Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Cover Up

I'm sure you are squinting at this picture, wondering if I OD'd on turkey Thanksgiving and started taking pictures of caterpillars or something. Nope, this is the Medieval Cat with her turkeywork. You just can't see her because I've covered the canvas with sheets of heavy paper.

Once my turkeywork is stitched, I then finish all the other parts of a canvas before cutting the turkeywork loops. If you look carefully at my previous blog entry's photo, you will see the loops at the collar have been cut and trimmed while the turkeywork along the bottom and front edge of the jacket still has uncut loops. You don't have to cut the loops, sometimes you'll want that loopy look, but for the Medieval Cat, she really needs dense short fur. So the loops must be cut and then trimmed down.

The first step toward achieving that look is to cut each loop. It's not easy to find them all as the turkeywork is thick, but brush the area with your fingers after each cut or two and you will find more loops to cut. I use the sharpest scissors I have for turkeywork, although at this stage, it isn't totally necessary. You will just cut the loops in the middle right now. You end up with what you see above, spiky bits that stick out at various lengths.

At this stage you need to cover the entire canvas before you start playing barber. Otherwise you will have little bits of the turkeywork thread all over the canvas, stuck to the other stitches, the beads, etc. By the way, I did my turkeywork in stages. I covered and cut the ruff before the jacket's edge and bottom had their turkeywork done. This helped me take good photos for you. But really you should do both areas at the same time, not in stages. I ended up with more bits of wool on my canvas because of how I worked.

I covered my canvas with heavy construction paper and taped the edges to each other so they wouldn't move around and uncover a section of my canvas. With just the turkeywork visible, take your sharpest scissors and start to trim the lengths to make them the same length. Turn the canvas so you can look at it from all angles, brush the turkeywork with your fingers to uncover lengths that were hidden, clean up the fuzz occasionally, and go slowly and carefully. Like cutting hair, you should just do a little at a time. The turkeywork will slowly turn into fur!

Use a real comb to carefully tease out strands that might still be an uncut loop or just stuck under their neighbors and longer than you want. Snip a bit at a time, step back and look at the area from all sides, then snip a bit more. Clean up the fuzzies as you work.

How dense a fur you get depends on how many strands of thread you used. Wool makes the most fur-like turkeywork but I love the sheen of wool/silk blends. However, I've made overdyed cotton floss turkeywork, I've added metallic threads to turkeywork, I've even put spots in my turkeywork to mimic ermine. This is an area where you can really do a lot of special things once you master the basics of the turkeywork stitch and become comfortable with giving your needlework a haircut. The most important things to remember are: 1) the more stands of thread you use, the denser and more fur-like the turkeywork will be; 2) you need the sharpest scissors you own to give a good haircut; and 3) this is not a race--go slowly and carefully and take a lot of time.

Once you think you are done, remove the paper and find all the fuzzies that managed to sneak under the paper. I used my pink hair tape to carefully remove some fuzz. Comb the fur with your fingers or a real comb, replace the paper and trim again. Almost certainly you'll need to do a bit more cautious trimming to make everything smooth.

You will notice in the photo of the finished Medieval Cat when I post it next that the collar fur is shorter than the jacket's front and bottom edges. I wanted the cat's face to stand out a bit so the turkeywork stitches were not placed as densely around her neck. If you aren't careful, turkeywork can overwhelm the other areas of your canvas.

Jane/Chilly Hollow
Main blog at


  1. Brilliant! Thankyou so much for this information - I'm just about to do a bee with turkeywork for the body :-)

  2. Hey, look everybody! It's Elmsley Rose!!!! Welcome to Chilly Hollow. I follow your embroidery on the fascinating historical reproduction piece with great interest. Anyone else want to go over to Rose's house? Her blog is

  3. Thanks so much, Jane. You are one of our
    needlepoint treasures!!!!

  4. Thanks, Anon. I appreciate the great compliment but you are too kind. There are tons of great stitchers Out There. I just belong to the club....