A new ambition of mine is to develop, promote and sell silk ribbon and surface embroidery kits on-line. This plan has emerged after years of learning about and trying out all kinds of stitching techniques. After retirement I discovered a burning interest in sewing including embroidery by hand as well as experiments on my new computerised sewing machine. Over the years since then I’ve followed a convoluted road to arrive at this latest ambition. My stitching journey has embraced learning, teaching and selling some of the multitude of clothes, quilts, embroidered bags and many other items that I’ve made. But suddenly I want to specialise and focus all my attention on one thing. So now and my heart is set on creating quality kits for beginners wanting to learn and enjoy silk ribbon and surface embroidery.

I have discovered that embroidery is such a joy to do with minimal outlay for materials. It can be easily transported and takes up very little space. There’s a wonderful choice of plain and variegated colours in silk ribbons and threads, and another aspect of its attraction is the contrasting textures of silk ribbon against the more well known handle of stranded cotton embroidery thread.

Until now my own work has been achieved through following embroidery designs found in Inspirations Magazine or purchasing kits from well known and respected designers such as Lorna Bateman and Jo Butcher. But lately I’ve spent many hours studying well known authors and teachers like Ann Cox to learn the techniques and detail of how to make silk ribbon flowers. I’ve combined this with my own embroidery skills learned during my City & Guilds embroidery course. So now I’m keen to specialise and create my own designs embracing both silk ribbon and embroidery thread, mainly for beginners who want to learn and try but not spend too much in the first place. So this is where I am now with one design and embroidery kit tried out with a group of local friends and itching to design and sew the next one to present on this website.

However I do want something different for my beginners kits so the plan is to design wildflower scenes. This is the space to watch as I develop my early and initial ideas into tangible materials and instructions to offer kits for sale on my Stitch-Pretty website to instil colour and fun into the icy, foggy days of a UK Winter.

The Joy of Applique

Hand stitching is so therapeutic and the results can give joy to the maker as well as others who see and appreciate the results. Stitching together with like minded people is a sociable and enjoyable thing. There are many craft and sewing groups around the UK and they do tend to focus on a particular branch of the craft. Quilting and embroidery are two of the most popular and hand applique can actually fall into both of those categories. Applique has many advantages: small pieces of work are transportable and can be picked up at odd moments when the opportunity arises. It’s easy to add colour and fill space with applique and can be done more quickly than with embroidery. Small pieces of materials can be used to make a varied and interesting surface. There are many books about applique offering different slants on the subject and some of them can become great favourites.

In my own case a great deal of knowledge has come from books which have guided me into the technical skills needed. One favourite example is ‘Beautiful Wildflower Applique’ by Zena Thorpe. Published by the American Quilter’s Society in 2011. As an English stitcher I obviously picked out the flowers which were those I see in the United Kingdom. There are always some favourite projects in every book and mine were primroses, wild roses, poppies and foxgloves.

Here you see primroses appliqued onto a quilt and again on a linen handbag. The wild rose sprays are on another handmade bag. I took liberties with the leaves and put my own spin on the design, bonding two colours of fabric together and cutting the leaves to shape. There was no need to hem the edges as the Bondaweb prevented any fraying from around the edges. I using my sewing machine to attach the leaves to the backgrounds stitching on veins in the process.

A completely different approach is described in Anita Shackelford’s book ‘Three-Dimensional Applique’. She describes how to add dimension using cording, padding and stuffing. Then in other examples she illustrates folding, pleating and rolling to produce 3D results where the flowers are standing proud of the backgrounds.

Here the flowers and slightly padded and the leaves embroidered. A piece for the front of another handmade bag.

Machine applique is a useful addition to the crafters toolkit too. I have a computerised sewing and embroidery machine which is a joy to use. I’ve made a lot of baby and children’s play quilts which showcase appliqued machine embroidery. This is such fun as the results can be produced quickly and there are many machine embroidery designs that can be found and downloaded from the internet. Here is one that I call Starlight.

Applique can be worked by hand or on the sewing machine and they each have their place. I love both.

Embroidered Little Bird

‘Inspirations’ is the name of an Australian Magazine which features the most desirable embroidery designs. I buy it from a UK supplier six times a year and each time it arrives there’s something that I can’t wait to make. I save all my copies and from time to time browse those gorgeous designs longing to get started on making something for myself as well as wanting to share the enjoyment with my friends.

