Tutorial–Couching Repairs

Alright, buckle up, nerds. I’ve been driving myself absolutely insane on getting satisfactory images and video to use in this tutorial for the better part of a month now, and I gotta tell you, I absolutely suck at taking video of things I’m doing with a tripod. In the end, I had to check with the boss to make sure that this was satisfactory. Good news!The boss is me, and I’m not paid for this, so yes. You get to suffer with me. Restoration is fun suffering. Suffering we can do together. -GASP- Friendship suffering!

I’m using this amazing uchikake that was given to me by the lovely Nancy McDonough at Kyoto Kimono for this tutorial. It has a lot of very difficult little twists and turns in it, so I figured that if I can get some good pictures and descriptions of what I’m doing on these pieces, anyone who learns anything from this can basically weaponize that knowledge. In my experience, if you can handle tiny things, then you can handle the big ones no problem. Or build a bomb out of precious embroidery, since I did deliberately use the word “weaponize.” Be creative!

Let’s begin!

Here are my tools:

Pictured: Weapons, according to the TSA.

From the top left, we have a spool of thin 100% silk thread that matches your project well (Brand: Superior Threads “Kimono Silk Thread” #100 Japanese Silk, Col. 302), some sharp-ass scissors, a pair of nail clippers that’s never been used for anything else, a super fine sewing needle (Brand: T.E.C. Tokyo Needles #9), some sharp-ass tweezers, and a KNIFE.

“So, Becky, what in the blue fuck do you use the nail clippers for?”

I’m glad you asked! I use them to sever threads that have been damaged. I will split couching threads that have been pulled beyond repair with them, or clip off excess, or even remove tails from knots. They’re just very small and handy.

The tweezers I use to pull the old, broken fastening threads out of the kimono silk, and I use them to straighten or tighten lines of couching. When properly fastened, you can kind of pull the threads through the loops of fastening threads to adjust them. Sometimes if they get pulled, you can correct it like that. They’re just nice to have for this.

The knife is because I like to cut things when a couching repair is close to a seam, I’ll pop that seam and work behind the fabric a little bit to adjust things if I can. Some people use seam rippers. I use a thin Exacto blade to cut one part of the thread, then gently pull the stitches. Less mess, less stress on the fabric.

Before we get going, I’d like to point out that I picked a brighter yellow silk thread for this tutorial so that it’s easily distinguishable from the old threads. I didn’t want the pictures to be any busier or more confusing than they already are. Use a colour that best matches your project.

Note: As we go forward, I will refer to the thread on the needle as “fastening thread” and the couching threads as “couching threads.” I will be specific when referring to them every time, because I think that if I had to read a tutorial where someone just kept saying “thread,” I would be engaging in arson sooner than originally scheduled. … … …what?

I’m going to assume anyone reading this knows how to thread a needle and such, so I’m not starting there. And for this tutorial, I’ll be working on a spot where some of the couching was still fastened in place, so I’ll be doing a proper repair and reinforce. When I do one like that, I start from the most sturdy point and make my way around.

For this tutorial, I’ll be working on the left half of this element.

Pictured: -External screaming-

Assess where the couching stitches were originally supposed to go. This can be easier sometimes than others, but there’s usually evidence of the broken fastening threads, even on really old garments. I’ve pointed out two old stitch holes here, that tell me clearly that the gold threads are meant to follow the pattern up and around.

Pierce the silk with your needle, careful not to penetrate through the lining (this is easier on some garments than others, so watch that), a good few centimeter distance from your target. This is to give us some room to fasten our new thread firmly and gently to the kimono.

Pictured: FOOP

Pull the fastening thread through the silk and leave a small tail behind. This is so that you have something to hold onto when you fasten your new thread.

Pictured: It does not wag.

Now very carefully and very tightly bring your needle around to penetrate the kimono silk from the opposite side of the gold couching thread. We are making a loop around the gold couching thread that also passes beneath the kimono silk like so:

Note how the needle passes inside of the kimono silk beneath the gold thread. Pull it through and back around again to make a loop:

Pictured: LUUP

When your loop is nice and small, pass the needle through the loop like this:

Now, with your thumb on the little tail we made, pull the fastening thread tight through the loop. We’ve now made a nice little friction knot thingie that probably has a name. Once we get a few stitches into the actual couching, you can pull the kimono fabric away from the lining, and it’ll pull that little tail we made inside, never to be seen again. No cutting necessary. Unless you’re a fan of sharp objects, at which point: no hate, and knock yourself out.

