A Few Cool Tools for Embroidery

Embroidery is one of those hobbies that can be super cheap to start up.  What do you need other than a bit of leftover fabric, a three dollar hoop and a few 40 cent skeins of thread?  Not much, honestly. You can usually find hoops and bits of thread at garage and church sales, fabric remainders from fashion stores can make great statement pieces, and a pack of needles can last you forever if you take care of them.

But!  Over the years, I have found some tools that are so invaluable to me and the way I stitch that they are worth every penny, and even then are really not that expensive.  A friend of mine is into leather working and can pay upwards of a hundred dollars for a good piece of leather.  I sometimes pay 10 for enough fabric to last me six months.

The first two  items together are my preferred method of transferring patterns onto most everything I stitch.  I use Mona Lisa Super Chacopaper in both white and blue and a tracing stylus from Sublime Stitching to trace it out.  Both these tools have serious advantages over the alternatives.  The chacopaper comes in large sheets, is slightly waxy and best of all, disappears under cold water.  The waxiness helps keep your work clean when you trace out your pattern; tracing paper that is dust based tends to leave everything slightly tainted under the paper, especially where your hand rests.

The chacopaper is super clean and only leaves marks where you want it to.  I have also never had any trouble getting it to fade completely away under a cold tap, unlike some pens and pencils which leave a faint trail, which is especially a problem if you accidently mark up your fabric somewhere you are not intending to stitch.  The tracing stylus has two different round tips, one slightly bigger than the other,  which means you can trace out very dainty designs or a quick outline that you can fill in later.  It doesn’t tear through the paper and doesn’t use up ballpoint pen ink and get your designs all penned up.The above pattern is a Pomegranate in the Round by Mary Corbett of Needlenthread.com.  I was stitching over coffee with a friend, so the stitches aren’t very good.  But look how clear the pale blue lines are!

The best part of using this combo is that there is no tracing involved.  Instead of needing a fabric that is thin enough to see your design through, I can use a heavier twill which holds up to all sorts of stitching types and which doesn’t tear when I tug at a stitch too much (I tend to be a bit tense – this is why I gave up learning to knit and crochet).  You instead layer the fabric, the chacopaper (waxy side down) and your design, and draw on the design with the stylus.  You can tape all these pieces down with a small piece of tape if the design is detailed and might take a while.  I usually like to trace out a batch of stuff at a time and have three four different projects prepped and ready to go.  It makes trips and lazy afternoons even better when I can just pick up a project and run with it.

All my little bits and pieces tend to live in my Namaste Buddy Case, a small teal vegan leather case with a secret: both inside surfaces are magnetic!  That means that if you throw a few needles and a pair of scissors in there and throw it in your bag, you don’t have to worry about anything falling out and poking you.  This has happened more often than I would like to mention before I got this little guy.  The vegan leather feels really nice and the inside is suede-y and soft.  My ferret, Whodini, loves to try and steal it, which is why it has a few toothy battle wounds.  Sigh.

All these products make stitching easier for me.  All of them have paid for themselves time and again, protecting my ferrets from loose needles or allowing me to trace out very difficult patterns on even more difficult fabrics.  They aren’t strictly necessary, but I love them to bits nonetheless.

(None of the shops above have asked for these reviews/endorsements, they are just too cool to miss out on!)

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Tatting Progress!

My adventures in needle tatting are gaining, if not speed, then consistency. I am now getting very few bits of tangled thread that could never pass as tatting. Hurah! Here are a few of the many resources I have been taking advantage of and the resulting bits of tatting.


First off is this piece, which is the pendant part of a necklace by TotusMel over at Instructables. The pendant is slightly baroque and does a good job of introducing beginners to reversing their work, making picots that will be linked up way later on and to clovers, which is the three very tight loops at the bottom of the design. More information about reversing your work can be found on Tatted Treasures as part of their Absolute Beginner Tatting Series. Reversing your work is, until you try it out yourself, super confusing. They key, as far as I figure, is to see not only which way you want your chains to curve but also what side of the work the knot lands on. This is helpful when you are working form a design that includes a picture.

