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Starting Embroidery: What You Need To Know

Hopefully I have now convinced you to make crafting one of your New Year’s Resolutions, I have also let you know what questions I ask myself when I am picking a craft to try, So what about the answers to those questions, (for example what do you need to know when starting embroidery)?  If you have never tried a craft before it may be a bewildering mess with no clear place to start so or my next few posts (and at semi regular points throughout the year) I am going to provide a “fact file” with the answers to the most common questions.

First up, Starting Embroidery…

Starting embroidery? - Get the low down on what's involved at Il Magpie Miscellanea Di S

What Is Embroidery?:

Embroidery is decorating fabrics with patterns and pictures sewn in coloured threads. Unlike cross stitch or tapestry it is usually done on ordinary fabrics without holes woven in to guide size and shape of stitch. A line drawing of an image is transferred onto the fabric using one of several methods and different stitches are used to make up different shapes and cover area, such as in the toadstool below.

Starting embroidery? - Get the low down on what's involved at Il Magpie Miscellanea Di S


How Much Time Per Week Will Embroidery Take Up?:

To be honest, starting embroidery can take as little or as much time as you want. A small project, like monogramming hankies will only take a couple of hours to complete and can be picked up and put down as much as you like.

Starting embroidery? - Get the low down on what's involved at Il Magpie Miscellanea Di S

A bigger project like Aimee Ray’s gorgeous cuckoo clock will take a lot longer, is a lot bigger and obviously that makes it less portable!

Gorgeous Cuckoo Clock Embroidered by Aimee Ray of Doodle Stitching

By the way, if you are thinking of taking up embroidery you should seriously check out Aimee’s books on Doodle Stitching. So cute and easy to follow, I love them!

Do I Follow Patterns Or Do I Have To Make Up My Own Designs?:

That is entirely up to you! If you check out Aimee’s Instagram feed you will see that she takes her own line drawings and turns them into transfers for embroidery. However you can buy ready made transfers that simply iron on or create your own from line drawing images found on the internet or books.

As I am no Leonardo Da Vinci I tend to use the images of others but I have used my own handwriting to embroider quotes for quilts etc.

How Much Money Does It Take To Start Up?:

To begin you really only need some fabric or a garment to stitch onto (100% Linen retails for about £7.50 per half metre). I quite often just use men’s hankies from Primark (£3.00 for five!).

That said if your fabric is too thin you will need to use a stabiliser to stop stitches ruckling it up. I use a water soluble one which means that you place it under your fabric in the hoop, sew into it and then wet the fabric so that it dissolves away (it’s like magic, I love it!). I paid £0.74 for a piece 20cm x 90cm in my local haberdashers recently.

An embroidery hoop is not an essential but I find it incredibly useful as it holds the fabric taut and makes it MUCH easier to position the needle accurately for the stitch. As I mentioned above it is also really useful for holding fabric and stabiliser together while you sew.  I prefer a small hoop that I move around if I am working on a bigger design. A 10cm wooden embroidery hoop recently cost me £2.99

Embroidery threads (also known as Stranded Cotton) start at around £0.90 per 8 metre skein from Hobbycraft or any of your local Haberdashers. Metallic or variegated colour threads cost between £0.40-£0.50 more. There are two main manufacturers, DMC (pictured) and Anchor. I recommend sticking to them as many patterns use their colour numbering systems to tell you what colours you will need.

Starting embroidery? - Get the low down on what's involved at Il Magpie Miscellanea Di S

If you choose something like a simple Redwork design you will only need one colour of thread. Redwork is simple and rather beautiful and Mandy Shaw of Dandelion Designs does it beautifully. A packet of embroidery needles will set you back about £1.50.

To get your design onto the fabric you can trace in ordinary pencil (cost will probably only be some tracing paper), you can buy iron on transfers (cost depends on who has designed them but start at around £3.50) if you search for “iron on embroidery transfers” on Etsy some great results come up!

Total cost to produce a simple first design is around £12.68 (around $18.41).  Not a huge cost and this would give you several hankies to personalise as you wish.

How Quickly Will I See Results?:

A simple monogram like the one in the picture above usually takes about 30 minutes to get the transfer onto the fabric in the right place.  Sewing it usually takes a maximum of two hours. Obviously the more colours and different types of stitch involved the longer it is likely to take. The toadstool took me about three hours, start to finish but there was a lot of solid colour to fill in.

I like to see results quickly so small projects like hankies work well for me plus they make wonderful presents for people.

What Previous Knowledge Do I Need?:

If you can sew a running stitch you can learn embroidery. I say this because running stitch is also an embroidery stitch! Craftsy have some wonderful guides for hand embroidery that are free to download if you sign up (free of charge to do that as well).

