Basics: Embroidery Tools, Tips & Techniques

Fabrics for Embroidery

Both plain and patterned fabrics are suitable for embroidering on

Cottons and Linens. Linen holds its shape well

Background fabric – best choices are cottons and linens

Interfacing and backing fabrics

When working on loosely woven fabric tape the edges with masking tape or or turn under and sew in place. Cut the fabric 2 inches larger all around than the overall design but if you are going to frame it, add 4 inches. Allign the woven threads of one piece onto another.

Have something  behind your fabric to stabilise it, like muslin, cotton solid or a light weight tearaway stabiliser such as 360 E-Z stitch by Pellon . This can be used for hand and machine embroidery. To use cut a piece the same size as the fabric you are embroidering on, place it under the fabric and secure each corner with a safely pin. Once your embroidery is finished you can tear away the excess.

Hand wash your fabric, lay it flat to dry and follow with warm iron. 

Stabilisers for Embroidery

Vilene  L11/310 Sew in Interfacing (Pellon)

Pellon is a Non woven polyester backing that gives support for unstable textiles that need more body and a firm smooth application like silk, gauze and chiffon. It can also be used as a canvas for painting. Very thin and light – basic stabiliser for embroidery on Muslin

VLH 630 Vilene Iron On Fusible Fleece – low loft

Lightweight, iron on fleece wadding for stabilising and adding light volume and body to quilting cotton, silks and lines.  Great for light quilting and embroidery.

It’s very easy to use, one side is covered with tiny adhesive dots which melt and fuse the fleece with the fabric of your choice when ironed over.

Instructions for use: Place the fleece with the coated side on the wrong side of the fabric. Cover with a damp cloth and press each area for about 15 seconds, without pushing the iron. Iron setting: Wool/Cotton. Allow the pieces to cool flat for about 30 minutes, so that the adhesive can set properly. Best to test on a fabric remnant first.

80% polyamide / 20% polyester

Washable in temperatures up to 40 °C in the gentle cycle or dry cleanable

Needles for embroidery

Embroidery needles are the same length as sharps but will an elongated eye that can take multiple strands of thread. They are also known as crewel needles.  Try Pony Crewel needles in 11-12 size for fine embroidery

Choose a size where the eye fits the thread and pulls easily through the fabric. A size 7-9 is useful if you are starting out.

John James have ‘pebbles’ of embroidery needles. 

Foxglove Garden is a good brand for Milliners needles

Straw or Milliner needles are long needles with a round eye which makes them easy to thread. Their eye and shaft is  equal in thickness – these are good for French or Buillion knots. These are more frequently used for needle turn applique but Sizes 3,5,6, & 7 have large eyes for ease of threading when using embroidery floss and the smaller sizes 10 + 11 are suitable for more fine, decorative stitching and smocking.

Sizes 3,5,6, & 7 have larger eyes for ease of threading when using embroidery floss

Sizes 13 and 14 are for coarse fabrics like canvas. 

6-26 are the most popular.

7-9 are best for starting out.

fine embroidery 8,9, or 10 (1 is the largest, 10 is the smallest)

A Sharps 11 gives more control for embroidery.

Embroidery needle  1 = thread size 3

Embroidery needle 5 = 1 or 3

Needle 8 = 3 or 4 (most versatile for fused art quilts)

Needle 12 = thread size 5.

Size 22 Chenille needle can also be used. These are like tapestry needles but with sharper points for more closely woven materials.

Threads for Embroidery

Embroidery threads are for used embellishment, surface couching and for sewing. Bouche, viscose knits, metallic rayons can also be used especially for crazy patchwork.

Stranded Cotton Floss  – DMC floss ‘ Floss is 6 stranded cotton that can be separated or combined. You can use one strand or all. Usually comes in skeins. It all needs to be colourfast. Start with basic colours and neutrals.

Stranded silk or viscose rayon = more shine. Silk thread is fine and almost invisible. More expensive but does not need to match the fabric closely because it is so fine. Gutermann 100% silk is £3.40 for a spool )

Perle cotton – tightly twisted thread of many strands that is used as one thread and not separated. – available in variegated colours. sizes 12,8, 5 and (thickest) size 3, for couching.

For hand embroidery use 60/2 embroidery thread

Sashiko thread can also be used

Also flower thread (fine, non divisible with matt finish), matt embroidery cotton, crewel yarn and persian yarn.

Embroidery Stitches

Flat stitches are the easiest and can be worked in varying sizes, grouped with others in different combinations or worked in different directions to form borders, outlines and blocks of colour.

Couching

Laid work is a continuation of couching. Long threads are laid to form a grid and secured at intersections with small slanting stitches using a separate and often different coloured thread.  Further stitches are worked in the framework.

Scissors

Small sharp scissors for precise cutting. Embroidery size scissors are better for paper and fabric but you need a different pair for each function

Hoops

Bamboo hoops are best for embroidery. These are not the same as quilting hoops which are made from much wider strips of wood. 

Oval hoops are good – plastic ones have lips.

All sizes are available from 3″ to 21″.

You don’t need to use a hoop. Some people like to use one, some don’t.

Pens

For tracing  – Pilot Frixion pens  – heat activated marks disappear with a quick iron

Sewline Fabric pen that washes away with water

Writing on Fabric

Permawriter has a fine tip and Copic  Multilines 07 for writing on fabric.

Fell Roller ok but thicker nib

Prisma pen good for tracing – does fade over time on labels

Sulky Iron on transfer pen (permanent)

Can tint embroidery with a sharpie 1 small.

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