Hand Embroidery Tips for Contemporary Fabric Collage

Fiber artist Deborah Boschert and I share a love of hand embroidery. Although hand embroidery stitches are often associated with antique and vintage textiles, Deborah uses classic embroidery stitches to add interest and texture to her contemporary quilts and fabric collages.

hand embroidery stitches on fabric collage
Hand embroidery stitches add interest and movement in this
fabric collage by Deborah Boschert.

Today, I’ve asked Deborah to share some of her hand embroidery tips with you:

1. Hand embroidery is totally portable! I have several projects in plastic bags that I can take upstairs and stitch while I watch TV with my family. Each bag includes pre-chosen floss colors, needles, and notes about what stitches I’ve planned for the design.

2. Don’t worry about matching colors exactly. I’ve got lots of floss, but sometimes I run out of a specific color. Rather than going out to buy more, I just choose a close match and keep stitching. Often this will even add more interest to the design.

3. Keep tabs on fugitive floss. When using just two or three strands of floss from a six-strand skein, I drape the remaining strands over my shoulder so I know exactly where they are when I’m ready to thread a new needle.

4. Go hoopless. I use felt for batting on my small art quilt collages. The felt gives the collage a lot of body so I don’t even need to use a hoop when I embroider. Felt is great for stitching through, too. No bearding! (That’s when bits of batting pull through to the top of the art quilt.) 


Y shaped embroidery stitches
These elongated Y embroidery stitches are a signature of Deborah’s art.

5. Break the rules.

Play around and explore new ways to put stitches together. Create your own motifs, patterns, and fill designs.

6. Listen to the hand. If your fingers are feeling raw, you need a thimble. If your wrist is getting achy, you need a break. (Confession: Sometimes I forget to follow this advice myself!)

I love these tips! Deborah demonstrates how to design and compose fabric collages plus how to add hand embroidery stitches to contemporary fiber art on her new Quilting Arts WorkshopTM video, “Contemporary Fabric Collage: Design, Stitch, and Finish.” Her techniques are fun, easy to follow, and will have you running to your stash ready to create.

P.S. What’s your favorite hand embroidery tip? Share it in the comments section below.

Other topics you may enjoy:


Hand Embroidery, Machine Embroidery, Quilting Daily Blog

7 thoughts on “Hand Embroidery Tips for Contemporary Fabric Collage

  1. I’m so glad you included that tip about not matching colors! Color variation in hand embroidery is so beautiful, and can get me interested in a piece that I might otherwise have passed by. I would be interested in hearing any suggestions about keeping the back of one’s work attractive when adding hand embroidery to otherwise finished quilts. How much stitch hiding is necessary, and what do your securing knots look like?
    ~~~the Art of Inclusion~~~

  2. as a hand embroiderer, i would like to take this opportunity to mention that i would really love to see much more on the subject of hand emboridery and hand stitching in general within the pages of the e-mag ‘in Stitches’.

    as for a favorite tip:
    practice. it seems obvious but practice makes such a difference when learning and perfecting stitches AND allows one the opportunity to improvise a bit and see what the stitch can be stretched to ‘do’.


  3. My favourite embroidery tip is: don’t have your thread ( you Americans say floss, don’t you) too long! You should be able to make your stitches without straightening your arm right out. Otherwise you get tangles – and wear the sheen off.
    I really enjoy reading about different projects, it’s a real source of inspiration.

  4. After years of not doing much in the way of hand embroidery (I have an embroidery machine), I wanted to start hand embroidering again, but with different types threads and colors. Only with arthritis I didn’t want to have to jump up and go seek out the next color I was going to use from the sewing room each time I wanted to change colors and hauling everything back and forth was a pain also. Last summer I found a little cart on wheels with wicker look shelves that had about a 2-3″ edges on each side. Perect for all my embroidery flosses and threads, plus work in progress. I can keep it in the living room and easily move it to where I need it. I found I’m doing much more now that it is close at had.

  5. I will sometimes use variegated t hread to prevent a problem of matching colors. I have done embroidery without a hoop so the stitches are not stretched or malformed. I have not used felt in the back. I am making some animals, stuffing them and then doing embroidery; I am planning to use felt behind the fabric as I stitch the animals and then stuff and embroidery. Thanks for the tip. A good way to use up your old clothes, especially your children’s, is to use it to make animals. Old jeans make a wonderful toy/stuffed animal. Remember that the with the pocket removed, the fabric/jean is darker underneath. As a result, you make a design you had not thought about.