My top 3 recommendations for a stitch dictionary

I was asked what my recommendations were for person who was learning embroidery and wanted to purchase their first stitch dictionary but as I wrote this I realised these books are a good foundation and reference for any hand embroiderers library. I don’t think you need all 3 books but if you have one of these you will have a good book in your hands to introduce you to the wonderful world of hand embroidery stitches.

So here is my recommendations for three good reference books There are many specialised books and many dictionaries that are useful for intermediate and advanced stitchers but owning one of these I see as a foundation to a stitchers library. They are all general hand embroidery dictionaries which cover a range of embroidery styles in an accurate and clear manner. They are also books I have on my shelves and use frequently.

cover of stitch dictionary My first recommendation is
The Embroidery Stitch Bible by Betty Barnden
as an essential reference for hand embroiderers. This spiral-bound, 256 page publication contains diagramed instructions for over 200 stitches. One feature of this book is that diagrams are accompanied with photographed samples of stitches on fabrics which makes is good for people who have trouble envisioning a stitch on a finished item. This makes it particularly good if you a new hand to embroidery as you can see what the stitch looks like.

The contents house colour thumbnail photos of the stitches covered in the book. This form of index means if you have seen the stitch but do not know the name of stitch you have a chance of identifying it. Stitches are arranged according to their use such as stitches used for outlines, or filling stitches, stitches used for edgings, hems, and insertions or flat stitches, and stitches used in backgrounds etc

This book also covers a number of hand embroidery styles such as canvas work or needlepoint, smocking, basic drawn-thread work, cutwork, and techniques such as cut work and applying sequins and beads. Additional information such as alternate names for the stitch, suggested uses and short tips are also provided.

This stitch dictionary has a concealed spiral binding which makes the book even more useful as it allows you to have the book lay open on a surface completely flat so you can refer to the diagrams and stitch simultaneously.The size is small enough so you can carry it to a workshop or have it in a large sewing box and the covers are sturdy enough to take some wear and tear.

cover of bookMy second recommendation is Mary Thomas’s Dictionary of Embroidery Stitches which was first published in 1934 and is now a favourite classic. It has been updated by Jan Eaton, and it now illustrates and describes over 400 embroidery stitches. If by any chance you have Jan Eatons 1980’s classic The Complete Stitch Encyclopedia you already have a similar book.

The 298 page paperback is a great resource that also illustrates many of the stitches on fabric which makes is good for beginners as often they have trouble imagining what a stitch would like on a finished item. There is a brief overview on starting hand embroidery covering topics such using frames, choosing needles etc before it launches into the stitches is useful and does not bog down a beginner in the intricacies of more advanced techniques.

This best seller is also an economical resource for all embroiderers so I don’t hesitate in recommending it.

cover of stitch dictionaryMy last choice is also a reprint of a classic as it is the A-Z of Embroidery Stitches which is a reprint by Search Press of the classic book of the same title published by Country Bumpkin. It has a different cover but it is the same book.

The A-Z of Embroidery Stitches is an excellent stitch dictionary. The original book which is the copy I have, advertises that there are more than 1200 step-by-step colour photographs with step-by-step instructions for over 100 stitches. The A-Z series has a reputation of providing easy to follow clear directions. There is a good general overview on starting hand embroidery covering topics such transferring designs, choosing needles etc and all stitches are clearly photographed and described.

Thos are my 3 best picks. I don’t think you need all 3 book but if you have one of these you will have a good book in your hands. It was actually hard to narrow this down to 3. As I said I don’t think you need all 3 books but one of these will take you a very long way. I have thought is terms of very clear illustrations and colour to tempt people to try the stitches. So although there are some wonderful older books published if they were black and white I left them off my list. I think however there is a post to be written about stitch dictionaries that are retro gems. Do you agree with my choices? Perhaps leave a comment if you have others to add to the list as I would love to hear your opinion.

This post contains affiliate links which means if you follow the link and purchase any of the books I have recommended I get a small commission. The items do not cost you any more than a normal purchase, but it helps offset the cost of running this site. It is also not the reason I recommend these particular books. I have them in my library and use them regularly.

How to bind and use an embroidery hoop

An embroidery hoop makes the stitching process easier and I find I produce a better result if I use one. I know many people dont like to use a hoop but I always encourage people to try it particularly if you have trouble with tension. If your stitches pucker and pull the the fabric learn to use an embroidery  hoop. Here is a tutorial on how to bing a hoop, what size to choose and tensioning a hoop.

Choose the right sized embroidery hoop

I know some people say a hoop is uncomfortable to use. However, often the hoop they choose is too large. Unlike quilting hoops when you hold an embroidery hoop you should be able to easily place your index finger in the centre without strain.


How to use an embroidery hoop step  2

How to bind an embroidery hoop.

Some people worry about a hoop creasing and squashing their work. To counter this only have your work in the hoop when you actually stitch, in other words don’t leave your work in the hoop over night. Also I have some tips at the end of the article about steaming your work.

Always bind at least the inner ring of your hoop. This is called dressing a hoop. I know that term sounds Victorian but it is what binding a hoop is called. I know this sounds fussy but it is really worth while taking 20 minutes and dressing your hoop.

