A New Year, A New Skill!
So, you’ve decided to take the plunge and try Embroidery. Congratulations!
Embroidery is no longer seen as twee and has great potential from a relaxing hobby to a career in fashion or art; the world of embroidery is that eclectic and colourful.
But where to begin? There are so many kits and embroidery styles, and if you’re stuck, don’t fret. Over the next few weeks and months I am going to talk you through the essentials including different embroidery techniques and the basic kit that you will need. And this will expand as you discover the numerous and amazing techniques and beautiful materials available!
Let’s start at the beginning
Embroidery may also incorporate other materials such as pearls, beads, quills and sequins. Today hand embroidery is usually seen on caps, hats, coats, blankets, dress shirts, denim, dresses, stockings and golf shirts. Embroidery is also available with a wide variety of thread or yarn colours.
Some of the basic techniques or stitches of the earliest embroidery include chain stitch, buttonhole or blanket stitch, running stitch, satin stitch and cross stitch. These stitches remain the fundamental techniques of hand embroidery, and I will talk you through them in greater detail as we go.
A short history
Ancient Greek mythology has credited the goddess Athena with passing down the art of embroidery along with weaving, leading to the famed competition between herself and the mortal Arachne.
Though romantic, in truth the process used to tailor, patch and reinforce cloth fostered the development of sewing techniques, and the decorative possibilities of sewing led to the art of embroidery.
The art of embroidery has been found worldwide and several early examples have been found. Works in China have been dated to the Warring States period (5th–3rd century BC). And a garment surviving from the Migration period of Sweden (roughly 300–700 AD) evidenced running stitch, back stitch, stem stitch, tailor's buttonhole stitch, and whip-stitching along the edges of bands of trimming. However, what isn’t clear is whether embroidery was already being used for decoration or simply to reinforce the seams.
A few techniques explained
Embroidery techniques can be divided into various categories, either by the way they use the fabric or the colours or materials they use. The easiest to work with include:
Surface embroidery These techniques don’t rely on using the grain or weave of the fabric, instead they are spread over the surface of the material. Examples include crewel embroidery, Japanese or Chinese embroidery, doodle embroidery, thread painting and Broderie anglaise.
Pictured: Crewel embroidery from Chloe Savage portfolio
Counted embroidery These techniques use the weave of the fabric to help space the work and include cross stitch, blackwork, hardanger and pulled and drawn embroidery.
Canvas work or needlepoint Though similar to counted work, threads are stitched through a fabric mesh to create a dense pattern. Bargello and Berlin wool work are a few examples.
Pictured: piece from Chloe savage portfolio
It’s best to decide the technique you would like to start with. Cross stitch and canvas work are excellent for beginners as there’s lots of pre-printed kits available and only two or three stitches to master. Crewel embroidery (or crewelwork) is also a great choice. Though there are many more stitches to try, crewelwork is very forgiving (unpicks easily) and there are plenty of kits to choose from.
A beginner’s class is also a great way to start. If you’re looking to learn in good company and in a beautiful and relaxed setting, please take a look at my classes in the Bristol and Somerset area.
Where will embroidery take you?
There are so many possibilities with embroidery. As you get to know me more you’ll discover my passion for embroidery belongs to and extends beyond the traditional.
I work on conserving historical textiles from curtains to beautifully ornate court dresses, I embroider for the home to couture garments and I’m a contemporary textile artist. Through teaching and talking about embroidery I always aim to encourage new talent and promote related and enticing professions.
But, whatever your reasons for beginning this amazing art, I hope to kindle a passion for embroidery that will stay with you for years to come.