Now pierce the kimono silk again in the same spot we made our loop, and travel up the line of the couching thread about two or three millimeters–don’t go too far apart with stitches, but different thread gauges cooperate with different tensions. When in doubt, closer stitches are better. See the spot where you bring the needle out of the kimono fabric? You’re going to plunge the needle back into approximately the same spot, just on the opposite side of the couching thread that you came out of. Like so:

You can see the fastening thread on top, the needle puncturing the kimono fabric again but on the opposite side. Like that. You can also see that I’ve used this stitch to line up my next stitch location. You’re going to carry on like this:

In areas where the couching thread has come completely away from the kimono fabric, I like to just scoot it out of the way and make my path beneath it. The process is otherwise the same:

Here, you can see a stitch in action a little better. There’s no new information in this photo, it just illustrates what I’m saying pretty well.

We’re going to keep doing this for basically the whole thing. Parts where the couching threads are basically still tacked to the kimono fabric are pretty straightforward, so just keep following them down the line. You’ll also be pleasantly surprised at how badly your needle wants to just slip right into those existing fastening thread holes. That makes this a more complicated thing to explain than it is to actually do.

Pictured: SHINY

This part can be nerve wracking, so give your hands a break and make sure your thread is long enough to get through a significant chunk of this before you start. The biggest reason this part can be such a colossal pain in the ass is because free floating threads have often been twisting around like crazy, and they are selfish, needy little shits that want to keep twisting. You’re going to have to flatten them and keep them from twisting back up EVERY. SINGLE. STITCH.

Pictured: Dust off those hard R expletives, friends. You’re going to need them.

Once again, your needle is going to want to slip right into those old fastening thread holes, and you can see that happening in this next picture. Take advantage of that, so you can use your opposite thumb to hold the couching threads to the side, with the part to be fastened next straightened out. You will want to line up your next stitch so that the fastening thread is wrapped beneath the couching threads. Like so:

Then you just give that fucker a pull through. Nice and slow, keep it smooth and level.

See how the loop made by the fastening thread is grabbing the couching threads here? That’s exactly what you want. Ignore the position of the needle in that image; I just needed a spot to set it while I took the picture. I’m pretty good at holding the phone in my mouth, but as it turns out, I can’t operate a camera reliably with my tongue. Sorry. (Hahaha I know this because I tried it. I regret nothing.)

Now we’ll line up our next stitch the same way. If you’ve still got a good hold on your couching threads and they’re laying flat, simply pass your needle beneath them. Like so:

Doing it this way means that the fastening thread will just loop right around your couching threads. This also helps prevent the fastening thread from twisting up too much–which is something that you will inevitably learn can cause it to knot up all over itself. Keep at this until we hit a corner. I like to make my stitches a bit tighter on corners, but do what seems appropriate for the thickness of your couching threads.

For rounding a corner, I like to pull the couching threads down and away from the corner, pass the needle beneath them, and then line up my next stitch.

This helps me control the amount of twisting that happens, because with the loop formed around the couching threads, I can now guide them gently into place as I tighten the fastening thread into place.

This is a wide corner, so I’m taking it slowly by keeping the couching threads pulled further away from the design than I normally would. The more tension I keep on them for the corner, the less likely they are to roll on each other. If you have a tighter corner than this, you can typically resume the regular stitching sooner. Although, once you’ve done it a few times, this isn’t that much different.

This is just a good image to illustrate keeping things tight and flat.

You now basically know how to repair (or just do) couching. It’s not a particularly hard task, really. It’s just very precise and requires a lot of concentration. I like to mutter obscenities when my fastening thread twists up on me sometimes. And by “mutter” I mean “say fuck way too loud in a house full of sleeping people.”

Here’s that really shitty video that I shot of doing some of the straight line up there. The focus isn’t great because reasons, but it’s not so out of focus that you can’t see what I’m doing and I’m tired of fucking with it, so here you go!

Pictured: If we all had a blurry contact lens.


Pictured: Fuck yeah.

A few little things to note as you work:
-Pull on your fastening thread every so often as you work–you’ll see me do little quick pulls in the video, and that’s what I’m doing. It’s to keep the previous stitches nice and tight. You don’t have to be aggressive, just firm.
-Sometimes it’s a good idea to stop in a spot even if you’re not to the end of the couching thread yet. I tie off the fastening thread in much the same way that I tied it on to begin with. Sometimes it’s actually easier to come at the same repair from a different angle after a certain point. Don’t make this more of a chore than it has to be.
-Take. Breaks. This can be really frustrating and tedious at times. It’s okay to set it down occasionally.

Now I’m at the end of this and I just really hope that you understood what I was trying to say. Describing the act of sewing when you have to keep track of multiple different threads with different functions turned out to be a hell of a lot more difficult than I had originally given it any credit for. Party hard, I guess. If you have any questions, feel free to drop me a line! I do prefer that you leave comments with questions, because then everyone can see the answers. Suffering learning together is fun!

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