Burden Stitch – Part One: a Tutorial

Burden Stitch is exactly that, a burden to stitch but I think that Burden is meant to be a noun and not an adjective. Barbara Lee Johnson’s recent post on August 13, 2013 of the Couched Oak Leaf is a good example of Burden Stitch stitched on canvas. It is a stitch that can be used either very simply or you can set yourself a challenge. It really is a technique and not a stitch.

Trammed Upright Gobelin Bricking
Trammed Upright Gobelin Bricking

In a nutshell, this is a canvas work stitch called Trammed Upright Gobelin Bricking (Canvas Work by Jennifer Gray, pages 53 – 55). Worked on canvas or on even weave linen is the simplest way to use this stitch. It produces a solid ground cover or an interesting texture. Barbara Lee’s example is an excellent sample of this.

When used on other fabrics, both planing and experimenting in stitch size and spacing is essential.

Number One Hint is to get organized. Back your fabric with a suitable weight of cotton fabric. This helps keep the tensions of your piece of work stable while you stitch and afterwards. It is also handy to for ending threads. I used Japanese Gold thread Number 12 with DMC Floss four threads which I stranded. Reading Mary Corbet’s Blog, I see that it is called Striping. I have never heard this referred to by name and used Stranding instead. By either or both names, separate the six strands of floss thread into single strands and then put them back together. You can mix shades and create your own colours or, this time, use four threads of pure colour: DMC Blue 825.

Having marked your design on the background fabric, Hint Number Two: Baste in some horizontal and vertical lines to create an accurate grid that will help you keep your stitching accurate. This is specially necessary when working on a fabric where threads are not countable. This piece of fabric proved to be even count linen but even in this fabric, the threads vary in size.

Stitching Grid
Stitching Grid

Hint Number Three: Make a decision on the spacing of the couched thread (gold) and the length of the couching stitch. The gold thread is held in place by the spaces between the gold thread and the vertical couching stitches. I made the decision on this demonstration piece to place my vertical stitches four fabric threads apart. The second row of vertical stitches is centred between the previous row; that is, two threads on either side. Leave a tail of gold thread 1″ or even 1 1/2″ at each end of every row. This is necessary for sinking the ends of the gold thread. Any less length will cause you problems.

Spacing The Couched Thread
Spacing The Couched Thread

Hint Number Four: Use the blank, reverse side of a business card. Mark the spacing on the edges with a sharp pencil which will help give you the most accurate of templates. A ruler is OK but you will find your self constantly having to not read most of the marks on it. The blank card is a simpler solution.

Mark: a) the spacing between the horizontal gold threads and b) the length of the vertical couching threads.

Mark this spacing on two different edges of the card.

Use it on every row to set the spacing and length of the stitches. This is essential.

The straight edge is handy for checking the alignment of your stitches.

Hint Number Five: Using a length of dressmaking thread, anchor the ends of the gold thread out in another part of the design with some small stitches. This does not have to be totally accurate but it serves to anchor the gold thread leaving you free to focus on the stitching. The waves in the gold will disappear during the completion of this stitch. The gold thread that I used was from someone’s stash. It had been wound on a small spool which made it exceptionally wavy. Japanese Gold Thread usually comes wound on a largish reel like dressmaking thread or as a hank. In this form, it is fairly straight.

Hint Number Six: Start in the centre of the widest point of the area being stitched. Work to the circumference in one direction and then return and stitch the other half of that row. The first line is by far the hardest to stitch. After that, you just have to follow your planned spacing and keep it all accurate. Use as small a needle as you are able to thread comfortably and insert it into the fabric vertically to establish an accurate stitch as possible. A needle entering the fabric at a slant will not give you the accuracy you need for this stitch.

Stitch From The Middle
Stitch From The Middle

Notice that on the right side, my stitches were off by one thread and I had to take them out.

Stitch Off By One Thread
Stitch Off By One Thread
Closeup Of Burden Stitch
Closeup Of Burden Stitch

Hint Number Seven: It is necessary to concentrate on what you are doing. It is totally easy to make an error in stitch placement and it shows up unbelievably clearly. Keep checking yourself and reverse stitch to where you went off course and correct it. Remember to stitch the necessary half and quarter length stitches.

And lastly, a quick look at an example of Burden Stitch in this piece of embroidery that I stitched a few years ago. The shading is not that satisfactory but I wanted to try it.

Burden Stitch
Burden Stitch

Notice the different spacing and threads. That looks to be two strands of DMC Floss.
Burden Stitch would look totally special if stitched with silk thread. It would gleam and not retreat into the background as a texture. It depends on the look you want to achieve as to what threads and spacing you use.

You can use different threads to achieve the result you require. A coloured Perle thread would work well instead of the gold and the couching thread can be anything you choose. You could choose to use beads as the couching thread but be wary. Beads can have a mind of their own and not lie as accurately as you would wish. You may discard a lot of beads in the process. Another possibility is to use Metallic Gilt and cut it into the desired lengths for the vertical stitches. Now that is a way of using this technique that will add grey hairs to your head for sure.

That is all for today. I will complete this demonstration piece in my next Blog Entry.

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  1. Reply

    Thanks for this very useful tutorial – even if I will never use this stitch (but who knows) i love to know the how-to! So well described!

  2. Reply

    What an excellent post and pictures. Another stitch I had not heard of before.

  3. Reply

    Great explanation and pictures of this stitch I have never hear of. Very interesting. Have you ever hear of “banco” ‘banko” (not sure of spelling) stitches or art work? My friends mother did a lot of banco??? work and its magnificent. Apparently a special flexible tread is used. I cant find anything on the internet.
    Thanks for your great website.
    Diane Cadd

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