EMBROIDERY TIPS

Tips in the following subjects:

Embroidery Frames  |  Transferring a Design  |  Threading a Needle  |  Keeping the Embroidery Clean

Problems with Blood  |  Washing the Embroidery  |  Embroidery Time Allocation  |  Embroidery Tools

Finishing the Embroidery  |  Mounting an Embroidery For Framing  |  Home Page!     View Shopping Cart 

EMBROIDERY FRAMES

When working any of my kits it is important to have an embroidery frame that will keep the fabric very tight from all directions. The tighter the fabric the easier the embroidery will be to work and your embroidery stitches will have a more even tension with the fabric less likely pucker. If the fabric puckers it could lead to problems when it comes to mounting the embroidery as it may be difficult to pull out the puckers. This would result in a wrinkled finished embroidery. The fabric should be drum tight in the frame, so the fabric twangs when it is flicked.

TYPES OF FRAMES

No frame: The embroidery projects I suggest you do not have to use a frame for are the following: canvas work i.e. one of my painted canvas kits, Hapsburg lace embroidery and tassels. I would recommend working the other techniques that I offer in a frame.

Ring frames: The best type of ring frames are 1 inch deep wood frames with both rings wrapped in muslin/calico like bandages to prevent the fabric from slipping. Unfortunately these deep frames are hard to come by, however occasionally a narrower ring frame will suffice if the rings are wrapped in fabric and it is a small frame for a small piece of work i.e 6 inch frame. If the frame is much bigger the fabric will be very difficult to keep tight in the frame. Also if the fabric is heavy duty or very thin it can easily slip in ring frames. Wooden ring frames are preferable to the plastic ring frames as the fabric will slip more in a plastic frame than a wooden frame. The design should fit inside of the ring frame, and there should be enough fabric around the design for framing as if the rim of the frame is on any part of the embroidery or fabric that will be displayed, the rim of the frame can mark the embroidery stitches and fabric or leave a dirty ring if you do not wash your hand methodically.

My suggestion is to avoid ring frames and stick to the slightly more expensive stretcher bar frames. You will enjoy working the embroidery much more and will get better results.

Stretcher bar Frames are inexpensive wooden embroidery frames in which the fabric can be pulled really tight. The bars are sold in pairs, with the end of the bars having teeth so that you can slot the bars together to form a square or rectangle frame - two pairs of stretcher bars are required.

Different length bars can be slotted together to match the size of your fabric. The fabric is pinned onto the bars using thumb tacks or a staple gun, pulling the fabric so that it is drum tight.

This is a great frame to work an embroidery in as they are reasonably priced and quick to assemble and most importantly once the fabric has been pinned onto the frame tightly the fabric does not slacken off. It is very important that the fabric is very tight for embroidery techniques such as Needle Painting kits, Modern Jacobean kits, Goldwork kits, Shadow Work kits and White Work kits as it is easier to work the embroidery on tight fabric and the stitching will work in neater.

I find it best to work on this type of frame at a table as you can spread out your embroidery supplies and pattern on the table and balance the stretcher bar frame on the edge of the table. I use a heavy book to weigh down one corner of the frame so that I have both hands free to work the embroidery, you can also purchase table clamps from a hardware store to hold the corner of the frame to the table. In this way you do not require a frame stand to work the embroidery. I tend to turn my embroidery over quite a lot to finish off the threads at the back of the work so I usually just use a book or my forearm to hold the frame in place. I like the stretcher bar frames the best as they are light to work with and quick to prepare the embroidery for working.

It is important to pin the fabric on to the frame by using lots of thumb tacks, the closer the thumb tacks are together the more tension you will be able to get on the fabric (about 1/2 inch intervals). The fabric should be pinned on to the frame in the following method:

  1. Assemble the stretcher bar frame so that it is square using four stretcher bars. You can use all the same length bars to create a square frame or each pair can be a different size i.e. using a 9 inch pair of stretcher bars and a 11 inch pair of stretcher bars to form a rectangle frame.

  2. Place the fabric over the Stretcher bar frame so that the fabric is squarely placed on the frame, not overlapping one edge more than an other and not askew.

