Saturday, July 27, 2013

How to Make Decorative Embroidery Stitches for Quilts and Applique

This is Part One (additional tutorials follow next week) - for a printable version, click here

Have you ever been reluctant to try a project that features decorative stitches or hand-embellishing because you weren’t sure how to do the stitches?  If so, you’ve been missing out! Decorative stitches are fun and easy, and I’ve often said that embellishing is my favorite part of creating a new design. Decorative stitches only look complicated, but we’re going to break them down into individual steps so it’s just a matter of bringing your needle up at one point and down at another. Before long, you’ll be happily stitching away and your friends will want to know how you do it! But first, let’s quickly cover the types of threads to use:

Hand-Dyed Embroidery Threads by Barefoot Shepherdess

Threads come in all types of fibers, including cotton, wool, polyester and silk, to name a few. You can also use metallic threads, yarn and just about anything you can string through the eye of a needle. I’ve been asked many times what threads I use for my patterns, so here’s my secret: I use plain old embroidery floss I buy at my local craft or fabric store (yep, that’s as secret it gets). I use embroidery floss because it’s cheap, comes in a gazillion colors and creates a beautiful result, but mostly because I already have a huge basket of it in my workroom. Now, I’ll admit I sometimes get a little fancy and use hand-dyed embroidery floss or lovely threads by Valdini like you’ll see below, but I usually stick to whatever is in my floss basket.  If you’d like to learn how to dye your own embroidery floss (called “overdyeing”), you can find a nice tutorial on my blog at

Valdini Threads

So Let’s Get to It! There are hundreds of decorative stitches, but they all boil down to several basic stitches that are worked with slight variations. We’re going to start with seven of the most popular, and then I’ll show you more stitches in later tutorials coming next week:
  1. Basic Running Stitch
  2. Back Stitch
  3. Blanket Stitch (also known as the Buttonhole Stitch)
  4. French Knot
  5. Cross Stitch
  6. Herringbone Stitch
  7. Daisy Chain (Daisy Stitch; Lazy Daisy; Chain Stitch)
Basic Running Stitch:  This is probably the easiest decorative stitch to learn. It can be worked in straight or curved lines and is used for outlining and making stems and vines.  Bring your needle up from underneath. Next, weave the needle in and out of the fabric, taking two or three evenly-spaced stitches. Pull the needle through and repeat as desired. If I am working with a quilt or other material where I am stitching through layers, I like to make one stitch at a time, rather than loading two or three stitches on my needle at once. Stitching one stitch at a time makes each stitch look fuller and more finished.

Running Stitch
Back Stitch:  This stitch is a variation of the basic running stitch. I use it for outlining, making stems and vines and anywhere that I want a bolder line. Bring your needle up at A, down at B and back up again at C. Pull the needle through and repeat as desired.

Back Stitch
Blanket Stitch (also known as the Buttonhole Stitch):  This popular stitch is often used to finish the edges of baby blankets and when appliqueing on wool. When worked with small stitches, it can also be used for outlining. The stitch is worked from left to right. For a standard-size stitch, bring your needle up from underneath at the edge of your patch or template. Move to the right approximately 1/4”. Push your needle back down through both the patch and the background at a point about 1/4” from the edge of the patch and back up again at the edge of the patch. Be sure to loop the thread under the needle as you complete this stitch. Each stitch should be about the same length and distance apart.  Remember, you can vary the size and width of your stitch depending on your project.

Blanket Stitch
French Knot:  I use french knots for flower centers, bird’s eyes, etc. It can also be used in clusters and worked close together to fill an area, which will produce a textured, nubby result. To make the french knot, bring your needle up from underneath. Hold the needle in one hand and with the other hand wrap the thread around the tip of the needle once and pull it snug around the needle. Wrap the thread around the tip of the needle a second time, again pulling it snug. I often wrap the thread around the tip of the needle a third time so I get a bigger knot, but if you are a beginner I suggest you stick with just two wraps around the needle. Now, while continuing to keep the thread snug around the needle, re-insert the tip of the needle back down into the fabric exactly next to where you came up.  Slowly pull the needle through while your other hand keeps the thread taut. Once the needle has pulled all the way through, use your fingertip to hold the knot in place while you pull the rest of the thread through the fabric. Snug it up so it forms a nice knot and you are finished!

