Couching is an embroidery technique that involves tacking a primary thread to a textile with a secondary thread. Typically this technique was used with a metallic or otherwise expensive threads. Variations on this method include Bokhara couching.
This type of embroidery is often used to outline a design or image, and because of this is sometimes called the “drawing” stitch. At certain times it is also used for filling in designs as well. This is especially the case when metallic or gold thread is used to infill a section.
Traditionally, this embroidery technique was primarily utilized with metal threads, especially gold. This was because crafting a design in metallic thread through another technique would cause the fabric to become stiff, and could also abrade delicate fabrics such as silks. This technique was also used as a way to get the most distance from these expensive materials, as no thread was wasted looping through the back of the fabric. Today, any type of thread may be used.
This technique is accomplished by laying a thread flat on the cloth that is to be embellished, and tacking that thread down to the cloth with a second, thinner thread at regular intervals. There are two methods of couching. In surface couching, the secondary thread enters the textile from the underside next to the primary thread, and crosses over the thread to exit the textile at the other side of thread. Because of this, the secondary thread can be clearly seen on the top of the fabric.
With underside couching the same techniques are used, but care is taken so that the secondary thread both enters and exits the same hole. When this is done, the primary thread is pulled slightly to the reverse side of the fabric, making the secondary thread invisible. Underside couching is thought to create a more flexible fabric with a better drape than does surface couching, and therefore it is often recommended for use on garments.
Bokhara couching is a variation on traditional surface or underside couching. The same technique is used to tack the thread to the fabric as in surface couching, but this technique is utilized when filling a defined space with lines of thread. Instead of a secondary thread being used to wrap around the primary thread, only one thread is used that backtracks along the underside of the textile and loops around itself.