Thursday, September 10, 2009

tips from a little blue bird

Hey everybody! I'm back with that tutorial post I promised yesterday. This is going to be somewhat picture-heavy, and I hope no one minds. I also apologize to anyone who's not interested in embroidery, but that's the topic for today!

I've been noticing embroidery everywhere lately, and thought it would be nice to share some tips and show a couple of basic stitches (in fact, the only 2 I know) for anyone who would like to try it. So this is just a very basic "how to start & finish an embroidery project" tutorial!

I mentioned before that I'm using the Stitch-It Kit, but as lovely and helpful as it is, there's no reason to buy a whole embroidery kit if you'd like to learn. You only need these materials:
  • 1 Embroidery Needle (it's just a big sewing needle)
  • some Embroidery Floss/Thread
  • 1 Embroidery hoop (to keep your fabric in place while you work)
  • Iron-On Embroidery Pattern (OPTIONAL - you can either freehand a design or draw something with pencil on the fabric)
  • A hot iron (if you're going to use an iron-on pattern)
  • Fabric to stitch on (your choice! Cotton is probably best - just make sure it's not something really stretchy where your stitches could become distorted)
You can see the iron-on pattern I was working with above. The bird was originally holding a banner, but I didn't like that so I cut it out!

The first step is to figure out what you're going to sew and where. I'd already chosen the bird, and I wanted it in a certain place on a dress. If you're using an iron-on, heat up your iron to the wool/cotton setting. Don't be scared - you're just transferring the picture; this is easy. Supposedly the ink transfers better if the fabric is hot, so warm up the fabric with the iron and then place the pattern face down where you want it. Now carefully press the iron over the pattern. Make sure you get each bit of the picture, or else you might have some missing pieces (though you can always improvise if that happens). Go over it a few times - the pattern might be too light otherwise. You can lift up an edge and peek, but be careful not to shift the pattern.

All done! Mine was a bit light, but I could see it so I was happy. The next thing you'll need to do is to get your fabric in the hoop. An embroidery hoop is a 2-piece creature which is pretty simple to use. You put the smaller hoop under your fabric, then lay the slightly larger one on top. After you've smoothed out the fabric, press down the top hoop and tighten it up. You don't want to stretch your fabric too tight, but that shouldn't really be a problem unless you have ridiculously strong hands. Not too tight, not too loose, but TAUT! I hate that word, but that's what you're going for.

See? Like that. You just need a nice little work space so your stitches can be consistent and even.

Time to work with the embroidery floss. Can I call it thread? I'll call it thread. You need to cut a length of thread to work with. The book that came with my kit had a very good suggestion: cut a strand about as long as the distance from your fingertips to your elbow. It'll go a long way! You need to put the needle on the thread - that's easy enough! I hope I'm not breaking any rules, but I just left the thread like that in the above picture... You'll tie a knot at the other end (below), but I was confused about what to do with this end of the thread. I left it open like this... Is that proper? I don't know, but it worked for me! When I'm using regular thread to sew, I knot both ends together, but I wasn't sure what was protocol with embroidery.

Tie a knot in the other end of the thread. If anybody needs help tying a knot, here's how I do it! Wrap the end around your forefinger (pointer finger?) and then roll it with your thumb. You should have the beginnings of a little knot that you can tighten up! I hope this isn't too obvious -- all I know is that when I'm learning something I like to see lots of pictures and have things thoroughly explained: if you're not familiar with something, it's very easy to get confused and lost in instructions!

Once you've got your thread all ready to go, make your first stitch! You can start anywhere, but you may want to think about your strategy (especially if you plan to use multiple colors). Just bring your needle up through the back of the fabric and then bring it back through again, staying on the line of your pattern. Easy!

But what next? There are a number of ways to make stitches, but here's my favorite: the Split Stitch. See the above picture. When you start your next stitch, bring the needle up through the middle of your previous stitch.

Then put the needle back through the fabric, making another stitch. Just like that!

Annnnnd.... bring it back up through your second stitch! It might look funny at first, but keep going. I like this stitch because it sort of makes the thread look like a little rope or a braid! Continue stitching like this.

Next thing you know, you've got something really cool looking! Just continue doing stitches like that, following the pattern you've made. Sometimes you'll need to start on a new line -- if it's not too far from your last stitch, just go ahead and pull the needle through the fabric wherever you want to start that line. See the above picture for an example. But if it's a completely different section, you may need to stop, tie off the thread in the back, and begin in a new place. We'll talk about that in a minute.

Once you get going, this is really addicting. Just make sure you've got good lighting and some nice music to listen to.

Here's what the back should sort of look like. When you start running out of thread or you want to change colors or start in a new place, it's time to tie off the thread and snip it! Give yourself at least a couple of inches, maybe more to work with.

There are a few ways to do this, but you basically just need to tie a knot in the thread. I like to put the needle in the open knot, and then as you tighten it, press down so that the knot will be as close to the fabric as possible. Whatever you're comfortable with! You can also separate the strands of thread and tie a knot like that.

Keep going and going, until you're nearly done! Or until you're completely done.

I wanted to use yellow for this guy's beak, and I wanted to use a different type of stitch! The best way to fill a solid area, in my amateur opinion, is the Satin Stitch.

You just go back and forth with your stitches, making them as big or small as you need to fill the area. I think it's supposed to look a lot nicer than this, but that's okay! I need to practice.

I used that same technique to fill in his eye, and then I was done! I think the finished result is really cute, and I can't wait to do even more embroidery!

I hope that was helpful to anyone who's interested in trying embroidery. Let me know if you have any questions and I'll see if I can answer them! I'm definitely no expert, but sometimes experts know too much and can't explain the simple stuff so well.


  1. This is such a good idea - I'm trying this one out!!

  2. this is so easy! i don't get why my kit didn't come with a simple tutorial! thanks, rebecca!

  3. That's so sweet Rebecca! Whenever I used to embroider it looked OK on the front but a tangled messy disaster on the back! Yours looks great on the back too!! Lovely work!!

  4. Very pretty! And a good tutorial too! We did some embroidery in primary school, but mine was always really messy-looking - my fine-motor-skills have never been terribly good ;) I do have some plain cardigans that could use some prettying up like this though...

  5. How funny, I've been doing tons of embroidering lately! It's so relaxing.

  6. Great tutorial Rebecca!! You make it look easy, though I know it isn't. :) Thank you so much for sharing.

    Wishing you a lovely weekend.

  7. hey darling, I think you are super talented for that lovely bird. My bigger question is how in the world did you manage to take photos of that process???

  8. ah even with your ingenious instructions i dont think im skilled enough :(

  9. This is pure awesome and inspiring me to actually use the embroidery supplies I got the other day!


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