To celebrate the launch of Bustle & Sew embroidery patterns on SewandSo, we asked Bustle & Sew founder and all-round creative goddess Helen to share her top 10 tips for perfect embroidery… from keeping floss in the fridge (yes really!) to a clever way to make sure no one uses your scissors…
Hello, my name’s Helen and I’m the designer behind the Bustle & Sew bunny! I love hand embroidery and have been stitching for as long as I can remember. Both my mum and grandma were very talented embroiderers and I learned literally at my mother’s knee. Hand embroidery is great because it’s so easy to try for yourself – you don’t need any expensive tools and equipment, just some fabric, a needle and thread, and possibly a hoop. It’s an easy hobby to take around with you too as it’s so portable, it’s so simple to just stuff your project into a bag and take it along when you’re on the move.
I love that embroidery looks so pretty and yet is so hard wearing and practical. I’m still using household linens embroidered by my grandma before I was born! So when I’m working on a design I always try to think of how the finished project can be incorporated into a useful item – whether that’s a bag, cushion, quilt – or anything at all really. I like my work to be used and handled every day, to have a life of its own, and I don’t mind if it should become a little worn or tatty as that’s a good excuse to stitch some more!
I haven’t always been able to spend all my time designing and stitching though as I worked full-time in an office for 30 years, during which time I raised my daughter. All of this left very little time for sewing, just a few moments snatched from a busy schedule either late at night or weekends. Now, through Bustle & Sew, and the internet, I am able to spend all my time doing something I really love. So I guess you could say that 30 years’ worth of ideas are bursting out of me now! Also, I am the sort of person who can’t bear to sit and do nothing – I always have to have something to do with my hands. When my daughter Rosie was little, I used to knit and sew for her – I think her most demanding request was for a cardigan – featuring sparkly buttons and dancing mice! (I managed in the end). I still find myself sewing for her (and now my new little grandson) even now she’s all grown up!
Over a lifetime’s stitching I’ve discovered some very useful hints and tips that help my work progress more smoothly, and I’d like to share a few with you now …
- It’s always worth taking the time to neaten the edge of your embroidery before beginning work. If you don’t do this then the edges may fray and the threads become caught up in the back of your work or even roll inwards so you end up accidentally stitching through two layers of fabric and have to unpick your work.
- When you are trying to match thread and fabric, unroll a length from the spool and lay it on your fabric rather than placing the whole spool on top. This will give you a much better match.
- If you have trouble threading your needle hold it against a light coloured background or against the light from a window so you can see the eye more easily. And remember that today’s needles have the eye stamped out, so one side will be rougher than the other. If you’re really having problems, then try turning your needle around and threading it from the other side.
- Tape measures have a tendency to stretch a little over time. So when you’re measuring up for your project be sure to use the same one all the way through or you may find inaccuracies creeping into your work.
- When the season for Christmas stitching comes around again it’s worthwhile remembering that if you keep your metallic floss in the fridge (yes really!) it’s much easier to work with when you’re adding a little sparkle to your seasonal projects.
- Tie a piece of bright ribbon or fabric to the handle of your fabric shears, then all the family will know they are for fabric only and won’t “borrow” them for cutting paper etc.
- When beginning a thread on a fabric that’s quite an open weave, use an away waste knot. This is a knot on the surface of your fabric at least 3” away from your stitching and not in the area you’ll be working on. You can cut the knot later and re-thread the tail then weave it into the surrounding stitched area to secure the end.
- When beginning a thread on a firmly woven fabric use an in-line waste knot. This is a knot placed directly in the line of your stitching about 1½” away from your starting point. Work your first stitches over the tail to secure, then cut off the knot and continue stitching as usual.
- My grandma always used to say that the back of the work should be as neat as the front. I’m sorry to say that I don’t often (if ever!) achieve that, but I do try to keep the back of my work as neat and tidy as possible. Stray threads can tangle or get caught in the back of your needle and get carried through to the front of your work. They may even be a sign of loose stitches that could spoil your work, or may show through to the front when you’ve finished.
- If you’re working on a project that will need to be laundered when in use after it’s finished, then be sure to wash the fabrics you’re planning to use before you begin stitching so that they won’t shrink afterwards. Carefully iron out any creases before you begin. This will make it easier to stitch evenly and ensure that you don’t end up with wrinkles that you can’t remove afterwards.