The secrets of embroidery can soon be discovered by reading the words of a woman who was well known for her knowledge of great embroidery as well as her ability to teach others, through words, how they may also be able to produce wonderful works of art for their homes.
Below are many of the points Mrs. L. Barton Wilson, (Former Needlework Editor of the Ladies' Home Journal and Special Contributor to Modem Priscilla, prior to 1889) thought were required to produce great embroidery. These “suggestions” are what today would probably be considered “the secrets of embroidery.”
Follow these secrets of embroidery and you are well on your way to creating embroidery pieces that will be cherished for many years to come.
Good ground material is a must. If the ground material to be embroidered upon is substandard, it will not be able to hold the embroidery stitches correctly. This will inevitably lead to an end product that is not as good as one hoped it would be.
When using a hoop or frame, proper framing is essential. Be sure when stretching the fabric on an embroidery hoop or frame, you stretch the fabric by drawing it in the direction of the woof and warp. If this is not done, stitching will be done on the bias. When the fabric is released from the hoop or frame it will be distorted and no amount of pulling or pressing will be able to straighten it.
Proper tools are required. If using substandard tools, your embroidery will no doubt show it. Using the correct embroidery hoop, needle, frame, sharp scissors, and quality embroidery threads are essential. You will find properly fit thimbles a great help also.
Using these tools, such as your frame or embroidery hoop, properly is essential. The proper height of your frame or hoop in correlation with the height of your chair is important. It will help you maintain good posture which will relieve any stress on the back, arms and hands as well.
Prepare your fabric before beginning any embroidery. This will stop any fraying of your fabric. Today there are a number of ways to eliminate the fraying problem, some better suited for use on a frame and others for use with the hoop. The many ways include, but are not limited to hemming the material, zig-zag stitching on your sewing machine, and serging the edges.
To read more of her advice, read The Theory and Method of Embroidery.
When using an embroidery frame (not hoop), be sure to follow the proper procedures to secure the fabric to the frame. There are a number of different frames available today. Make sure to follow your frame’s instructions correctly. This will ensure that your finished product will not be warped and unusable.
Good lighting is essential. Without it, it will be difficult to follow the lines of your pattern and your eyes will become fatigued quickly. Those that stitch with their right hand will find lighting that falls from above and from the left, so as not to cast shadow in front of the right hand, effective. Of course, if you are left handed, the light should be from above and from the right.
Good posture is essential. Make sure that whenever you are embroidering, to sit straight with shoulders relaxed. If you do not have the proper back support, you will find your back and neck hurting. Obviously, if it is uncomfortable to embroider, you will not want to continue working on your project.
The needle should be held securely, but not tightly, between the forefinger and thumb. The hand and wrist should be relaxed. Often those new to embroidery hold the needle too tightly while concentrating on each stitch. Learning to relax while stitching, which may take a little practice, will make embroidering much more enjoyable.
Practice, practice, practice. While no one really likes to hear those words, practicing the proper way of sending the needle up and down through the fabric, sitting properly, and relaxed, will be worth the time taken.
Once you have a feel for the needle, find a small and easy project. Most people, me included, wanted to embroider something much too complicated. This only leads to frustration and, usually, the finished project is less than desirable. Set yourself up for success by starting with a simple pattern and progressing to more and more complicated techniques and projects as you become skillful with the needle.
Use a hoop stand, if possible, when using an embroidery hoop. Doing so frees up both hands for stitching and the hoop remains stable as the thread is pushed through. The larger the hoop, the harder it is to achieve good stitching without a hoop stand. You will find the use of a stand almost impossible to do without once you have used one.
When using an embroidery hoop, avoid placing completed stitching between the two hoops. It may damage the stitching and will make keeping the fabric “tight as a drum” impossible as the thickness of the fabric caught between the two hoops will not be the same all around the hoop (the stitching on the completed part makes that part of the fabric thicker than the parts of the fabric that has no stitching). Think about the finished size of the embroidered piece before choosing the embroidery hoop to use.
Do not use a knot if at all possible. Knots have a way of making themselves noticeable whether as a dark spot showing through the fabric or as a lump in the design. Leave a 1-inch tail of thread on the underside and catch it with either a few small stitches that will be covered by the embroidery stitches that will be used. This method ensures the beginning thread is attached securely without the disadvantages of a knot.
Mrs. Barton Wilson’s article ”The Theory and Method of Embroidery” is a long article … so long I had to break it up into six pages but much of what she has to say is still relevant today. Other things are outdated, as one would expect since the article was written in 1889, but it is, I think, interesting reading. Her not-so-secrets of embroidery of yesteryear can now be today's embroiderer's secret to great success on any embroidery project undertaken.
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