Hand Embroidery Stitches

During embroidery classes, I’m often asked which embroidery stitch is my favourite. The answer is always back stitch because it’s practical and decorative, that doesn’t mean that I don’t use a variety of stitches in my work.

“You don’t need to know hundreds of stitches. But you need to use the ones you do know well!”

Constance Howard, textile art pioneer

I always tell my students that you don’t need to be a walking stitch glossary, if you learn between eight and ten stitches really well you can create lots of exciting embroideries. I’ve been embroidering for over thirty years and I know ten stitches really well, these are the stitches in use in my work and teach in some of my classes…

Running stitch, back stitch, stem stitch, chain stitch, blanket stitch, feather stitch, satin stitch, lazy daisy, French knots and seed stitch. Once you have learned the basics of these stitches you can start to experiment with different ways of using them, you can find out more in my blog post Stitches: New Approaches. You can purchase my instant access embroidery class in partnership with Workshop here, in this class I cover the basics of hand embroidery and guide you through each stitch.

I thought I’d share the stitches I’ve been using on my latest project to give you an idea of how to use the stitches that you have learned in a project.

Satin stitch has been used to create the trunk of this tree, I’ve used cotton perle thread to create this and all the stitching on this piece. The plants have been done using lazy daisy or detached chain stitch. I paired it with some simple lines of straight stitching. Finally, the bushes have been created using French knots, I worked lots of the really close together to create a dense texture, they also work well with spacing in between on a textured background fabric.

Notes from the Studio

I’ve been busy in the studio for the last few weeks, getting kits ready for my Artlink Creative Toolkits Project activities and teaching embroidery classes with Workshop. I have to admit that my own practice has taken a backseat and I’ve been feeling uninspired recently.

I’m excited that my studio refurbishment will be starting in the next couple of weeks, the first thing to go is my fireplace with a pretty useless gas fire. It will give me extra wall space and no drafts from the chimney. I have to strip all the wallpaper and paint the walls white ready for my new laminate flooring to be laid, I can’t wait to get rid of the bouncy carpet that makes everything wobble.

On Tuesday afternoons, I’ve been enjoying some time to catch up with people at Make Space, an online meet up for Arts and Minds members. We drink tea, chat and work on our own projects and it’s a great opportunity to share ideas and get inspired. I started a new Stitchscape this week, my first Scarborough inspired one.

I’ve also been reflecting on my previous work about family history and maps as part of some new pieces for an exhibition opportunity in the autumn. It’s been great sharing my map inspirations with a friend as part of her research too. You know I love a map, embroidered or otherwise.

After being accepted to Prism Textiles in 2020, I’ve joined the marketing team to help out with social media. For lots of inspiration you can visit their website and Instagram.

For regular updates about my practice and upcoming classes you can follow me on social media or sign up to my monthly newsletter.

Tools of the Trade

I’m often asked about the best type of stabilisers and interfacing to use for embroidery and appliqué so I thought I’d share some of my most commonly used products with you. There are so many suppliers locally and online that offer a brilliant range of stabilisers. I use Barnyarns for all of my stabilisers, they have a great selection and do bulk buy discounts for larger rolls.

Good to Know… As an artist, I don’t always need to know what type of product I’m using but I recommend that you make a note or keep a swatch so that I can get the same type again for a different piece of work.

Aquasol or Solufleece

There are a few different names and products that fall under this category of wash away fabric, I use them for my digitally embroidered projects. I prefer the type that feels more like a fabric than a sheet of plastic. I find this feels nicer and is easier to work with, I use two or three layers depending on how dense the embroidery will be.

Tip…This is supposed to be cold water soluble but I’ve found that it washes away much quicker with slightly warmer water, I use my mixer tap in the central position. To keep your embroidery flat when you wash away the fabric you can tack it to a polystyrene printing tile, this works well for very lacey designs.

