Thursday, March 26, 2015

An Embroidery Renaissance

Handbag with crewel embroidery
Handbag with crewel embroidery
There was an article (printed from the AP wire) recently in one of our regional newspapers about the return of interest in embroidery. As someone who never lost interest in the needle arts, I found this very encouraging. The author said that the new embroideries are, in some ways, less about decoration than in past decades, and that they tend more toward slogans and expressions of personal choice and opinion. There's certainly nothing wrong with that. Tee shirts and sweatshirts have been doing that for some time. Some of the designs were described as whimsical or comical. (The only problem I see in that is that if you want to sell your needlework you must be careful not to use a design based on copyrighted characters like those in Disney cartoons or syndicated comic strips.) A lot of the work was called very individualistic. As you know, I always encourage you readers to use the techniques you learn to create something which is uniquely your own. Even when I provide a pattern, I try to describe how you can vary it greatly in color, stitches, background material, etc.

Mittens with embroidered cuffs
Mittens with embroidered cuffs
The article mentioned a resurgence in the use of embroidery on clothing, something I have been doing for most of my life. It began when my parents sold the farm and we moved to an acreage at the edge of town. I went from a one-room school with fewer than a dozen students to a large school and a sixth-grade class with thirty other students all of whom were at least a year older than me. I was a good student and worked hard, which pleased my teachers. I got along well with the boys in my class because I had skills they appreciated: I could milk cows, drive a team of mules, ride goats, catch frogs and play marbles with the best of them. Some of the girls, however, were unpleasant. For the first time in my life, I encountered prejudice and an effort to exclude me from the group. They sneered and looked with scorn at my name, my braided hair, my homemade clothes and the built-up shoe I wore because polio had left me with a limp.

Most of those things I could not change, but I could do something about my clothes. I fought back against their insults with my needle. My mother made most of my dresses from print flour or chicken-feed sacks. We began making ones where the skirts were print and the tops were of a plain-colored cotton that matched a color in the print. When the dress was finished, I would draw some part of the print on the collar or bodice and embroider it. No one else had dresses like that. I embroidered the cuffs of my ankle socks or sewed lace around the edges and put contrasting ruffles on the hems of my skirts. I had socks with eyelets and every day I laced them with ribbons that matched the ones on my braids. I turned pretty buttons into jewelry and learned a dozen ways to wear the scarves I hemmed from colorful fabric remnants. I never copied their styles of clothing; by the time we moved on to junior high school, they were copying mine!

Plain purple sweatshirt for the embroidery project below
Plain purple sweatshirt for the embroidery project below
If you are just beginning to experiment with decorated clothing, I recommend starting with a plain sweatshirt, as shown in the next photos. They are inexpensive and easy to obtain. (You can even practice on an old one if you choose.) Some craft shops sell them just for decorating. The fabric is sturdy and washable. Your stitches on the back of the cloth will not show through, even if you knot your threads (something I recommend on anything that will get hard wear and/or frequent washings). You can use floss or yarn or even crochet cotton for the stitches. (My only caution is not to pull your stitches so tight that you pucker the fabric.) Besides embroidery, you can use other techniques such as applique, machine embroidery, and trapunto. You have already learned how to make a hot-iron transfer for use on light-colored garments in the post about basic blackwork (October 6, 2013) and a way to transfer a design onto a dark-colored ones by stitching through the paper pattern (March 8, 2015). There are a number of other transfer techniques you can use.


Sweatshirt embroidery of an iris, in progress
Sweatshirt embroidery of an iris, in progress

Embroidered slippers from Hungary
Embroidered slippers from Hungary
Children's clothing is another easy area in which to begin embroidering. Little folks like pictures on their clothing and aren't very critical about technique. Easy designs like the ones on the Holbein embroidery downloadable pattern (August 20, 2014) can be done quickly. I recommend basting a piece of non-woven interfacing to the back of the fabrics especially knits before you begin embroidering. This makes the embroidered area stronger and less likely to pull out of shape when it is washed (and hides those knots at the ends of your threads).



