Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Embroidery School Homework - Stitch Samplers

Look how far you've already come with Embroidery School! You've learned about supplies and tools, transferring designs to fabric, and keeping your work tidy. (Links to all the lessons are here.)

Time to download the sampler and prepare the fabric for stitching.

All next week we'll learn twelve basic stitches. You can stitch them right onto the samplers or play with them in your own way.

The samplers provided give you two options. One is a simple wheel, and each spoke is one line of each type of stitching. Couldn't be easier!

If you're feeling a bit adventurous, use the second sampler and the stitch guide provided to use the twelve stitches to create a gorgeous piece of retro art.

This design is an Alice Brooks art deco tree that I've reworked to add some clouds and birds so you can practice all the stitches in the lessons.

Download both patterns now. You will see both patterns in forward and reverse images so you can choose your method of transfer. Plus there's a stitch guide for the tree scene. The guide will be clearer once we get started. Don't worry - I'll be stitching these up with you so you don't get lost.

Next week, the lessons will cover three stitches per day. Learning each new stitch and stitching one wheel spoke will take about 5 minutes. But I think you'll be tempted to sit down for some prolonged happy YOU time and work on that lovely tree scene. And you'll know how it's done! 

Alright, little chickies! Time to get your homework started. Download the samplers, transfer them to your fabric, and choose some lovely colors and hoops to play with. I'll see you back in school next week. 

To Knot or Not - Lesson Three Embroidery School

Knotting the end of embroidery thread is considered bad form in the traditional world of embroidery. Competitions at state fairs, needlework guilds, or farm and craft shows judge as much by the back of the work as by the front.

There are some excellent reasons (other than competition) to avoid knots all over the back of the work. 
  • If the fabric is light colored, the thread dark, and the fabric is either very lightweight or "holey", as Aida or even weaves can be, the bit of threads that hang off the knots can show through or create unsightly bumps when the fabric is laid flat.
  • If the embroidered work is to lay flat against a matte for framing, bumps from knots will show up.
  • If you are going to teach embroidery, you'll want to learn traditional methods to pass on to the next generation.
Using no-knot methods can be a bit more time-consuming, but if done right, can make the back of the work look almost as amazing as the front. It's a skill worth practicing.

First, let's look at stranded thread (embroidery floss) and see how it looks when we use varying numbers of strands. These lines are worked in back stitch using 2, 3, 4, and 6 strands of DMC stranded cotton embroidery floss. It's important to know how the number of strands affects the bulk of the work. 

I am using 4 strands to show no-knot methods.

No Knot Method 1 

In this method a knot is made at the end of the thread. The needle is inserted from front to back of the work a couple of inches away from where the actual stitching will begin. Then the needle comes back up where the work begins and continues to create the line or element of stitching.

When the line is finished, the knot is snipped off. 

Using a very small crochet hook, the loose thread left at the start is woven into the back of the work.

No Knot Method 2

In this method, the thread is passed through from back to front and a tail is left at the back. This is just a view of what's happening at the back of the work.

As the work progresses, this tail is trapped by the stitching at the back. So you make a stitch on the front, and then trap the tail as you bring the needle to the front again.

The result is the same as the first method as the tail has been woven in and trapped at the back.

No Knot Method 3

This method is used for making french knots without leaving two knots at the back of each one (the beginning and the end of the thread) or when you don't want to lay the thread against the back of the work running from stitch to stitch because it will show through, such as with lightweight fabric or very dark thread in a very light colored fabric.

Bring the needle to the back, leaving a tail a little ways away as in Method 2. Bring the needle up where the french knot will be and make a tiny stitch over one or two threads. Bring the needle back up....

...and make a second tiny stitch.

Now make a french knot directly over those tiny stitches.

On the back, insert the needle under the tiny stitching and pull through the loop made by the thread to secure it

Pull the tail end through and snip both threads to leave one french knot on the front with a secure knot at the back.

