I absolutely love the many faces of embroidery! Everytime I pick up a needle and thread, I search my books and my brain for just the perfect stitch and the right thread for what I want to create. There are so many!
Many years ago I did a lot of cross stitch. It was the 80's and that was the thing to do back then. When I cam back to embroidery, about 4 years ago, I was determined to learn more.
Because there are so many colors, so many fibers, so many threads and so many designs its hard to know where to begin.
When I tried to reproduce what I saw, it all ended up looking like "me". Instead of fighting that, I embraced it! Every one of us stitch in their own unique way. As a painter, I wanted to use thread like a paintbrush.
But then again, sometimes I just want my embroidery to look like embroidery. All the traditions of this beautiful craft should be passed on to those after me and so on. With hand embroidery, there are no shortcuts. You can use an embroidery machine to do a myraid of designs but nothing looks or feels quite like what only the hand can create.
To inspire you to try and enjoy this beautiful craft, let me share a few of my secrets. These are things I've learned by doing. I stitch about 30-40 hours a week. Just about every one of my sewing projects is signed by my stitching. If you have tried to embroider, but found it too frustrating or difficult, maybe these secrets will bring you back to embroidery.
The tools of the trade
Crewel or Embroidery Needles. for most fabrics you will need a sharp point. I recommend you find the smalles hole to accommodate the thread you are using, keep it on the shorter side so it's easy to manange. A variety is always best.
A small, pointed scissors to snip threads in small spaces.
A thimble. I love my leather thimble the best. It is soft and conforms to the contours of my finger. It helps to avoid callouses and needle pokes. Treat your fingers well!
Floss and Fabric As many colors as possible!
Embroidery Hoop if desired.
A Pincushion to keep your pins organized and off of the floor.
Threading the Needle
Thread has two different ends! Yup, I'm not kidding, it does. You will find that to be very true of Perle Cotton. So how do you know what end to thread? If the thread mashes down and refuses to be threaded, attack it from the other end. You'll be amazed at how easy the other end works.
Thread your needle like you do any other thread. Dampen the thread with your tongue and then pinch the end with your fingers to make a flat, sharp end. Don't forget to put on your glasses. This is no time for vanity.
To Knot or not to Knot
Some experienced embroiderers do not create knots. I do. You don't need a huge one. Cut your thread close to the knot so you don't have to deal with a mess on the back of your work.
When you finish with a color or come to the end of your thread, bring the needle to the back of your work. Create your knot using threads from the back of your work. Do not bring the needle back up through the fabric. Start with one winding stitch by winding the needle around one of the back thread loops. Then make a standard knot using the same threads.
To Hoop or Not to Hoop
I rarely ever use a hoop. They always seem to get in the way and often deform my fabric or previous stitches. How do you get along without a hoop and still have nice flat stitching? Relax. I mean it. Your stitches should be taught but not tight. If you are feeling stressed or tense, stop and take a few deep breaths. As with crochet or knitting, your work will reflect your mood.
After I take a few stitches, I give my work a bit of a tug. I grab it from one end of my stitches to where I'm at. If you stitch calmly, you will be able to pull all your stitches to a uniform tightness. Any bunches will hopefully pick up the slack from looser stitches. If you find your work is bunching up and can't be pulled straight...go get a glass of wine, take a walk and come back later. Let your embroidery teach you to relax and simply enjoy the process of creating.
When your work is complete, I recommend that you block your work. I have as short tutorial here- Block Your Embroidery.
How do I keep my threads from tangling? Arrrgh!
You may have already guessed that this issue is common and somewhat impossible to avoid. However, these few tips may keep your tangles to a minimum.
First and foremost, don't cut your threads too long. I recommend about 18-24 inches, shorter with floss. Short threads are easy to manange.
After you cut your thread and separate your floss strands, run your fingers down the length of your thread a few times to smooth the fibers and untwist the strands. It also realligns the fibers.
Manage your thread by using spare fingers to hold the twisting thread straight while you pull it through the fabric.
Drop your needle straight down and let it dangle now and again. This allows the needle to turn and spin freely, unraveling twisted, kinked thread. Floss needs constant unwinding.
Perle Cotton is great because it rarely tangles and when it does, you can usually pull the loopy knots out with a firm tug. It needs to dangle now and again, like floss.
Take your time. If your thread knows that you are in a hurry, it conspires to tangle more often. Its true. If my threads are especially unruly I may trade it for another piece of thread.
Choosing the perfect thread.
The choices are endless. You can use the standard 5 strand floss. There is a number of sizes of Perle Cotton. You can stitch with silk ribbon. Wool thread is another awesome choice. I have stitched with yarn, quilting thread, cotton crochet thread and whatever else I can get to work. If you have a needle to accommodate the thread, use it!
I do most of my work with #5 Perle Cotton. It comes in many sizes, The smaller the number, the thicker the thread. Most commonly you will find size 3, 5 and 8. I have hundreds of colors and I still wish I had more! It creates a nice flat stitch that has substance, even when used on wool. When used in a satin stitch, it has a beautiful sheen.
