Quick Tips for Adding Hand Embroidery to Fiber Art Projects

21 Jul 2013

In my book, there are few fiber art projects that can't be improved with a little hand embroidery. Hand stitches add interest, texture, and the personal touch of the artist. Handwork can be used to create a focal point, move the eye around the piece, and emphasize lines, plus it's fun and relaxing to do.

Even the simples stitches like the cross stitch or French knot can add that "little something" a piece of art often needs.

hand embroidery stitches on fabric collage
Hand embroidery stitches add interest and movement in this
fabric collage by Deborah Boschert.
Deborah Boschert is a fiber artist who almost always includes simple hand embroidery designs in her artwork. Not only is she an artist, but a busy mom who travels frequently. So I asked her for some tips on she works hand sewing into her life.

Deborah's Quick Tips for Hand Stitching

1. Hand embroidery is 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. No matchy-matchy. 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. Rein in 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. Stitch without a hoop. 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. Eschew the rules. Play around and explore new ways to put stitches together. Create your own motifs, embroidery patterns, and fill designs.

6. Let your hand be your guide. 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 add interest on her video, "Contemporary Fabric Collage," now available with your subscription to Craft Daily. Deborah's enthusiasm and techniques have you running to your stash ready to create collages and embellish them with embroidery.

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


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Comments

Hornsby wrote
on 22 Jul 2013 8:08 AM

I make Victorian crazy quilts by hand. Each is usually 12" squares and I use a batting that is marked for hand quilting but I cut each 14" square as the embroidery work will draw it up somewhat. I place the scrapes of selected material randomly over the square and baste it in place. If lace is added, it is put in place prior to basting. Only a few pieces of lace are needed to give each square an interesting and Victorian look. It is the embroidery work that holds the material in place after the basting is removed.

If squares use different colors of thread, I place the thread in a small plastic bag and pin it to the square. This allows me to pick up a square and work it - without a hoop - while watching tv or visiting with others. There are some quilts that have very random embroidery designs and others need a specific design. For these I use disappearing ink, rulers or French curves and simply embroidery following the line, wetting the material to remove the ink at the end of the day. If left in place to simply disappear, it can sometimes leave a yellow mark on the fabric.

Once the squares are finished, they need to be "re-squared" into  12" inches plus the seam allowance. Trinkets, charms and other items can be added prior to sewing the squares together. I also sew the squares together by hand and again the ruler and disappearing ink help in getting the seams absolutely straight. These quilts are not 'quilted' when finished but are tied.

On some I've added photos (some iron on and some printed on fabric) with added charms that have to do with that family member to make a heritage quilt.

foxfyre wrote
on 22 Jul 2013 8:08 AM

I have been doing hand embroidery for nearly 60 years. My grandmother taught me when I was 4 and I still have my first piece. I agree with all the tips, but the floss on the shoulder wouldn't work for me (long hair). I still do what Granny did. Leave the paper bands on floss, thread needles with the remaining two or three thread strands and anchor the needles in the paper bands on the floss. They are threaded, ready to go, and I know what color they are from the band that holds them.