Thursday, January 16, 2014

Tips for embroidering details on a quilt

I like to embellish with embroidery whether it is a little bit like a lone grasshopper (I've posted a tutorial here),

or oodles of embroidery like that in the border of my quilt There's a Snail in Grandma's Flower Garden.

I've posted a tutorial for embroidering all of these little leafs here.

To start you need supplies:

  • embroidery floss (I like DMC floss, especially the variegated colours),
  • sharp embroidery needles,
  • scissors with a nice sharp point and blades and
  • an embroidery hoop (my preferred size is 4").

When I add embroidery details there are some things I do that guarantee that my work will be successful.

  • I always works with a hoop,
  • I never carry my thread across any distance because it can distort the fabric and the thread will often show through on the front,
  • I never leave the hoop in my work if when I'm not sewing,
  • I don't rush and
  • I make every effort to have the back of my work look as neat as the front.
This is my favourite hoop - it is 4". It keeps my work nice and taught and the size is just right for my hand. Any larger and I have difficulty reaching areas and any smaller and I'm constantly having to repositioning the hoop.

Here is an example of the back and the front. I can now see areas where the floss could use a little trimming close to the knots (this is a piece I started back in 1996 so it is old) but nonetheless it is reasonably neat.

The Back

The Front

Most often I work with two strands of floss. I cut a length of floss and select two strands.  I gently blow at the point where the two strands are separating from the others. I tie a tight double knot at the end and I trim the excess floss as close to the knot as possible without actually cutting the knot.

When I've finished my embroidery I knot off the thread and again trim the floss close to the knot. If however I embroidered a running stitch or a back-stitch I will weave my floss through five or six stitches on the back. Then I tie it off with a single knot and trim the floss.

If I need to travel I can sometimes weave the floss back so I can move from one spot to the next. This leaf is an example; my stitches are shown from the back side.  I started the spine at 1 and stitched to 2. I wove my floss through the stitches as indicated by 3. I embroidered the vein at 4 and then wove my floss back through those stitches as indicated at 5. I repeated the same steps for 6 and 7 and continued on until all of the veins were embroidered.

If I am making French knots and there is space between them, as in the example below, I do not carry my floss from one to the next. Instead I tie off the floss at each French knot. It takes a little more time but the finished product is much nicer. Here are French knots from the back 

and  from the front.

I hope these tips are helpful. I'm not a professional embroiderer but I've learned from mistakes and wanted to share with you what I've figured out on my own. Just a little bit of embroidery can make a quilt special so don't rush it! Just take your time and enjoy watching the design develop under your fingers! I think you might find this post helpful when I release Part 2 of my Soupcon QAL tomorrow! And if you haven't started but are thinking about it, check out Nellie's latest hexagons. If they don't tempt you, nothing will!

Until I post again, happy embroidering!
Karen H


  1. I am in love with Nellie's blocks they are really stunning. I can't wait for tomorrow and step 2 !!!! ?
    My little tip for using variegated floss, sometimes when the color change is too fast or too dramatic I take my 2 strands. separate them, flip one strand on end put them back together so now the color change is out of sink, you still get a beautiful effect with the two tones but a more subtle look over all. Happy Stitching!

    1. Clare - what a fabulous tip! I'll add it to my post for tomorrow. Nellie's blocks are amazing and I love the muddy backgrounds because they really showcase the intricate designs in the feature fabric!

  2. Your snail in the garden quilt is wonderful! Beautiful embroidery. Wish I'd found you this past summer when I was looking for ideas and hints on how to embroider my quilt!

  3. When I make one lone French knot--I have learned to come up from the back and take a small stitch across the top of the fabric where the French knot goes. Then I go back down with that stitch---come back up and make the French knot. Then you have an anchor stitch that makes the French knot more secure. If I make a knot here--I go through the anchor stitch on the backside and knot on that. I hope you can understand. It really makes a nicer knot!!

  4. that embroidery on the border of your quilt is awesome. great idea too.