Sewing projects · Textile Design

How to – Machine Embroidery

Lock down has certainly given me lots of time to play and get back into things that take a little time, like machine embroidery. I love combining drawing with little tiny stitches, attaching pretty fabrics as I go.

I start by drawing in my sketchbook in pencil. I’m lucky to have a garden and fields nearby so most of my subjects are botanical lately although I also like drawing buildings and pets. I also like to ink it in so that it’s nice and neat and I can start to imagine how it will look on fabric. This helps you to see the design through the fabric when you transfer it too.

gilhoolie prayer plant drawing in ink

I prepare my fabric (usually a medium weight linen as I like the texture it has) by spraying it with starch spray and then ironing it. This just stiffens it a bit so that I don’t need to use an embroidery hoop. But you can use a hoop if you prefer, there are no rules!

Once the fabric is ironed dry I draw the design onto my fabric using a washable fabric pen (so that it can be removed once you’re done stitching). If I can’t see through the fabric very well I use a light-box but you can just hold it up to a window if you don’t have one.

The blue is washable fabric pen – it just washes off when you have finished

I use a special embroidery foot for my sewing machine, it just has an open ring that the needle goes through so you can see where you’re stitching. It’s really important that you lower your sewing machine’s feed foot too, so that the fabric can move freely as you stitch.

I usually cut little snips of fabrics and lay them out on my design so that I can see if they will work. Then, once I have decided on colours and patterns, I iron them onto the main fabric using bondaweb. It just stops them from moving around while you stitch. It’s very easy to use. You iron it onto the wrong side of your fabric and peel off the backing. Then iron it in place before you start stitching. That’s what I have done for the leaf in the image above.

See, I told you it takes a while! Now you’re ready to start sewing! Just relax and go with it. Set the speed to relatively fast and have fun drawing with tiny stitches. I always use a medium grey Gutterman 100% polyester thread so nothing special. Maybe have a practice on a scrap of fabric first if you need to. Occasionally the stitching goes a bit crazy and I end up with lots of stitching underneath – that’s why it’s best to practice first. If this does happen you just need to adjust your sewing machine tension as it’s probably too tight.

I have just finished this drawing of a prayer house plant. They have beautiful striped green leaves that are a burgundy colour underneath. The leaves lie flat during the day and fold upward at night, as if in prayer. I recently re-potted this one into a pretty patterned pot from Anthropologie and it’s really happy, sprouting new shoots (which in turn makes me happy!)

Machine embroidered houseplant illustration by gilhoolie

I hope you like it! It is now available to buy in my Etsy shop – FOR SALE!

Read more about machine embroidery in another blog post here.

Do get in touch if you need help with machine embroidery, or if you would like to commission a drawing or lampshade.

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