Close up of a white woman with red hair wearing a brown embroidered linen top and large beaded earrings

A Little Embellishment: Fern Top with Hand Stitching

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At the beginning of the year, one of the goals I set out for this little hobby of mine was to incorporate new, more challenging skills into my sewing practice. I’ve managed to make a pretty decent wardrobe for myself — one that both reflects the many sides of my personality and allows for change and growth, whether that’s in my body, my style, or my perspective. I am not a sewing ‘expert’ by any means, but I’m fairly proficient, so even when I’m not going particularly quickly, it doesn’t take me long to put most garments together. Trying things that are a bit more complex, that add more and slower steps to my process feels like the right direction to move in so I can keep the creativity flowing and the synapses firing. After all, sewing is my Wordle.

A white woman with red hair wears a brown embroidered linen top and large beaded earrings
A white woman with red hair wears a brown embroidered linen top and large beaded earrings
Close up of a brown embroidered linen top and large beaded earrings
Side view detail of a brown embroidered women's linen top
Back view detail of a brown embroidered women's linen top
Detail of brown linen fabric with grey edge
Detail of alternating grey and white stitches on brown linen with grey edge
Detail of white and grey embroidery stitches on brown linen
Detail of square neckline on brown linen top with diamond chalk sketch
Detail of white and grey embroidery on neckline edge of brown linen top

When my neckline design left me with an odd space at the centre front, instead of freaking out, I chose to make it a feature. Again, I came really close to going with the daisy, but I think it would have looked out of place with the more linear theme everywhere else. Since I added some cross stitches to the box pleats, this top was already becoming a bit of a sampler, and I wanted to rein that in, so the starburst and french knots won out.

Close up of brown linen top with several pins on bodice
Close up of brown linen top with grey and white embroidery

While I should definitely not be your go-to person for insider embroidery tips just yet, here’s a few things I learned that might help you on your journey should you want to give this a try:

  • The Thread Always Wins. Always.  Casinos could learn a thing or two from embroidery thread. Do not try to beat it; you will lose. When you’re (slowly!) pulling apart your strands, stop the MOMENT you feel tension. Let one hand go, let the thread go limp and do it’s loose little twisty dance, then pick it up and (slowly!) pull again. 
  • Pull Two or Three Strands at a Time.  I’m a newbie, so I don’t know if all embroidery floss is six strands, but this was. I used a single strand doubled through the needle for my stitches, so I was trying to pull out one strand at a time. It took until about two-thirds of the way through the project before I realized that I got much less twisting when I pulled at least two.
  • Load ‘Em If You Got ‘Em. Again, I was well into the thick of things before it occurred to me to pre-load two or three needles at a time. I found this kept me in the flow once I had a rhythm going.
  • Re-thread Before You Think You Need To. When you’re in your happy stitching zone and you look at your thread and smile, thinking, “oh yeah — I can go a good three or four more stitches…”, STOP RIGHT THERE. Pull the thread to the wrong side, knot that baby, and snip it. Don’t be a hero. Save that for Bobbin Chicken at your sewing machine. You’re welcome.
  • Stop When You’re Tired. This should be a general life rule, but we all know it isn’t. Hand stitching can be relaxing and meditative if you let it be. I enjoyed doing a few stitches in the morning with my coffee or while listening to a podcast. But when you get tired and your spacing starts getting unintentionally weird and you’re getting knotted up every few stitches — or you’ve accidentally stitched your front and back panels together — just set it aside. You’re not a machine; no need to treat yourself like one. You’re making a beautiful thing with your heart, your soul, and your own two hands. Give them the break they deserve.
Close up of top half of brown linen top with grey and white embroidery at neckline and sleeve
Close up of bottom half of brown linen top with grey and white embroidery stitches

For my first attempt, I am really pleased with the results! I’m also inordinately proud of how few rules I followed. Except for the starburst, I didn’t measure or mark anything. I didn’t use an embroidery hoop. I used random needles. I didn’t wax the embroidery floss. I don’t even know where it came from — I found a few skeins in my bead box that have been there for years and it may even disintegrate after the first wash. But I employed the three pillars of any successful hobby practice : I dove in, winged it, and had fun.

A white woman with red hair wears a brown embroidered linen top and large beaded earrings
Close up of a white woman with red hair smiling  and wearing a brown embroidered top and large beaded earrings

For me, this process was the best of both worlds: making the top gave me that quick rush of satisfaction, while adding the embellishment made me slow down and turn it into something truly unique and special. And to top it all off, I can now confidently pull off a half-decent french knot.  That’s something I could not have said a month ago. New skills for the win! 

Happy learning, everyone!

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