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embroidery basics: strands, sewing, stabbing and starting


Welcome back to Embroidery Basics! We took a week off for some other fun, but things are on track to keep on for the next month and beyond. It's just about time to learn some stitches, but there are a few more things to consider before starting. After today, you'll be ready to dig in.

First things first. Cut a length of floss. Unless I know that I only need a very small amount, I'll cut about 24". Much shorter, and you'll make yourself crazy with starting new strands all the time. Longer, and you're asking for tangles.

Before the floss touches the needle, you need to decide how many strands you are going to use. This is assuming that you are using regular cotton floss that can be split.
Strands
Take a look at what some different number of strands look like. See how the thickness changes? Why is this important?

Think of it as using different widths of markers. I love thick, chunky stitching, so I often use all six strands. This is like pulling out the big markers. But there are some times when that just doesn't work. For small areas, lettering, or faces on my designs, fewer strands are more likely to show off the details. Like the fine point markers do.
Separating the strands
If you are going to split the strands of floss, separate the number you want at one end, and slowly pull the ends away from each other. Slowly! After you pull them all the way apart, they'll spin and twist and get all excited. When they stop, you're set.

There's this lovely product called Thread Heaven, and running your floss through it first will make separating the strands easier. But guess what? I stitched for years without it, and learned to split the strands just fine.

Next up, there are two methods of stitching embroidery stitches. The first is called the sewing method. In this method, you put the point of the needle through the fabric, and bring it back up to the front as one step. Then you pull the floss through.
Sewing method
Although efficient in terms of stitches, I find that it is more difficult to work in a hoop when using this method. Yes, you can lessen the tension, but it's still trickier than having the fabric loose. That said, there are many embroidery stitches that are easier when worked with the sewing method.
Stabbing method
My preferred method is called stabbing. With this, you poke the needle through, then pull all of the floss to the back.
Stabbing method
Then you poke the needle through from the back, and pull all of the floss to the front. It takes longer, but I like that I get to be a little more fussy about where the needle is coming and going.

Finally, let's talk about how you're going to be starting out the floss when you're ready to stitch.

Can you use a knot? Yes, yes you can. And sometimes that's the best option. But I don't like it. I'm old-fashioned, and I like to make sure that the back of my work is pretty. Start your stitching without a knot, and just secure the tail with stitches. Here's what it looks like:
Weaving a tail to start
Pull the floss from back to front, and leave a tail of about 1".
Weaving a tail to start
Flip the hoop to the front, and take your next stitch, making sure that you don't pull the tail through. Now, flip to the back. Check to see that the tail ends up under the stitch on the back.
Weaving a tail to start
Weaving a tail to start
Flip to the front. Make a stitch. Flip to the back. Get the tail under the stitch. And so on, until the tail is secure. Yes, it's a lot of flipping, but only for about 3 or 4 stitches, depending on the length of the tail.
Weaving a tail to start
When the tail is all covered with stitches, it will look like this.
Securing the floss
And then after you're all done stitching, take the needle and weave it through the backs of completed stitches. This is also the same thing that you would do when starting a new length of floss near completed stitches!

Starting and stopping this way will keep your backside pretty! Wait...that came out wrong. It will keep your work neat and tidy. Yeah, that's better.

At last, we're ready for learning some stitches, and next time, that's what we'll do!

23 comments:

  1. Awesome! I always just go at it with my embroidery, but your tips are fun and helpful. I can't wait for more lessons. :D

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  2. Whoa, I didn't even know you called it sewing method versus stabbing... definitely learning lots - thanks for sharing your knowledge!

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  3. I'm really enjoying this series, I've been fancying trying a bit of embroidery for a while now and something like this is just what I needed to start me off! Thanks :D

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  4. Lovely lesson, Mollie! :)

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  5. Thank you so much for these tips!! I am so excited to get started!! :) xo

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  6. I've always wondered about the tying-off part!

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  7. Love the pictures, quite detailed & your time and efforts paid off, made it very easy for us visual learners. And I learned a new start other than the knot, thanks!

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  8. AH ha! Great method for keeping the back from getting all knotty. I get pretty embarrassed whenever I turn over my needlework. This is a great way to keep the backside from looking a wreck. Thanks.

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  9. These lessons are being saved in my favourites bar FOREVER! So good to be taught the basics I've always skipped over before now =) x

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  10. Great lesson thank you

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  11. Thank you so much for this post. I want to let you know that I posted a link to your blog in CBH Digital Scrapbooking Freebies, under the Page 5 post on Apr. 08, 2011. Thanks again.

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  12. I like the back of my work to be neat & pretty, too (and it usually is), but I always use knots when embroidering on bed linens (so they don't loosen or fall out in the wash). :)

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  13. @giddy99 You make a good point for washing your work. Do you still leave tail off of your knot and stitch over it, or just cut the thread close to the knot?

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  14. Yay for another stitching lesson! I tried to stitch your baseball embroidery last week, but I had a hard time getting the circle to look right. Do you think I used too many strands?

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  15. These lessons are very cool mollie...love the pics too!!

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  16. @Alysa: It could be the number of strands, but it is more likely the type/length of stitch you used, or the weave of the fabric.

    If it's a really loose weave, it makes it harder to create accurate curves (it's like trying to draw a circle on graph paper, but only crossing over the intersection of lines).

    And some stitches can be tricky to get a nice curve, especially if they are long. Again, this can be affected by the fabric.

    I hope this helps!

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  17. A lovely tutorial. Love the little talk bubble.. very cute

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  18. oh my god. You are a genius. {Yes I know you didn't come up with these ideas, but you did for me!} Splitting the thread? Weaving it in on the backside? :::Slapping head with hand::: GENIUS. I will be employing these techniques starting NOW. Thank you so much for enlightening me Mollie. Where would I be without you?


    xoxo
    Janee
    yellowbirdyellowbeard.blogspot.com

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  19. Hey Mollie, I just wanted to let you know I did what you said about keeping the back clean and weaving in the strand instead of knotting it, it turned out great! Here's a photo {at the very bottom of the post} if you want to see.

    http://yellowbirdyellowbeard.blogspot.com/2011/05/featured-artist-greg-lookerse.html

    xoxo
    Janee

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  20. I read that if you double your thread and leave the looped bit as your sewing bit, when you make your first stitch, make sure you thread your needle through the loop. Does that make any sense at all. I'll see if I can find the tutorial that explains it way better.

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  21. Anonymous5:32 PM

    Great hint on making the front and back pretty without knots. If I use this method will it with stand laundrying and not come undone. I use this method with I needlepoint, had no idea I could do the same with embroidery.

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    1. If you're putting things through the laundry, I'd recommend a knot with a tail, then stitch over the tail as shown above. It helps conceal the knot, while keeping things secure.

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  22. Mollie- This post is amazing! I've wanted to learn embroidery basics for a while now! This gave me the courage I need to start! now I just have to find time haha. I'm thinking some embroidery on a pair of old jeans would be cute! Thanks for the awesome tutorial!

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