How Dexterous Do I Need To Be?:

Honestly? Pretty dexterous. I have improved A LOT with practice but the ability to wield a needle has to be there to begin with.  Accuracy in placing the stitches can make a lot of difference to the final result. I will add that good lighting also makes a significant difference.

How Much Brain Power Does It Take?:

Starting embroidery takes a bit of brain power to  learn a new stitch but once you get past the first few stitches you settle into a rhythm and it becomes soothing. To be honest I never memorise how to do some of the harder stitches (like French Knots) but re-learn them via You Tube whenever I need them. You can see one example below (thanks to but there are LOADS.

This stitch is one of the more complicated ones, so don’t be put off!

If video learning isn’t  for you find a local beginners class, like the one I run, and take it. There are quite a few around and learning in a group is always less intimidating.

I’d love to know if this post is useful to you and I am more than happy to answer any questions you have via the comments, Facebook or Twitter.

Happy Crafting!

Review: Heat ‘N’ Bond Iron On Vinyl

I had the fabric I wanted to use to make a cushion for our kitchen pew but I really wanted to make it durable and easy to clean so I chose to buy some of Heat ‘N’ Bond’s Iron On Transparent Vinyl (I bought it in gloss. It is available in matte as well but I couldn’t find it in a local stockist at the time).

Heat 'N' Bond Iron On Vinyl Review - 6

As it was my first time using it I thought you might like to hear my thoughts.  I would like to point out that I paid for all the materials in this post and it is not sponsored in any way.

The product is supposed to provide an alternative to store bought Oil Cloths and PVC Coated Fabrics so that you can have the convenience of a permanent wipe clean and waterproof finish on your choice of fabric.  The packaging says that it is sewable with either a non-stick foot or a normal one on your sewing machine.

At £10.00 – £13.00 for 1.8m (2 yards) it isn’t cheap.  I bought mine from my local Hobbycraft but I notice that you can get it through Amazon now.  I would also by it in Matte if I was to buy it again (personal preference) but that wasn’t available to me at the time.

I was a bit ambitious for my first project using it as my cushion was 1.6m long and I had a LOT of scope for disaster.  However I was pleasantly surprised.

The instructions are very simple and clear.  There is also a downloadable PDF on Thermoweb’s internet site if you feel the need to double check it.I followed the instructions to the letter apart from one thing.

Because I was using such a long piece I didn’t have any on the backing paper to place in between the iron and the vinyl at first so I tried to use a clean dry tea towel.  It didn’t work brilliantly so at the first opportunity I cut some of the backing paper free and used that – MUCH better!

I would really like it if they put a spare piece of backing paper into the package so that you could use it for ironing if you were using the whole roll.

Definitely don’t skip the ironing both sides of the piece stage to secure the adhesive as adhesion can be patchy up until this point.

I thought I would have a nightmare getting the backing sheet off of the vinyl without creases and bubble (any body else spent forever getting “sticky backed plastic” on without these problems?!) but I spread the fabric width ways over my ironing board and started by rolling back the backing paper about 3 inches all the way across. I positioned it and then continued slowly and steadily from there.

Not a crease or a bubble!  I was amazingly easy.  It could have been beginners luck but I was impressed.

Heat 'N'Bond Iron On Vinyl Review-4

When it came to pinning up and getting ready for sewing the fabric was slightly stiffer than ordinary Oil Cloth but it didn’t make it awkward to manipulate for what I was doing.  I was pretty much only sewing straight lines but the box corners were no harder than normal because of the vinyl.

I only put vinyl on the one side because I wanted to have a “posh” side for when we have company so there is the possibility that having both sides coated would have made it trickier as well.

I used a normal (and not even new) machine needle to sew it (and my normal sewing machine foot) and it went through just as if it was normal fabric.  Even when putting the zip in it did not make it any more awkward and my normal zipper foot worked perfectly.

I used normal dressmaking sewing thread (a polyester one) which seems to hold up just fine.

At the end of the making process the vinyl was still securely adhered to it’s surface and it had gained no nasty scratches or creases.  It has stood up similarly well to it’s first few days of wear and tear but only time will tell.

Heat 'N'Bond Iron On Vinyl Review-2

All in all I am definitely planning to use this product again and would definitely recommend it.  The pro’s outweigh the con’s by a long way and as long as it wears well I cannot see the down side.

My Eight Crafting Essentials

Everyone who makes stuff has things that help them they CANNOT live without.  I’m sure you have some.