Ending Stitching Neatly

This is pretty much the same method you've been seeing. To avoid knotting the the thread at the end of the line of stitching, weave the remaining thread in and out of the stitches on the back of the work and then just trim the thread.

This is the end of a back stitched line. The first photo is the front; photos 2, 3, and 4 are the back view.



It's not called Embroidery "School" for nothing! 

This quiz will test your ability to distinguish between stitching with knots and without.

First is a bit of back stitch. 

And how about these french knots?

 In both samples, the top stitching has knots and the bottom one does not.

Which is precisely why I knot my threads and leave the extra work for stitchery that will be framed.

To knot or not? The answer is up to YOU.

If you have suddenly stumbled upon this post, you should know this is lesson three of Embroidery School. There's a lot more! For all the lessons, check out the tab at the top of the page or click here: Embroidery School.  Tomorrow, I'll be posting the links to the free downloadable sampler patterns you can use to learn and practice the 12 basic stitches you'll be learning here at Embroidery School.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Transferring the Design to Fabric - Lesson Two Embroidery School

Welcome to lesson two of Embroidery School. Now that you have your basic supplies (lesson one), you need to get the fabric ready for stitching. So how do you get your drawing or pattern onto the fabric?


    •    tracing
    •    transfer pencil or pen
    •    dressmaker's carbon paper
    •    rubbing
    •    laser printer
    •    inkjet printer
    •    adhesive, fabric-like, water soluble stabilizer

Print or trace the design onto white paper or tracing paper. Tape this to a window or light box. Place the fabric over it, right side up, centering the design where you'd like it to appear. Tape the fabric in place. Trace the design using a sharp pencil or fine pen.

Transfer pen or pencil:
Print the design in reverse. Draw over the pattern lines with a transfer pencil or pen. Place this paper image side down onto the fabric and iron on with a hot iron, pressing hard. Lines are permanent but stitching should cover the transferred design. 

Dressmaker's carbon paper:
This is a thick waxy paper unlike office carbon paper which smudges easily. Iron the fabric well, and place it right side up on a flat surface. Use a light color carbon paper on dark fabrics and a dark color carbon paper for light fabrics. Tape the colored side of the carbon paper to the fabric. Position the pattern design on top and use a pen, pencil, stylus, or pointy end of a paint brush to trace over the design lines. Be careful not to press so hard you tear through the papers.

Print the design or trace it onto regular or tracing paper. Turn it over and go over the lines with a regular graphite pencil. Place the design where desired on the right side of the fabric and rub across the design back with your fingernail or rounded end of a sewing tool. These marks are very temporary and will start to disappear even as you work. You can lightly go over the lines with a very sharp pencil to clarify the lines.

Laser printer:
I have not tried laser printers for transferring designs. I have heard it's not a very good method. Laser printers do not infuse fabric or paper with ink, but actually fuse plastic and pigment to the top of the paper/fabric. But there are some who use this method so it is an option.

Inkjet printer #1:
There are special iron-on transfer papers made for inkjet printers. Print the design in reverse, turn the image onto the right side of the fabric, and iron on.

Inkjet printer #2:
You can buy sheets of stiffened fabric that will go through the printer, or you can cut freezer paper (Reynold's or Sew Easy brands) paper-sized. Iron the plastic side to fabric. Trim fabric to the edges to make a stabilized fabric sheet. Print directly onto the fabric sheet and peel off the freezer paper. I've reused my freezer paper sheets at least ten times each. Freezer paper can also be purchased precut in paper sizes.

Sulky Sticky Fabri-Solvy:
(I have never used this. This is what I was told by a friend of mine.) You can trace or print on these sheets, peel off the backing, stick them to the fabric, and embroider through both the Solvy and your hooped fabric. Soak the finished work in warm water, watch this stuff disintegrate, and then dry the fabric.

