Sunday, 8 January 2012

I ♥ embroidery - Back to Basics

For this week's tutorial we are going to make a heart... which I am using as a pin cushion but you can use it as a Valentine's gift, you can add lavender to its stuffing and pop it into a drawer or even add a loop and hang it up as a decoration.  We are also going to do some basic embroidery stitches which we will be using on other items throughout the year.  We are not going to end up stitching a cope for the Archbishop of Canterbury but we are going to learn some useful stitches that will see you through some of the things we will be making this year.

If this is the first time you have ever embroidered, have a practice of the stitches on leftover felt scraps before you do it on the actual heart.  Remember nobody dies because you do not get it right first time but your friends will be impressed because embroidery is not passed on like it used to be.  I learnt at home and at my primary school, I still remember a little blue book from Anchor... The Little Book of Anchor Embroidery Stitches... I could not wait to try out and master new stitches.  In fact when my mother died I found some of my original binca mats which I embroidered for my my mum when I was six, how I wish I still had that book.
You will need:
9x9" square of felt
A skein of embroidery thread
An embroidery needle with a nice big eye and a very sharp point
A small amount of wadding
A water soluble pen
A glass, ruler, paper and pencil
Pins and scissors
The robin tin was my mum's silks tin and I can remember when it actually contained Peek Frean biscuits over 45 years ago!
First create your heart shape, if you have a collection of sewing books, check the back and see it you have a motif for a heart and use that... otherwise we will create our own.  If like me, you hand/eye coordination goes to pot when it encounters pen and paper and you cannot draw it free hand try this method
Take a piece of paper, draw a line down the middle and another across the middle, pop your glass so that the you draw a semi circle, with one side touching the line down the middle and repeat on the other side.  I used a glass with a 3" diameter, I then marked 3.5" below the centre line and drew a line from the semi circles to create the heart design, you can make it longer or shorter to vary the look of your heart.

Cut out your pattern and pin it to the felt, cut around two hearts - remember felt does not have a warp or weft (the grain and direction of fabric) so it does not matter where you place the heart on your felt - set them aside.

Now think about the pattern you want to create... we will be using six stitches, not as scary as it sounds as two are variations on a theme.
  • Running stitch - this is where all sewing begins
  • Pekinese stitch - a woven stitch, worked through running stitches for decorative purposes
  • Chain stitch - super for writing words
  • Lazy Daisy or Detached chain - used for working flower petals and leaves
  • French knots - a raised stitch often used to create the centre of flowers and to give depth to your work
  • Blanket stitch - to join the pieces together
Mark up your design onto your heart with the water soluble pen.

Now, take your skein of embroidery thread and cut off about 18" which is about the same as you pinching the thread between you thumb and fore finger and letting it drop to your elbow and cutting it there.  Longer thread will create a problem as it will knot and tangle as you are working and I will not be responsible for you swearing when you are meant to be having fun!  You will see that embroidery thread has six strands, you only want to use three, so take three in one hand and three in the other and pull them apart, like the tractors on Levi jeans. Thread up your needle and you are ready to start.

Try to work in natural light, best of all is to be in front of a window so you can get a good look at what you are doing.

Don't put a knot in your thread, whenever you are embroidering you do not sew in or sew off unless you can tuc the thread behind other stitches and we will start with a simple running stitch.  Leave a tail of about 1/2" on the back of your work then look at the diagrams below:
Come up to the front from A and then back through the felt at B, if you are happy with the size of your stitch come back up the same length away to the front at C.  Continue like this all the way around the heart to make a border.
Using our chain stitch we are going to write a message, as this is a pin cushion and I am going to pop it onto my Pinterest boards, I am writing Pin It!

Come up from the back of your work at point A, form a little loop, then go from the front of your work through to the back as close to point A as you can so that A and B are next to each other.  Without letting the loop tighten, come back to the front at point C, this will catch the loop to form your first chain, now go back through to the  back as close to point C as you can and come up at point C, repeat this for your chain.  Then the next spot to come back up at is Point D.Chain stitch is very versatile and will accommodate curves which is why it is so good for embroidering letters.

As you have mastered Chain stitch, Lazy Daisy or Detached Chain will be a doddle.  Come up from the back of your work at point A, form a little loop, then go from the front of your work through to the back at point B as close to point A as you can.  Without letting the loop tighten, come back to the front at point C, catching the loop, take your thread over the loop and sew through to the back as close to Point C as you can.  

From Point C, go back to Point A at the centre and move your work around a little to create your next petal in the same way.  Remember most flowers have an odd number of petals.

Next is the French knot, which is what is know as a raised stitch as it sits well above the fabric to give it texture.  You will probably notice that the centre of your flower looks a little bit messy so we will use the knot to hide this.
Come up at Point A, holding your silk firmly, wind it twice around your needle and push your needle back through the fabric at Point A as you can.  Pull the silk through the twists which will form your knot, you may need to manipulate them into place as you do this, they will then create a knot in the centre of your flower.  French knots are also great at creating eyes on faces.
I thought that the running stitch looked a little plain, so we are going to do a simple weaving stitch, akin to Pekinese stitch.  Bring your silk up from the back of the work, under a stitch, now weave the stitch under each bar and when you run out of thread make sure you take it back to the reverse side under a stitch on the surface and bring your next piece of silk up from under the same stitch.
If you want to hang it up, place a length of ribbon folded in half and pin in between the curve of the heart, sew it in place with a couple of stitches.  