In case you hadn’t figured it out I am not the most patient crafter.  I like to see progress and this means not undertaking many things that are too fiddly.  Most of my favourite crafting things are things that save me time and/or effort. (I hasten to add that anything I recommend in this post I have bought and paid for.  I have no sponsors or advertisers at this time.  It is just my personal opinion).

  1. PVA Glue – Most of the crafting world is mad about “Mod Podge” and although it is good I find that good old PVA glue does most of the same stuff and is a fraction of the price!  Your remember this stuff, my primary school teachers used to call it “Marvin” for some reason.  Its the one that is still great fun to peel off of your fingers when dry.Stag-1
  2. Spray Paint – I first fell in love with this stuff whilst at University where we used it for model making.  That was made for cars NOW it’s available for all surfaces in all finishes. My favourites tend to be the Rustoleum range and the Plastikote range which which paint everything, including the kitchen sink! It is easy to use, gives a lovely finish and quick to dry.Paint
  3. A rotary cutter – Despite two years working in a fabric and habadashery shop I do not cut fabric in the straightest of lines.  A rotary cutter (plus a quilting ruler and a self healing cutting mat) removes that problem  It saves the wrist and I make the blades last longer by periodically cutting tin foil with them.
  4. Annie Sloan Chalk Paint – I am a recent convert to this after using it to paint an old nest of tables.  It applies nicely to pretty much any surface and you don’t need to sand before applying it.  As you will find all over the internet there are loads of ways to apply it, distress it and generally make it look gorgeous in a myriad of styles!Annie Sloan Chalk Paint-1
  5. My Bosch PMF 190E Multifunction Power Tool. – I referred to this in Sunday’s post “Five Things Learnt About Up-cycling Pallets”.  It is a God-send. It is a detail sander, It has a plunge cut saw (useful for cutting nails on pallets or making rebates for hinges) and a segment saw (useful for cutting across planks ready to remove them from a pallet!Bosch Multi Tool-1
  6. Free versions of software – I have downloaded and use Open Office and Serif Draw Plus Starter.  I also use free on-line software PicMonkey to edit photos.  You just can’t afford to buy everything and these truncated versions do pretty much everything I want.
  7. Fabric Remnants – Nearly all the fabrics I use are remnants I do have to be careful though as some shops sell “remnants” that when you stop and work it out are actually the same price as you would pay for the same quantity off of the roll!Medal-2
  8. My Camera – I have a second hand Nikon D70 that I love.  I would be completely lost without it.  I only have the kit lens that came with it and no external flash.  I do have a Tripod (a gift from a wonderful friend) and a remote control shutter trigger that was part of the deal when I bought it.Someone's trying to keep me quiet!-2

What are your essentials?  The things that just make your crafting life a pleasure?  I would love to know so I can try them!

Five Lessons Learnt About Up-cycling Pallets

Inspired by Pinterest (how many well intentioned crafting misadventures start with those words I wonder?) I have decided to build a garden bench for our garden using as a base two old kitchen chairs I bought at our local rubbish tip for £10.00 the pair.

I assembled the rest of the materials I thought I would need thus.

Two Chair Pallet Garden Bench-1a

Loads of people seem to be using old pallets for wood for their project and we had one that our bathroom tiles were delivered on so I decided to use this.  Boffin and I took it apart last weekend.  This is where I learned my first lesson.

Lesson #1 –

Taking pallets apart whilst keeping the timber in one piece is both HARD work and tricky.  I used a crow-bar, claw hammer and my trusty (and much loved) Bosch PMF 190E to take it apart. Which leads me onto lesson 2.

 Lesson #2 –

Unless you’re a much better woman than me (which you may well be!) you only save around 80% of the timber.  The rest splits and splinters no matter how hard you try to avoid it.

 Lesson #3 –

You are probably going to need more pallets than you think.  I went and asked politely at the wine warehouse opposite my office (I know, there are a million jokes there 😉 ) for another pallet.

 Lesson #4 –

The materials may be cheap or free but it will probably cost you a couple of replacement blades for your power saw of choice. I ended up sawing through some of the nails in order to get as much of the wood off in one piece as possible and it is hell on the blades.

Lesson #5 –

Time.  I spent the first 90 minutes of Saturday putting together the frame of the bench with the wood that we had got from the pallet the previous week

Two Chair Palet Garden Bench-2

I spent the next four hours (and a trip to the local DIY shop for more blades) getting the second pallet apart in more or less one piece!  I was so shattered by the time I finished I had to take a break!

I finished the day feeling shattered and a bit discouraged.  A good nights sleep has taken care of the discouragement but now I’m hunting for the time to finish this before we go on holiday in two weeks time!

Any advice about working with pallets gratefully received and if anyone has a way to slot a few more workable hours into the day I’d be grateful too!

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