Hand sewing, hand stitching, hand sewing

Oh dear, oh dear….I’ve been reprimanded by my younger sister for not posting on my blog regularly enough!  So here, my dears, is what I’ve been up to:

Hand stitching, hand stitching, and then hand stitching some more. Oh, and now we’ve got to the Easter holidays and I have a couple of weeks off from college, guess what I’ve spent my time doing? Yes: hand stitching!

With 6 weeks of my tailoring training gone already, I decided to spend my Easter break acquiring some skills which I could use to embellish my tailored garments, add to my portfolio, and hopefully make me more employable. So I headed back to school to learn embroidery.

Embroidery?!  Oh yes, I know it doesn’t sound like all that much of a useful life skill. But, you see, I quite fancy the idea of tailoring for the military, or at least working for a firm where that’s part of their business, and there’s a lot of braiding and gold embroidery on military uniforms so I figured it was useful to know how it’s done.  On the other side of things, evening gowns and other pretty garments often have an element of beading or embroidery (in fashion beading falls under the general term ‘embroidery’) to add a bit of glamour and sparkle. Plus, my final justification for indulging my love of embroidery was that at the very least it would keep my fingers accustomed to working with a needle over the college break!

So, now I’ve given you all my reasoning, shall we proceed?!

First up, given my military tailoring ambitions, I enrolled on an introductory class in Goldwork embroidery. Goldwork is the technique used on the majority of military badges and uniform embellishments. It involves using various types and thicknesses of gold coils and threads to create the design. The gold is never actually passed through the fabric, but is stitched onto the surface (couched down) with waxed sewing thread. The design possibilities are endless, but we started with a leaf shape which wouldn’t be too ambitious for us beginners, but would still give us the chance to learn a few different ways of working the gold.

Here’s my class, working away hard:

Goldwork class, my work in the foreground


Goldwork class (I’m in the middle looking inquisitive)!

Goldwork needs to be applied to a prepared surface, and there are a few different ways to do that. The two we tried were using felt to create a flat padded surface and using couched down embroidery threads to create a raised shape. You can see both in this snap – felt on the right, threads on the left.

Once the design area has been prepared you can choose how to apply the goldwork. We used rough purl over the raised shape, stitching through the coil of gold with doubled waxed sewing thread, covering half of the leaf in little diagonal stripes of dull gold. On top of the felt pad we went for a much more glitzy look, using a rose gold bright check to create a sparkling mosaic of little pink-gold chips. To edge the design we used a third type of gold: pearl purl. Pearl purl is a stiffer and thicker coil of gold. The coils can be slightly stretched out, which we did just enough for a thread to slip between them, and then we couched it down using a single waxed thread along the edge of the leaf. Et voila; three different types of goldwork tried!

Here’s my leaf, part way through, but you can see examples of each technique already.

A bit more bright check on this one!

I’ve got a load of practice and experimentation to do before I get good enough to do professional-standard goldwork like the bits on my Dad’s Royal Navy cap badge here:

But, I have extra gold to play with and a certain determination (or stubbornness) to improve, so watch this space.

The Great Embroidery Experiment doesn’t end there though. This week I have spent 2 days at the Royal School of Needlework at Hampton Court Palace learning a variety of other techniques which I could use on garments.  It was a great class, and in glorious surroundings. I was lucky enough to be there on a warm(ish) sunny day – rare at the moment! – and so had a wonderful lunch break strolling around the Palace and Gardens.

Hampton Court gardens


The course I did was called ‘Embroidery for Fashion’, which basically meant you could learn anything you liked! It was very free, with people choosing all kinds of different techniques to try, so even if you didn’t cover all the techniques on offer you could watch the demonstrations and take notes for future attempts.

I had a try at silk shading (according to the tutor I’m ‘a natural’ at it, which is lovely, but she was probably just been being kind!), then moved on to a bit of monogram-style lettering, before having a try at trailing with wire and some raised/textured stitches. I didn’t finish anything, but did enough of each technique to get the hang of it so I could finish in my own time.

Here’s my silk shading underway:


I’m going to have a go at two other ways of embroidering lettering in the coming days: a satin stitch on larger letters, and a different stitch creating a similar effect to the monogram above.

My last item was a little bumble bee.

The tutor suggested quite a few different techniques to create this little chap. He will have a fuzzy striped body for which I am using Turkey Rug Stitch. It looks like a mess as you stitch it, as you can see, because of all the loops that have to be made, but once its complete and trimmed to shape he’ll have a cute velvety body.

For his head I will use padded satin stitch, so it will be slightly raised but lovely and glossy, and his legs are also using the technique called trailing. Trailing is when a wire or thread is stitched down on the surface of the fabric by stitching over and over it in another thread so that it is completely covered. I’m making the wings separately and will attach them last.

To make them I have taken paper-covered cake wire (yes, really) and stitched it down onto a fine silk using the trailing technique so that the wire is completely covered. I then added a few beads to give a little bit of sparkle, and next I’ll cut them out CAREFULLY.

Once my bee’s complete I will attach his wings so that they stand proud of the fabric and can flutter a little. He’ll be a handsome little gent once he’s done! I’ll post pictures once I’ve finished him.

So that’s the skinny on my embroidery crash-course. Now I have further practice to do to improve on what I’ve managed so far, and no doubt there will be more classes to take and techniques to learn in the coming months.


UPDATE: Mr Bee is finished! And he’s cute and dapper!

 2013-04-22 07.15.14

UPDATE 2: I’ve also finished the silk shading and goldwork now. Hurrah!

Silk shading

Silk shading



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