Try it! Have fun,




Sweatshirt with applique
One of Annake's appliqued sweatshirts

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Sunday, March 8, 2015

“Stained-Glass” Stitchery

stained glass windchime
Stained glass windchime
When I was a little girl, I loved to visit old houses that had stained glass windows or door panels. Today, we have small stained-glass pieces in several rooms of our house. I've adapted the look of stained-glass to stitchery. This kind of stitchery is a combination of French longstitch (check our Archives for the November 3, 2013 post), back-stitch, and sometimes tent stitch. It can be done on needlepoint canvas, even-weave fabrics, plastic canvas. And even on clothing. It can be done with tapestry yarn, knitting yarn, crewel wool, baby yarn and many novelty yarns. On a smaller scale, it can be done with cotton, rayon, linen, metallic or silk embroidery floss.

scrubbing excess ink off canvas
Scrubbing excess ink off the canvas
Let me guide you through one such project. I began by drawing a design in pencil on mono needlepoint canvas. I divided both the design and the background into smaller segments. These sections should be small enough that the stitches across them will not have to be more than 2½ inches (6.5 centimeters) long. Then I went over all the lines with a fine-point permanent marker and let it dry. I scrubbed the lines with tissues or paper towels so that no excess ink will rub off on the yarns.




Sweatshirt with iris pattern stitching in progress
Sweatshirt with iris pattern stitching in progress
If I'm doing the stitchery on a dark fabric, like this sweatshirt, I draw the design on thin tracing paper and stitch through the paper in back-stitches with white yarn or floss. Then I tear the tracing paper away.

stained glass stitchery iris
Stained-glass stitchery iris, longstitched
I started at the center of the design. Cutting a length of yarn no more than 18 inches (45.5 centimeters) long, I threaded the yarn into my needle and pulled all but about an inch (4 or 5 centimeters) through the canvas, from back to front, on one of the inked lines. (On the dark fabric, I work over the white stitches to cover them so they did not need to be pulled out afterward.) I held the remaining yarn against the back of the canvas and worked stitches over it until it was secured in place. When I completed a section, I secured the end of the yarn by running it under several completed stitches on the back of the work.


stained glass stitchery iris with background
Stained-glass stitchery iris with background stitching
In most cases, I worked vertical stitches from the top line of a section to the bottom line, but there are occasional cases where it makes more sense to work from side to side horizontally on a section (a stem, a tall, narrow leaf or a tree trunk, for example). No threads of canvas are left bare; each stitch in a section shares a square of mesh at each end with a stitch from an adjoining section. When the center motif was complete, I worked the sections of the background in the same manner.


stained glass stitchery iris with backstitching
Stained-glass stitchery iris with backstitching
The next step is to back-stitch with black or very dark gray yarn over all of the lines where sections of stitches meet, whether on the central motif or the background. This represents the lead pieces that hold the sections of glass together. These metal strips are thick, so you should use yarn that has not been divided for the best effect. Use short stitches that cover three to five strands of yarn, at most. Each stitch ends in the same square of mesh as the stitch that preceded it. I recommend that you make a knot at the end of your yarn before you begin stitching so that the stitching does not pull out later.

It is possible to do this same technique in floss. In this case, the stitches will be shorter and closer together than those done in yarn. I usually choose a background for floss that allows me to use all six strands of the floss together. This gives a very satin-like surface to the work. For very fine canvas or an even-weave fabric like Aida, however, you may need to split the strands of floss and use fewer than six. If you are doing a complex design in floss, you may want to use a metallic thread for outlining instead of black.

variegated yarns and flosses
Variegated yarns and flosses
For a truly stained-glass effect, you will want some of the larger sections of the design done in variegated yarns (or flosses) or blended ones. You can easily find variegated flosses. You may be able to find variegated yarns. Unfortunately, yarns go through fads and fashions, so your selections may be limited. Yarns that are different shades of one color are usually preferable to ones that mix different colors. If you are using white yarn to represent clear glass, blend two strands of it with one of pale blue, pale gray, pale beige or lavender.

On small projects, I work the stained-glass stitches to the edge of the piece. For larger designs, however, I may do a tent stitch background. The fantasy butterfly below shows just such a background. The butterfly itself is done in longstitch. The veins are done in back-stitch with two strands of black, while the outline is done in a full four strands. The background, done in the basketweave style of tent stitch, is done in colors that are the complements of the colors used in the wings of the butterfly. The tent stitches are much flatter than the longstitches, thereby giving the butterfly a three-dimensional effect. This is an especially pretty effect on pillow tops and articles of clothing.

In a future project, we will discuss the ways to make blended yarns and flosses.

Enjoy this colorful technique,




stained-glass stitchery butterfly with tent stitched background
Stained-glass stitchery butterfly with tent stitched background


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