  3. Pin the first side of the fabric onto the frame starting at the center of one side of the stretcher bars, (I like to pin the fabric on the side of the bars so that when you are working the embroidery the embroidery thread is less likely to get caught up on the thumb tacks). Pin the fabric from the center of the bar to the outside edge, then pin the other side of the fabric from the center out. Push the tacks in in about 1/2 an inch apart and try to avoid having puckers in the fabric between each tack, you can gently pull the fabric to the side as you are pushing the pins in. You can use a hammer to push the tacks all the way in so they are flat to the bars if you wish.

  4. Pin the second side on the opposite side of the first side. Also begin pinning the fabric at the center of the bar, pinning one side and then the other. This time pull the fabric as tight as you can, it is very important that the fabric is very tight for the Needle Painting kits, Modern Jacobean kits, Goldwork kits, Shadow Work kits and White Work kits. Do not worry about ripping the fabric as the fabrics I provide are strong. To do this, place the frame on a table. With the ball of your weaker hand, hold the far end of the frame down on the table.  With your strong hand pull the fabric very tight. When it is very tight, release the hand holding down the frame and use this hand to pin the fabric in place.

  5. Pin the third side on one of the unpinned edge, pin the fabric in the same method as the first side, it is not necessary to pull the fabric very tight, just pull the fabric gently.

  6. The fourth side is worked in the same method as the third side pulling the fabric as tight as you can. When the fabric is pinned onto the frame, the fabric should be drum tight i.e. when you flick the fabric with your finger it pings like a drum. To purchase stretcher bar frames and thumb tacks and to see pictures of a stretcher bar frame go to Embroidery Frames

Q-snaps are another fairly inexpensive embroidery frame. Plastic bars slot together and the fabric is clipped into the plastic frame by slotting another piece of plastic over the fabric. Unfortunately the fabric can slip in this type of frame and does not stay consistently tight as with stretcher bars, scroll bars and slate frames. To avoid the fabric slipping, the bottom frame can be wrapped in muslin/calico strips like bandages. This will help keep the fabric tight in the frame.

Scroll frames: These are more expensive embroidery frames and are great if you have a floor or table stand so you can work with your hands free. The two scroll bars have tape stapled along the edge on to which you pin or sew the fabric. The side bars slot into the holes on each end of the scroll bars and are screwed on so that the fabric is tight. The disadvantage to these frames is sometimes the screws become loose and therefore the fabric becomes loose. Also the side bars are sometimes short so that some embroideries need to be rolled around the bars. This can leave creases on the embroidery. If you use this type of frame for embroidery it is important to lace the sides of the fabric to the sides of the frame to get the fabric really tight.

Lacing: Sew string through the fabric, wrap it around the side bar by pulling the string tight along the length of the fabric. If the fabric is very fine and could tear easily sew a piece of curtain tape along the edge of the fabric and lace the string through the tape, (the tape will take most of the tension).

Slate frames: These are great frames for all over tension and are used with trestles (type of floor stand). The main bars have tape stapled along the edge onto which you pin the fabric. The side arms slot into the holes on each end of the main bars and have holes drilled into them. These arms are pegged against the main bars so that the fabric is very tight. The sides of the fabric are also laced as with the scroll bars.

The advantage of the slate frame is that once the arms have been pegged out the fabric will not become slack. The side arms tend to be slightly longer than scroll frames so the embroidery may not have to be rolled on the bars and therefore does not crease the embroidery. The slate frame is good if you are going to be on a project for a long period of time but does take longer to prepare for the stitching and you require space for the trestles.

 When working my embroidery kits a slate frame is not necessary as the Stretcher Bar Frame is equally as good for tension and can be worked at a table or in a frame stand and is more practical for travelling. But if you are embarking on a long term, large project that requires excellent tension then a slate frame and trestles could be a good investment.

The following webpage has a good description on a slate frame: BayRose

And the following webpage has a good description on the set up of a slate frame and trestles: Needle 'n Thread


TRANSFERRING A DESIGN ONTO THE FABRIC

Prick and Pounce Method

The prick and pounce method is used for transferring designs for surface embroidery. I sell a set of all the supplies for this technique and you can purchase the supplies individually. The prick and pounce method can be used for Applique, Brazilian, Free Embroidery, Goldwork, Needle Painting, Modern Jacobean, Surface Embroidery, Stumpwork, Traditional Jacobean and White Work. It can be used for any technique where the design lines will be covered.

A desired design to be worked is placed beneath a piece of velum tracing paper and all the lines of the design are traced onto the tracing paper.

