Embroidery for Idle Hands

When I was a child, my mom would bring out my embroidery stuff when; she felt my idle hands need to be filled with something positive. To this day, I carry my embroidery with me to do while waiting for a doctor’s appointment. After getting an allergy shot, I have to wait 30 minutes to make sure that I don’t have a reaction, so I take my embroidery to work on. On Sundays, I take my embroidery work to do if I get a bit sleepy or at coffee hour as I talk to friends – old or new.

Embroidery can facilitate a lot of conversations, as well. I was sitting at a table embroidering a large turtle in blues and reds last Sunday and I had lots of people stop by and make comments on its uniqueness. I began embroidering more than a year ago when I did a workshop at my church. Lots of people joined me for several weeks and a few still come. At my church in Franklin, MA, I hold a workshop on Thursdays that I call: Art & Soul. This weekly workshop runs from September through May. It is open for just about any art form, and fiber arts is very popular.

The turtle design is just an outline, which allows a lot of creativity. Using the ideas from Designing Your Own Project add to the blank areas of the turtle shell, legs and head. You can also look at pictures of turtles online to get ideas. I’m doing mine using mainly the Chain Stitch.

Download Turtle Design by right-clicking on picture below:


Using a transfer pen, draw over the lines. You can fix some of the overlapping or lines that aren’t perfect using your transfer pen. All lines you put on your turtles will transfer.

Turn the transfer face down on topside of youe fabric, and then, iron (on linen or highest heat setting, no steam). Carefully check to see if your design is transferring. If the design is sticking to the fabric, this is a good sign. Lift up slightly around several edges to see if it is transferring evenly. If not, carefully put edges down and continue to iron, especially in places that are transferred too lightly. When transferred, pull up an edge and remove design from fabric. Put into an embroidery hoop, select thread(s) desired. Begin embroidery.

Notice on my finished design, that I broke up the back of the turtle into sections. There is no right or wrong way to do this. I simply used a thread that I deemed as the outline color and divided up the turtle. Please note that the bottom edge is sort of fluted. Divide this off from the back of the turtle.

If you aren’t sure how you want to create your turtle, look at pictures of turtles online. Turtles can be very colorful or very drab. Look at the patterns that are natural on turtles. Taking it to the next level, thing about squared off spirals or spirals. Filling in the square/uneven squareish spaces with one color or variegated thread, then doing the spiral in a contrasting color to make it stand out can be nice, such as a brown variegated thread with a contrasting color of orange. You can basically do that to all the squares or sections, except for the center. I made a circle or more like an oval in the middle of the shell, and then, I made those squareish spaces radiating around the oval. This can be completely different to all the other squares.

I’ve done a similar turtle design where the circular center space is the sun! There are an endless number of different ways to do this same outline of a turtle.

Have fun!

Embellishing Clothing

Embellishing clothing should not be your first embroidery projects. However, when you feel you’ve achieved a certain level of expertise, go for it.

Here is a recent project of mine. I took a purchased jacket that was plain. I put flowers on the front side and a tree on the back. I did the flowers freehand without drawing them on.

On the back, I put a tree design with curly cues in it. I started with a stock design, but it didn’t transfer well…so I couldn’t see the lines. It was a darker fabric, which absorbs the color of the transfer pen. I had some general idea how the tree was supposed to look, so I simply created what I thought was on that design. I’d say it was the further embellishments that make the designs on this jacket stand out.

On the front side, I put colorful gems in the middle of the flowers. On the back side I put many gems of different sizes and colors. People call the tree, the tree of life. I think just about any tree design could be called that.

Finding the Spiritual Through Embroidery

While embroidering has a certain joy and satisfaction factored in, there is a spiritual side to embroidery. It’s a very zen sort of activity. While concentrating on the needle going in and out of the fabric, you can experience a spiritual moment, connect with cosmic oneness. Simply put, follow the needle and experience the journey fully.

Get comfortable, maybe even close your eyes. Take three cleansing breaths by breathing in and slowly breathing out. Open your eyes and watch yourself take a stitch then visualize yourself as the thread.

This is the ultimate zen experience, but you do have to have to surrender yourself and immerse in the moment!

Designing Your Own Project

If you are even the least bit creative, you can draw your own design, transfer it to fabric and embroider it. Okay, well, I do know not everyone has drawing skills. Here’s another way:

Step 1: Put some cloth into a hoop, any size will do. However, smaller might be good for your first attempt.

Step 2: Your hoop makes a nice circle. Take a pencil or transfer pen, mark around the circle. Now, draw an irregular mark across the circle (up and down), then across it again (side to side).

Step 3: Now, you have four sections. Depending on how large they are, you can divide again. Or, you can doodle in the section. See example, below.

First Projects

Your first project should not be difficult. There are plenty of kits available with printed design on the fabric. Often these come with embroidery thread, as well as a stitch guide, so you don’t have to work hard at finding something that is fun to do, as well as being doable.

Samplers are a good way for beginners to learn different stitches. Don’t be afraid to learn new stitches. There are lots of videos on the Internet that show you how to do just about any stitch. However, don’t get hung up on learning lots and lots of stitches. You can do an entire piece using just one or two stitches. I’ve done plenty of pieces using just the chain stitch!

Fabrics for embroidery can really be just about anything. However, I always suggest linen, especially for beginners, simply because the fabric is a little looser, so it makes the needle and thread go through easier. After you get the hang of it, you’ll be able to embroider on most fabrics.