Sunday, June 14, 2015

Hand Embroidery Tips and Tricks- Guest Post by Abbey

Happy Sunday! I hope you've had an amazing weekend! Back in March, I posted about my obsession with embroidery hoops. (One of my newer hoops is shown above- a gift for my mom!) My lifelong friend, Abbey, helped light that fire under me and I have not stopped hand embroidering since! I've asked Abbey to write a guest post to share her tips and tricks with us...enjoy!
Hello Everyone!  My name is Abbey, and Katie and I have been friends for a good long time.
Seriously, y’all.  I can’t remember not knowing Katie and her wonderful family.

Katie and I have always had a love for crafting.  A while back, Katie and I got together to craft and ended up with some pretty cool embroidery’ve probably seen them here on her blog!

Katie asked me to write a blog post to explain some of the tips and tricks I shared with her that day.  Some of these I learned from my Mama way back in the day.  Others I learned from a friend of mine who taught a “Life Skills” class, which I took over teaching last year.  Yes, I teach crazy high school kids embroidery and sewing (and acting, singing, and dancing, but that’s beside the point).  I think kids need to work more with their hands; there are some good lessons to be learned by sitting still, working continuously, and keeping things neat.

ANYwho.  I’ll start with some basic questions that a prospective embroiderer (is that a word?) might have and do my best to answer them.  I am by no means a sewing expert, these are just some things I’ve learned along the way!

What do I need?
Tools of the trade.

Embroidery needles--these are a little different from regular hand-sewing needles.  They have a longer/larger eye so that you can get the embroidery floss through.
Embroidery floss/thread--I first started using these brightly colored rope bundles to make friendship bracelets as a kid.  It really is like rope--the strand in the skein is actually six individual threads twisted together.  I use two of those threads to thread my needle.  I double and knot those two, so when I’m embroidering I get a thickness of four strands.  You could experiment with using more strands to get a thicker line, but the more threads you use, the harder it is to thread the needle.
Fabric--Katie has had some really great results with drop cloth fabric.  You can really use any fabric, but I would suggest something a little weighty (you don’t want to be able to see the threads in the back) and either a solid color or a very subtle pattern.  You want your stitches to stand out against the background.
Embroidery hoop--these can be purchased at any craft store.  You can use a plastic one to embroider and then transfer your work to a pretty wooden one to hang/give, or you can just work right in a wooden hoop.  I love it when something functional is also pretty.

How do I get the image I want onto the fabric?

If you have a wash-out pencil and you’re really confident in your drawing/writing abilities, you can just draw what you want onto the fabric and embroider over it.  Personally, that option always makes me nervous because I usually need to make several drafts of something before I am satisfied with it.  Also, I don’t want to have to wash the embroidery afterward.  I have enough laundry, thanks.
I used the pencil on fabric technique on a quilt I made for my nephew.  I liked that it definitely looks like my handwriting, but the spacing is a little off.

My teacher friend taught me the tissue paper trick, which I LOVE and highly recommend.  All you do is draw or trace your design onto tissue paper, pin the tissue to your fabric, and sew through the paper.  Once you’re done, you just gently rip the tissue paper off your project.  I also love this method because you can print images/script that you like and trace them onto the tissue paper. 

Tissue paper trick is the best.  The spacing between the lines is a little off, here, but I can easily cut the tissue paper after I finish the first line and shift the bottom up if I want to be persnickety about it.  Also, I went off the grid a bit on the tail of that “d”...but I won’t have to wash the project to get rid of the line that was.  Awesome.

How do I do the stitches?
There are several online tutorials you can use to learn the various stitches used in embroidery.  My favorites are the backstitch (used to make solid lines) and the french knot (which make cute little dots).  Some other common stitches are the satin stitch (used to “fill in” large areas) and the lazy daisy (makes teardrop/petal shapes.)  If you’re just starting and want a quick project, I would choose designs that don’t require a satin stitch.  It’s not difficult, but it’s very time consuming and can get monotonous.  And it’s one of those things that if you get lazy with it, it can start to look really messy.  Play around with different stitches and find what you like!

Any other tips?
When you’re stitching, the main thing to keep in mind is to keep the stitches consistent.  They don’t have to be miniscule--you want to be able to see them and you don’t want your project to take forever to finish.  About ⅛-¼ inch is a decent length for a stitch.  Again, you can experiment with this to give your work different qualities.  Small, consistent stitches will look more clean and polished.  Larger, sometimes inconsistent stitches can look rustic and whimsical.  It just depends on what you want.
Don’t cut off too much thread.  If you’re trying to sew with yards of thread hanging off your needle, it’s going to get tangled and you’re going to get frustrated.  I get a good working length by using the length of my arm.  I take the whole “rope” of embroidery floss, cut it the length of my arm, then separate two strands, thread the needle, double it and knot it at the end.  This works a lot better for me than trying to separate two threads while it’s attached to the skein.  The floss doesn’t tangle as much, and you already have your next two working lengths pre-cut.  Win-Win.
Especially if you’re planning to give your work away, keep the back neat.  I was always taught that really good sewing looks as good on the “wrong side” as it does on the “right side.”  Now, I know that my sewing never quite matches that standard, but you also don’t want the back to be a big ole mess.  Take your time with it and don’t be afraid to make a knot on the back, cut your needle off, and start fresh.  You will probably have more than enough embroidery floss to finish whatever you’re doing.

So!  I hope that helps any embroidery enthusiasts out there!  Little projects like this are really fun and not terribly time-consuming, which is a big plus for me.  I also love adding buttons or bits of fabric to a project, or sewing something unexpected.  Have fun with it!  The more you play with it, the better you’ll get. 

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