Stitch n Tear

This is the backing that lots of people will be familiar with, if you have an embroidered top or hat you will see this backing on the inside of the fabric. I use this type of interfacing for my embroideries on wool fabric and just tear it away when the design is finished.

Tip…I like to trim away my excess threads before tearing away the backing, this makes it easier to tear away as there a fewer loose threads getting in the way.

Bondaweb

I use Bondaweb to stabilise fabrics and for appliqué in my own work and classes like visible mending. There are similar products on the market like Heat n Bond Lite that work really well too. This heat activated glue is great for sticking fabrics like cotton to build up an appliquéd picture or making a patch to cover a hole in jeans. I’ve also used it to stick two pieces of thinner fabric together when I’ve run out of iron on interfacing.

Tip…If the glue from Bondaweb gets on your iron, use a razor scraper to carefully clean the sole plate of the iron.

***Please note that this is just my personal observation on the products I use regularly, everyone has their favourites and I recommend trying lots of different types to find the best one for you. ***

PRODUCT IMAGES COURTESY OF BARNYARNS

Lovely Lichens

One of my favourite inspirations at the moment is lichen, Scarborough has a wealth of lichen covered benches and trees that I photograph on my daily walk. In the studio, these photographs are translated into to mixed media pieces using Tyvek, latex, beads and thread. This collection of work is called miniature worlds.

And now for the science bit…

A lichen is not a single plant; it is a combination of a fungus and algae and/or cyanobacteria. Like all fungi, lichen requires carbon as a food source; this is provided by the algae and/or cyanobacteria, that are photosynthetic. Lichens love clean air too – in fact, their sensitivity to air pollution means they make great air quality indicators.

I love the different shades of yellow and green that you find in a single lichen, the texture of the fungi elements and how I can recreate these in fabric and thread. I’ve been letting the materials speak to me when creating these embroideries. Gathering my materials and embellishments and just starting with a few scraps of Tyvek and then adding beads and hand stitching where I think they will look the best. The pieces are growing organically, perfect for the lichen theme.

Next time you’re out for a walk, try and find some lichen on a wall, tree or even a bench. You can find out more about lichen from The British Lichen Society.

Inspiring Women

As Monday 8 March marks International Women’s Day, I wanted to share a few of my favourite women artists working with textiles. Textiles is often looked on as woman’s work and as a craft rather than a fine art form and women artists are often over looked in art history. We should be celebrating this wonderful medium and the artists who choose to work with fabric and thread.

Karina Thompson

Karina Thompson is a textile artist based in Birmingham, I first came across her work in 2014 when I was one of the exhibition invigilators on Cloth & Memory {2} at Salts Mill. Karina uses digital embroidery to create quilts and installations. I love the way Karina combines fabrics and is a digital embroidery champion.

Karina has been working within studio textiles for over 20 years. Through her links with VSM (UK) Ltd and Pfaff Sewing Machines she has been experimenting with digitally programmed stitch. This work is also an examination of the way that digital technology is used in the treatment and diagnosis of illness.

From left to right the above pieces are 1 Hours Production = 1.5 Miles = 15 Lengths, The Leperous Hands and The Leperous Skull.

Ruth Singer

Ruth Singer is a Leicester based artist and researcher; I first came across her work through Embroidery Magazine. I love the way she combines vintage textiles and hand stitch with personal and local history.

Ruth has been working as an artist-maker in textiles for 15 years. Prior to setting up her studio practice, she worked in museums for several years following an MA in Museum Studies before beginning her arts practice in 2005. Ruth combines her love of textiles and aims to bring the two together with creative projects inspired by heritage.

From left to right the above pieces are Criminal Quilts Shawl Detail, Heights and Criminal Quilts Collaboration Quilt

Lorina Bulwer

Lorina Bulwer was born in Beccles in 1838, she was placed in a workhouse at Great Yarmouth at the age of 55 and there she created several pieces of needlework which have been featured on the BBC. These pieces of work are long expressionist samplers which document her anger and indignation during that time in her life.

