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Plunging

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Plunging is the method used to take couched threads through to the reverse of the fabric where they are secured in place.  It is predominantly used for metal threads but can be used for any thick thread which does not readily pass through to the reverse of the fabric.  This entry also demonstrates how to tie back the plunged threads: this means securing them on the reverse of the fabric.

The alternative to plunging is to cut the thread off and secure it with a double couching stitch near the end.  This is less secure than plunging it and some threads will fray over time but it is a less time-consuming method of finishing thread.

Historically, threads were sometimes pasted onto the back of the fabric.  This is obviously quicker than stitching them in place, but runs the risk of the glue bleeding through to the front of the fabric or the chemicals within it adversely affecting the fabric.

The use of plunging certainly dates to the 19th century as the 1867 text Church embroidery, ancient and modern describes its use, including the type of needle used to pierce the fabric.  Metal threads were in common use at various points prior to this, but there is little documentary evidence to indicate whether the ends were cut or plunged.  The term ‘plunging’ is first used in print in the 1970s.

Plunging is generously sponsored by Carol Tewes Ganse in honour of all past, present and future RSN Tutors.

Method

You will need two needles: a chenille needle (which has a large eye suitable to accommodate thicker threads and a sharp point for precision plunging) and a curved needle (which means the stitching can catch the backing fabric when tying back without the puncturing the gold threads or showing on the surface).
Plunge each couching thread separately to achieve a more desirable shaping.
For the lasso method, use a strong thread such as buttonhole thread. The lasso can be waxed to increase strength and durability.

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1

Leave a tail of the couched thread to be plunged, it should be at least 3cm long.

2

Option 1: Use an empty chenille needle.
Option 2: Create a lasso by cutting a short length of strong thread, then thread each end into opposite sides of the eye of a chenille needle.

3

With the point of the chenille needle, locate the point you wish to plunge the couched thread. Make sure this is in line with the couched thread.

4

Begin to take the needle down through the fabric leaving the loop of the lasso or the eye of the needle visible, and thread in the tail end of the couched thread. Tweezers may be helpful if you find it awkward.

5

Support the fabric either side of the needle with your index and middle fingers, then pull the needle down and force the couched thread below the surface. If using a lasso it often helps to ease the fabric threads apart by using a circular motion when pulling the threads through, particularly on tighter woven fabrics.

6

Repeat to take all the desired threads to the back of the fabric. Plunge each couching thread separately, even if stitched in pairs on the surface.

7

Now tie back the plunged threads.  Bend the plunged threads back so that they lie directly under where they were couched (this can be done in pairs).  Fasten on a length of sewing machine thread in a curved needle and bring your needle up at the point where the gold was plunged.  Use a whipping motion of small stitches underneath the gold to catch the backing fabric and angled stitches on the surface, pull your thread taut to secure the gold threads. Continue for approximately 1cm, then whip back in the opposite direction.  Finish off the sewing machine thread securely and trim the tail end of the gold.

Plunging

Structure of stitch

Common uses

Where there is a gap in the design which is being couched, plunging can be used to take a thread through to the back at the end of one area, and then brought through to the front (in effect plunged from the back of the fabric to the front) to start a new area.

Embroidery Techniques

Related Stitches

Identifying Plunging

Usually threads that have a core or threads that may fray would be plunged to the back rather than cut off on the surface.

References

  • Tracy A Franklin, New ideas in goldwork (2002) , p.37
  • Grace Christie, Embroidery and tapestry weaving; a practical textbook of design and workmanship (1906) , p.252
  • Anastasia Marice Dolby, Church embroidery, ancient and modern (1867) , p.132

Examples of Plunging

Goldwork pomegranate

The image shows the gold passing before it has been plunged