We are now going to work Blanket stitch, which is used to hem fabrics or applique and even button hole fabrics as it is applied directly to raw edges.  Starting inside your heart front and about 3/8" from the raw edge, bring your silk through to the front, holding the two pieces of felt together and place your needle at the back of your front embroidered piece come up at point A and bring the thread over to the back of your plain backing fabric and bring it through both pieces to join them together, do this twice for the start of your work, now slip your needle under the stitch so it is on the right of your work.
Continue in this to create your blanket stitch seam.
Work around the heart with blanket stitch leaving a gap of 3", use this gap to stuff your heart, pin the gap together and finish off with blanket stitch.  If you are hanging your heart, then sew a little bow to hide the stitches you used to hold the ribbon in place.
Now go hang it up. or start using your pin cushion and go take a look at the very first Handmade Monday of 2012
Finally, if you wash any piece of work with embroidery, always wash it by hand and when you iron it do so from the back of your work so that your embroidery stands proud of your fabric.

Health Warning - Just to let you know, if you click through to Pinterest, I am not responsible for the way that time seems to disappear as you look at everyone's pin boards!


Anonymous said...

Lokk what I found for you - we had it at school too:

Unknown said...

Fiona - you can only guess how utterly delighted I am to see this little masterpiece... I am watching it on e-bay, so hands off everyone else or there will be trouble!

Anonymous said...

Ooohhhh I love it! Definitely something I will try for my valentine love swap! :-) xx

lovetartan said...

great tutorial Ros Mich :)

Kimberleymjw said...

Ah Ros I love it!

Might give my fiancé 'My heart' this year!!

Kim xx

Christmas Pie Crafts said...

Another great tutorial Ros - many thanks. The heart looks really lovely.

Planet Penny said...

Great tutorial, and I know just what you mean about Pinterest!

Butterfly Blossom said...

My Nan just gave me the Anchor book of embroidery yesterday!!! I saw it was printed in 1972 (well before I was born!!) and turned my nose up at it but maybe I should take a look at it :-) Thanks for the inspiration!!!

Stocki said...

Lovely tutorial..and so apt just before valentines day.. Thanks for the inspiration! :)x

The mum of all trades said...

love this little stitch and your instructions are very easy to follow.

Adaliza said...

Pretty heart - just right for Valentine's Day. That weaving between the running stitches is super cute.

Martha said...

Fab! red + white - my favourite combination this year.
you have impressed me with your embroidery. well done!
x x x

Carolee Crafts said...

I can remember doing these at school, all the basic stitches that had to be perfect. Thank you for a trip back in time, rather a lot of years for me,lol

Jam Dalory said...

I was never taught embroidery at school, I really wish I had been. I love blanket stitch but could never get it right, your tutorial makes it looks simple so i'm going to have another go. I love that heart it looks so pretty. x

Wendy said...

I had that book too! Love the heart, I think it deserves a few repins on Pinterest too!

Handcrafted by Picto said...

Another great tutorial Roz, I was taught at school and was also shown at home by my Mum and my Grandad. I love the chain stitch flowers.

Jan x

itsamistry said...

Gorgeous I love hearts. I have quite a collection of heart art.

Helen said...

Fab thanks Ros :) i have never tried embroidery and you make it look so easy!

Sarah - The Lilac Dragonfly said...

Am not a's not right.....I am not a person that sews but I really want to give this a go....thanks Ros xx

Polly Polkadot said...

I never progressed out of aida, so I will just admire at a distance. Thanks for the link

Susie said...

This is wonderful, I think I will save it and try it myself. I used to do crewel, but it's been so long, I'm sure I've forgotten every bit that I knew. This little heart is just lovely. It's sad that girls don't learn this stuff anymore, altho there does seem to be a surge in interest in making things at the moment. I hope it gains momentum and continues. There is so much value in knowing how to do things. And with all of the talk about building self esteem I think NOTHING does that better than creating something.

June said...

Happy New Year Ros,

Your tutorials are always so well presented. This reminds me of my school days, (gosh many moons ago!). It would make a lovely pincushion.

Pickle Lily said...

Fab tutorial - really good photos for a learner or someone reviving old skills! Thanks for sharing.
Jo x

Kate said...

Love your embroidered heart - thank you for sharing.

Anonymous said...

I just found your adorable heart pin cushion and wanted to reach out! I am a community management assistant at, the largest project-sharing site with well over 60k projects all submitted by our users, and I just know our community would love to see this project!

I wanted to give you a shout out and let you know about the Valentine's Day Challenge we have going on right now. We're giving away some great prizes including an iPad 2 and Kindle Fire and I think your pin cushion would be a great entry!  I would be happy to feature it on our site if you decide to post the instructions and help get it noticed among our over 13 million visitors. Let me know if you have any questions.

Hope to hear from you soon!