Transferring the design to dark fabric

You can transfer a design to dark fabric in most of the ways described above. In the case of embroidery transfer paper, you'll need the lighter colored sheets. Same goes for iron-on transfer pencil - you need the white or yellow one. If you print the design onto the fabric, you'll need to create a document that can print in a light yellow or very light blue or red. If the fabric is dark but not so dark you can't see the drawing when held up against a window, there's some chance you could trace it with a white sewing marking pencil.

Pens and pencils

I trace or rub using a pencil usually. I use a standard HB (AUS) or #2 (US) pencil. I had to stop using my childhood standard Ticonderoga pencil because the last pack I bought while in the US seems to be of such terrible quality that the writing wipes off even paper with a simple swipe of the finger.

I have also tried very fine line pens and was sorely disappointed to find most were not waterproof. This is not a problem as I'm not washing my hoop art, but when ironing the work, even a little moisture can make the ink run. 

I found Artline Drawing System pens at my nearby newsagent. They are pigment ink and water resistant. I use the 0.2 or 0.1 size. They are also available at art supply shops. I LOVE these. I use these for drawing my final pattern image to make the PDFs and I have also used them directly on the fabrics I embroider.

I haven't cracked open this pack, but was introduced to the Pilot Frixion erasable pen at Caloundra Sewing Centre where I buy my embroidery fabric. This pen miraculously disappears when ironed. Remember to transfer the pattern after you iron the fabric. Stitch it up and when you iron again, any lines showing will disappear. You can buy this pen at Woolies (Australia). 

Hey, you did it! You've completed lesson two of Embroidery School. Lesson One: Choosing and Using Embroidery Tools is here if you missed it.

Lesson three will be posted in several parts because it's all about how to make those fabulous embroidery stitches. Those posts will be put together as one handy PDF for you also. Stay tuned and Happy Stitching!

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Choosing and Using Embroidery Tools - Lesson One Embroidery School

These are the basic supplies you'll need for embroidery school.

    •    needles
    •    threads
    •    fabrics
    •    scissors
    •    hoops or frames

You'll also need a design or drawing to stitch up.

You can find most of the supplies you'll need at thrift stores. In fact, I recommend looking for hoops and needle packs at secondhand shops because they can be found for much less than new. Antique hoops are often real wood and stronger than new bamboo hoops.


Choosing a needle very much depends on the type of needlework project itself. The needle needs to be threaded easily with the type of thread, yarn, or ribbon you are using. It needs to be able to pass through the fabric without bending or breaking and without stretching the fabric. You may or may not choose a traditional needle for your projects.

Generally, embroidery uses one of the following four types of needles (the larger the number, the smaller the needle):

    •    crewel/ embroidery - sharp point; long eye; sizes 1-12; embroidery floss and perle cotton floss
    •    tapestry - blunt point; longer eye; shorter shaft; sizes 13 - 28; cross-stitch, needlepoint, plastic canvas
    •    sharps - sharp point; smaller, rounded eye; eye is same width as the needle; sizes 1-12; sewing, button, and coat thread
    •    chenille - sharp point; long eye; thicker than embroidery needles; sizes 13-26; wool crewel and ribbon embroidery

Sharps are what we usually think of when we think of hand sewing needles. The eye size of sharps is smaller and more rounded and the needle shaft and eye are about the same width. But most people, when faced with the need to add a bit of embroidery to a child's dress or a tote bag, often have sharps on hand rather than dedicated embroidery needles. Sharps may be a bit harder to thread with floss, but they are handy, sharp, and readily available in every travel sewing kit or grocery store.

The most popular embroidery needle sizes used with cotton embroidery floss are 7 and 9.

Darning/mending needles are very much the same as tapestry needles but longer.

Almost any hand sewing needle can be used for embroidery. Types of threads and fabrics and the amount of experimentation you do may warrant a completely different type of needle for your project.

Other needles include:

    •    beading - very fine and long; bend easily; sizes 10-15
    •    quilting - short and fine; round eye; sizes 5-12
    •    doll - very long with a large eye ; used for needle sculpting and attaching limbs
    •    wool yarn/plastic - great for teaching children to embroider and stitch through burlap, aida, and felt
    •    curved needles - used for tying quilts and upholstery-making; sizes vary depending on use

Care of needles: Pincushions were often filled with natural wool fleece as lanolin in the wool keeps needles from rusting. Emery or fine sand are also useful in pincushions as the very finely ground minerals keeps needles sharp. 

