the use of Burden stitch
photos by Ian Cole
Burden stitch is a couching technique that dates back to the Middle Ages. At that time, it was often used on ecclesiastical embroideries, particularly those worked in Italy and Germany - possibly because it covered the background fairly quickly. The stitch was revived by Elizabeth (Bessy) Burden, a teacher at the Royal School of Needlework, who obviously recognised its potential and used it to cover large areas when embroidering designs by her brother-in-law, the influential 19th-century designer William Morris
Sample 1: A scrap of fine gold mesh woven with shaded knitted rayon ribbons
Burden stitch can be worked on both plain-weave and evenweave linen fabrics; aida fabric allows fewer couching stitches to be worked - but this may be the effect you want. A firm, rounded thread is laid in equally spaced rows, leaving a space between each row, across the area to be worked; the laid thread can be any heavy yarn, metallic thread, braid, ribbon, rouleau - even string if the fabric is to be completely covered.
A lid for a wooden trinket box (7.5 cm diameter): couched in Marlitt (stranded rayon) and Kreinik metallic braids over a laid Kreinik cord.
The laid threads are held in place with vertical couching stitches (traditionally worked over two laid threads). The couching stitches can be worked over any number of laid threads, but to keep the rows in place you may wish to secure the laid threads with small invisible couching stitches before you work the decorative couching that is a feature of this stitch.
The couching stitches can be worked close together or spaced further apart so that the background fabric and the laid thread show.
Sample 2 (4 x 8 cm approx.): A shimmery, see-through fabric was laid over fine canvas. The fine ribbon-woven mesh was laid over part of this and couched in place with stitches in a metallic thread. Rows of Japan thread, gold braid and rayon ribbons were couched with silk and gold threads. Additionally, a row of braid was couched using herringbone stitch in a fine gold thread.
When it comes to the couching stitches, you can let your imagination run wild! The stitches can be arranged to form patterns (see the diagram at the top of the page for some simple suggestions). Work the couching in cotton perle, silk, stranded cotton, threads and fine braids, very narrow ribbon, or raffia. The couching does not have to be worked in yarn. A bugle bead or several seed beads threaded together, strips of leather or a metal purl thread (cut into short lengths and used in the same way as a bead) could be used for the couching to add richness and texture or to provide an eyecatching accent.
Worked on a natural-coloured evenweave fabric, floss silks are couched over laid crochet thread (7 x 6 cm).
Anchor Marlitt is used to couch Jap gold thread on an antique-white linen (7 cm square).
Autumn in the Garden (18 cm square): The techniques used in Samples 1 and 2 are combined with blackwork stitches worked in a fine metallic thread. Leaves painted on velvet were applied on top.