Coloring with Thread: 5 Hand Embroidery Tips

My hand embroidery next to Tula Pink's book Coloring with Thread

Tula Pink has long been one of my favorite fabric designers. With such intricate designs, bright colors, and even a collection dedicated to Elizabeth I, what’s not to love? When I caught wind of her book Coloring with Thread the prospect of seeing, or better yet creating, her designs using hand embroidery may or may not have led to a happy dance at my desk.

Deer Embroidery designed by Tula Pink

Deer Embroidery designed by Tula Pink from Coloring with Thread

Hand embroidery is the first bit of sewing I learned as a girl from my beloved Grandma. With each stitch, my love for this timeless technique grows, but in recent years I’ve found it difficult to zero in on a project. I recently started work on a sampler from the Sulky Presents: Hand Stitching Made Modern online course. That was a good way to get back on the bike, so to speak, but I wanted to commit to a bigger project that would allow me to expand my stitching technique.

The projects in Coloring with Thread were just the ticket! With so many options it was difficult to choose, but with the holidays coming I settled on the Deer design to make as a gift.

Thread for hand embroidery

My color palette was inspired by Tula’s, but definitely not the same.

I changed the color palette by opting for rich jewel tones instead of the bright pinks, mustards, and teal from the book. I’ve decided the suggested stitches are just that—suggestions. I’m not completely disregarding them, opting instead to choose stitches that make sense and that I enjoy stitching. I’ve also changed my approach to filling in the design throughout the project; at the beginning, I chose to work from one end to the other, and now I’m working one color at a time to develop sections of the design.

My hand embroidery in progress.

My hand embroidery in progress along with my thread and scissors.

As I’ve been stitching at my desk quite a bit this week, I’ve had several visitors stop by to check out my project. Some have remarked on the intricacy of the pattern, a few have commented on the different color palette, and a couple asked which stitches I was using. I was utterly surprised by the number of my friends at work who’d never tried embroidery, but studied my project, admired Tula’s designs, and said they thought it’s a technique they’d enjoy. I happily offered to teach those who were interested and have been thinking since about stitches to teach and tips to share.

Here are five of my tips for hand embroidery I’ve been thinking about while stitching the Deer design:

1. Make the project yours. In my mind, the best part about making anything is our ability to make it uniquely ours. Whether we make minor tweaks to the color palette shown in the illustration or choose to modify the embroidery pattern, the choice is ours. Looking through the previous stops on the blog hop, the variety of approaches is amazing! Some of us were clearly inspired by Tula’s thread and fabric choices, choosing to stick close to the original designs; while others of us ditched the thread entirely, opting for appliqué instead.

Close up of my hand embroidery project.

I started my embroidery at the very bottom thinking I’d work my way up…that didn’t last long.

2. Stretch it out! Spending hours hunched over hand embroidery with needle and thread in hand can be hard on our bodies. Stretch often. Each time you rethread your needle with a new length of thread, stretch your neck, hands, and forearms. I speak from experience when I tell you it’s a difficult habit to form, but your body will thank you in the long run.

3. Let there be light! Good lighting goes hand in hand with an ergonomic setup and stretches. Tula’s patterns in Coloring with Thread are so decorative, good lighting isn’t just a “nice-to-have” it’s a “must-have.” As I was working on the Deer I noticed a huge difference, not only my ability but my enjoyment of hand stitching was based on the quality of lighting I was working under. Bad lighting led to frustration, but good lightning led to confident stitches because I could actually see the lines of the pattern.

Take your hand embroidery with you!

The park near my office is just one of many places I worked on my embroidery.

4. Let your embroidery tag along. Embroidery, unlike many quilting and surface design techniques, is mobile. When you’re working on a project try taking it outside, to a coffee shop, or to a friend’s house for movie night. My version of Tula’s deer has been accompanying me to the office every day and I even briefly considered taking a bus to work for my hour commute instead of driving so I’d have more time to embroider.

Close up of my deer embroidery

I love the way the face is turning out, I’m so excited to see the eyes finished!

5. Savor each stitch. I am guilty of trying to finish projects on tight deadlines all of the time. With embroidery though, it’s important to slow down and enjoy the process. Quality stitches take time and patience. I naively tried to finish this entire embroidery in just four days, while working a full-time job…two weeks before Christmas. It didn’t happen. But that’s ok, I’ve enjoyed every moment I’ve spent working on this project and I can’t wait to see all of the pieces come together. Don’t lose heart when it takes you longer than expected to finish. Be kind to yourself and enjoy the ride.

Whether you’ve been stitching for years or are completely new to hand embroidery, I can’t recommend Tula’s book enough. The embroidery designs are breathtaking in their intricacy, but they are easy to adapt to your skill level. Plus, the front of the book is full of embroidery stitch tutorials—I didn’t know there were so many stitches I haven’t learned yet!

I already have dates on the books to teach a handful of friends how to embroider in 2018. My copy of Coloring with Thread will certainly be handy for easy reference and inspiration.

Happy stitching,

From colored pencil to thread, explore these coloring books from Tula Pink:

More of a visual learner? Don't miss Sulky Presents: Hand Stitching Made Modern.

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