A No. 10 embroidery needle is screwed into a pricking tool and then holes are pricked along all the pencil lines on the tracing paper puncturing the design lines at 1/8th of and inch (3 mm) intervals, when all the lines have been pricked the tracing paper is held up to the light to check that all the lines have been pricked. Horizontal and vertical center lines are drawn onto the pricking in preparation of positioning the pricking onto the fabric.

The pricked tracing paper is placed on to fabric (smooth side up) and the center lines on the pricking are lined up with the center lines tacked on the fabric. The tracing paper is held in place with weights on the corners of the tracing paper or by pinning the tracing paper to the fabric.

A pouncing tool is used to rub pounce over the whole of the pricked design, dark pounce is used for light fabrics and light pounce for dark fabrics. The tracing paper is carefully lifted away leaving a pounce outline of the design on the fabric.

Excess pounce is blown away, then the pounce lines are drawn over with a lead pencil or white pencil depending on the colour of the fabric or painted over with permanent paint i.e. acrylics or oils. Any excess pounce is removed by tapping the back of the work and brushing the remainder of the pounce away with a baby brush or cotton wool puff - brushing in towards the design.

The prick and pounce method is the most accurate method of transferring a design onto a piece of fabric for embroidery as you can transfer intricate and fine lines, in comparison to a light box where the fabric can shift distorting the design or using transfer paper which can smudge on the fabric. A mechanical HB pencil with a 0.7mm lead (which can be purchased at an office supply store) or acrylic paint are the best implements to use to draw or paint over the lines as you can get a nice fine line compared to some transfer pens.

Tissue Paper Method

The tissue paper method of transferring designs is used for counted thread work such as Blackwork, Pulled work and Drawn thread and for any embroidery where a permanent line is not wanted.

A desired design to be worked is placed beneath a piece of tissue paper and all the lines of the design are traced onto the tracing paper.

The tissue paper is pinned onto the fabric so that it is in the desired position. A single length of sewing thread in a contrasting colour to the fabric is used to sew the tissue paper to the fabric with long stitches over the lines on the tissue paper on the front and short stab stitches on the back. All the lines on the tissue paper are sewn, ensuring to start and finish threads securely.

When all the lines have been tacked then the tissue paper is ripped away, tweezers can be used to pick out the very small pieces of tissue paper. You are left with a tacked out line of the design on the fabric, this will be your guideline in which to do your counted stitches. The tacking lines can be unpicked once the stitches have been worked.


THREADING A NEEDLE

The following tips can be used to thread most needles.

Embroidery floss, Perle Cotton

To thread a single strand of embroidery floss (i.e. DMC floss or silk floss) into a needle cut the end of the floss so that it has a sharp end and not a fluffy or shredded end.

Do not lick the thread as this can make the thread wet and dirty (transferring lip stick or gloss to the thread), if the thread gets wet or dirty so will the fabric. If the end of the thread is still a bit fluffy you can try rolling the end of the thread between your thumb and fore finger.

Hold the thread between your thumb and fore finger so that only the very end of the end is showing (much like seeing a splinter just protruding from the skin). With the other hand aline the opening of the eye of the needle so that it is facing the thread and push the eye of the needle down onto the end of the thread (do not push the thread onto the eye of the needle as it will bend). You can wiggle the needle slightly so that the end of the thread goes into the eye and then from the other side of the needle carefully pull the end of the thread though the eye of the needle.

Crewel Wool

To thread a single strand of crewel wool i.e. Appleton's crewel wool do not try to push the end of the crewel wool into the needle as it is too fluffy and will not go through.

Fold the end of the crewel thread over so that the thread is double and pinch the end of the thread between your thumb and forefinger so that it a sharp bend.

As with any embroidery thread, do not lick the thread as this will make the thread wet and dirty (transferring lip stick or gloss to the thread), if the thread gets wet or dirty so will the fabric.

Hold the doubled end of the thread between your thumb and fore finger so that only the very end of the end of the thread is showing (much like seeing a splinter just protruding from the skin). With the other hand aline the opening of the eye of the needle so that it is facing the thread and push the eye of the needle down onto the end of the thread.  Wiggle the end of the thread into the eye of the needle and then from the other side of the eye of the needle carefully pull the end of the thread through the eye of the needle.

