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One stitch at a time: embroidery

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On the weekend, a dear friend asked me about the embroidery technique I had used in some recent pictures I posted to Facebook.

Luckily, I had run a tutorial on embroidery some years ago for a Brown Owl’s session, so had already done a tutorial sheet, which I will happily share with you.

Image of an embroidery of a ship

The image I posted to facebook













Let me just point out here that I pretty much taught myself to embroider, and I am sure that if an embroidery elder saw my work, she (or he, I guess) would probably have a fit!  I like my embroidery to be fairly fluid, freehand and I am not too worried if the fabric puckers, or the patterns shows through the stitching. I enjoy the process.

Usually my designs are in block colours and fairly simple, with very few details or small areas (although I am getting better at that). I usually free hand my design using a normal fineline, black art pen or a non-fading fabric pen (keep in mind you might want to wash the final product, so you have to use something that won’t run….much). I find the non-fading types are the best as you might take months to complete your embroidery, and you don’t want your design to fade halfway through. The other method I use is to sketch the design on paper, then use some transfer paper from Sublime Stitching (they have white transfer paper too, so you can use dark fabric). By the way, these guys are fantastic! they have the radest patterns (their tag is ‘this ain’t your Gramma’s embroidery’!) and the most beautiful threads and accessories. Definitely worth checking out, especially if you are not so confident at drawing/designing and you don’t want to contemplate the complete yawn-fest of designs at spotlight and lincraft.


I know there are special embroidery fabrics out there, but they seem to cost a fortune. I usually go for something light, cotton or linen, with a reasonably large weave. Seems to work just fine.


I use a size 6 embroidery needle. But experiement. That might not work for you.

Fabric onto hoop

You will need a hoop. I go for the good old fashioned cane ones, as they are cheap and you can usually find them at the op shop.

–       Separate the two sections of hoop

–       Position fabric over smaller section of hoop and place larger hoop over top

–       Tighten screw half way

–       Pull fabric so that fabric has no creases

–       Tighten screw all the way so that fabric won’t move as you are sewing.

If tightening that ridiculous metal screw on the embroidery hoop is too much for your fingers, get one of those rubber page turner things that secretaries use, turn it inside out, place it over the screw and the little rubber bumps will turn it for you.


Embroidery thread (sometimes called ‘floss’) is made up of lots of individual strands. Depending on what kind of stitch, or thickness you need, one or more can be threaded. I use one strand doubled over for most of my work. Check out markets and op shops too. Sometimes people get rid of their old thread.

– To help separate the threads, pat the top of your length, the threads will part making it easier to separate.

– To get one thread out, simply grab the thread you want in your fingers with one hand and use the other hand to pull the other threads down. Do it slowly and it helps not to have a super long length.

– Don’t forget to knot the thread.

Time to stitch!

There are heaps of complicated stitches out there. If your are only wanting to fill in a design, with no fancy raised bits, these stitches will get you there.

Split Stitch

Is pretty much all I use! its fast. And sexy.

BAck Stitch

Satin Stitch

Check out YouTube- there are so many instructional videos on there it isn’t funny! Sublime Stitching also has a delicious range of books.

Some Tips:

  • Don’t drink red wine and embroider. Drink white, it doesn’t stain.
  • Be super OCD about your threads. If you get serious, you will end up with ton and keeping them in containers or bags will mean they won’t get tangled
  • Be kind to your eyes, especially if you embroider at night. A good lamp is the best.
  • Be prepared to stuff up. knotted threads, lame designs, paw prints on your fabric are all apart of the journey- go with it!
  • Find a good framer. If you create something amazing, you’ll want to preserve it. (I use these guys)


Photo of embroider

Example of an Embroidery Elder’s work- my great Grandmother did this… by candle light


Please share! If you are an Embroidery Elder, I would LOVE to hear from you!






Penny Pinching

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It suddenly dawned on us this year that if we were going to get anywhere in life, we would have to start watching our spending and putting some money aside for the important grown up purchases that everyone seems so bothered with.

It kind of sound like a new years resolution, with it being a new direction in life and the beginning of the new year and all…. but I personally really dislike the idea of a new years resolution. Why does new things in your life always have to start Jan 1? wouldn’t it be better to space them out throughout the year so you get to enjoy the newness all year round? And why are they always all about loosing weight, getting healthy and general boring stuff? Surely that should be a beginning of every day resolution?*

(* this is not, of course, a go at those wonderful people who have used the beginning of a new year to redesign their lives for the better. I salute you! Keep up the good work, you are awesome!)

So anyway, random rants aside, I turned our decision to reduce spending into an opportunity for some creative boundaries. Usually I see something bright and shine somewhere, get all excited, and embark on a shopping trip to Spotlight where I put a considerable dent in the credit card. Not only is this bad for the bank balance, the environment takes a bit of a beating as well. New fabric, haberdashery and all of the bits and pieces you buy because you think it will make you a crafty genius, take considerable amounts of resources, carbon and electricity to make. SO the new rules in my studio are;

  • No buying of new fabric/ribbon/beads/embroidery floss. It all must be sourced from my own collection, swapped or brought from an op shop.
  • Recycle as much as possible. Break down old projects or things that have been discarded if needed.
  • Organise. This might sound a bit odd, but if you are organised and know exactly what you have in your studio, the condition its in and how much is left, you are less likely to buy new products out of laziness, or not being able to find them.
  • If new things need to be brought, it has to come out of the Craft Fund (essentially a can of coins! no fancy investment funds here!)
    The Craft Fund

    The Craft Fund

    Rhonda Hetzel’s book ‘Down to Earth‘ really helped me come to this decision. She has some great things to say about attitudes towards money and spending which really put some things into perspective for me. It’s funny how  you can know something in principal, but when it comes to translating that to action, there is that little missing link. Rhonda’s book filled in some of those missing links for me.

“I thought it was normal to have everything I wanted… we are encouraged to think that way. The average Western lifestyle always gives you need things to crave; it keeps encouraging you to spend beyond your means. That will never change, you will have to change instead (p 48)”


(You can find Rhonda’s blog here)

I am pretty sure I will break these rules at some stage, but I think boundaries can help the creative juices along!

What do you think? I would love to hear your thrifty crafty tales!

Insanity and the bookcase

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I haven’t posted for a while now and there is a very good reason for that…. University, and lots of it. The assignments are flying thick and fast, not the mention the lectures, readings and general stress that comes with a Master’s degree.

In the middle of all this madness I come up with the awesome idea of downsizing my collection of craft/art supplies and tools and relocating them to the bookcase/ study and transforming the studio into a library/wine nook/ general de-stressing zone (I was envisioning LOTS of Dr. Who posters as well!). Great idea? Yes!

Then came to the actual doing.  And the severe psychological harm of down sizing a room that essentially has been a haven of hoarding for the past three years. Did I really think I was going to reuse all of those egg cartons? and bits of bias binding rescued from the op shop? Of Course! But I think once the stress of throwing things that I previously thought I couldn’t live without and paring my art/craft practice down to the bare minimum will be a good excercise for the brain and soul. And we will gain a space in the house that is devoted to relaxation and free of electronics and TV.

Bring it on I say!

Organised deliciousness. My plan for the new and improved art/craft storage space. Recycled cardboard boxes covered with fabric. Spray adhesive has been my saviour here, so quick and easy and relatively clean.


Chaos! all of the contents of the book-case and studio in transit. I can’t seem to produce the fabric covered boxes quick enough! Patience is the key here, I think.