French Knot

Cross Stitch:  There is more than one way to complete the cross stitch. It can be worked one stitch at a time, or it can be worked in rows such as when embroidering large areas on a pillowcase or similar project. To work it one stitch at a time, bring your needle up from underneath at 1 and insert it back down through your fabric at 2. Bring need up at 3 and back down at 4. Repeat the sequence as many times as desired. If you want to work rows of cross stitch to fill an area, work the first half of the stitch all the way along the row and then return and work the second half of the stitch back to the beginning of the row.

Cross Stitch (Illustrated Singly and in Rows)

Herringbone Stitch:  The herringbone stitch is a variation of the basic cross stitch. It is often used to embellish crazy quilts and also often used as a decorative stitch in borders. Bring your needle up from underneath at A and insert it back through your fabric at B. Bring your needle to the front again at C and back down at D. Bring your needle up at E, down at F and back up again at G. Repeat the sequence as many times as desired.

Herringbone Stitch
Daisy Chain (also known as the Daisy Stitch, Lazy Daisy and Chain Stitch: This is a very popular decorative stitch used for outlining and can also be used to create flower stems and other embellishments. If worked in a circular direction, it creates the look of petals on a flower as shown below. To begin, bring your needle up at A and then insert your needle back into the same hole and out at B, carrying your thread under the needle point. Pull your needle on through. Point B is now the beginning point of the next stitch.

Daisy Stitch; Daisy Chain; Chain Stitch

Lazy Daisy

It Looks Complicated, But It’s Not!  Like I said, decorative stitches look complex and hard, but it’s just a matter of bringing your needle up at one point and down at another--easy peasy! In no time at all, you’ll be embellishing your quilts, jackets, pillows and other projects with decorative stitches and your friends will be in awe and wondering how you do it. If you’d like to share your secret, there’s a full-color printable version of these instructions here, and of course you like to share, right?

Be Sure to Check Back Next Week!  I’ll be posting more tutorials on decorative stitches next week, so if you are a late-comer to this blog you’ll be able to locate them by typing “stitch tutorial” or “decorative stitches” into the search box at the top of this blog. I hope you get excited about decorative stitching and embellishing, and remember to relax and enjoy yourself, since creating is part of the fun!  In the meantime, Happy Stitchin’!  xoxo -- Melanie

Friday, July 19, 2013

Do You Wanna Applique? Here's the Easy Way!

My worktable is topped off with a new design I'm going to release soon that features easy wool applique combined with small doses of traditional applique. This pattern will be great if you want a fun, fast project or if you are new to applique and want to get your feet wet.

When I mentioned applique on Facebook recently, I received several comments asking about my applique methods. There are all types of applique, depending on the fabrics and materials you choose, and I'm going to show two of my favorites. There are lots of tutorials on the internet explaining the craft, but many of the techniques and instructions are vague or produce naaaasty results. I'm going to let you in on my secrets to produce perfect applique every time. For ease, I'm breaking my methods into two sections, so you can easily skip up or down this post to the type of applique you're interested in:
  1. Freezer Paper Applique
  2. Hand-Applique with Wool or Woolfelt

Freezer Paper Applique

When I want to do traditional hand applique with quilting fabrics, I always use the freezer paper method. It is simple to do and produces perfect results every time. Some gals like a similar method called "Needle-Turn Applique" (where you turn the edge of the patch under with the tip of your needle as you stitch along), but in my opinion, the simple freezer paper method is the only way to fly. Like anything else, there are lots of ways to do freezer paper applique, but I've found the following is the simplest method and achieves the best results:

Making the Patches:  Trace your pattern template onto the non-shiny side of freezer paper. Carefully cut it out along the traced line and then position it with the wax-side-up against the wrong side of your quilt fabric.  Use a small dab of washable glue to temporarily tack the freezer paper to the fabric. A lot of tutorials recommend expensive fabric glue, but I've had great success with plain old washable glue sticks I find in the crayon section of my local department store. Cut around the template, leaving a scant 1/4" margin of fabric on all sides.

Beginning along one edge, use your fingertip to fold the edge of the fabric over onto the freezer paper, following your fingertip with the point of a hot, dry iron. You may need to carefully clip any curves or points as you work along. The fabric will temporarily fuse to the freezer paper as you work your way around the shape.  Leave the freezer paper there for now; you will remove it in a later step.