Lorina died in 1912 but there is a lot of writing about her online along with images of her work. One of her scrolls is housed at the Thackray Museum of Medicine where a sample has also been recreated and will be on display when the museum opens its doors again.

From left to right images of the scroll at The Thackray Museum of Medicine taken with their kind permission

What I’m listening to

This week, I thought I’d share some of the podcasts I listen to when I’m embroidering. I can’t sit in the quiet and as I mostly work alone, I love the chatter a podcast provides. I listen to a mix of craft, museum and comedy podcasts so here a few of my favourites.

Stitchery Stories

I was one of the artists interviewed for the fantastic Stitchery Stories podcast back in 2018. Susan is great host and shares her love of textiles with artists and makers from across the globe. There are so many episodes to catch up on and some of the featured artists include Jenni Dutton, Claire Mort and David Morrish better known as Kingfly on Instagram.

You can listen to all the episodes and find out more here.

The Very Serious Crafts Podcast

I came across this podcast from the US on Twitter and I’m so glad I did. It’s a great mix of craft knowledge and chat with pets and quirkiness thrown into the mix. Season four has just started with hosts Haley and Mollie and I can’t wait to hear more about their crafting and Haley’s cats of course!

You can listen to the episodes and find out more here.

I Hate It But I Love It

If you love film and TV then this is the podcast for you. Hateful optimists and loving pessimists Kat Angus and Jocelyn Geddie break down movies and TV shows that they totally hate… but also really love at the same time. This podcast has me laughing out loud and even listening to my favourite episodes more than once.

You can listen to the episodes and find out more here.

Museums n’That

Museums attract passionate people like moths to a flame, and this podcast gets looks at what makes them tick, asking the questions you really want to know the answers to like can you archive an orange? Hosts Meg and Sara are brilliant and this hysterical and informative podcast is definitely worth and listen.

You can listen to the episodes and find out more here.

The Villain Was Right

This podcast is part of The From Superheroes network like IHIBILI and comedians Craig Fey and Rebecca Reeds view movies and TV shows from the villain’s perspective and dare to ask if they were really all that bad. Like IHIBILI, I’m always laughing out loud even if I haven’t seen the film or TV show.

You can listen to the episodes and find out more here.

Notes from the Studio

It’s been a busy few weeks in the studio, I start teaching again in March so there’s been lots of workshop preparation happening. I’ve also been putting together the bunting for my project with Craven District Council and Skipton Town Hall which is very exciting. The joy of working on community projects is seeing what people can create with fabric and thread.

The bunting doesn’t disappoint and is full of inspiring embroidery, hand painting and appliqued designs inspired by the theme of celebration. The finished piece will be on display in the museum when the building reopens. You can find out more about the museum and it’s redevelopment here.

Our daily walks have been providing lots of inspiration and I have a huge collection of lichen pictures. I love the colour and texture that lichen creates plus it’s a sign of good air quality. My miniature worlds pieces have been inspired by these photographs and found objects like shells and pebbles. The finished pieces measure just a few inches across and are made from materials like Tyvek, wool felt and beadwork.

For regular updates about my practice and upcoming classes you can follow me on social media or sign up to my monthly newsletter.

Tools of the Trade

I’m often asked about the best type of fabric to use for embroidery and craft projects so I thought I’d share my most commonly used fabrics and how I work with them. There are so many suppliers locally and online that offer a brilliant range of fabrics. As an artist, I don’t always need to know what type of fabric I’m using unlike a dressmaker but I try to make a note or keep a swatch so that I can get the same type again for a different piece of work.

Good to Know… You don’t have to spend a lot of money on fabric, especially when you’re starting out. You can find fabrics in charity shops when they are allowed to reopen and lots of people have de-stash sales via Instagram or their website.