Losing your needles? Keep a magnet handy and swipe it over chairs, carpets, and floors where you stitch. If you have a habit of losing needles, consider gluing a flat piece of magnet (or reuse a business card-style fridge magnet) to the bottom of a tin and keeping needles there.


Embroidery can be accomplished with any kind of fiber or thread. The art form is so varied and fabrics so diverse, that in fact, any thread and fabric can be used to create a remarkable story.

Cotton stranded embroidery floss (or embroidery thread UK/AUS) or perle cotton are the most used embroidery threads. Embroidery floss is made of six strands and any number or all of these might be used to create lines and elements of varying thickness and heft. Perle cotton is non-divisible.

Wool tapestry yarn, wool crewel thread, metallic stranded thread, ribbon, coton a broder are other threads that might be used. 

Storing threads: Stranded embroidery thread/floss comes in skeins. There is one end that is visible and you should be able to pull it and have it come out smoothly without knotting up. This is not always the case but generally works. 

Most people take their new skeins and wind them around bobbins for future use. Bobbins come in plastic, cardboard, and balsa wood forms. DMC brand cardboard bobbins are thicker and longer lasting than the thin cardstock no-name brands. You can also make your own from milk jugs or cereal boxes. Plastic storage cases made to fit these bobbins can be found regularly at thrift stores and are available at fabric stores.


Cotton and linen fabrics make great foundations for delicious embroidering. The linen at most fabric stores (such as Spotlight in Australia) is far too thin and flimsy for a substantial piece of embroidery work. Look for good medium weight linen at better shops or seek out antique tablecloths or napkins if you can't find a weight you like in larger fabric stores.

Cotton fabric can be purchased anywhere. The least expensive and great for beginners is muslin (US)/ calico (AUS). It can be purchased bleached or unbleached. You will need to pre-wash your fabric if it hasn't been washed, but cotton fibers can relax and if you want a super crisp look to your work, I recommend hand washing and air drying on the line. You don't have to wash the entire piece of fabric. Just cut off the size you will use and wash and dry that piece.

Many fabrics can be embroidered and you may be working up a pillowcase, a quilt panel, or a piece for framing. If you will be displaying the piece in the hoop or if you are embroidering a small piece, cut the fabric about 2" wider and longer than the hoop so it will fit snugly without slipping.

Synthetics and synthetic blends are not recommended for most embroidery. The fabrics can stretch oddly and gather once released from the hoop. That said, you might like to explore for art's sake and see what you can create with a variety of fabric types. 

Storing and ironing fabrics: Recently I made a purchase of 5 metres of the homespun cotton I use for embroidery. I managed to actually buy the end of the roll so I was able to bring the roll home. Storing fabric on a roll rather than folded prevents a lot of ironing grief later. Fabric shops usually have several empty tubes lying around and will give them to you for the asking.

Even folding fabric once and then rolling around a paper towel or aluminum foil cardboard tube reduces the amount of creases in your embroidery fabrics.

When you do iron fabric, make sure to use distilled water or filtered water to dampen the fabric creases slightly. Water straight from the tap may have minerals that can leave brown, yellow, or red stains in the fabric.

(stork birth clamp from Antiques Navigator)


You can use any small sharp scissors, but embroidery scissors are the most handy. These are about the size of nail scissors and are very pointy. The very narrow point makes it easier to cut away a stitch or two if a mistake is made. This is harder to do with sewing shears or household scissors.

Why do embroidery scissors look like birds?

It used to be that midwives used umbilical clamps often made to look like storks and these looked like a small pair of scissors. Eventually it fell into favor to make small sewing scissors in the stork design. Modern "stork" scissors have an added component of being loose enough to create a chirping sound when open and closed quickly. Bird chirping embroidery scissors are very popular although not all embroidery scissors look like birds.

