embroidery, stitches, threading the needle

There’s a beautiful simplicity to embroidery: cut and separate the floss, thread the needle, secure the first stitch, fill an area of the design with stitches, then end the thread on the back. After you have stitched a few blocks of color you will develop an easy rhythm that makes these few steps automatic, allowing you to enjoy watching the design grow from the first stitch to the last. Your stitching pleasure is every bit as important as completing your design!

SEPARATING FLOSS STRANDS Also known as “plying,” this first step allows you to select the number of strands you need to stitch each area. (”Area” means a block of one color or one particular stitch in one color.) You will find the correct amount of strands to use for each area in the Color and Stitch Key. During the manufacturing process, six-stranded floss twists together, and packaging and shipping flattens them. Separating the strands before stitching enables them to fluff out to cover the fabric better. Even if you intend to stitch with the same number of remaining strands on your length of floss, separate and recombine them nevertheless.

Locate a loose, cut end of a skein of six-stranded floss and cut a length not longer than 18″. Hold the floss at one end and “fan out” the individual strands; select one end and pull it out. Straighten the remaining floss after each separation THREADING THE NEEDLE When you have removed the required number of strands from the skein, lay them parallel to one another and-handling them as one-thread them together onto the needle. USING A THREADER is quick and easy: insert the wire end of the threader into the eye of the needle, thread the floss ends through the wire, then pull the wire back through the needle’s eye.


WITHOUT A THREADER, pinch the floss ends together tightly between thumb and forefinger (or thumb and middle finger) with fingernails touching, allowing the warmth of your fingers to press the floss ends as flat as possible. Roll your fingers back to expose the ends, and insert them into the needle’s eye.

SECURING THE THREAD To knot or not … it’s a debate among stitches. Pro-knotters suggest that if the design features raised effects, why not knot? Anti-knotters believe that free embroidery should look as flat as possible, and consider knots undesirable. Ultimately, feel free to decide for yourself. To eliminate starting knots, use an in-line waste knot when you begin a new thread: plan the direction you’ll be stitching, make a knot and insert it (from the top of the fabric) along that same path. Clip the knot off just before you reach it.Sometimes using a knot is virtually unavoidable, such as when a French, Colonial, or Bullion Knot is isolated from other stitches. Try this nearly inconspicuous knot which shows as a tiny stitch on the right side of the fabric: A. On the back, pick up two (or so) fabric threads, leaving a 1/4” tail. B. Take a Backstitch into the same spot, but at right angle to the first stitch. C. Take another Backstitch into the same spot in the same direction as its predecessor.

STITCHING THE DESIGN Hoops, Q Snaps, and stretcher bars keep the fabric taut, which means you cannot use a “sewing” motion (inserting and bringing the needle back out in one motion). Instead, use the “stab” method: insert the needle in one motion, then bring it up from the underside in a separate motion. This two-step motion helps you control the stitch tension. Strive for a medium tension. Too much tension puckers the fabric; too little produces sloppy-looking stitches that are prone to snagging. Projects such as towels and napkins show off the back of your stitching, so begin and end individual threads as neatly as possible. Do not carry threads from one area to another unless the distance is 1/8” or less. Even if the back of your project will be concealed by the finishing treatment, it’s a good idea to minimize carrying threads between areas, especially if you are using a light-colored fabric. CORRECTING MISTAKES As you stitch, you are bound to make stitches that you want to correct. You may find you have executed the stitch sequence incorrectly or simply produced a stitch that looks less than lovely. In the first case, it’s a good idea to pull out the offending stitches and re-stitch. In the second case, use your best judgment, keeping in mind that embroidery is a hand-done art form not intended to look as “perfect” as machine-done work. If the stitches in question are few and you are still using the same thread, simply remove the needle and, working on the back of the fabric, gently pull the thread back through the fabric as far as you need to, then re-thread the needle and continue stitching. However, if you need to remove more than a few stitches, you will stress the thread-and possibly ruin its appearance-by pulling it so many times through the fabric. In this case it’s best to discard that particular thread before restitching.

ENDING THE THREAD To end a thread, turn your work over and weave the thread in and out of completed stitches of the same color. If the stitches are long and loose on the back (as with Satin stitches), take one or two Backstitches into the backs of the stitches (not into the fabric) to secure the thread. Avoid weaving a dark-colored thread through the back of light-colored areas.

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