Couching-art - 7/19/10
"Couching - a Simple Way to Decorate" by Lady Katerina da Brescia.
This article was submitted to me by the author for inclusion in this set
of files, called Stefan's Florilegium.
These files are available on the Internet at:
Copyright to the contents of this file remains with the author.
While the author will likely give permission for this work to be
reprinted in SCA type publications, please check with the author first
or check for any permissions granted at the end of this file.
Mark S. Harris
AKA: Stefan li Rous
stefan at florilegium.org
Couching - a Simple Way to Decorate
by Lady Katerina da Brescia.
Being an impatient person at heart, I learnt to sew in preference to
knitting, as a child; it was much faster. So when faced with a method of
decoration for my garb, I decided that embroidery was too slow. It was then
I discovered couching.
Couching is a method of laying down threads or cord, and sewing it in place
- usually for decorative purposes. It was the best way to use expensive
materials to good value as most, or all, of the cord is visible.
It can be used for almost anytime period in the SCA. In 1250-1350 underside
couching was more common but, by the middle of the 14th century, surface
couching had taken over.
Underside couching involves taking the couching ribbon (often metallic
strips, silk or linen cord) through the material, at stages, and sewing it
on the underside (wrong side) of the material. Thus making the anchoring
stitches invisible. This is technically more accurate for earlier garb. (If
you want to be that accurate) I prefer surface couching as it is easier and
I find that it is less likely to damage the material of your garb or
project ( I also do more Renaissance garb). Surface couching is the best
way to lay thick threads or elaborate cording which is difficult to pass
Some projects/garb are best couched before any sewing is done. Others, such
as doublets are best done after the outside layer is sewn, but before the
lining is sewn to it. The lining will hide the end bits inside (more on
The most difficult part of couching is transferring a pattern to your
material as you don't really want to draw on the outside (front side) of
the material; this is very difficult when working with velvet. There are
several methods to do this:
1. Couch freehand without a pattern on the actual material. I would only
recommend this if you are experienced in couching, embroidery or artistic.
It is also easier if your project is small.
2. Draw on the underside (wrong side) and carefully try to match this to
the front stitching. This is very fiddly.
3. Draw the pattern on thin tissue paper. Sew over this and remove at the
end of the project. This is a quick method but can damage stitching, when
removing the paper, and can make the final decoration 'loose'.
4. Use either method 2 or 3 then tack-stitch, in a contrasting thread,
over the outline of the pattern. (remove paper if you used method 3). Lay
cord along the stitched pattern and remove tack-stitching as you go. I use
this. Though it is time consuming (yes, I know I said I was impatient), it
won't rub off and you are less likely to damage the decorative cord or
material than removing a paper pattern. Also, as I often do bits of work,
then leave it for a considerable time while I finish a more urgent project,
it is less likely to cause staining of the material (if ink was used on the
paper pattern, or to rub off as I work. In the end, for me, it saves me
Couching is so simple- you can't lose your count and can always see where
you are up to! I choose a finer, matching coloured thread that will not be
obvious against the couching cord. An embroidery hoop is a good idea,
particularly if working on velvet or work with a loose weave that may be
distorted out of shape. Stretch the fabric so it is even in the hoop.
Simply choose a decorative cord, lay it along the pattern, on the outside
of the garb so it can be seen. With you matching thread, start on the back
(wrong side) of your work.
To start with, the thicker, couching cord or ribbon is pulled through to
the inside (wrong side) of your material or garb, in the place where your
pattern starts, to the front. This can be done with a large needle or
crochet hook. (I use a large needle). It is then sewn in place with the
Pass the thinner thread through to the front and make a simple, neat stitch
over the couching cord and back to the underside, in approximately the
same spot the thread came through from the back (follow me?). Work along
the couching thread with small, even stitches, a few millimeters apart (the
exact spacing will depend on the complexity of the pattern and what you
want it to look like) until you have finished the design.
To finish, pull the thick couching cord back through to the underside. When
cutting the cord, leave a generous amount extra so it is less likely to
pull through to the front. Stitch the end to hold it in place, with the
thinner thread. If the cord is likely to unravel, I usually tie a knot in
it as well. Be warned though, a knot will be obvious with reasonably thick
cord or thinner materials. Another method is recommended in this case.
Really, couching is so simple that even an impatient person, such as
myself, can be motivated to decorate my garb! If you can do simple
hand-stitching (and are neat) you can couch!!!
(And no couching is not named for the fact that you can do it while sitting
on your couch in front of the TV. I believe it is from the French, coucher,
meaning to lay)
Examples of couching I have done, can be found on my website:
For examples of really nice Anglo-saxon techniques and different forms of
[link updated 7/19/10 -Stefan]
and take a good look at the Bayeux tapestry some time, it is worked in laid
and couched stitching of wool, on linen.
More about Lady Katerina da Brescia.
Katerina lives in Innilgard (Adelaide) in the Principality of Lochac
(Australia), - soon to become Kingdom.
She used to be a Privateer, made her fortune, met a handsome, younger man,
retired and got married. She now lives the life of a noble and does not
have enough time for all of her interests (especially while looking after
her eleven-month old child): garb making, calligraphy and illumination,
drawing, researching, archery.... always finding something else of interest
to do... She is currently protege to Mistress Aislinn de Valence, head of
the household Casa Viola, has just stepped down as Baronial Arts and
Sciences Officer of Innilgard, has served as Rapier Mashall in years
passed (now retired due to injury), and A&S Officer of local Canton.
Karen Carlisle is an Optometrist, now working part-time after returning
from maternity leave, with not enough time or all of her interests!
Copyright 2001 by Karen Carlisle, <kat at iprimus.com.au>. Permission is granted for republication in SCA-related publications, provided the author is credited and receives a copy.
If this article is reprinted in a publication, I would appreciate a notice in
the publication that you found this article in the Florilegium. I would also
appreciate an email to myself, so that I can track which articles are being
reprinted. Thanks. -Stefan.