Thursday, July 17, 2014

Embroidery Floss Basics

I'm going to be creating a tutorial for my Summer Garden Pincushion very soon. I have a few orders in my shop which has delayed my efforts, but I hope get this posted for you very soon. Below is my 8 section Summer Garden Pincushion on Linen. I'll be posting a tutorial for a 6 section. If you do a few flowers a month, you should be able to give your pincushion away for Christmas! We'll work on a specific flowers and stitches each month. Just a few stitches can be transformed into multiple flowers. The tutorial is free for all. If you would rather work from a pattern, it will be for sale in my Etsy shop in August. The free tutorial will have all the instructions. You should have no problem designing your own flower pattern.
Well, more to come on all of that.

I'm going to walk you through your trip to the craft store to pick out your embroidery floss colors, needles and linen. Once you have all of these materials ready to go we can get started!

I use DMC floss and I suggest you do too. I would not recommend using a budget brand of embroidery floss. You will find that it knots up more often. The colors may be bright, but they may fade much sooner than a quality thread. If you are going to invest a lot of time into your work, you want it to last, and you don't want to spend more time fighting your threads than you do stitching your stitches. When each hank of floss is less than 40 cents each, why not splurge!

How to Choose your Colors
I also recommend that you have a series of warm and cool colors in each color. This will allow you to pull some flowers forward and push some back. I'll explain those color concepts as we create our flowers. Here is a little illustration of what I mean by warm and cool. Warm colors have more yellow added and cool colors go more to the blue side. You can see that these colors also go from lighter shades to darker shades. Light colors have more white added, while darker shades have more black in them. When you see a color on the DMC display in the store, they really have no rhyme or reason on the shelves except for the little groupings of each color as they became available for sale. Most colors are grouped by shade, lightest to darkest, but not every color is that organized.

Here is a Revised Embroidery Floss Basic Color List to take to the store. Its my recommended list of colors for any type of flower or nature embroidery. I've add a few tips and tricks from this post all on a handy PDF you can print and take to the store. What store? Embroidery floss can be found at just about every fabric and craft store. I order some of my colors on-line. A word to the wise. If you stick to the local store in town, getting more is easy. There is nothing worse than running out of a color in the middle of a project. Groan!
Don't be afraid to pick up extra colors or make substitutions. I always believe in putting yourself into everything you do!

I guess I'm giving you permission to go crazy and buy lots of floss! Yes, tell your hubby that I said you need that big pile of embroidery floss. At about 40 cents a skein, why not?!

Here is how you add some method to your shopping madness.
Choose 3 pinks- Choose the main flower color and 3-5 coordinating colors; one darker, one lighter, one warmer and one cooler shade.
Then repeat the same for your yellows, reds, greens, purples and blues.

Don't forget to add ecru, white, brown and black. You just never know when you are going to need them.
You can add some various shades of black from pale gray to near black. Those also have warm and cool shades, but I wouldn't worry about it as much in the beginning, just add a few for now. As you build your stash, you will figure out what you like and what works.

I also love the variegated colors. They are sometimes hard to find in the store, but they make stitching grasses, leaves and petals fun. The color changes gradually as you stitch. Here are my favorites. (I photographed Perle Cotton skeins as well. It may be a bit easier to see the color changes.

I should note that there are 558 of floss colors! It can make you crazy!
Some colors have an unnatural feel to them. They may have a neon glow or even glow in the dark! Avoid those for right now.
Below you can see a few different oranges, pinks and blues. One is better for flower work than the other.
I chose a strange color and then a more natural choice. I'm not saying that you shouldn't buy those great colors. They just may not work for this particular project.

Here are some tips from my Managing your Threads page. You can find more information there, including more details about Perle Cotton.

6 Strand DMC Embroidery Floss is my go-to embroidery thread. It has 6 separate strands which can be pulled apart for your desired thickness.
Floss comes in 8.7 yard skeins in 454 colors.
It is the perfect choice when doing tiny work with lots of detail. Most crazy quilt designs are embroidered with single or 2 strands. I use 3 strands when I want a good filler or a thicker line. I also use one strand for tiny details. However, 2 strands will give you an elegant look.

When I bring my floss home I put each color on a bobbin right away. If I buy duplicate colors I put those in a box. If you just put them in a big pile and handle them often, you will find they are harder to manage later. Kinks promote knots. Loose ends mate with other loose ends and that creates messes.

Bobbins keep my stash tidy and bobbins fit into most organizers nicely. Its great to see all your colors in a glance.

DMC sells plastic bobbins. Any brand will work.

Unwrap the label from your floss. Make note of the color number on your bobbin. DMC offers bobbin color number stickers for easy labeling.

Carefully split the skein into a loop.

Place the loop of floss over your hand so the loop spins and the skein easily unwinds.
Begin winding the floss onto the bobbin. As you pull the thread it will spin around on your wrist and easily unwind without tangling. If it catches up on itself, slow down and unwind it by hand for a bit until it starts to spin on your wrist again.

When you are done, keep them clean and organized in a box. I found mine for 99 cents.
Everything in its place...