Two-coloured tatting is another Instructable by totusmel. She’s fab. This one is a video, which was fun too. The I had trouble getting the knots between the two colours as tight as I wanted them, and I also found the design a bit flimsy and fold-y where the two colours met. I think I need more practice and maybe to try it with two thinner threads than what I have been using.

I then made this pretty row of flowers (which I am planning to make into a bracelet once I get my hands on the correct latch hooks) following a thong tutorial by agasunset on Instructionables. The thong was really not my cup of tea, but I definitely liked the flowers and the way they tied together. What I changed early on was the order of the work. I started with one flower and finished it off with two knots. I then started my second flower completely separately from the first and attached it as I did the last two chains on the second flower’s edge. What all that meant that I only had an awkward amount of work in my hands for a limited amount of time. I then finished off the second one, started the third separately, rinsed and repeated.

I know that it is a relatively ungraceful way of doing things, and it meant that my bracelet had four closing offs instead of one. I have found that the bigger a project gets, the more easily I get my pulled thread caught as I close a ring or drop it and forget where the heck I was in the pattern. This step by step way of working allowed me to finish a piece without too much stress, and that’s perfect by me. In the same way as I don’t stress about what the back of an embroidery piece looks like, I am not going to stress about how many tiny closing knots are in a piece of tatting. Done!

Venus Fly Trap Crewelwork

I think crewelwork is my favourite type of embroidery.  I love how lush and tactile it is; I love the colours and the variations in feel and pattern.  It can be simple or exquisitely complicated and almost always comes out stunning.  What tends to bug me is the subject matter of crewelwork; floral girliness.  So, I kept the floral, added a bit of meat eating madness, and came up with this:In terms of stitches, the following work only uses three: stem stitch, chain stitch/back stitch combo and little straight stitches.  It only has 11 colours of thread in it.  And yet, the whole thing is soft and nearly alive.

My sister Julie drew out the pattern.  I wanted it to be reminiscent of more traditional patterns, like the ones in my favourite book, The Anchor Book of Crewelwork Embroidery Stitches (Eve Harlow, 9780715306321).  Most of the designs are bubbly and round, fitting perfectly into a hoop.  As my sister and I were discussing how I wanted the stems and leaves to be squatter and rounder than they are in real life, we realised that I wanted her to draw some chibi venus fly traps.  Adorable!

The gradient on the stems is achieved by combining two single threads of different shades of green at all times.  As I went darker or lighter, I tried my best to keep it soft and subtle.  So how the heck did I keep track of whether I was using green 730 or green 731? This little wonder:I got her from Girlontherock’s shop on etsy, and she has never been more useful to me than with this project.  It kept the threads tidy, allowed me to keep that one strand of six tidy and knot free and meant that I almost never had to hold up a few threads up to each other, trying to figure out what the difference was, if there was a difference at all.  She even has a little magnet to hold a needle close to her heart!The leaves were done in various shades of pinky-reds, first in chain stitch, and then skewered with a back stitch one shade lighter until the edge, where I made the back stitch darker again.  I took little tiny straight stitches in one strand of floss to make the feelers.

There is also a secret surprise in this piece.  One of the leaves has caught something!My family had a very healthy venus fly trap for almost three years.  We kept it inside, caught ants for it to eat with tweezers, and hand fed her once a week.  Once a leaf shuts, it tends to die.  The energy expended in closing the leaf is too much for a plant to handle unless there is food inside to offset the energy cost.  Sometimes, a well fed plant can reopen a leaf that has missed its target bug, but not often.  I stitched a small grain of rice into the closed leaf so that it had a good reason to be shut.  I tacked it in place and then stem stitched on top and around it so as to hide it properly.  The pictures do not really do justice to the slightly creepy feel of something hiding in the stitches.  I have had more than one person pull back their hand quickly and squirm.

Please feel free to use the pattern above for personal use, but do not sell anything you make from it.  If you make something with it, I would love to see it, so please leave a comment with a link.