Cotton

I use cotton fabrics for my English Patchwork pincushions and fusible web applique, prices usually start at £2.00 per metre. Quilting cotton comes in a huge variety of colours and patterns, perfect for fussy cutting designs and creating geometric patterns. I like to keep a range of colours and patterns in my stash that will work together for a project. Cotton is easy to cut and sew which makes it a great fabric to work with for embroidery and patchwork.

Calico

Calico is a type of cotton fabric, it comes in different weights and qualities and you can usually pick some up for around £3.00 a metre. I buy mine by the roll for all my classes and community projects which works out cheaper overall. You can also get calico that has been prepared for dyeing and printing, this has a much smoother surface and will absorb the pigment easily. Like other cotton fabrics, calico is easy to cut and sew making it great to embroider onto.

Wool

Since choosing a vegan lifestyle a few years ago, I haven’t bought any more wool fabrics but I am working with the fabrics from my stash rather than selling them on. Wool can be expensive, depending on the quality. The cream wool in my stash is £65.00 per metre but you can pick up cheaper fabrics online or from your local fabric shop. I use wool for my digitally embroidered drawings as the dense stitching sinks into the surface of the fabric. Heavyweight or boiled wool doesn’t fray which is a great bonus.

Vintage Fabrics

My favourite type of fabric has to be vintage, in particular vintage cotton like tray cloths and bed sheets. The smooth worn surface makes it perfect for hand embroidery, dyeing and printing. I like to make use of the features on the fabric too, like printed designs for embroidery or labels and laundry marks. You can pick up some great vintage pieces with prices starting at around £1.00 per item in charity shops. It’s great to think about reusing rather than buying new for every project. You can freeze vintage fabrics for a couple of weeks to get rid of anything like clothes moths and gently hand wash them to remove any strange smells!

***Please note that this is just my personal observation on the products I use regularly, everyone has their favourites and I recommend trying lots of different types to find the best one for you.***

Stitchsperiments

The best part about my job is that I get to play with fabric and thread every week, finding new ways to combine different colours and textures of thread and use vintage fabrics to tell stories. I also love just picking some threads, embellishments and fabrics from my stash and just seeing what I can create. I call this technique Stitchsperiments and I thought I’d share some ideas with you. I’m also running a class on 21 March in collaboration with Workshop, you can book your place here.

I love to work with different threads when I’m hand stitching, you can find out more about my favourite threads in Tools of the Trade. I’ve built a collection of different embroidery, vintage and hand quilting threads over the last few years. You can often find job lots of threads on eBay, local stuff for sale groups on Facebook or charity shops when they are allowed to reopen. I like to pop a scrap of fabric in a hoop and just start stitching with the different threads, looking at the lines it can make and how it reflects the light.

I chose a DMC Cotton Perle, a Gutermann Hand Quilting thread and a vintage silk thread to stitch a line of chain stitch and some overlaid straight stitches. Each thread gives a different effect to the same stitch, you can even add some writing to the fabric to say which threads you used or stick samples in a notebook to create a stitch journal with techniques and ideas.

To find out more about creating texture in your work you can read my post on Texture with Textiles where I use different threads to create a moss inspired piece of work.

Why not experiment with different fabrics too, you can cut, stitch and create texture with small scraps of fabrics from your stash. I’m lucky to have friends who make their own clothes and save me their offcuts. You can also pick up fabric remnant bags online from Etsy and your local fabric shop.

I’ve used a very thick felt offcut, some thin voile and a cotton quilting fabric, cutting different shapes in a very haphazard manner and stitching them to the surface with the same threads. For the felt circle I stitched from the centre out, going off the edges of the fabric.. For the voile, I gathered it with a simple running stitch and then onto the surface of the fabric and finally, I cut little scraps of the cotton fabric and layered them up.

These are just a few ways you can experiment with fabric and thread to create your own Stitchsperiments. Keep exploring new techniques and materials to see what you can create.