Whenever we shop for things we look at the design and the details, and whether it pleases our eye. Every day we have opportunity to notice clothes, cars, houses…you name it, there are design details everywhere. The fine arts are all about details and the sewing world, though it can be quite utilitarian, can be just as fine an art. Sewing can be much more than sewing seams together. There are endless numbers of details that can be added to any project with the wonderfully innovative machines and accessories today.
Back in the Middle Ages and Renaissance years, before there were sewing machines at all, hand sewing and embroidery was a fine art. One of the techniques called couching, from a French word that means laid or laid work, used beautiful and expensive threads and yarns which were laid on the surface of the fabric, and various styles of hand stitches sewn with matching or contrasting sewing thread held them on. Gold or metallic threads or textured or thick yarns could be incorporated into the surface design without actually sewing with them. The stitches themselves were as much about the art of couching as the threads and yarns they were holding on as they scrolled and twirled about. It was also used to fill in areas to create designs and motifs.
Today there are many ways to replicate the hand arts with modern technology and couching is easily done now with the help of specialized feet. With the multitudes of embroidery stitch patterns on most of the sewing machines today there are endless possibilities without the fuss of hand work. It is odd that though our machines do more today we do not see nearly as much detail like in the days of old when everything was done by hand.
The reasons that our sewing ancestors used couching are the same as we use today. It is a way to use unusual or expensive threads (even gold and silver should we have those in our sewing basket!) and make it go further. Thick thread that cannot go through a needle or fabric, textured thread that would shred if it was used in a needle, cords, beads, trims, all can be couched with the sewing machine. Even if a machine can only do zigzag, as long as it has a foot that will allow the cord to pass under it, it will sew over those easily as they are laid on the fabric.
There are a number of different accessory feet to aid the couching process. Choose the foot style according to the thickness of the thread, cord, yarn or trim that will be sewed on. Look for a channel or groove that is closest to the size that the thread or cord that will pass easily underneath and guide the cord. Some of the feet have several small holes that can accommodate multiple small cords laid next to each other at the same time, and there are stitch patterns that will sew each cord individually to hold each one in place. For heavy cords or beads, look for a foot with a very large groove.
Thread choices for the actual sewing can be varied as well. Matching the thread to the cord color is certainly an option for the cord itself to be the main focal point. Invisible thread works well to conceal the stitches. Contrasting the colors of thread and cord and a defining stitch pattern provides more interest and more creative options. Keep in mind the variegated, metallic, and rayon threads in combination with the cords and stitch patterns and you will have endless varieties and excitement as you try many different combinations. Happy couching!
- #12C Bulky overlock - very large groove for very large cords, yarns, beads, pearls. It also has a single opening on top like the braiding foot # 21
- #21 Braiding foot – has a single hole on top for guiding medium to medium heavy cord
- #22 Cording foot – can accommodate one, two or three small cords laid next to each other
- #25 Cording foot – like #22 but can accommodate up to five small cords laid next to each other
- #59/#59C – Double-cord foot # 59 / 59C enables the simultaneous couching of two parallel cords with a diameter of 4 to 6mm.
- #60/#60C – Double-cord foot # 60 / 60C allows the simultaneous couching of two parallel cords 7 to 8 mm in diameter.
- 3 hole foot – use one, two or three small to medium yarns next to each other
- 7 hole yarn – use up to seven small yarns or heavy thread next to each other
- Braiding – narrow or regular, has hole on top for medium yarns or cords
- Fancy trim – can guide sequins or tape
- Clear 2-3 embellishment – for small pearls or cords
- Mini bead 4mm – medium beads or cords
- Maxi bead 6mm – large beads or very heavy cords
- Gimp or Twin gimp with braiding guide – one channel or two for small cord or heavy thread, twin gimp can use a double needle, guide can help control the threads. Use satin stitch for raised or dimensional couching.
- Beading – medium to large beads, heavy cords
- 3 way cording – use one, two or three small cords or heavy thread laid next to each other.
- Ribbon/sequin – for flat trims