Idle hands were frowned upon in my house when I was growing up. There was always something to do. If I wanted to watch TV (and I wanted to watch TV!), I had to be doing something productive at the same time. So I would sit down with either knitting or embroidery, and watch to my heart's content.
|Detail of some embroidery
stitches on one of my
I remember knitting a hat during the Olympics one year, an intricate pair of Norwegian mittens during the first run of "Brideshead Revisited," and countless rows on a sweater that I will always associate with Julia Child.
Embroidery, in my mind, is tightly associated with Erica Wilson's Saturday morning show and hot tea that I would sip in front of the fireplace as I stitched reproduction samplers in the '70s and '80s. Those practice sessions led me to a real appreciation for handwork, and helped shape my love for fiber arts in general.
There is a wonderful resource in the early issues of Quilting Arts from the modern crazy quilt enthusiast Leslie Levison. I saw her work first-hand at a guild meeting when I first moved to Connecticut, and she's one of the reasons I love my back issues of Quilting Arts Magazine.
|Fish motif using the
herringbone embroidery stitch.
By Leslie Levison.
Leslie ran a semi-regular series in the early issues (2-16) that takes the 125-year tradition (or so) of Crazy Quilting and turns it on its head. Leslie illustrates dozens of stitches, using threads, fibers, sequins, and beads. Her work incorporates traditional hand stitching with contemporary subject matter, and makes an incredible statement.
I don't make crazy quilts, but I do use embroidery in my own contemporary fiber art. Sometimes the embroidery is the focal point (as in the Prayer Flags), and other times it is just a small embellishment technique that ads to the overall piece (as in stitched lines and patterns in the background of either birds or other contemporary pieces).
However you chose to incorporate these stitches, there are always a few things to keep in mind which will lead to a better finished project.
|Hand embroidery patterns using the herringbone stitch. By Leslie Levison
in Quilting Arts Spring 2002.
My tips for hand embroidery:
- Handwork takes a long time, and it should be done with the best quality of supplies that you can afford. There is a difference in quality in threads and fabrics, and you should use what works best for your project.
Learn how to use a thimble—it will save your fingers!
Threading the needle with multi-stranded thread can be tricky. Try folding it over the eye of the needle and pinching the fold between your finger and thumb nail. Sometimes it is easier to get a folded strand through the eye of the needle rather than a raw edge of cut thread.
Keep your supplies for your current project (threads, scissors, and instructions) together and store them in an inexpensive pencil case (available for $1 in the school supply aisles of discount stores.)
Use a fishing tackle box or a kid's matchbox car holder to organize your stash of needles and threads. These boxes are much less expensive than embroidery-specific cases, and often can be stacked more easily in tight studio spaces.
Hand-dyed thread is wonderful to work with and does much of the design work for you!
Learn a new stitch, try a new technique, and challenge yourself to move beyond your comfort zone.
What about looking through your back issues of Quilting Arts and trying one of Leslie's more unusual embroidery stitches or using one of her bead embroidery patterns to spice things up on your fiber art? Now, all the back issues from the first 10 years of Quilting Arts are available together in the 2001-2010 Quilting Arts CD Collection.
With 10 years of Quilting Arts back issues at your fingertips offering dozens of hand embroidery designs, your hands won't have an idle moment all summer!
P.S. How did you learn hand embroidery? Do you watch TV while you do your embroidery stitches? Tell me about your experience in the comments section below.