Summertime means travel, right? I love being on the road under the summer sun, whether it’s in a car trip on the highways of the West (yes, you can still get your kicks on Route 66), a weekend at the beach, or a transcontinental adventure. Travel means freedom, big skies and wide open spaces, new friends and new sights. If you also love to sew, though, it’s tricky to reconcile sewing and travel. You’ve got no sewing machine, no iron, no rotary cutter. Do you have to leave all your creativity languishing at home?
Hand embroidery is the perfect solution for traveling stitchers. It’s super-portable, inexpensive, and easy to do in any kind of space. Handstitching is coming back into vogue, in part, because it’s so easy to travel with. If you haven’t done any embroidery for a while, or if it’s new to you, there’s a whole new world of contemporary and hip patterns and designs from young artists who are passionate about this ancient art. Why not explore a few basic stitches this summer and see where they take you?
“Needled: The Art of Embroidery,” our article in Stitch Spring 2010, focuses on contemporary embroiderers Leah Evans (shown at left) and Caroline Hwang, who combine hand embroidery with other techniques in artful and abstract ways, as well as the exquisite and very modern hand-embroidered textiles of Lost City Products. While these artists take embroidery to gallery-quality levels, you can also begin with just a few simple stitches and charming designs like those in the book Stitchy Kitty Fuzzy Puppy, or draw your own designs of flowers, birds, teacups, fruits, faces, anything that appeals to you.
Embroidery really only requires a few very portable items. You’ll need a small wooden hoop to hold fabric taut, available at craft and fabric stores. You’ll need a piece of fabric to stitch on; start with something firm and somewhat crisp, like cotton or a lightweight linen. You’ll need needles; crewel needles are short and easy to manage, but have large eyes for easy threading. Use a small piece of felt to hold needles, or make our In-Perfect-Order Needle Book from Stitch Winter 2008 (available in digital edition). A small pair of scissors to cut thread is helpful; in a pinch, or on an airplane where security prohibits scissors, use a dental-floss container with its small cutter. An air-soluble fabric marker to sketch designs is useful, but a light pencil line will work.
Finally, you’ll need something to stitch with! Cotton embroidery floss comes in hundreds of colors, and is very inexpensive, so you can stock up, and not worry about making mistakes. DMC is a popular, widely available brand. Six-strand embroidery floss is perfect for beginners. Cut a length of floss and carefully separate two or three of the strands to stitch with (or stitch with all six strands for a bold look). Thread your strands through the needle as one, knot the end, and begin (some embroiderers prefer not to have knots on the back of the work; you can hold an unknotted thread in place and stitch over it as you go if you want a smooth look on the reverse).
There are many stitches in embroidery’s repertoire, but you can begin with just a few versatile stitches like satin stitch and backstitch (shown below). Visit the Hand Embroidery Network for community and inspiration, and look through the free online stitch library by Sharon Boggon here. An online search for embroidery designs will yield both free designs and those for purchase. Vintage embroidery designs can be a lot of fun, too.
So make or find a small bag to hold your embroidery supplies, find a tea towel or garment in need of embellishing, or a plain piece of fabric to stitch on, and begin. Wherever you go, this newly contemporary craft can go with you. Send us postcards!
Images: Top left, abstract embroidery by Leah Evans. Bottom left, satin stitch and backstitch. Top right, Stitchy Kitty Fuzzy Puppy (Interweave). Bottom right, DMC embroidery floss.