Wednesday, December 29, 2010

In Stitches: Embroidery!

Take your needle, my child, and work at your pattern; it will come out a rose by and by. Life is like that; one stitch at a time taken patiently, and the pattern will come out all right, like embroidery.
~Oliver Wendell Holmes
My Embroidery Mosque!

As a child it wasn't uncommon for me to receive an embroidery kit for my birthday. But like most sewing projects given to a child, I never finished them. I do, however, remember on occasion stitching my own picture on cloth, usually rolling hills with a road and the rainbow that seems to make it into most eight year old girls' drawings.

But the most memorable Embroidery experience I had was when I was 15 and going through my flower child phase. My parents announced that we would be taking a road trip to California (Hippie Heaven!) to visit my Aunt and Uncle in San Francisco, so I passed the three day long haul in the back of the car embroidering a pair of my Dad's old jeans I had cut into shorts- with flowers, peace signs, hearts, "love", "Peace" and a John Lennon "Imagine" Sketch on the bum pocket. The more those shorts were worn and torn, the better they looked (from my perspective) and I think at one point they probably dragged themselves off to Paris to be buried next to Jim Morrison in his grave.

And then I pretty much forgot about embroidery as a skill until my instructor announced we would be doing some embroidery next term. So I bought a small arsenal of coloured threads to play with over the Christmas break, because afterall, I've got a pretty good teacher in house- My Mum.

My Mother's intricate and perfect embroidery work.

My mother likes to do Brazilian Embroidery, which is a very intricate and obsessive kind of craft. The threads are wound in such a way that 3D images can be created and the result is often a symphony of beautiful flowers. As mum sat with me one morning with her books and her threads out on her lap, she excitedly showed me how she created some of these things. Perplexed, I had some flashbacks to knitting. Winding threads is obviously not a skill I have mastered! But I did get French knots and bullions down pretty easily so I figured those might come in handy. Thanks, Mum!

More of my mum's work- the pink flowers are made from wrapping a lot of thread around the needle and carefully sliding it onto the main thread, creating a long worm like embroidery structure (For lack of a better term.)

Mum also chastised me for buying cheap cotton thread made in Shanghai. Apparently rayon thread is more slippery and easier to slide into beautiful embroidered structures, but Mum and I have a slightly different colour palette, as you will see!

My first attempt! Not too pretty. The one in the middle is embroidered, and the other two are block prints. I practiced top stitching but decided it was done without finishing, since I already knew how to improve it the second time around.

I decided it would be interesting to do something with Indian henna designs, and since I already have one of my favourite designs in the shape of a block print, I block printed some cheap unbleached cotton to practice on. The first one was a bit of a disaster- the material was too cheap and thin and left a gaping hole wherever the thread went through and pulled a little. I also didn't have clue what I was doing so I began to top stitch the design, leaving a little gap of material between the stitches, but it looked awful. so I stitched back over it and tried to cover up the gaps. Also not a great idea. In the end, I top stitched it to two block prints and saved it in my book as my first embroidery attempt.

My second attempt! I doubled up the material which worked much better. The black dots are french knots and you can see I lack my mother's skill in creating bullions with cotton thread. (The little orange spike coming off the orange tear drops.) Oh well! Practice!

It wasn't wasted time though, because I worked a few things out and the next day, as I recovered from having a tooth pulled, the dog and I spent the day on the couch, her watching me carefully make a stitch and bring the thread up in the middle of the last stitch to create a continuous line. I switched up colours, which is something I obviously can't do when I block print the design. This little design is probably the size of the palm of my hand, and it took me a few hours just to complete this!

My mosque before I embroidered it: Appliqued with shiny rich, Arabic looking taffeta.

Since I had some scraps from my applique blanket project, I next appliqued a mosque with the idea of perhaps one day making this into a pillow, but first it will adorn my textile book. Then I took my new found french knot skills and experimented with some stitches, and put all the fine details on this little mosque.

I played with bringing a stitch through a loop creating a little zig zag pattern. A good way to fill up a space with pattern!

As you can see it's hard for me to embroider in a uniform way, but I like the wonkiness of the stitches.

Embroidery has been around since most people started wearing clothes and realised the little stitches that held the cloth together could also be used for decoration. The Ancient Egyptians, Phoenicians, Babylonians and Hebrews all used Embroidery to embellish their clothes, adding beads, buttons and shells and even bones to the design. A person's wealth was often measured in how much embroidery adorned their clothes. These days, in Africa, The Middle East and India, embroidery is still alive and well, though much of it is machine made these days. I particularly love Suzanis, embroidered pieces meant for a young girl's dowry- widely available in Turkey but most likely produced in one of the "-Stans" (Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan etc.)

I took this picture from a sweet little blog post of Suzanis. You can click here to read it and see the picture in it's original post.

After doing a little embroidery, I now understand the amount of finicky work that goes into the process, and if I were so inclined to buy a suzani, I would happily buy one knowing it was worth every cent when looking at the amount of work that goes into one.

But then I look a little further and think, maybe my embroidery career isn't quite over yet! Perhaps I've got a little pillow poking in my future!
From Lille's Shop! Click here.


  1. Ok, I am officially a life-long fan of anything your hand touches...haha. It's not fair that you got so many skills!! Did you just keep getting back in line??
    I want to commission one of these but can you stuff the material slightly to make it more 3D? A3 your price... :))) Love love love your stuff. Miss you. xxx

  2. Anything for you Claire! ; ) Miss you too. xx

  3. All this stuff rocks, and makes me think perhaps i should pick up the needle and thread and give it one more stab.... after all, I have the time!

  4. Very nice blog. It contains very nice information. I am a big lover of ikat and suzani fabrics,. It really a very good options for decoration purpose. ikat throw pillows

  5. I love what you have done here ......I hope you do more of this and share it with us .