How to use an embroidery hoop step 1
Dressing a hoop is quite easy. You need some cotton twill tape, which can be found in the sewing haberdashery section of a fabric store. It is not expensive – a couple of dollars at the most. Make sure what you purchase is cotton. If you use a polyester or polyester mix tape your dressing will not have the same grip and the fabric you place in the hoop will slip. Since the idea is to control the tension of the fabric slippage undermines what you want it do.

How to use an embroidery hoop step  3The process is a simple enough. Start off by tucking the end of the tape under the first wrap.

hoop09Continue wrapping until you have the whole hoop covered evenly.
How to use an embroidery hoop step  4Secure the end of the tape with a few stitches.

How to use an embroidery hoop step  5Using an embroidery hoop

After you have wrapped or dressed your embroidery hoop this is how you use it.

How to use an embroidery hoop step 7 Yes dressing an embroidery hoop is the correct term – Victorian I know!

How to use an embroidery hoop step  8Lay the dressed inner ring of the embroidery hoop on the table and position your fabric over it centring your design or stitching area in the middle of the ring.
How to use an embroidery hoop step  9Loosen the screw on the top ring to open it slightly and place it over the fabric and bottom ring. Have the screw mechanism sitting at about 10 o’clock if you are right handed.

How to use an embroidery hoop step  10If you are left handed set the screw at  2 o’clock . This means you will not tangle your thread around the screw closure. It is very frustrating to have your thread catch on it with every stitch!
Tighten the screw enough so that it grips the inner ring and stays in place.

Tensioning the fabric in your hoop

After placing your fabric in you hoop you need to tension it. For even weave embroidery where there is a lot of stab stitch involved ie you push the needle into the fabric and with the other hand push it back to the front you will need a tight tension on the fabric. If it is surface embroidery where there is scoop stitching involved allow a little bit of ease on the fabric.

How to use an embroidery hoop step  11Let the fabric have a little flex. Not too much, just a fraction to allow you to scoop stitches should you need to and you can always tension the fabric by pushing it from the back with the middle finger on your non dominant hand. I see lots of people trying to do surface embroidery stitches with a hoop stretched drum tight. You should be able to take a bite of the fabric with your thread. Don’t  tension the fabric so tight that it becomes impossible to manipulate the needle and thread.

What if your work is too big for an embroidery hoop?

If your work is too big for a hoop that fits your hand think about using a larger hoop that is mounted on a stand. This will leave both of your hands free to stitch. The other alternative is to use a frame.

However I do have a confession as I often move a hoop along. For instance my band sampler is done this way I simply move it along and place the hoop over the stitches. Many embroiderers would have a fit at this, as they see it as squashing the stitches but honestly if you you use good thread it will usually bounce back and to be honest it does not cause me troubles. I usually just have the hoop on the fabric while I actually stitch. I also have the fabric a little slack and I will steam out creases the sampler if need be.

If your embroidery becomes creased, particularly if it is something like silk ribbon embroidery. Hang it in a steamy bathroom to relax it. Peg your work to a hanger and take a hot shower with the exhaust fan off, then hang your work up in the bathroom. Another way of doing it, is hold the work over a steaming kettle. Keep your hands and arms clear of the steam, as you do not want a burn but hold the work there for a little while and steam it. You will find the fabric, thread and ribbon relaxes into its original shape.

I hope you have found this article useful. Do you use a hoop? Do you have any tips for readers on using a hoop? What do you think are the key advantages and disadvantages to using a hoop?

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How to work Back Stitch

Back stitch sampleBack stitch is often used along side cross stitch to define a clean neat line in a design. It is classified as a linear stitch because you can create lines with it! Back stitch is an old adaptable stitch which can be used as a delicate outline or as a foundation in composite stitches, such as Pekinese stitch. It is also a great stitch to whip or thread with a heavier yarn. You can add beads to it too!

Back stitch sample using hand dyed threadIf you want to work blackwork patterns using hand dyed or variegated threads use back stitch. Many blackwork patterns can be very effective worked this way and the changing colours  add a contemporary touch to a traditional style of hand embroidery.

Back stitch sample on contemporary hand embroideryThis is a stitch that is considered a basic stitch as it is always introduced to beginners, but I feel  people underestimate  its versatility which ensures its timeless appeal to generations of stitchers. For instance in this sample (click to see a larger version)  I have used back stitch to define the lines of the sand. Set against the highly textured embroidery the simple ‘basic’ stitch creates the contrast I wanted.

Back stitch step by step tutorialIf needed, mark your line with a quilters pencil or soluble pen or pencil. Bring the thread up from the back of the fabric on the line that you want to create. Make a small backward stitch through the fabric.

Bring the needle through the fabric a little in front of the first stitch and still on the line. Pull the thread through the fabric.

Make the second stitch backward,inserting the needle down into the hole made by the first stitch and bringing the needle out a little in front of the second stitch but still on the line. Repeat this movement and continue sewing in such a manner along the line.

Back stitch is also known as point de sable

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