Jane LaFazio's Tips for Hand Embroidery
As you read this, I'm on the Quilt Scene at the International Quilt Festival/Houston, surrounded by some of the most beautiful quilts-and talented quilt artists-in the world. The caliber of the artistry–whether contemporary or traditional–never ceases to amaze me, and this year, as we celebrate the 35th anniversary of IQF, it seems everyone kicked it up a notch.
At the Quilting Arts booth, #1244, and Make It University!TM with Cloth Paper Scissors® starting with preview night on Wednesday, we're celebrating this special anniversary with raffles, prizes, a terrific line-up of guest artists and teachers, and our new publication, International Quilt Festival: Quilt Scene, debuting right here in Houston. If you're coming to the show, be sure to print out and bring our special Quilt Scene coupon and come to our booth for a special Photo Op. I'll be tweeting and blogging from the show floor, too, so don't forget to log in and come by to check it all out.
One of the best things about Festival is getting to see all the wonderful threadwork, free-motion quilting, and embroidery up close. As much as I love machine stitching, I'm always drawn to hand embroidery. I love the tactile quality, and it's amazing what a few French knots or buttonhole stitches can do to add pop to surface design.
In the current issue of Quilting Arts, Jane LaFazio combines sketching, watercolors, and hand stitching to make charming quiltlets. Here, she offers some tips on hand embroidery.
Jane LaFazio's Tips for Hand Embroidery
I started using a needle and thread when I was 16, first with crewel embroidery, then counted cross stitch and needlepoint. I'm sure I stitched hundreds of kits. Then, when I became 'an artist' I began stitching my own designs. I just love the act of stitching. So even though I have plenty of experience, when I hand stitch now, I don't use sophisticated or fancy stitches. I have my favorites that I use again and again, and they just happen to be easy.
If you've never hand embroidered, I recommend getting a basic book on embroidery stitches and then it's practice, practice, practice. If you know the basics and want to expand your repertoire, you can't do better than Stitch Magic, Ideas and Interpretations by Jan Beaney and Jean Littlejohn.
Now, here are my tips:
I really think it's all about the thread! I use thread from a spool (sewing machine thread), polyester metallic, and six-strand embroidery floss (separated into three strands) but my favorite is the hand-dyed perle cotton size 12 that I buy from a local artist. I usually use a piece of thread about 18" long, knotted at the end. (I save the ends of my pretty threads to include in my wet felting.)
Color! I love variegated threads. Whatever you're stitching changes with each stitch as the color of the thread changes. I often use contrasting color thread, especially when I hand sew because I want people to see the work I've put in.
Stitches: There are a million different stitches available, but I find even a simple running stitch can enliven a piece of cloth, adding interest and texture. I love the blanket stitch, the ladder stitch, French knots, the back stitch and the chain/lazy daisy-all very basic stitches, easily learned and practiced. Couching is also a great touch; just make a ladder stitch over a piece of yarn, ribbon, or silk cord.
I usually free stitch, with no plan in mind, unless I'm stitching along an outline or edge and even then it's intuitive. Occasionally, to get a straight line of stitching, I'll use a piece of artist masking tape, placing it on the fabric and using the edge as my guideline, then removing it once I'm done stitching. Stitching also adds a wonderful finish to the edges of a quilt, often unifying or highlighting a color within the artwork.
Hoop: NO WAY! I never use a hoop. The cloth I'm sewing on usually has batting attached, and it easily holds its shape. Or, I stitch on layers of organza or handmade or commercial felt…and I frequently stitch on paper or painted canvas using an awl to make the holes. I've even drilled holes in wood so I could stitch on it!
Thanks, Jane! I'm sure everyone will be digging out their embroidery needles and threads as soon as they finish reading this.
Signing off for now from Houston,