opus mariss

Embroidering through Time and Space

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Tassels don’t have to be hassles


Embroidered Pouch – silk and metal thread on canvas, French 14th century, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York accession# 46.156.34

I honestly don’t remember when I first learned to make tassels. I have vivid memories of my sister and I wrapping lengths of yarn around the front side of cassette cases ( I’m showing my age here, are those even a thing anymore). Tying them, cutting them off, and then forming the head with with bits of burlap we had cut into strips. I don’t recall what that project was, but I am sure whatever it was we decorated with those tassels was fabulous.

I used the same basic idea to make the tassels for this pouch. Inspired by this bag at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Most of the remaining tassels from this period are made with Turk’s Head Knot’s or similar type knot forming the top of the tassel. This particular pouch is a bit unusual because the tassel heads are wrapped and then couched with metallic cord.

tassel detail

Detail view of tassels

You might notice that the four remaining tassels on this bag are all different colors. I think that there was probably a fifth one in the center of the pouch at one time. Using unmatched tassels seems to be fairly standard. In this case the threads used are obviously the same color as the embroidery. And the red color used to make the tassel head are the same as the red in the main body of the pouch as well.

I used the same green in both the body of the pouch and one of the tassels that I made. The red and yellow are the same as well. But I used a different blue. I had originally ordered the bright blue for my piece but decided that it was a bit strong for the other colors. It works well in the tassels though.

Unfortunately this was the best image I could get of the tassels from the extant piece. Its a little bit out of focus but, you can still tell that the tops are made by wrapping red silk thread around a core and then stitching gold cording around the sewn ball. I’ve photographed the process for you.






Step 1- find some thing the length you want your tassel. You can also cut a piece of stiff cardboard to the size you want. I used a gift card for these tassels. Cut a length of yarn or thread, long enough to tie some knots in. This will be the hanger for the tassel so make it a little longer than you think you will need. Run it across your template.


Step 2- starting at the bottom of your template wrap the yarn or thread for your tassel completely around the card. If you are making more than one tassel write down how many times you wrapped your yarn. Wiggle your perpendicular cord up to the top of the template. When you are done wrapping, tie a square knot at the top of the tassel and carefully cut the threads at the bottom of the template. Then use one of the cords from the tassel body to make a half-hitch knot to form a little head at the top of the tassel.


Step 3- make a roll of linen the width you want and stitch it around the head of your tassel. Run a couple of stitches through the tassel to help keep it in place.


Step 4- wrap the linen cloth with silk thread in your choice of color. Use a few tacking stitches to help hold it in place if needed.


Your tassel should now look something like this. These tassels aren’t hard to make but a third hand would be useful. If you plan to make a lot of them you might want to rig up some kind of a jig to hold the tassel while you stitch.

Step 5- the last step is to couch a decorative cord, or thread around the head of the tassel. I couched mine in a spiral pattern, but use your imagination.

completed tassel for my heraldic pouch


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Chain Stitch

This past weekend I taught an embroidery class for beginning embroiders. They asked for a pictorial tutorial for chain and stem stitch. I am going to post chain stitch today and will add the stem stitch later this evening or tomorrow.

For this tutorial I will be working the chain stitch in what is called reverse chain stitch.  I think its easier to control the size and tension  of the stitch especially for new embroiderers.


STEP ONE- take a tiny little straight stitch, ideally only as wide as the thread you are stitching with. If you stitch is bigger DONT PANIC you are new to this and your stitches will get smaller with practice.


STEP TWO – Bring your needle back up to the front of your cloth and carefully run it between the tiny little stitch you just took and your fabric.



STEP THREE – Insert your needle back into the hole you just came up through. Now pull it through to the back side of your cloth. You have just made your first link.










Now continue repeating Steps 3 & 4, using the last loop you made to hold your new loop.









for those of you doing the class project it should look something like this when you get done with your chain stitch. Don’t worry if your stitches are different sizes from mine. Your project is a unique work of art and reflects where you are in your embroidery journey.

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Caveat em…broider

I usually have a pretty good idea of where a project is going, and how to get there, but not always.

I was pretty gung-ho about this project and wanting to get it done for the beginning of March, so I started stitching while still having questions about how the stitch worked.   Instead of taking a few hours and making up some test swatches, I just started stitching.  Which led to do something I didn’t like, that didn’t look right, and had to be taken out.  Which I hate doing, and was a huge waste of time, plus the time it takes to re-stitch the area correctly…bleh.   So learn from mistake.


Don’t do what I did.

Long Armed cross stitch is a directional stitch in order to get the characteristic rows that kind of look knitted, you need to work your rows or columns of stitches in a back and forth method. Switching the direction that the long arm of the stitch is tilted towards. If you do it correctly you get a really cool textural effect, if you don’t it looks essentially like modern cross stitch . I didn’t have a complete grasp of that concept when I started stitching my first shield.  The photo at the below shows the two different effects.

The white back ground of the shield is stitched with the long arm of the cross going the same way in each row. It’s kind of boring and very “modern”.  The Blue wavy bit is stitched with the long arm of the cross alternating angles and creates row that almost look like knitting.  That is the way the stitch was worked in the middle ages.  And, the reason I decided to use the stitch in the first place.

Heraldic long armed cross stitch

Fragment linen and silk embroidery (1301 to 1500), inventory number 2574 Germanisches Nationalmuseum Nurnberg Germany

In this photo you can clearly see the “knitted row” effect.  Two rows of embroidery form each visual row.  Medieval embroiders also switched the orientation of the rows to suit their design needs.  In the pale heraldic motif the stitches move top to bottom throughout the lozenge.  In the dark motif the bars are stitched side to side and the central design is stitched up and down.  This switching of orientation is very different from modern cross stitching which is done left to right(or right to left depending on handedness).  I had figured the orientation switching and worked that into my design.

But, (and here is the big important take away from todays post).  I clearly remember thinking to myself, “Are they stitching back and forth, or from the same side each row? I should make up a couple quick samples and see if it makes a difference.”  And I didn’t.  I just started right in, picking the wrong way to do the stitch.  Compounding the problem, I didn’t stop when I realized it didn’t look right.  I kept going thinking somehow I would come to like it.  I didn’t.  So learn from my mistake, take the time to answer all your questions about the stitch. And if you don’t like something, take it out early on.  Don’t wait thinking it will magically get better with time, it won’t. (That might actually be pretty good advice for a lot of stuff in life.)   But I’m back on track now, and much happier with the way it looks.


looking better already