Bullions are used in fine lace, many intricate regional embroideries such as reticella, cutwork, wool embroidery, Brazilian embroidery, and fine embroidery. They are a staple with modern smockers.
To progress in many embroidery genres, you need to learn how to make them.
Use a milliner needle. A milliner needle is long and the same diameter its entire length. This makes the eye rather small and you may need a threader. The diameter of the needle should be about the size (diameter) of the thread. A step-by-step representation follows this simpler explanation.
Affix the thread securely on the back and come up at the black arrow.
Go down at the red arrow and back up at the black arrow. Do not pull the needle through, leave it in the fabric as shown.
Wind the thread around the needle enough times to fill the space between where the needle went in and out (between red and black arrow).
Stack the winds neatly. You will have to lift up the needle at this stage.
Hold the winds gently and pull the needle through the winds. Keep pulling firmly until the bullion winds are of uniform length.
Put the needle back down at the red arrow.
A Step-by-Step Pictorial
1. Set up the needle as noted in first graphic above and shown at left here. The needle shown is a large crewel needle for optimum representation, with pearl thread size 5. While it is possible to make a bullion with almost any needle type, a milliner needle will give you the easiest result as the eye will slip readily through the coils and not expand them unnecessarily.
2. Wind thread around needle. Stack the winds neatly as shown. Fiddle with them with your free thumbnail until they are smooth and even.
3. While gently holding the winds with thumb and first two fingers of one hand, pull needle and thread through the winds. The needle will be pointing upright at this stage.You may have to fuss a bit to get them stacked neatly and smoothly as you pull out the long thread still attached to the needle. When you get to the end as shown in the third graphic above, if your winds are not behaving, don’t be afraid to pull quite firmly to line up the coils of thread and ensure their evenness of size..
4. Put needle back into cloth to secure the bullion.
Practise making several bullions before you work on an actual project. It take a few tries to learn how to make them well and how to estimate the number of winds required for the space.
The far left red bullion is perfectly wound and fits the space.
The right red bullion has several problems:
1. too many winds,
2. winds not of equal size. Note they are skinny at the top.
3. Thread wound incorrectly.
This graphic shows what happens when thread is wound incorrectly. See next section explaining thread twist.
The pink bullion at left is wound correctly. The one at right is wound incorrectly and the plies of the thread split. This not only makes the bullion not quite as pretty or sturdy, but doubles the number of coils, creating difficulty in several areas: length, evenness of coils, proper stacking.
Sewing thread, some silk threads and rayon threads are all Z twist. Cotton floss, cordonnet, pearls and other cotton needlework threads are S twist. When making bullions, always wind the thread around the needle so that it follows the natural twist of the thread and actually twists a bit tighter. Watch your thread the first few winds. If the plies separate, you are winding in the wrong direction.
There are differences of opinion on whether or not the coils should fit snugly against the core thread, or match the size of the needle used. In the latter case, the coils (winds) are more apt to be flattened and loose. However, this can have a pleasing affect in some situations.
You will notice as you practice bullions that sometimes both ends become tiny and the middle coils are fat in comparison. (See example at right). Although this isn’t correct for some types of embroidery, this effect can be lovely and used to advantage when making flower petals. When practising, be sure to pull very hard when setting the coils so that you get a feel for how all of this works together and the different effects that can be made depending upon how the coils are handled.