My Tips for Easier Stitching
I am, in all honesty, a lazy stitcher.
I'd much rather new stitchers got on and had a go rather than worrying about how neat their work is on the back. When I began doing stump work, I had no idea there was a 'proper' way to do things (this was long before the days of the Internet!). I was inspired by finding Lalla Ward's terrific 'Countryside Embroidery Book' in the library, and was soon designing my own pictures. I took her advice and developed my own way of doing things.
These tips are just things I've found most helpful, but there are lots more great ideas on-line; try different things and see what suits you best. My idea here is simply to get you to have a go!
Hand embroidery is enjoyable, relaxing, portable and, hooray - in these cost conscious times it does not have to cost a fortune. For a very small initial outlay you can buy all the equipment you need, and much of it you may already have. My basic embroidery tool kit comprises:
- embroidery needles (assorted)
- small, very sharp scissors
- embroidery hoops, various sizes (but you can start off with one and buy more as you need)
- beeswax - for running threads through to stop them tangling
- emery board- for keeping needles sharp ( a small piece of sandpaper will do)
- small screwdriver (for tightening hoops)
General TipsThese might sound really obvious, but I have often come across prospective stitchers who gave up because they just wanted to 'get on with it', and then got really fed up when things didn't work out. Just a little bit of organisation is really helpful.
So many people of all ages tell me they can't do hand embroidery because it's too difficult to see the stitches. Please - stitch in a good light, and do use a lamp to help you see better. You don't have to have one of those swanky lamps with daylight bulbs, even a cheap study or bedside lamp will do. If you have real difficulty with your eyesight there are some great magnifiers available.
It may sound obvious, but do make yourself comfortable, and don't forget to take a break from time to time. It's very easy to get engrossed - which is a good thing - but you know you are too tired when you get up and find have stitched your work to an item of your clothing (not that I have ever done this of course.....)
Before you start a project, practice any new stitches first, and make sure you are happy using them. You don't have to make a whole sampler ( although this can be a fun project in itself), just get used to the stitch - try finding a simple design and play around with it.
If you find learning a new stitch is causing you problems, in the words of the 'Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy', 'Don't Panic'! Have a look at another interpretation of how to achieve it. Instructions can vary in their descriptions and you need to find the method that's right for you. We're so lucky now that there are loads of wonderful free resources on the web and many kind stitchers now provide photo and video tutorials.
Most important of all - have fun and enjoy your stitching!
When you begin stitching it's easy to think using longer threads will save you time - sadly, this is not true. Please don't use too long a thread, or you'll get lots of horrid, knotty tangles. Really frustrating; especially when you are trying to master a new stitch. The rule of thumb is - cut a length from your index finger tip to your elbow. You will be a much calmer and happier stitch if you do!
Now - I always used to wind my thread onto bobbin cards, but I have now stopped, and use direct from the skein. This is because each thread has a nap (the direction of the pile) and it really does help to achieve smoother stitching if you use your thread with the nap in the same direction. You won't know which end you are using if it has been wound onto a bobbin.
A great tip I learnt recently is to cut your length of 6 stranded thread then tie a knot at the 'cut' end. When you have done this, separate the strands into single threads, gently. Pull one thread out from the knot end, and keep the rest straight by smoothing down with your hand. Repeat the process for each strand you need. Cut from the end with the knot, and thread the needle from the opposite end. That way you will always be working with the nap. You'll lose a tiny bit of thread each time, but you will be rewarded with nice smooth stitches.
If you separate each strand and then put them back together for stitching, it keeps the threads more even, and your stitches will be really neat and smooth.
If you are embroidering something which will need washing, or may become wet, such as a tea towel, make sure you use a good quality colourfast brand of thread. Prepare a test piece of cotton or calico with a few stitches of each colour and put it through the wash before you begin.
Start an 'Orts' jar for your cut off threads. These can be used to make a new fabric by layering and stitching with a stabiliser such as Mistyfuse, adding to felting/embellishing machine projects - or even paper crafts. I use a crystal biscuit barrel which belonged to my mum. I'm not fond of crystal normally, but it looks really pretty and colourful full of threads!
NeedlesUse a good sharp needle.
Make sure that you are using the correct size and type of needle for the number/type of thread you are using. There are a lot of different types, but basically embroidery needles size 7 and 8 are a good starting point. If your needle is too small it will be hard to pull the thread through the fabric and too large a needle will leave holes..
Find a needle that's suitable for you and the job you are doing; for example, I always hand sew with embroidery needles, which suit me better than sharps.
If you are having a problem threading your needle you can:
- dampen it very lightly
- flip it over (needle eyes have 2 sides, top and bottom, where they are pressed out; so the thread will go through the 'top' more easily than the bottom!
Keep a small piece of beeswax handy, for running threads through, this stops them tangling up.
A small piece of fine sandpaper or an emery board is handy for keeping your needles sharp.
I like to bind my hoops because it provides more friction and keeps the fabric taut for a longer time. It can also help to protect more delicate fabrics from rubbing against the wood. Binding the hoop may seem laborious, but I guarantee it will be worth it, and you will probably only have to do it once. Most of my hoops were bound 20-25 years ago and are still going strong.
Choose the right size hoop to accommodate your design, it makes life more comfortable! Use a small screwdriver to tighten and unloosen it, rather than your fingers, then you'll get a nice tight fabric to work on.
Do take your stitching out of the hoop each time you finish, as then there is less chance of getting a dirty ring around it, or a permanent mark from the hoop.
FabricYou can embroider on pretty much any fabric, if you have the right thread and needle. However, cotton, linen and silk fabrics tend to be the norm. I have embroidered on most things, including an old sack! Have a play around with different surfaces and thread types - you can achieve lots of interesting results.
Recycle! Use up scraps of old cotton fabric or calico for practicing your stitches. My first embroideries were all done on old 'best' sheets from the 1940's that my mum had kept. Gorgeous for stitching on! Modern sheeting can be rather closely woven and your needle will 'pop' a bit, but you can get nice results.
I always tack a 'hem' around my fabric to stop it fraying (and I'll guiltily admit here - years ago I occasionally used masking tape; see, I told you I was a lazy stitcher!)
Make sure that you leave enough fabric around your design to fit neatly into the hoop (if using) with a couple of inches to spare.
Invest in a pair of small, really sharp scissors. For years I used blunt ended ones! These 'Bunny' scissors were a gift from a kind friend and now I don't know how I managed without them!
My very, very old kit; beeswax, 20 years old and still going strong, trusty broken handled screwdriver and an emery board (which came from a hotel bathroom in a rather useful cardboard case!)
Keep some tacking thread handy for stitching around your fabric 'hem', a tape measure to help position designs centrally, and a pair of large fabric scissors for cutting your fabric to size. (If you're really in a hurry masking tape is brilliant for securing a hem!
Stitch and have fun!