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.
After doing some pick stitching on a vest I made a few months ago, I started thinking more about hand embroidery and using it to add texture and interest to my garments. I’ve watched both of Alabama Chanin’s Modern Embroidery classes on Craftsy, and it made me appreciate how much impact even simple hand stitches can make. So I quieted my ’well, if I can’t make something that looks like a fairy tale tapestry, why bother?’ attitude enough to give it a try. I figured, hey, they’re just stitches, and there’s no stitch that can’t be ripped out, right?
For my canvas, I made the Fern Top from Pattern Scout with some linen scraps left over from a skirt I made last year. It’s a simple but not boring top that fits really nicely, has some princess seaming on the bodice, and a couple of peplum options. The linen had this lovely deep grey selvedge that I didn’t want to go to waste, and luckily, there was enough to use as a trim on the hem and sleeves. I wasn’t sure exactly how ambitious I was going to get with the embroidery, so I fully lined and interfaced the centre front and centre back bodice, rather than just doing a neckline facing. As it turned out, the facing would have been fine, but who knows — if I decide to add more embellishment in the future, I’m good to go.
I tested out a few stitch prospects on a small piece of the linen. Much as I love those daisy chains, I opted for the most basic of the basics: a running stitch and a blanket stitch. I decided to start with highlighting the seams, hems, peplum box pleats, and neckline, and I had every intention of doing just one colour — the off white. I only pulled out the slate grey as another option because I had it and I thought maybe having a bit less contrast would make any wonky stitches less noticeable. I should have known the powers of my indecision better after what happened with my Blanca Flight Suit. But look how nice they both look together on the caramel linen! Can you blame me?
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.
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.
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.
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!
2 thoughts on “A Little Embellishment: Fern Top with Hand Stitching”
Aww! Thanks, Marv! <3
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