Design and Creative embroidery technique tips

Design and Creative embroidery technique tips

Today, I have some creative embroidery technique tips that you will find useful. I am stepping through my design process while demonstrating how I used sequin waste, coconut beads, and waste canvas stitching, to create a little abstract design for a fabric postcard. These techniques, of course, can be used on any modern embroidery project.

Fabric Postcard demonstrating Design and Creative embroidery technique tips

My first step was to create an interesting foundation fabric by joining two pieces of fabric together. The use of colourful or hand-painted pieced fabric backgrounds is a good creative embroidery technique to start a project — with a modern twist. The pieces are different sizes, as I wanted an asymmetrical design, and wanted to avoid a strong centre line.

Fabric Postcard foundation fabric

When I stitch, I always use an embroidery hoop. In order to be able to hoop the project, I stitched strips of scrap fabric around the edges. This scrap fabric is cut off when all embroidery is done. The only thing you need to remember if you are going to use this creative embroidery technique tip, is that the fabric needs a large seam allowance around the edge.

I started my design with 3 couched lines of tapestry wool stitched off-centre on the foundation fabric. This is scrap wool from my stash, couched on with my sewing machine. Needing some linear elements to divide the background, I chose 3 dull shades of wool. I needed the lines to be seen, thereby creating a little interest, but not so as to dominate. I wanted them to sit in the background, barely noticeable.

Next, I thought about areas of interest and texture in the design. I used layers of sequin waste and filling stitches to define areas. Sometimes called Punchinella, sequin waste is available by the meter or yard in needlework shops or on Etsy. It is plastic, so you can cut it into shapes easily, and it comes in a variety of colours and sizes. I simply cut out the shape I wanted and held the pieces in place with small stitches.

I needed another shape on top of the sequin waste to tie the two areas together and to push them back, so they sat in the middle distance of the picture plane. Also, I wanted to echo the shape of the sequin waste and create a layered effect. So I decided to embroider an area using a filling stitch using waste canvas as a guide.

Waste canvas is a wonderful inexpensive product that you can use to keep your stitches even on a freeform piece like this. We call it waste canvas because after you work the embroidery, you pull the canvas threads out. This leaves behind just your stitching. Waste canvas is held together with water-soluble starch or glue. If the fibers get wet, they will pull out. The process is: you stitch over the canvas, wet it, and then remove the threads leaving only your stitching behind.

Fabric Postcard using waste canvas

I cut a piece of waste canvas slightly larger than the area I needed. I tacked the sequin waste to the foundation fabric to hold it in place temporarily. Then I worked my filling stitch. In this case, I chose Herringbone stitch worked row upon row. You can treat many surface embroidery stitches like this, for instance, Cretan stitch and Chevron stitch both work really well. I used a hand-dyed cotton perle #5.


I then pulled out the tacking stitches holding the canvas in place. Next, using a damp makeup sponge, I dampened the canvas. With tweezers, I pulled out the waste canvas threads one at a time.

Fabric Postcard using sequin waste

The result was that I had three regular shapes over 3 lines on a 2 piece foundation. I decided I needed a bit of irregularity to contrast with the areas of the regular shapes. So I looked to coconut shell chip beads to provide that irregularity.

Hand-dyed coconut shell chip beads come in all sorts of interesting shapes and sizes. Sometimes they are called coconut palm wood or coconut chip beads. These are the waste product of coconut shell that has been cut to make disk-shaped beads. The waste is always interesting, and they simply drill holes in the pieces and sell them as irregularly-shaped beads! They make a great feature bead, and, combined with other creative embroidery techniques, can act to draw the eye to an area. The idea is to have your viewer take a little journey, roving over the surface of the piece from one area to another enjoying the little subtleties along the way.

Fabric Postcard using coconut shell beads

Using the same hand-dyed cotton perle #5 that I worked in the Herringbone stitch, I simply used 3 straight stitches to secure the coconut chip beads to the foundation fabric.

I wanted to make the image more interesting by contrasting the irregular shape of the coconut chip beads with a regular geometric shape. At the same time, I wanted to echo the curves in the coconut chips. So I did not want a rectangle or square. Time to dig around in my up-cycle box and see what I could find. I came up with these plastic rings, which were ideal — I just needed to wrap them in thread.

Fabric Postcard using a wrapped ring

Wrapping found objects with thread is a great creative embroidery technique to add interest and texture to your work.

You can wrap all sorts of things using this quick and easy technique. Use items such as ring pulls, plastic straws, curtain rings, pieces of card, cut plastic from packaging, paperclips, or laser-cut wood shapes — you can wrap all of these. The list is endless, just take a look around the house with a fresh eye. There are many small objects that you can wrap in thread, and add to your embroidery.

Where did I get this plastic ring? In the mid-2000s, in Australia when we purchased bulk lots of blank CDs and DVDs these little disks acted as packing, found at the top of the stacks just under the lid of the case. At the time, I was working at the Art School and I never threw them away as they are far too interesting! I accumulated them because they are ideal to add to embroidery. They are an interesting shape and they are light, as they are plastic. So this is an up-cycling project too!

How to wrap a ring with thread

When you start to wrap anything, hold the object between your index finger and thumb, catching the end of the thread at the same time. You are going to wrap over this thread end to hold it in place.

Wrap an object with thread step 1

Wrap the object laying the thread side by side as evenly and as neatly as possible.

Wrap an object with thread step 2

Continue until you have wrapped the object. You can use some of the same thread to attach it to your embroidery.

Wrap an object with thread step 3

I wrapped the ring with the same hand-dyed cotton Perle #5 that I used to work the Herringbone stitches.

After attaching the rings to the foundation fabric I wanted some other circular elements. So I then went looking in my bead bags. I attached three beads, each with 5 straight stitches as a foundation for whipped spoke stitch worked around in a circle. Using a light blue shade of cotton perle #5, I sprinkled French knots over the surface and called the design done!

Fabric Postcard demonstrating Design and Contemporary embroidery technique tips

I hope you have enjoyed seeing these creative embroidery techniques applied and my step through of the design process!

My book for creative stitchers

Creative Stitches for Contemporary Embroidery book cover

If you enjoy my site you will gain real value from my book:  Creative Stitches for Contemporary Embroidery: Visual Guide to 120 Essential Stitches for Stunning Designs

Feeling stale? Wondering how to add sparkle to your embroidery? I have aimed Creative Stitches for Contemporary Embroidery to be suitable for both beginners and seasoned embroiderers. It introduces techniques to encourage your creative interpretations of stitches. I guide you towards discovering play-points in your embroidery by varying the height and width; by stacking stitches; or by filling multiple rows with the same stitch. With creative variations and demonstrations of tiny tweaks, You will be ready to head off down your own creative path and, of course, illustrated with plenty of eye candy!

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