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Couching-art - 7/19/10


"Couching - a Simple Way to Decorate" by Lady Katerina da Brescia.


NOTE: See also the files: embroidery-msg, applique-msg, 8-P-Stitches-art, emb-blackwork-msg, textiles-msg, p-x-stitch-art, tapestries-msg, lace-msg.





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.


                              Thank you,

                                   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

through material.



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

this later).



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

thinner thread.


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

couching, try:


           [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.


<the end>

Formatting copyright © Mark S. Harris (THLord Stefan li Rous).
All other copyrights are property of the original article and message authors.

Comments to the Editor: stefan at florilegium.org