Boutis: The Straight and Narrow of Silk

Cell Phone Pouch

On the learning curve once again.

As with any type of hand stitching like embroidery or quilting, (or machine stitching for that matter), precision and accuracy are key to a presentable product. Being familiar with silk fabrics from machine quilting and from sewing clothes in a former stitching life, when I started this little boutis pouch on dupioni silk, I was not at all concerned or intimidated by the fact that I was working on silk.

Around the central motif, where all the channels are rounded, the stitching was fairly straightforward and presented no unsual circumstances.
The above photo is of the front flap of the little phone pouch, where the rose window motif is stitched with a back stitch.

However, once off of the central motif and onto the body of the pouch, where all of the lines and channels are straight, two things became apparent very quickly.

First: When working with silk, appropriate lighting is crucial.  With insufficient light, the lines become muddy and seem to run into each other. When there is too much direct light, or misdirected light, it creates a glare that makes the line disappear entirely. Both were a serious hindrance to me, since most of my hand stitching is done in the evening when artificial light is the only option.

The next two photos both show what happened because I could not see the stitching lines clearly enough. The starting point and stopping point of the lines, especially the short diagonal lines in the pattern to the right and left of the centre vertical channels, almost disappeared. (The pattern is called "points de vauvert". I will be more specific about the stitches I used in this piece in my next blog on boutis). As I was stitching these lines, they all seemed to run into each other.
It is imperative that the diagonal pattern lines up precisely. The stitches in the "points de vauvert" pattern to the left are acceptable, but notice how the short diagonal lines to the right of the channels are quite irregular. Aside from the way it will look, this will present problems when cording.

In this close-up of the diagonal pattern, you can see how the tops and bottoms of the short diagonal lines do not line up. You should be able to place a ruler along the top and bottom edge of each line. The other problem that this photo indicates, is the way the marker bled on the silk.

As I just mentioned above, the second problem was the pen that I used for marking. Although generally I have great success using the water erasable blue marking pen, in this case it was a huge mistake. Because the pen bled dreadfully on the silk, it created a sloppy line that was much too wide to follow with precision, and where the starting points and stopping points were approximate. The result was indecisive and sloppy stitches.
This is the back side of the rose window motif. You can see how the marker even bled through to the back in some spots.

The blue marking pen created messy inaccurate lines throughout the piece.
So what's next? After all that work, even with all of it's imperfections, this project will be corded and finished with the hope that some of the sins of the poor stitching will be hidden in the relief created by the cording.

My next project on silk is a needle-fold envelope. Two things will change at the outset. In France, I have an excellent lamp with a magnifying lens, specifically designed for hand work. I have ordered the same lamp for myself here in Vancouver, but it is taking it's sweet time in arriving. And secondly, I will audition different marking methods to find one that creates a more visible and more precise line. In the meantime, I have a few other smaller boutis projects on cotton ready to stitch (see my post of Jan.18, 2014) that will keep me gainfully and happily occupied. I'll post updates of todays project as the cording progresses.


  1. This certainly is complicated! I just hate it when the blue pens bleed so much, I've had that problem before. I generally have to just wash it out and mark it with another method, usually chalk. Do you have the Chaco markers? They seem to work well and wash out readily.
    When do you go back to France? In a month or two?

    1. Hi Cynthia. Thanks for the advice to use the Chaco markers. That is one marker that I do not have in my arsenal. Yet! Coming soon.
      Re: France. Normally, we have been heading back to France mid-March, however, this year we have decided to take the year off and stay at home. Since moving to Vancouver in 2008, we have never spent the summer here, so we are looking forward to getting to know our little corner of the world better, and enjoying the summer on the Pacific coast. I do intend to maintain my relationships with the beautiful ladies of Boutis, and return from time to time to learn more "tricks of the trade" from them.

  2. Oh dear, I am afraid that my concern about working with the silk was prophetic! But I think that marking is just a universal challenge on a wide variety of projects.

    I am also hopeful that once it is corded, any irregularities will disappear. I am often surprised by how forgiving fabric can be. In any case, it is certainly beautiful, and the silk is worth the headaches!

    1. Hi Monica. Thanks for your vote of confidence. I have started the cording, and as I anticipated (and hoped), the irregularities in the stitching are not as obvious. However, this little pouch will be a constant reminder to me to make the time and do the job right the first time. The reason I like the blue markers is because they trace so much quicker then pencil. Lesson learned. The hard way. Again!

  3. The design is incredible, and to the untrained (read: my) eye it looks perfect! I think it's wonderful that you're putting such beautiful handwork into an ordinary, everyday object.

    1. Hi Michelle. Thanks for helping me look at the positive. As to putting so much time into ordinary things that we use everyday, I only have to look at your blog to see all of the everyday items that you make into beautiful objects. And BTW, your eye is certainly not untrained.


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