March is National Craft Month, and we want to help you celebrate all month long by bringing you ideas for the variety of needle arts available to quilters. Today we’re bringing you ways to improve your hand embroidery stitches with some tips and tools.
I Think You Need Stitches!
You do need stitches! But not the kind a doctor puts in. You need embroidery stitches! There is nothing like a little hand embroidery to put you at ease, to help you relax and to take your mind and put it in a happy place.
Hand embroidery has enjoyed a comeback over the past few years—although for many people, it never really left. The popularity of patterns by designers like Kathy Schmitz and Meg Hawkey/Crabapple Hill Studio are proof that we all love a few stitches.
Before you begin, let’s make sure you have the correct tools, and then I’ll help you get comfortable.
The Tools for Hand Embroidery
Needles: Take the time to find or purchase embroidery needles. They have an eye large enough to accommodate multiple strands of thread and a sharp point to cleanly pierce the fabric.
Thread, floss or perle cotton: There are so many options—it’s a lot of fun to choose colors and textures that will work for your project. Regular cotton embroidery floss is a no-fail choice; it gives you the flexibility of using one strand for very fine details or up to three strands or more for a heavier line. Floss also comes in linen, silk, wool, rayon and more. Each gives a different sheen or texture. The fibers are available in a variety of weights from very fine to very heavy. There are hand-dyed options from vendors like Weeks Dye Works and Valdani. The Caron Collection is a treasure trove of colors, fibers, textures and weights.
Thimble: Whether or not you use one is a personal preference, but once you get used to it, you’ll likely not stitch without it. Try different types until one fits and improves your stitching. I use inexpensive vintage plastic thimbles most, but I also have a sterling silver Roxanne thimble that I love. There are good thimbles in all price ranges.
Fabric: Most patterns will recommend what fabric to embroider on, but you can try something a little different for variety, too. A subtle print can add interest without detracting from your stitching. Linen now comes in every color of the rainbow from vendors like R&R Reproductions. You’ll find it at needlework stores and online retailers.
Consider lining the fabric to give it more body and hide the traveling threads. I always line my embroidery. I use something lightweight that is similar in color to the top fabric. I put a few dots of Roxanne’s Glue-Baste-It or Jillily Studio’s Appli-Glue around the outside edges to hold the lining and the main fabric together.
Embroidery hoop: For some types of embroidery I use one, for other types I do not. It’s up to you, but do be sure that your stitches and your fabrics lie flat and smooth when you’re finished. A gentle shot of steam from the back side will help prepare your embroidery for the next step such as piecing or framing.
Stitch reference books: It’s helpful to have a book or two with good illustrations of basic embroidery stitches. Because I am left-handed, my favorite is The Left-Handed Embroiderer’s Companion by Yvette Stanton. Of course the Right- Handed version is wonderful, too.
Create an Embroidery Environment
A comfortable chair with support for your back and shoulders helps a lot. Try stitching for half an hour in several different chairs. See where you’re most comfortable. Sometimes elevating your feet or your knees feels good.
Rest your work on a pillow. I have found that placing a throw pil low under my forearms as I stitch greatly reduces the strain on my upper back. Experiment with pillows of different thicknesses until you find one that adds to your comfort.
Add pleasant sound or enjoy the quiet. Sometimes I put on soft music to stitch by. If the weather is nice I might open a window and listen to the birds. I have listened to audiobooks or enjoyed a good chick flick. And it’s pretty hard to beat silence if you really want to relax.
Now you’re ready—for some stitches!
Diane Harris, a.k.a. the Stash Bandit