Wait…So, My Love of Doing Embroidery isn’t Old Lady-ish Anymore?

One of the first things I learned when I was a young girl just starting to sew was how to make a quilt.  In fact, the first thing I ever sewed by myself was a patchwork quilt.  Nothing fancy, it was made from the left over scraps of fabric that were from the dresses that my mother made me as a child.  It was mine though and I was proud of it.  In fact, about halfway through last year it was the quilt that was usually on my bed.  However, since it had been used almost constantly since I finished at the age of five, it was starting to wear in spots.  So, it was carefully washed and then put in a safe storage spot.  If you don’t know much about quilting you probably don’t know what that has to do with today’s article about embroidery.  For those of you who don’t know, part of quilting is doing the actual quilting.  The quilting is the stitching together of the front and back parts of the blanket.  Without the stitching, sometimes intricate and sometimes not, it is simply a blanket.  It was from learning how to do quilting that started me in the art of embroidery.

Embroidery is the art of using thread to make fancy designs and pictures in fabric.  It is a type needle art in the same way that quilting is.  However, unlike quilting, embroidery will often incorporate beads, sequins, and other small ornaments in its designs.  That isn’t to say you can’t use them on quilts, the quilts would just not be ones used on a bed.  Embroidery falls into two distinct forms.  The first, and oldest, is called free embroidery.  Free embroidery is the kind that is mostly seen on clothing since pretty much any type of fabric can be used.  The second is called counted-thread embroidery.  It is called so because the fabric used in making it usually has prepunched holes and a set pattern laid out in a grid pattern to follow. However, due to the nature of the weaving linen can also be used as opposed to the usual canvas type material.  Counted-thread embroidery is usually seen in crafts, but it can be used for clothes.  The first example of this that comes to mind is the Norwegian Bunad which usually showcases both free embroidery and counted-thread embroidery.

Remember a few years back when knitting was all the rage and everyone wanted to know how to knit because it was the “cool” thing to do.  Well, before that it was more of something associated with the older generations and home knitting was becoming a lost art form.  Embroidery is sort of in the same boat today.  I have noticed a lot of people doing embroidery because it is popular again.  Specifically, cross stitch has become the popular form of embroidery.  Yes, cross stitch is in fact embroidery.  It is counted-thread embroidery and is, by far, the easiest from of embroidery because of how simple it is.  There is really only one stitched used in cross stitch and the name of the form of embroidery should tell you what stitch that is.  The cross stitch.  This is a simple stitch that anyone can do with minimal effort or thought.  Now, before you all jump me for saying that cross stitch is a mindless activity that simply makes people look “cool and popular”, I do cross stitch too.  I do cross stitch at work when I have down time because it is simple and I can set it aside and pick back up where I left off easily without having to worry about stitch tension being lost or remembering what design I was trying to make.

Free embroidery is difficult to just decided to pick up one day.  It takes time and practice.  Your first free embroidery project will not turn out nice no matter what you do.  As such, don’t make it something that you really have your heart set on wearing or presenting to people.  Make it simple designs and work up to the more complex ones.  Even though I’ve been doing embroidery since I was a child, I still have problems with some of the stitches!  There are quite a few stitches that can be used in free embroidery that aren’t touched on when doing counted-thread embroidery.  Remember when I was talking about tension up in that last paragraph.  This is the type of embroidery that requires you to pay attention to your thread tension and is why a great deal of people will use a machine to do it rather than do it by had.  Keeping the tension the same is a nightmare.  It takes a lot of practice to get this right.  I’m not joking!  I have been almost finished with a design and have had to start it all over again because on the second to last stitch I let up on the tension just slightly.  I was so frustrated and angry with myself!

If you insist on learning embroidery start with counted-thread embroidery and work up to free embroidery.  Cross stitch is a good place to start.  I won’t deny that.  It is fun and you can do some pretty interesting things with it.  They also make a variety of threads.  I’ve even found glow in the dark embroidery thread!  They also have metallic, iridescent, and mattes.  Persian  yarn and embroidery floss are the most common types of threads used for embroidery projects.  However, other types include, tapestry wool, perle cotton, broder medici, and crewel yarn.  Embroidery needles are a bit wider and have a larger eye than most sewing needles, but are smaller than yarn needles.  Most are stainless steel, but they also have 18K gold plated ones.  The best ones are the wonderful 18K gold needles and are the kind that I use.  Keep in mind that 18K gold is very soft and it will bend.  You should probably invest in some good scissors.  These ones are pewter and stainless.  Embroidery scissors are very sharp. Thread boxes, thread cards, and needle boxes are helpful, but not necessary and you can keep the threads in bags and needles left in their original packaging.  My thread box is sort of empty at the moment because I have been working on a project that requires specific colours.  However, there are a couple types of threads mentioned above in my box!

IMG_0614The black on the far left is Persian yarn.  The others are just embroidery floss. The gold and the red that is on the fabric are metalics.  The creamy colour and the light green are the glow in the dark thread I was talking about.  The one on the right end is iridescent and was used on the stars.  The black up in the top is black embroidery floss and not Persian yarn like the one in the bottom.  My needle box is fairly empty because 18K needles are kind of expensive and I don’t purchase many at a time.  However, I do have some stainless steel ones that I could put in there that would make use of the magnet in the needle box.

Happy Embroidering!