Threading Tip

Some needles are easier to thread from one side of the needle than the other because of the way the hole of the needle has been stamped out in the manufacturing process. It is not obvious to see which side of the needle to thread the thread though as the needle can be very small. If you having troubles threading the needle from side try turning the needle over and threading the other side.


KEEPING THE EMBROIDERY CLEAN

Clean hands

The most important factor is always to have clean hands. If the embroidery does not get dirty then you will not have to wash it. Washing embroideries can take the luster out of the stitches.

Plastic covering

When working the embroidery in a frame cover the embroidery with a sheet of clear plastic by pinning it to the frame or fabric. Cut windows in the plastic for different areas of the embroidery that you will be working on. Cut three sides to the window to create a plastic. Stick the flap back using tape to the surrounding plastic so that only a small area of the embroidery is exposed.

When you have worked the area, place the flap back over the embroidery and stick in place to the surrounding plastic and move onto the next area of the embroidery with its own window.

You can use the clear plastic bags that kits come in or some hardware stores carry rolls of clear plastic.

Tissue paper

When framing up the fabric in the beginning, also frame a piece of white acid free tissue paper with the fabric. Place the tissue paper over the fabric, put the two together on the frame. When the fabric has been framed you can cut away a window in the tissue paper (where the design is), and the surrounding tissue will protect the fabric underneath from getting dirty. The tissue paper needs to be acid free because if the embroidery is left for a long time, the acid from ordinary tissue paper can soak into the fabric and will eventually turn the fabric brown and rot it.

Sheets

Old sheets ripped into pieces make good dust covers and can be pinned into the frame with the embroidery on the stretcher bar frames, scroll bars and slate frames.

Food and Drink

I know it is obvious, but it is so tempting to have a cup of coffee or even water next to your embroidery for a quick sip. Unfortunately when a spill happens it can ruin not just the embroidery but your whole week. All the time and effort spent should not be wasted from one silly mistake. I now never have food or drink near by while doing my embroidery as spitting food on your work is not a mistake you want to make, I know!

Be safe rather than sorry. Keep all food and drink far away from your work and wash your hands whenever you have left your embroidery and come back to it. There may be greasy stains left on the last object you touched by happy fed children or husbands that can be transferred onto your work area.

Blood

If you get blood on your work, immediately take a length of sewing thread (e.g. polyester thread), roll it into a ball and pop it in your mouth wetting it with your own saliva, it should be wet but not dripping. Put a piece of kitchen towel, tissue or piece of white cloth under the embroidery to act as a blotter then rub the wet ball of thread over the blood spot, you may have to repeat this a couple of times. The enzymes in your saliva react with your own blood and dissolves it. This process needs to be done before the blood drys for it to be totally successful. 

Occasionally a water mark may be left depending on the type of fabric you are working on. It is difficult to remove a water mark if one is left, even after washing the mark can remain, but more than likely you will be lucky enough not to have a water mark. A water mark is also less noticeable than a blood stain.

WASHING EMBROIDERIES

Try to avoid washing your embroidery as this could cause damage to your work.

Instances: If the fabric that the embroidery is being worked on is not prewashed then that fabric could shrink and the embroidery stitches stay the same, leaving the background fabric puckered. Also if the fabric or embroidery threads are died i.e. a red the dye can run.

Washing a piece of embroidery can take the luster out of the embroidery stitches leaving the stitches dull or worn looking.

If washing is very necessary: I have two different types of neutral PH washing soaps that do not have phosphates, perfumes or oils. Dilute the required amount of soap in luke warm water.

Test a section of the embroidery or fabric with a damp cloth to see if the colour in the embroidery threads or fabric will run. This can happen with older embroideries or embroideries worked with over dyed floss and silks. The most commonly known colour to run is red. Please be-aware that the fabric can water mark.

Submerge the embroidery in the water, agitating it gently but not screwing the embroidery into a ball as this will cause wrinkles which can be hard to remove.

When the embroidery looks clean, remove the embroidery gently and rinse the embroidery clean of all soap. Lay the embroidery out flat on a clean white towel which will absorb some of the water and allow to dry.

If there are wrinkles in the embroidery when it has dried then place the embroidery onto a soft white clean towel with the right side of the embroidery against the towel. Place a piece of tissue paper on the wrong side of the embroidery which is facing out. Choose the iron setting appropriate for the fabric and threads of the embroidery, if you are not sure set the iron on a low heat to start with and increase the heat gradually if necessary.

