In Stitches: A Series on the Art of Embroidery

Hello! My name is Lasercats (Maggie) and I have agreed to share my secrets to creating amazing pieces of embroidery. When you think about embroidery, what is the first image that pops in to your head? Is it an old woman stitching flowers on a handkerchief on the porch of her country home? Is it the bright and colorful designs found on traditional Latin American clothing? Is it done by a machine to add monograms to apparel? The answer to all of these questions is yes! But embroidery is so much more. It is an extremely versatile art form which, with thanks to several pioneering artists, is reaching a larger audience than ever before. New supplies and techniques are changing the face of embroidery, both as a hobby and an art form. In this blog series, I will go over a brief history of embroidery and discuss the necessary supplies and techniques to develop your own skills as an artist with the needle.


A Beautiful example of Hand Embroidery from Kazakhstan

Historically, embroidery served not only as a means of embellishment, but storytelling as well. The Bayeux Tapestry tells of the events leading up to the Norman conquest of England in 1070. It still hangs today, continuing to tell people of all ages the history of the conquest through both text and images.

The Bayeux Tapestry, ca 1070

To begin embroidery, you will need a few supplies, which are all easy to find and very inexpensive:

  • Embroidery hoop: You can find balsa wood hoops at most craft stores for under $2 each. They do not keep fabric as taught as more expensive hoops, but they are fine for getting started. If embroidery seems to be your thing, you can purchase a plastic hoop for about $10, or the awesome QR snap frame at about $20.
  • Needles: The type of needle you use is up to you. I prefer crewel needles, because their eyes are just large enough to fit a full six-strand embroidery thread. I have found that embroidery needles’ eyes are too small, but that is a personal preference.
  • Thread: Embroidery floss runs about $.30 per skein and comes in every color of the rainbow. It consists of six strands wrapped together. The strands can be split to provide variety in the sizes of your stitches. That technique will be explained in a later entry.
  • Fabric: This is the most versatile supply, because you can use virtually any fabric you want. If you want a blank canvas, I suggest white or natural muslin or poplin, which is inexpensive and easy. Keep your eyes peeled for old sheet sets at garage sales and thrift stores, because they yield a lot of fabric for a low price, and the fabric is often pretty and soft.

Our first project will be a simple heart sampler. Next week, you will learn how to transfer a pattern, use an embroidery hoop, and two beginning stitches. A starter kit from my etsy store includes a hoop, a square of fabric, an iron-on pattern, two needles, and three shades of embroidery floss for $10, plus shipping. It will be available next weekend for purchase.

In the meantime, check out Sublime Stitching for some beautiful and really user-friendly patterns. Jenny Hart started Sublime Stitching out of her Austin home in 2001, and her designs have been driving the DIY trend ever since. By partnering with contemporary artists such as Tara McPherson and Ryan Brinkley, she is giving exposure to art as well as encouraging the intersection of craft and artistry. Her work is “Not your Gramma’s embroidery,” but it can still be fun!

from Sublime Stitching's set of patterns by artist Ryan Berkley, who loves putting animals in clothes.

Needle work can be dark, mysterious, or just plain rude as well. Cross stitch, which is slightly different from embroidery but equally easy to do, provides the old-fashioned look that we all recognize from family homes. Subversive Cross Stitch and Steotch have both updated the antiquated look of cross stitch with awesomely vulgar and hilarious works, a testament to the true versatility of the craft.

Blending pop Culture, Humor, and classic stitching is was Steotch does best.



Of course, if you’re only interested in stitching some dainty daisies around the edge of a pillow case, that’s okay too! Like most hobbies, the possibilities range from the simple to the impossibly complicated. Check back next week for the first lesson in transferring a pattern, putting your fabric in a hoop, and your very first stitches!


13 replies on “In Stitches: A Series on the Art of Embroidery”

So excited for this series! After a recent death in the family, I thought it would be really nice to embroider some handkerchiefs for the ladies but realized I didn’t have any idea what to do. I’m looking forward to this!

Can I vote for both “inspired” and “tickled”? I love this article! I’m good with handwork and would like to do some embroidery (I’ve only done needlepoint and cross-stitch so far, and I love them both.) I have 2 quilts to get done this year first, though. :)

Is Jenny Hart of Sublime Stitching featured in that Handmade Nation documentary I saw? I think maybe that’s her? I really liked the woman who ran the embroidery business in that film.

I sometimes bristle at the “not your Grandma’s embroidery (or whatever)” message that I encounter now and again in contemporary craft, though. I have a lot of respect for craft traditions and I like traditional design. And I always think: shut up, I love my Grandma! Ha ha. (I hope it’s clear this isn’t directed to you at all!)

I think the “Not your grandma’s…” has less to do with dissing grandmas and more to do with how stuck in a rut crafting had become, and the fact that fiber arts in particular pretty much skipped a generation. I love my grandma too, but I think she would  be the first to agree that a sampler of the word “Fuck” was not her kind of cross stitch.

What is the name of your Etsy store? I want to look!

I have been cross-stitching for years and years, but embroidery has always eluded me. When you asked, “What is the first image that pops into your head?” my answer was “A printed pattern of grapes and some jacked up stitches, all seen through a red mist of rage.” I will be following along, in hopes of conquering my crafty Goliath.

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