Sunday, September 18, 2011

Basic Embroidery Stitches- Just stitch it! ~TUT~

Hand embroidery is the most personal mark you can make on fabric. It embraces tradition in a new way. Embroidery stitches have been passed down from one generation to the next by fiber artists from all over the world. Recently, with the birth of the "handmade nation", new fiber artists are taking embroidery to the next level. I am often inspired to be courageous and experiment with tradition. This is why I have dedicated this "Sew Old Sew New" blog to fiber artists of today. I hope our next generation takes our lessons even further!

I find embroidery to be very relaxing. It is one of those tasks that demand enough brain power to do things correctly and creatively, without a lot of difficult problem solving. When I stitch, the world disappears. I tend to have twitchy toes and legs every once in a while. Embroidery and crochet are my drug of choice to relax and keep my mind off of those irritations.

Here are the basic tools and some tips for your adventures into hand embroidery.

The Tools
Crewel or tapestry needles.
A pointed tip works for sewing any fabric. A blunt tip needle is good for using on cross stitch (aida) fabric. I like size 20 or larger.

Embroidery scissors. A small scissors makes for easier and more detailed snipping and cutting.

Embroidery Thread
Perle Cotton is my preferred thread. It does not fray easily, creates a bold line, and comes in a wide variety of colors. I like size 5 for most work but use size 3 for detailed work or for light black outlines.
Embroidery Floss can be split into 6 strands. For this reason, floss makes me crazy. For many embroidery artists, there is not other option. It has a nice sheen and comes in an infinite number of colors from matte to metallic.

Floss bobbins- These are inexpensive cardboard or plastic holders for your floss or thread. If you work from the hanks you buy, you will find that your thread will tangle easily. The ends will be floating all over your storage container and become a tangled mess. By winding your thread on a bobbin right away, you can keep your threads at the ready and organized.

Most woven fabrics with some body can be embroidered. Many are better than others. I love to work on linen. Its open, flexible weave makes stitching a breeze. The needle slides in and out like butter. If you make a mistake, the weave will correct itself and with a little manipulation, the hole created by the wrong stitch disappears.
I love working on recycled, felted woven wool. Again, it stitches like a charm, and the lanolin in the wool actually polishes your needle! I have also embroidered on knit wool that has been felted. You just have to watch that you don't pucker the fabric by pulling the thread to tight.
I often embroider on quilt quality cotton. I love to work with the patters and prints. I have stitched on very lightweight cotton as well. Mistakes are hard to correct and you have to be careful not to pucker your fabric.

I don't know that I would recommend working on lightweight knits. Open weave fabrics will not cover the back of your work, which can get a little messy as you go from one area to another. Practice on muslin or canvas at first. There are wonderful fabrics designed for embroidery. Actually, you never really know until you try. Experiment!

Optional Tools
This is an optional tool to protect your fingers from becoming calloused or poked. I like the soft leather version as it conforms to my finger. A small metal piece keeps the needle from passing through to my skin.
A small pliers
When stitching with thick fabrics or when many stitches pass through the same area over and over, the needle just doesn't seem to want to glide through the fabric. Because the needle is small, its hard to get a good grip at times. I keep a small needle nose pliers handy to grip the needle and pull it through. You may find this keeps carpel tunnel at bay.

To Hoop or not to Hoop
Many traditionalist would not dream of doing embroidery without a hoop. A hoop keeps your fabric taut. This helps to keep your fabric from puckering, especially when satin stitching. A hoop is inexpensive. You simply place your fabric over the bottom hoop. Then take the top hoop and schooch it down over your fabric and the lower hoop. Tighten the screw or nut. To move the hoop, loosen the nut or screw and slide the fabric over and re-tighten.
I prefer not to use the hoop for a few reasons.
I tend to work on small pieces of fabric that would not fit onto a hoop securely. (If you want to hoop, you can baste small pieces of fabric to a larger piece.)
I worry that tightening the hoop over embroidered stitches can skew them and create a fold or crease.
I like to stitch in one motion. When using a hoop you have to go down, then move to the other side of the hoop and bring the needle back up. Without a hoop, I can make that up and down motion in tight, tiny spaces in a snap.
To keep the fabric from puckering, it is important to keep a tiny bit of slack in your stitches. Every now and again, I give the fabric a tug and the stitches even out and the fabric becomes straight and flat.

Some Tips and Tricks

To make straight lines simply line your needle up along the previous stitches.
Keep your beginning knot as small as the fabric allows.
When stitching on white fabric, I advise finishing off each area before beginning the next. Some times you can see your thread through the fabric.
When stitching on very light weight fabrics, you can add an iron-on stabilizer. Note that any errors or removed stitches will show, as the stabilizer will hold the hole open.
Take your time and allow your personality and style to show through.
Relax and enjoy the meditative process of embroidery. Your work will love you for it. If you are tense and rushed, your stitches may be tight and uneven. Take a deep breathe and play.

Basic Embroidery Stitches to Try
click on the stitch to go to the tutorial.
Back Stitch
Buttonhole Stitch
Chain Stitch or Lazy Daisy Stitch
French Knot
Split Stitch
Couching Stitch
Satin and Shading Stitch

More stitches, tips and techniques to follow....

Take a look at the apple pincushions below.
Tell me they would be the same without embroidery....

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