Gently iron the embroidery with the tissue paper between the iron and the embroidery. The tissue paper acts as extra protection incase the iron is to hot and burns the fabric or if there is a residue on the bottom of the iron that accidentally gets transferred onto the embroidery.

If wrinkles remain in the fabric, they will likely be removed when mounting the embroidery on a piece of acid free board ready to go into a frame.


EMBROIDERY TIME

Allocating

If you are working one of my kits, you may find it fairly daunting or challenging when starting the kit.

These embroidery fears will disappear once you have put some embroidery time into the piece, you will gain confidence and become a more capable embroiderer.

The fun of my kits is that the stitches are not monotonous, but it may take some practice to get the stitches looking right. Have a practice piece of muslin/calico fabric for the free stitches, practice the stitch until you are happy and then work on the real thing. Set aside an hour without too much distraction so you can really get into the embroidery. Try to do more than five minutes at a time as the progress will be slowed and this can make the embroidery look daunting.

Some of the embroideries you will be able to do in front of the TV (i.e. Hapsburg lace, tassels) however, others with background noise only, such as the radio or listening to the TV (i.e. Needle painting and Modern Jacobean).

As you begin you embroidery it may appear that it is not gaining in size. Even after a few hours the embroidery may not seem very impressive, do not worry. I often think this when I am designing a piece, but I continue on and I am usually very pleased with the end result. If you find yourself flailing, do not put the embroidery away for a few months and forget about it as it will be hard to get back into. Keep at it, as it gets easier as you go and you will be pleased with yourself when it is completed and soon you will be addicted.


EMBROIDERY TOOLS

The following are the basic tools you will need to work one of my kits.

  • Sharp pair of small embroidery scissors - fine pointed tip to the scissors are best i.e. Gingher Embroidery Scissors. It is a good idea to invest in a good pair of embroidery scissors which will last you years.

  • Embroidery frame (Optional but preferred i.e. Stretcher Bar Frames which are inexpensive and easy to assemble)

  • A sharp HB pencil.

The following are some additional tools that could be useful when working one of my kits.

  • Extra Needles - all kits have one needle but it is good to have spares. Spare packets of needles can be ordered from me when ordering the kits.

  • Needle threaders

  • Magnifier

  • Good lighting - i.e. daylight or daylight bulb in a embroidery lamp. The lights I recommend for needlework are the OTT-LITE which have a natural colour light.

  • A pair of pointed Tweezers - for easy unpicking and for Gold work kits.


FINISHING THE EMBROIDERY

When an embroidery is finished the most satisfying thing is to see it framed. If you are mounting and framing the embroidery yourself or having a professional framer to do it, ensure that the embroidery is mounted on a piece of acid free board. (If the board is not acid free the acid in the board will gradually discolour the embroidery fabric and threads and rot them). This also applies to the mat boards that decorate the embroidery.

Check with your framer as to how they are going to mount your embroidery. It is better that the embroidery is pinned (with rust proof pins) or laced onto the board rather than stapled or glued as some framers do. (Staples may rust, and glue may discolour the fabric and neither are not good for keeping the embroidery at an even tension). It is important to check that the framer uses acid free board or foam core. It should be acid free throughout the entire board not just the surface.

A good framer should be able to mount the embroidery so that the background fabric is tight and will not pucker over time. The framer should also be aware that fluff and stray threads may cling to the embroidery and that the embroidery should be carefully cleaned before putting the embroidery into the frame. The surface of the embroidery can be brushed clean with a soft baby brush or by using the sticky side of masking tape to lift off any fibres.


INSTRUCTIONS ON MOUNTING AN EMBROIDERY

To ensure that a finished embroidery is mounted correctly to go into a picture frame it is often best if we can do it ourselves so that we know that it is mounted onto acid free board with out glues or tape that can cause acid erosion over time. It also allows us to purchase a premade frame saving money on custom framing costs. A lot of the designs that I sell will fit well in 8 inch by 10 inch frames or larger with a 8 inch by 10 inch mat board.

The following webpage explains in detail how to mount a piece of embroidery ready to go into a picture frame: Mounting Embroidery

If you have any any queries about the topics covered above please Contact me 

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Tanja Berlin © Berlin Embroidery Designs  

Address: 1481 Hunterbrook Road NW, Calgary, Alberta T2K 4V4, Canada Telephone: (403) 274 6293  Email: tanja@berlinembroidery.com