When I need a lot of detail, if I'm working on a fine fabric or if I need a wide variety of stitch thicknesses I use Embroidery Floss. Just cut to the length you need. You can use one strand, 2, 3, 4, 5 or 6 strands. Its your choice! In the example above you will see many single strand stitches. The have such a delicate look. The seem to float above the fabric with just enough presence. Floss comes in so many colors. Again, I wish I had more. Its very inexpensive, about 40 cents a hank. Each hank goes a long way.
Silk Ribbon is amazing, but it can be expensive and hard to find in the US. It comes in standard colors in a number of sizes and is beautiful when hand dyed. Because I buy so little of it, I often combine it with other fibers to create a number of textures.
What fabric should You embroider on?
You can use just about any fabric you want. However....
My favorite is linen because it has a nice even weave, (great for lettering). The needle glides through it so well. It is opaque so you can make a mess of the back of your work.
My next and equal favorite is Felted Wool. The needle slides through it like butter. Its such a joy because it comes in so many colors. Heavier threads seem to float to the surface while fine floss can be pulled tighter so they nearly disappear. It can be a bit drying to your skin so keep lotion handy if you are stitching for extended periods of time.
Many of my pincushions are created with cotton. Although these are some of my very favorite works, its hard on the fingers. The fabric has a tigher weave so the needle doesn't glide as easily as wool or linen. But I love using pattern and 3 dimensional form in combination with stitching.
Knits are hard, so you'll need a hoop and a stabilizer if you intend on a lot of stitches. The only knit I ever work on is felted wool sweaters. Its hard to keep the fabric from warping and stretching. I try not to let that keep me from using it. It has its own charm.
Its easy to have a big hot mess on your hands once you start building your thread stash. I recommend a few things that really help me to keep things tidy, at hand and untangled.
Begin by transferring your thread from a hank to a bobbin. Bobbins are small paper or plastic rectangles with knotches made just for this purpose. I write the color number of the thread on the bobbin so when I run out, I know what to reorder. Bobbins are compact, can be stored in a bin or on a metal hoop. When you cut your thread, just stick the thread end into one of the knotches to keep things from unraveling all over the place. I am a horrible organizer, but I know that when my threads are a mess, I don't enjoy the process. I sort every thread by type and by color. Everythign is right there, easy to find and easy to keep neat. That gives me more time to play.
When you transfer thread to a bobbin, these techniques may make it easy.
Perle cotton comes in long hanks. Remove the paper band and unfold the treads. The two ends that are tied together will help you find the center of the loops. I sit on the couch and put my knees up. I place the loop over my knees, cut the two ends apart. Carefully begin to unwind the thread from the hank onto the bobbin. This keeps the threads taut and untangled.
When you transfer floss you only have a small loop to deal with. Find one end and slowly peel away the thread and put it onto the bobbin. Once you have your bobbin started, place the loop of threads around your left wrist. Continue to pull the thread off of the hank onto the bobbin. The loop will spin around your wrist and keep it from tangling.
(Photos coming soon.)
The last thing is what stitches are best. They all are, but I have about 7 stitches I use all of the time. They are easy and once you learn them, it becomes second nature to remember each step.
There are my favorites
The Back Stitch can be used to make any lines or letters.
The Button Hole or Blanket Stitch creates a beautiful clean edge.
The Chain or Lazy Daisy Stitch
The Satin or Shading Stitch to fill in larger areas.
The Couching Stitch to hold yarn or threads down onto the fabric surface.
I adore the feather stitch, fly stitch, bullion knots, split stitches and so many more!
You can always look online to find more stitches. I recommend watching videos. It all becomes clear when it's demonstrated. There are some wonderful blogs to follow that have step by step picture or video demonstration.
Here is my favorite- Needle N Thread by Mary Corbet
Pintangle's a TAST is great. Take a stitch Tuesday teaches you one stitch a week. Other embroiderers stitch along and you can post your work. Its fun and I really wish I had more time to do this on a regular basis.
I have a few tutorials showing my favorite, go-to stitches here.
Keeping your stitches uniform comes with practice. Embrace your imperfections. Most stitches are easy to undo and redo if you must. In time, you will find that your stitching is unlike no other. Thats a good thing. Let it become yours and yours alone.
I'd love to share with you a few of my very favorite embroidery and fiber artist. They inspire me everytime I see their work. They have lifted the art of stitching to a new level with their sense of playfulness, freedom, originality and talent.
Mimi Love is pure fun. She is from England and if you stop by her blog, its like a travel warp. Mimi is a bit of a poet she is.
She creates whimsical illustrations in stumpwork for her books. Her work is technically impecable with that perfect touch of childhood wonder.
Susan Elliott from her blog, Plays with Needles. She brings jewelry, trims, beads, you name it to her work. She has a fun, modern touch that reaches back from many years of tradition and drags the craft into the light of today. Its bright, sweet, elegant and fun(really fun).
I could go on and on showing you my embroidery heroes. I invite you to check out my blogroll and choose a few stitch related names. Yu'll be hooked.
Once you are bitten by the embroidery bug, try stitching a sampler. That will push you to learn new stitches, have a visual inventory so you know what each stitch looks like in person. So get out your supplies and get stitching!