Recently I made a little felt embroidered bird from issue 116 which was designed by Anna Mallah. The bird outlines and the tail and beak templates are included in the back of the printed magazine, or the digital pattern can be ordered and downloaded from the Inspirations Magazine website.

Here is a description of how to make the bird with fewer specifics about thread but a bit more detail about the embroidery stitches used. The hanging cord shown in the magazine has seed beads threaded on a fine thread.

So you need some white wool felt and small amounts of red felt for the tail and pale yellow felt for the beak. First cut two 6 inch squares of white felt and also cut two 4 inch squares of tearaway stabiliser. Copy all the lines of both sides of the bird onto the tearaway stabiliser pieces. Centre each stabiliser over the squares of felt and pin or tack in place. With contrasting sewing thread work running stitches around all the outlines pulling the stitches quite firmly and ensuring that the thread is secured at the beginning and the end. Work running stitches along the design lines keeping the stitches small and firm. Using a single strand of black cotton embroidery thread outline the birds eyes with very small split stitches.

Remove the tearaway stabiliser. Using the point of a big needle score along the lines of the running stitches and carefully pull the stabiliser away from the stitches. If it sticks snip into the edges of the stabiliser up to the stitching and pull it away. Score around the internal design lines and the eye and gently pull the stabiliser away. Remove the smallest pieces with tweezers.

Draw over the running stitches of the internal embroidery design. Use a removable marker pen and then unpick the running stitches and remove them. Leave the outer stitches intact for now. Place one side of the bird into a 4 inch hoop ready for the embroidery. The stitches used in the design are: split stitch, long & short stitch, satin stitch, detached chain, backstitch & couching. See images below.

  • using split stitch go around the top of the shape of the four petals
  • stitching from the top and over the split stitch start to fill the shape with long & short stitch in a light red
  • blend in a darker shade to fill the bottom of the petals with long & short stitch
  • use split stitch around the edge of the centre green circle then satin stitch to fill it
  • using a yellowy green add some little straight stitches in the middle and outline the circle with backstitch
  • using 3 strands of yellow couch around the edge of the petals. Thread one needle with 2 strands and another with a single strand and knot the ends of the thread. Bring both needles to the surface and lay the double strand around the edges of the petals while using the single strand to catch the double thread down. Fasten off all the threads on the wrong side
  • for the leaves fill with long & short stitch but using 2 colours of green. Couch around the edes of the leaves in the same way as the petals
  • use couching stitch along the stems.

For the second embroidered side I decided to use goldwork thread for the couching. The laid thread was a thicker 3-stranded type and the thread to catch it down was a single strand Japanese thread.

For the eyes work satin stitch across the eye with black thread and straight stitch for the eyelashes. Add highlights with small seed stitches in white thread.

Now for the tail and the beak:

  • trace the tail and beak onto firm tracing paper and cut out the shapes
  • use these shapes to cut 2 tails from red felt and beak from yellow
  • using 2 strands of red stranded cotton embroidery thread work detached chain stitches on the tail pieces to represent feathers
  • with wrong sides together join the tail pieces together around the outer edges with buttonhole stitch
  • now draw along the running stitch outline of both sides of the bird with a heat removable fabric marker, or other type of removable marker
  • remove the running stitches and cut out each side of the bird
  • to make a hanging cord cut a suitable length of fine thread and secure inside one half of the bird with a needle that will fit the thread but also go through the hole in the beads
  • thread the cord with the beads until it’s the right length for hanging up and then take the needle back through the beads for extra strength
  • alternatively use a thicker thread in a pretty yarn or a narrow ribbon
  • remove all marked lines with a gentle heat or method to suit your choice of fabric marker
  • with wrong sides together pin the two sides together leaving the hanging loop free
  • use two strands of thread buttonhole stitch the edges together all round but leaving the straight edges of the tail open
  • leave the needle and thread attached

Fill the birds body with toy stuffing until firm & smooth. Open the tail slit wide to slot in the end of the tail making sure the tail is facing the front of the bird and stitch the opening neatly closed. Secure 2 strands of yellow thread at the position for the beak (mine is a bit to low down). Centre the little yellow felt diamond over the seam and backstitch across the centre. Secure the thread behind the beak and pinch the 2 halves together.

Mine’s not perfect – you will do better.