Thursday, December 19, 2013

Tutorial: embroidering leaf and berry details on your quilts

I love to add embroidery details to my quilts. I little bit of embroidery goes a long way to add pizzazz to a quilt! If you love grandmother's flower hexagon quilts you can embroider little details in the centre hexagon. I like to embroider details in the border and one of my favourites is the leaf.

The photograph shown above is a close-up of my quilt Crosscuts. The stitch I used to make the leaves is a simple buttonhole stitch. To add variety I threaded many needles with two strands of green embroidery floss. Each needle had a different green in it. I would embroider one side of the leaf with one green and the other side with a different green. This added depth and variety to the leaves...just like in the garden. I hate to waste floss so if I could only embroider half of one side of a leaf I would do so and then finish with a second colour. This means that sometimes there can be three or four colours in a leaf. In the picture below you can see several examples of this.

If you don't have a lot of different colours of floss but you want to have colour variations in your leaves why not try out variegated floss. Variegated floss is usually a single colour with various shades from lighter to darker. The colour change is subtle so when you embroider with it the colour change happens gradually.

To make a leaf I start by drawing my stem and leaf on my fabric using a non-permanent marker. In this tutorial I used a Frixion pen. The drawing doesn't have to be is just a suggestion and I make adjustments as I go. If you are drawing a leaf for the first time draw the stem and then draw a heart shape so that the stem dissects the leaf. The leaf in this tutorial is about 3/4" in length and when the stem is added the whole unit measures about 1 1/2". To start thread a sharp needle with two strands of floss. Tie a knot at the end and trim the excess thread close to the knot. I stitch the stem with an outline stitch starting at the base and working toward the tip of the leaf.

Once I get to the end of the stem I take my needle through to the back an come up just a couple of threads below the tip of the stem. I make a big loop with the floss. I am right handed so I will work from left to right which means the loop will be to my right. I make this big loop so that the floss does not get in my way. If you are left handed you will start on the opposite side of the leaf and make your floss loop to the left. I take my needle down next to the stem down a little from the tip of the stem and bring it up at the outside edge of the leaf. I want the stitch to be on a bit of an angle rather that coming straight from the stem to the outside edge of the leaf.

I slowly and evenly draw up the floss so that it doesn't tangle and this is what the stitch looks like.

I make another big loop with the thread to the right to get it out of the way and take my needle down near the stem a few threads down from the previous stitch and I bring the needle back up on the outside edge of the leaf down a few threads from the previous stitch.

I repeat this process working down the stem.

About half way down I will need to fan the stitches a little to fill the space. This means that the stitches will be closer together near the stem and a little further apart at the outside edge of the leaf.

I continue stitching in this manner until I get to the base of the leaf. I take my needle down at the base of the stem and bring it back up on the opposite side of the stem.
I continue stitching in the same manner; loop my floss to the right, take my needle down near the stem and bring it up on the outside edge of the leaf. If I run out of floss I take my needle down at the outside edge and make a neat knot on the back.

I bring my needle up from the back at the outside edge (white circle) and loop my floss to the right. I take it down next to the stem (yellow circle) and bring it up at the outside edge of the leaf (green circle). I continue stitching in this manner until I get to the tip of the stem. I take my needle down next to the stem and make a small knot at the back.

And there you have the finished leaf! Notice how the variegated thread shades the leaf.

This is a view from the back. I try to keep my work neat on the front and the back. Don't carry your floss from one area to the next; tie off the floss and start again. Be sure to make small knots and clip the excess floss close to the knot. When you tie off at the back be sure to clip the floss close to the knot or better yet run it under the embroidery and then clip it off.

You can use the same buttonhole stitch to make berries! The only difference is that you will take your needle down in the centre and bring it up at the outside edge of the berry. Isn't it great how the variegated floss shades the berries in unexpected ways?

So there you have it! I hope you'll try a leaf or a berry or maybe both! You might just need them for my 2014 QAL (quilt along). Speaking of which, I really should come up with a name for the QAL project before I launch. I'll have to give it some thought!

Until I post again, hope you find time to practice your embroidery stitches!


  1. Hi Karen
    Tomorrow I will have a car for the day and plan to do some fibre shopping . Where do you buy the variegated floss? and do you have any favorite fabric shops. I love the on line option but some times I just want to go and touch and feel .

    1. I am a non-denominational shopper! I buy what I like when I see it and it could be in a quilt shop like Evelyn's in Newmarket, Sew Sisters in Toronto, any of the Fabricland Stores, Len's Mills or many wonderful on-line shops. My most recent purchases of floss are from Len's Mills however you can also search for shops that carry variegated DMC floss. The price in Canada for floss is two and a half to three times the price of floss in the US so mail order might be a better option!

  2. I think I could do this! I will have to sort through my stash for some variegated floss. Or shop! That's always fun.

    1. Shopping is fun and you are doing the economy good at the same time!

  3. Replies
    1. You are most welcome! I hope you'll give it a go!

  4. thankyou for taking the time to show this step by step. I would be interested to know why you advise not taking the thread across, to the next leaf?

    1. You are very welcome Kath! There are two reasons I don't carry my floss. The first is when I was taught to embroider when I was a little girl I was told that the back should look as nice as the front and if it didn't I was told to remove what I had done and redo it. The second and more important reason is that if you carry your floss, it will often show through on the front, especially if you are working on a lighter colour. It becomes particularly obvious if the piece is to be quilted. Once you sandwich the top, batting and backing you may see the floss where it was carried. And it will be even more obvious once the piece is quilted! Hope this helps!

  5. Hi Karen, love the tutorial on the leaves .I will give these ago .Im thinking of doing these on my LE quilt maybe .thanks sue~nz.

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