Couching the Tree of Life

Initial Pencil Sketch

Over the last couple of months I’ve been working on my latest commission – the Celtic Tree of Life Stole. This commission came from Waterford in Ireland, so my first international client! I was asked to reflect the elements of water, air and a connection to new growth. The client sent me an image of a Celtic Tree of Life and this became my starting point. After a couple of attempts at recreating the tree we moved away from it being ‘a tree’ and instead kept with the colours and interlocking designs that so typify Celtic knot work.

I decided to change my usual way of working for this stole as the design was very intricate and the client wanted some hand embroidery. I felt the overlapping design lent itself to the technique known as ‘couching’ This is where a decorative thread is laid on top of the surface and held in place with tiny stitches. All the ends of the threads are then ‘plunged through the silk and fastened off on the back, leaving a neat effect on the front.

Starting with the leaves

The stole was created by first stitching down the tiny areas of blue and green and gold silk in each of the leaves and points, zig-zagging them in place by machine. Once all these areas were attached it was then on to the hand embroidery, couching down the gold, blue, green and dark red 3 Ply Twist threads. I have a blue water soluble pen that I use to draw on the silk to follow when I am stitching so that the design remains precise.

Couching the threads

Once the two panels were embroidered the two pieces are joined together at the neck and then a small cross embroidered on to the point. This was achieved completely with couched threads and I have to admit was quite a challenge, but well worth it I think.

I’m delighted to say that the stole is now complete and received by the client so I can now show you the full finished piece!

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