I have a confession. My boxes do not look like this. I used this photo from Junie Moons blog.

A few more tips...
I usually pull my go-to colors for each project and put them on a paper plate. I keep my needles, a spare pair of readers and my scissors there too. When I am ready to stitch or when its time to stop, I can move the whole thing around where needed and my madness is contained.

When I get ready to stitch I unwind my floss from its bobbin, I cut each length 12-15 inches long. If you use very long threads, you will have to deal with knots. If you choose a short length, you will be cutting and splitting more often.
Floss comes in 6 strand hanks. You will need 2-3 strands for stitching.

How do you pull those strands without a tangled mess?
Begin by smoothing your cut strands between your fingers. Pull gently from one end to the next 2 or 3 times.
Then start pulling individual threads from the middle of the strand. Pull the strands apart until you have the number you desire. Work your fingers between the main strands and the one's you need and pull them apart slowly. Try to keep the ends from tangling up on each other as you pull.

When ever you find things knotting up, stop! Slow down. Be patient. Its much easier to undo knots when they are loose.

I usually put the other strands back on the bobbin. Just wind them in the opposite direction of the main floss and be sure to tuck those ends in. Your box will soon become a birds nest of a mess if you just let those strands fly around on their own. They like to play when you aren't looking. Before you know it, you will have a real mess on your hands. Its best to make a good practice of organizing as you work. You'll thank me for that advice later.

When you are stitching you may have leftover threads on your needle. Unless you have nearly a whole length leftover, I recommend that you throw away the rest of the floss. As you pull the floss through your fabric it wears down the fibers. You will find that as you get near the end of a length, it gets easier to stitch. The floss is actually getting thinner. I find that the last bits are too thin to give me a good, solid line and certainly too thin to fill in a space. Floss is so inexpensive. Don't work with scraps if you don't have to.

While you are at the fabric store, why don't you pick up some needles and linen right away?
I'll try to explain a bit about needle types. But. why not pick up a few kinds and see which one you like best?

Chenille (2) and Embroidery (3) needles have a sharp point. When working with tightly woven fabrics, like quilting or batik cotton these are a must. They are also great for fine fabrics such as organza and silk. They will glide smoothly through the fabrics without making noticeable holes in the fabric.

Tapestry (1) needles have a blunt or round point. They work well on linen, wool or aida cloth or any loosely woven fabric.

The larger the number, the smaller the needle. My favorite needle is a size 26 Tapestry. Its sharp enough to piece most fabrics, but not so sharp that it pokes my fingers when I bring the needle to the back side of my work.

I've also included a Soft Sculpture (4) or Upholstery needle for this project. Its very long and has a nice size hole large enough for perle cotton. You will need this needle later when adding the sections to your pincushion and for adding the buttons.

Last but not least, you will need a regular sharp needle. I often use a fine applique needle (5). This is used to close up the opening in your pincushion after you add the stuffing. A fine needle makes is easy to create a nearly invisible mattress seam to your work.

You will need linen as your main pincushion fabric. Its a lovely fabric for embroidery. It has a nice, regular weave. Floss glides smoothly through linen with each stitch. It comes in a variety of colors including many shades of cream, white and ecru. Find a medium weight linen. If it is too thin, you will be able to see through to the back. If it is too heavy, its harder to get fine details.
The weave should be regular and not too nubby. Knots and nubs will get in the way of your design.
I have photographed the linen colors I keep on hand. I use the middle color for this pincushion.

I have used the dark green and a bright red for some projects. Color fastness is a real issue with colors. Presoak your colored linen in vinegar to help set the dye. Then prewash it in a warm wash with soap and put it in the dryer to also set the color. I prewash and dry all of my linen. Remove it from the dryer immediately to help reduce wrinkles. I also iron my fabric just prior to stitching on it.

You will need to block your embroidery design after it is stitched. I find that prewashing and drying the linen first, makes blocking more predictable. You won't have to worry about shrinkage. After hours and hours of stitching, it would be so sad to have your linen shrivel up under the strain of the embroidery.

If you have any questions, please leave them below. You may also contact me through my Etsy shop.

Have fun on your shopping spree!

Next, we'll go over the tools and remaining materials you will need for your pincushion.


gracie said...

A very thorough post! Thank you....

Carol- Beads and Birds said...

I am returning to embroidery after about a 30 year lapse. Thank you for this very well written information. I will enjoy stitching along with you. Oh, I wish my floss box was that organized!

Mary Ann Tate said...

Fabulous post:) I'm really looking forward to the rest of your tutorials.

Fiberluscious said...

Thanks for the encouraging comments. Hope I didn't ramble to much! The tutorial is going to be really special so I hope you are ready to stitch with me. Its really a fun and easy project and everyone will oooh and aaaah when they get it. I'll try to get the first flower out next week.

Tammy said...

Love your post so informative and very true. Since I got all my floss organized on bobbins and in a organizer I find that I embroider a lot more than I ever did before. I pull the bobbins for a project before I begin . After the project is over I throw away the left over threads on my needles and replace my bobbins back in my organizer. Sure helps a lot.

Tina said...

I have always loved this pincushion

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