It’s February. That means the start of mud puddle season and maple sugar, but it’s also a good time to spend some time inside doing do-it-yourself projects. And since spring is only a month or two away, I’m feeling the need to add some flower decorations to my current wardrobe. Embroidery is a great method to create fancy patterns on cloth that you can design yourself. Though embroidery is a very old tradition, it is one of the most special pieces of textiles surviving today. This form of stitchery can be found on everything from samplers hundreds of years old to your baseball hats.
The Bayeux tapestry, a massive work of embroidery that depicts the history surrounding the British throne at the time, dates back to 1076. In 1066, the death of the king of England left two possible people who could claim the throne: William, Duke of Normandy, and the Anglo-Saxon, Harold Godwinson, the Earl of Wessex. Thus, began a drawn out struggle between the two men, resulting in Harold’s death in the battle of Hastings and William’s coronation as the king of England.
At twenty-inches high and almost two-hundred-and-thirty-feet in length, the sheer size of the Bayeux tapestry is unbelievable. And over this enormous stretch of fabric are seventy-five separate scenes, each describing in intricate detail the moves the Normans took to conquer the British monarchy. The embroidery itself is crafted using wool yarn sewn into the woven linen cloth. Actually, the name tapestry isn’t quite accurate since the definition of a tapestry is a picture woven into cloth, rather than a cotton or linen that has been embroidered over.
In other examples of embroidery throughout history, girls embroidered beautiful samplers, which would include letters from the alphabet or a bible verse to show their abilities in the craft.
The modern form of cross stitching comes out of this tradition. Developments allowed women of all class situations to purchase embroidery patterns and procure cheaper materials, making the craft more widespread. Today, computer software connected with embroidery machines can create the beautiful patterns we see on everyday street wear.
This brings up an important point—the difference between haute couture and street fashions. In haute couture where clothing is runway-ready, all embroidery is hand done rather than in ready-to-wear fashions, which are mainly machine embroidered. It takes special training to become an haute couture embroiderer, but it is possible with schooling. The professional requirements include being able to work with all types of fabric, bedazzle with buttons and gems, and create a full outfit.
Here are a few tips for getting started with your embroidery. When doing the actual stitching, make sure to have the right fabric so that your thread is not too heavy for its weight and thickness. Often, when embroidering onto already made garments, you won’t have the luxury of being able to deconstruct the clothing item to fit it into an embroidery hoop. It’s really okay in these cases to just embroider onto the clothing without any tension in the cloth. But it is really important when working with stretchy fabrics, even cotton muslin, to pull them taught over a frame before beginning embroidery. One last quick tip is to always sketch what you want your pattern to look like before sewing because it might look really good in your mind, but when you get it on paper, you might find out that it is not doable.
Embroidery is all about creativity, so as long as you have a needle, some thread, a good fabric, a hoop, and your mind, you should be good to go. But just for starters, here are three common and helpful stitches.
The running stitch is a simple one where you poke uniform holes through the stuff of your cloth to create what looks like a dotted line.
The satin stitch is where you create a shape by controlling the length or height of your stitches, putting them all next to each other.
The chain stitch adds a nice bit of texture to your embroidery. It is created by doing a running stitch, but not pulling the thread down tight, and then coming back to where you started the stitch and inserting the needle again. You should create a small loop which you will fasten down by putting the next stitch through that one, creating a chain affect.