Keeping scissors sharp: My scissors have never dulled from cutting paper and I don't know why everyone thinks this will happen. Scissors get dull no matter what they are used for and can be sharpened at your local fabric shop or with a kitchen knife sharpener. I apologize in advance for upsetting all the sticklers out there, but if your scissors are getting extremely and suddenly dull because other family members are using them, they are not cutting just paper. I do recommend checking for nicks in your scissors as it is quite likely you'll cut into a sewing pin now and then and damage scissor edges.

Hoops or Frames

Hoops come in all sizes and are usually round or oval. Frames can be round, oval, or rectangular. Frames sometimes have cotton tape attached so the work can be basted on to hold it in place. Frames are most often used in needle point and tapestry work. Embroidery can be done without a hoop but a hoop can make it easier to keep the fabric taut so stitches remain even.

The hoop has an inner and outer piece. The fabric is laid over the inner hoop and the outer placed over to trap the fabric. The inner hoop is sometimes wrapped in cotton bias tape to prevent the fabric slipping and when the hoop is a bit warped or not exactly fitting. Plastic hoops have an extra lip which helps keep fabric in place.

Hoop art is made when the embroidered work is left in the hoop and displayed as is. Hanging embroidery in the hoop is not a traditional method as one's hoop was a tool not a frame and tools were taken care of and not replaced easily. These days, with inexpensive and convenient supplies available, leaving the work in the hoop is a great way to create art and gifts for friends, your own home, or a baby nursery.

(Young Girl Embroidering by Charles F. Ulrich 1858-1908)


You'll need something to embroider, now that you've collected your supplies. Visit my shop if you are looking for a design suitable for framing or to use as hoop art. 

If you are feeling very beginner-shy, sign up at the top right and receive a free Four Seasons Forest embroidery pattern. It's a great place to start. if you're already an accomplished stitcher, use it to teach a child or friend how to embroider.

Thanks for attending the first Embroidery School lesson. In the next post, you'll learn how to transfer that design you've bought or drawn to the fabric. After that, we'll start learning and practicing basic stitches. 

PS: Did you get your free pattern?

Sunday, April 17, 2016

What's My Dirty Little Secret? Cheater's BackStitch

Now that we've gathered all our stitching tools in our well-chosen on-the-go around town or travel totes (see last week's posts), it's time to pick out a pattern and get stitching.

If you sign up over there on the right, you will receive a free Four Season's Forest embroidery pattern. 

This is a great pattern for a beginner or a child or teen you'd like to teach. But it's also engaging enough for an experienced embroiderer who would like a create a favorite seasonal gift or the whole series of wall art for the year.

Whatever you choose, you're likely to come across a lot of patterns that call for the back stitch. I found the usual method of doing back stitch left my work rather weighty and bulky because there was so much crossing over of threads along the back. The normal method of stitching back stitch uses an awful lot of extra thread and I looked for an easier way.

Hurray! Cheater's back stitch is born!

It's so easy. I simple sew a running stitch going in one direction and then stitch backwards along the same line.

Back of the work.

 I still make one stitch at a time. I have tried just sewing a line of running stitches but it creates a different look. But when I'm in a big old hurry, it can be done.

That's my dirty little secret. Don't tell anyone.

Want more? Embroidery School is on the way! This week I'll be unveiling a series of lessons you can refer to anytime: how to choose and use embroidery supplies, stitch guides, methods of transferring patterns to fabric, washing and caring for embroidered lovelies, displaying your work. It will be a tab at the top of the page and I'll announce it in my newsletter. 

So sign up and get your free pattern and receive up-to-date info about Embroidery School! 

And if you really like this Hippo Birdie Two Ewes birthday embroidery pattern, you can get it here. Or you can order the pre-printed fabric panel ready to pop into the hoop! 

You can practice lots of cheater's back stitch in this pattern.