Appliqueing the Patches:  I recommend using a small, fine needle (sometimes called a “straw needle”) and a single strand of thread. I go against convention by recommending you use thread that closely matches the background fabric, rather than the patch. Using thread that matches your background fabric tricks the eye and causes it to skip over and miss the stitches, making them nearly invisible. In the picture below, I used a single strand of cream thread for my applique, and it's nearly impossible to see my stitches. If I had used blue thread, it would have shown up against the cream background (no-no!):

Begin by tying a small knot in the end of your thread. I often use plain old embroidery floss, because it comes in almost unlimited colors and I have a huge basket of it in my workroom. Come up from the back and bring your needle up through the background fabric at a point just exactly next to the patch.  Take your needle back down through the very edge of the applique patch, catching only a thread or two of the edge of the patch. Working from right to left so you can see where to next place your needle, move over approximately 2/8” and come back up through just exactly next to the patch, and then back down, again catching just the very edge of the patch with your needle. The intent is to make tiny, controlled stitches for nearly invisible applique. You are going to get a nice rhythm in a very short period of time and you'll find it takes no time at all to finish stitching around your patch with perfect results.

You might notice that I ask you to come up from underneath the patch and then back down through the edge of the patch.  Again, I'm going against convention here, but I find that this method ensures the patch fits snugly and evenly against the background.

Removing the Freezer Paper Backing:  When you are done stitching all the patches to the background, turn your project over so it is face down and cut a small slit in the background fabric just behind each appliqued patch. With tweezers, reach through the slit and remove the freezer paper (if you tug carefully, the freezer paper should come out in one piece). Use a fine needle and a single strand of thread to whip-stitch the slit closed.

Hand-Applique with Wool or Woolfelt

The easiest method of applique is wool applique, which is often used for folkart and primitive projects. You can buy 100% wool off the bolt or internet, or you can recycle it from used clothing. 100% wool needs to be prepared so it does not fray (you can prepare 100% wool by washing it in very warm water, rinsing in cold, and then placing it in the dryer on warm setting until dry). I also like to use a product called "Woolfelt" for projects like the one shown at the top of this post.  Woolfelt is a wool/rayon blend fabric I purchase through Wool Felt Central. Woolfelt does not need any preparation, is ready to use as-is, and comes in many colors.

Making the Patches:  To applique with wool or Woolfelt, place your pattern template pieces face down onto the non‑shiny side of freezer paper (freezer paper has a wax coating on one side and you can usually find it alongside plastic wrap in your local grocery store). Trace around the template pieces and then loosely cut around them, leaving a small waste margin around each piece. Place the freezer paper pieces with the wax-side-down onto the wool or Woolfelt and use a fairly warm iron to briefly bond the freezer paper to the wool. The freezer paper will temporarily stick to the wool, but will not leave a permanent residue.  Once the pieces are ironed to the wool, carefully cut out each piece along the traced lines and peel away the freezer paper.

Lay out your wool pieces against the the fabric you have chosen for the background. When you are satisfied with the layout, use washable glue to temporarily tack the pieces into place so you can stitch around them. Again, you can use expensive fabric glue from your quilting store, but I've had great success with plain old washable glue sticks I find in the crayon section of my local department store. If you make a mistake, carefully remove the wool patch and dab the back with a warm washcloth to remove the glue.

Appliqueing the Patches:  The wool patches are attached to the background with one or two strands of your favorite threads. I like to use two strands of embroidery floss, wool thread or Valdini brand threads. I most often use the "blanket stitch" around the outside edge of each piece, which you can see in the photo above and as illustrated below. The blanket stitch is worked from left to right.  Bring your needle up from underneath at the edge of your patch. Move to the right approximately 1/4”. Push your needle back down through both the patch and the background at a point about 1/4" from the edge of the patch and then come back up again at the edge of the patch.  Be sure to loop the thread under the needle as you complete the stitch.  Each stitch should be about the same length and distance apart:

I finish by embellishing the patches and background with charms, buttons and decorative embroidery stitches:

That Sums It Up . . .

Except . . . you might be wondering how do do all the decorative stitches that are often used to embellish applique, particularly if you are working with wool.  A lot of ladies tell me they don't choose projects that need much embellishing, because they are not sure how to do the stitches.  Coming next week, I'll do some picture tutorials showing you several of the most commonly used stitches, such as the daisy chain, running stitch, feather stitch and many more.

Stay tuned, and leave me a comment or email me if you have any questions. In the meantime, Happy Stitchin'!   xoxo--Melanie