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Learn Embroidery in a Weekend!

Need something to keep your hands busy in these stressful times? Embroidery is an easy skill to pick up and is great for soothing frayed nerves. According to psychologists, embroidery helps people achieve a state of self-induced focus, also known as mindfulness. Needlework promotes relaxation, stress relief, and can even lower your blood pressure! Sounds like exactly the kind of hobby I need to pick up right now!

The last time I attempted to hand embroider something was in middle school. I had a bunch of embroidery floss left over from my friendship bracelet making craze and I decided I would mend and embroider a design on a pink satin jacket that had a small hole in it. It did not go well. I had no one to teach me how to do it, so it ended up a tangled, bunched up mess with something that kind of looked like a flower on it. Back then, I had no helpful local arts and crafts store and no internet to search for resources. Now, with supplies from collage and online tutorials from two of our most popular embroidery kit and supply brands, I've taught myself to embroider seven easy stitches, make a sampler, and follow an embroidery pattern all in one weekend! You can do it too!

Here’s what you’ll need from collage:

Embroidery Hoop -Embroidery hoops are two hoops nested neatly together that you trap your fabric between to keep it taut for easier stitching. Get a size that will fit on the fabric you are working on with room to spare. 

Small, sharp scissors for cutting your floss cleanly. This is more important than I originally thought it would be. I have lots of scissors that I use for cutting yarn, fabric and paper around the house, so I chose a small pair of them instead of getting a new pair. They were not sharp enough and resulted in uneven ends on my floss, which made tangling happen. This is supposed to be a zen craft; you don’t want to interrupt your mindfulness to try to untangle an impossible not.

Embroidery Floss - Floss consists of multiple strands. In most cases, there are six individual threads that make up your floss. These threads can be separated individually or in groups to produce finer detail work. The best way to do this is to separate them with your fingernails and pull apart gently. I highly recommend using a floss bobbin to wind your threads as you separate them.

Embroidery Needles – these have bigger eyes than normal needles to accommodate the thickness of the embroidery floss. I loved using the needles linked here because they’re easy to thread and come with a handy magnet so you don’t lose them. Their only drawback is that they’re kind of larger than some needles and if you use a more delicate fabric you may be able to see the holes they leave. They are perfect for a sturdy cotton or canvas. We do have several other needles available if you prefer.

Fabric – you can use something you already own (clothing, pillowcases, muslin, quilting cotton, canvas or linen) or check out the great options we have online and in stores. Since I am more of a practical crafter and prefer to make something that is both useful and pretty, I chose to make my sampler on this pouch so that I could have something to store my embroidery supplies in that would remind me of all the stitches in my repertoire. It was a bit tricky when it came to moving the hoop around to accommodate the placement of stitches, so you may want to start with something bigger that doesn’t require much moving of the hoop.

Something to sketch out your sampler design. I just used a pencil to roughly sketch out where each stitch sample would go directly on to thepouch, but you can also use this pen with ink that washes out if you mess up or draw out your design and use transfer sheets or iron on pens to transfer your design to your fabric.

Embroidery pattern or kit. After you’ve learned your stitches, try them out on a pattern. We have a large collection of iron on patterns and great kits that include everything you need. 

Here’s what I learned from the internet:

The first two very important things you need to learn about are preparing your hoop and threading your needle. These subjects are nicely covered in this video by Megan Eckman from PopLush.

Click the links to follow these tutorials by Jenny Hart of Sublime Stitching to learn the following stitiches:

Running Stitch

The seventh stitch that I “learned” is one you most likely already know. The Running Stitch is the same basic stitch used in hand sewing. You bring the needle up through your fabric, and then back down through your fabric. You can make the stitches long or short or randomly placed depending on your design. All of the stitches above, except for the French knot, start with a single running stitch. You can either do the standard up and down, or weave the needle through your fabric and make several stitches at once. This is a technique used in Japanese Sashiko, but can also be used in your embroidery when you want something to have an open and airy kind of feel to it.

If you’re a more visual learner, Megan has helpful videos that run through all seven of the stitches.

Running Stitch, Back Stitch, Split Stitch, Satin Stitch:

Stem Stitch, Chain Stitch and French Knot:

After learning all of those stitches, you will have more than enough knowledge to start on a pattern or kit. I gave it a shot on this Ryan Berkley pattern by Sublime Stitching.  While working on this, I learned a couple things that weren’t covered in the tutorials above.

  1. Watch your back! Pay attention to the backside of your stitching. It can get messy real quick and become a tangly source of frustration in this otherwise soothing craft. I found that it is very helpful to keep the knot at the end of your working floss as small and tidy as possible, without letting it slip through your fabric. The method Megan from Poplush demonstrated resulted in a big ol’ knot with lots of loopy thread on the ends when I did it. I’m sure with practice, I could make it turn out neater, and trimming some of the extra thread off carefully helped, but I found that just doubling your floss an inch or two at the end of your thread, tying a plain old knot and trimming the excess resulted in a cleaner knot that was less apt to tangle my stitches when they came in close proximity. The loopy knots would catch in the stitch and tangle my working floss. When tangles happen (and they will), you can usually gently pull and tug at your floss to get them out if you catch them soon enough. If you didn’t notice until that tangle was all tightened up and trapped under other stitches, there’s not much you can do other than secure your stitches with a knot, snip the excess floss and start over. Luckily, no one has to see the backside of your work except for you, but you can take a peep at the hot mess of a backside on my first attempt below.

  2. Stitch Matters. Deciding which stitch to use, while its entirely your preference, is kind of important. While stitching the cranky looking Miss Kitty pictured below, I thought it would be a good idea to use the satin stitch on the trim of her collar to get nice piping kind of look. Halfway through, I was not happy with my uneven stitching on such a narrow and curved part of the pattern, but I stuck with it since pulling out stitches can leave unsightly holes and break or tangle your floss. When I was done, I realized that the better stitch to use would have been the split stitch, so I carefully chain stitched around the edges of my satin stitch. The results are not ideal, but it looks a heck of a lot better than that sloppy satin stitch.

  3. Color Mixing. You can mingle different colors of floss on your needle! For Miss Kitty’s eyes I used two strands of yellow and one strand of green to try to mimic the dual colors in real life irises. It’s subtle, but I like the effect. I also used some metallic gold thread mixed in on her brooch. This was a little trickier due to the different textures of the floss not playing well together, but I love that sparkly gold floss!

Embroidery may seem fussy and intimidating, but I promise its not! It was easy to learn and truly relaxing to practice. You get so focused on your stitches that the outside world melts away and before you know it you've been stitching for hours and you have a lovely handmade thing! I certainly didn't make a masterpiece on my first try, but I really loved learning this new artform and I bet you will too! So as the winter weather sets in, cozy up in your favorite chair and get stitchin'!

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