very expensive, but of course in today’s modern world of sewing we have TONS of options that can give you a similar effect, especially if you look at various metallic threads.
The most important thing is that the two threads you are using should be about the same thickness and weight. The one on top should be “fancy”. 🙂
For this kind of work, it’s highly recommended for you to work this couching method in an embroidery or tapestry frame, as this will help you achieve better tension because tension is very important!
Ancient Couching Step by Step
Here are the step by step instructions for couching step by step:
- Secure each thread to the back of your work.
- After making each thread secure at the back of the work, bring the silk thread through to the surface at the top left-hand corner of the form to be filled, holding the silk thread taut.
- Bring the linen thread through to the surface about one-eighth of an inch below with your other hand.
- Let the linen thread encircle the silk thread and then return to the back by the exact same hole through which it entered.
When worked like this, the bottom linen thread should pull through the silk thread with it as it passes to the back. If it doesn’t, then you will need to adjust the amount of tension you have on each thread.
Tension, Tension, Tension!
One of the keys to making this ancient method of couching work is to make sure you have the right amount of tension.
To achieve good tension, the top thread silk should be held taut by one hand on the top of the work and the other hand should be underneath the frame, pulling the linen thread through.
If there is not enough tension, too much of the silk will be taken through – you only want enough to closely wrap around the linen thread. This process repeated at consistent intervals works the couching.
Just as you need the correct tension on your sewing machine to make sure that your thread isn’t pulling too much to the front or back, you also need to have the right tension while working this type of couching.
While ancient couching isn’t really necessary by hand today (we have machine embroidery for this kind of work!) – it’s still a really neat technique to try, epsecially if you are studying various techniques used throughout history.
And if you love Renaissance fairs, medieval cosplay and historical re-enacting, this is definitely a fine art and craft you could demonstrate at those types of events if you want to feature needlework and tapestry!