I have been embroidering since I can’t remember when. I became quite obsessive about it when I was in my mid teens. I would buy a pre printed pattern, iron it onto fabric, and then follow a guide to make it exactly as the picture said I should. There was very little choice then and everyone had a similar style. I think you’d call it “vintage” now! The satin stitched petals, the lazy daisies and the stem stitched stems. I loved them all. .
Nowadays if you want to look for a pattern, google would immediately find you thousands to choose from- all so very different in mood and look. You download a pdf, print it off there and then and off you go. Just like that. Marvellous. But it is so much more fun to make up your own designs. Wow- what an adventure that is. Anything goes. Any design, any stitch, any colour. The world is your oyster.
This post is just a helpful guide to help you achieve embroidery that is the best it can be……
The ground or background fabric that you use for surface embroidery can make or break your work. There is no point in spending hours stitching beautiful embroidery if the fabric lets you down. Choose a fabric that is soft to hold, with a tightish weave. If you are using thin fabric, you could stabilise the back with interfacing or stabiliser but if your fabric is the right weight, you won’t need to. If you use a hoop, you could add a calico backing to strengthen your fabric. Loosely woven linen may look nice but can be trickier to stitch because there is less choice of where to bring the needle through. I love using linen to stitch on but have learned to look for one without an uneven slub and a tighter flatter weave. My favourite background fabric is a cotton/linen mix in a neutral colour.
Different fabrics and types of embroidery require different needles, I usually keep at least two on hand. This printable sheet by John James is an excellent guide on different types of needles. There are so many to choose from it can be very confusing. Basically, you’re looking to stitch with a needle that glides through your fabric without a battle- this depends on your thread count and the thickness of your thread. So if are alternating between using 2 and 6 threads then you will need to swap your needles over too. If you are constantly tugging at the thread, after a few stitches it will snap. The needle should not leave a hole in the fabric- if it does, choose a thinner needle. When choosing a needle size, the larger the number, the smaller the needle. I usually use a number 7 embroidery needle which is sharp with a larger eye, and a no. 3 straw or milliner needle as my go to. I love stitching with a longer needle. Long needles are needed for french or bullion knots where you are wrapping threads around the needle. Do experiment and see what feels right for you. You want to enjoy stitching so each stitch should be made as smoothly as possible.
Stranded cotton or embroidery floss is my absolute favourite. It’s what I use 99% of the time. There are many other options, wool, silk thread and perle cotton. Perle cotton is a thicker denser thread which cannot be divided. My preference is the DMC stranded cotton and I treated myself a while ago to their colour chart which is just a joy to look at! These threads come in 6 strands which can be divided, I usually use 1,2 or 3 strands for my embroidery- rarely more. For delicate detailed embroidery, fewer strands will work better. Occasionally I use wool or tapestry wool if I need to create a thicker more textured effect. I try and make my thread length no more than about 18 inches, any longer and you are more likely to get knots. if it’s too short you’ll be constantly stopping to re thread and if it’s too long, you’ll just keep getting knots and tangles.
I rarely use a hoop but have recently bought a couple of hoops on frames which I’m gradually getting used to and can see that the stitches are much smoother so maybe I will get used to using a hoop all the time one day. If I do use a hoop I use a smallish one, 6 inches, as I find it easier to hold. Just position your fabric between the two hoops and pull lightly then tighten the screw, repeat until your fabric is taut not stretched. You don’t want it to be distorted. Equally it needs to be quite tight with no sagging areas. I never leave my work in a hoop for long as it can mark the fabric.
Starting stitching and finishing off
I often use a knot on the back of my work so do teach people to embroider using a knot. However, they nearly always stitch onto a thickish or dark fabric. If stitching onto a thin or white ground fabric, I would recommend using a waste knot or stitching your end in as you don’t want to see untidy knots through the fabric. If you decide to use a knot you do have to be careful that you don’t get in a tangle when trying to pull your first stitch, so do make sure you avoid the knot at the back at the beginning of your stitching.
An easy way to knot the end is to thread your needle then take the tail end of the thread and make a circle so that the end of the thread is leaning against the eye of the needle, Hold it with your left thumb and forefinger against the needle and with your right hand, wrap the thread round the needle 3 times. With your left thumb and forefinger, squeeze the wraps and pull them gently all the way down the length of the thread. This will make a knot at the end. Foolproof.
I nearly always finish my work by stitching through a stitch on the back a couple of times and pulling it through the loop to create a knot.
See my downloadable guide to starting and finishing HERE.
I love to keep ironing my work as I stitch. It keeps it flat whilst your working and your work suddenly looks better, so encourages you to carry on. Once I have finished an embroidery I will iron it really well on the reverse onto a thick towel. Ideas for different ways to mount your work can be seen in a previous blog HERE.
Whatever you’re stitching, the key thing is that it’s enjoyable. If you’re bored with the colours or design, perhaps try having 2 or 3 different projects on the go at once. That way it’s always fresh to come back to and you’ll see it with new eyes.
Hope this helps,