Thursday, December 17, 2009

My redwork journey

These cheerful guys greet you when you enter my house.

I have a weakness for snowmen.  You might already know that.

When I fell in love with a redwork BOM featuring snowmen, it had been a long time since I did embroidery, so I set out on a web search to learn. 

I'll share what I'm doing, in the hopes it might be helpful to someone out there. 

I'm using plain muslin, the kind with the little brown nubs.  I love how the Olfa rotary pinking blade tames the edges of my embroidery and applique projects.  (By the way, the background is a purchased placemat... not by me.)

I use a light box and Sakura Pigma Micron 01 pen in brown to transfer the pattern.  Since it's permanent, I was nervous.  One tip I found helpful was to look ahead when you're drawing the pattern.  Imagine your pen is a car and look a little down the road to help keep everything lined up.  It helped me make better lines.  

When I stitch with a single strand I use the same needles that I use for applique, John James Applique #10's.  The needle threader is a time saver.  I can get frustrated when stitching with the DMC floss, so I use the Thread Heaven... but not always... I'm not certain if it helps or not.  (Someday I plan to try another thread, like Cosmo.)  I use a different needle when I'm stitching with two strands, but I have no clue what it is... sorry.  The eye is elongated, so I can't use the cute needle threader... or so the instructions warn me.   

Although the backstitch is very popular, I went with the stem stitch.  It looked stronger from a distance, even compared to multiple strands in backstitch.  I also wanted to use a more traditional stitch, something my grandmothers would have used.  I use single strand for the small and detailed stuff (leaves, apples, basket) and two strands for major stuff (snowman, tree).

I chose not to use backing, so the back of my stitches needed to stay clean. 

I was tickled to "discover" the waste knot technique.  It's a little slow, but the results are very nice.  I learned about it here from Mary Corbett's Needle'nThread blog. 

With a knotted thread I go in at A and back up at B.  Yes, the knot is on the front.

The first few stitches will cross over the back thread to secure it.  Since I can't do it without looking, when I go back down (stitch C) I turn the work over to make sure I come up on one side of the thread on the back.  When I come back up to the top, I make sure I've crossed over the back thread.  

You can see below that I wait to pull the top thread all the way through so I can find the line to poke the needle. 

How close is D to B?  If I want the start of the line to look as thick as the rest of the line, then D is very close to B, within a couple of threads.  If I want the line to have a finer end, then it's not as close.  

I don't always secure the thread right away.  For the leaf, I did the vein, worked around the leaf, and THEN secured the back thread.  I'm extra careful with the last step.  Pull the knot up away from the top and very carefully clip it off.  I've never cut the fabric or my working thread yet... knock wood. 

Starting a thread on a tight curve required a different technique, which I also learned from Mary Corbett.  I'll let Mary show you that... it's described under the first pic in the this post

There are oodles of instructions and diagrams on making a stem stitch and they don't all agree.  After trying it out on my scrap, practice piece, I settled on the following: work left to right, keep the loop of the thread toward me, and the tip of the needle comes out exactly where the last stitch ended.  The back of the work looks just like the backstitch.

(Some instructions show the stitch at an angle to the line, like this.  You can also bring up the needle to the right of the last stitch, rather than all the way to the last stitch.  I tried a variety to see what worked for me.  I highly recommend checking out Anne Sutton's great instructions, see here and here.)

Does it make a difference if vertical lines are stitched top to bottom or bottom to top?  Or if curves are stitched clockwise or counter-clockwise?  Nope.  As long as I turned my work so I'm working left to right and keep the loop towards me, it turns out the same. 

Points were a challenge, then I found the "trick" (thanks again to Mary, in the last four pics on this post). 

I'll show you.  My needle goes down at the point...

... comes up down the line...

... back down at the point, wait to pull the loop all the way until I take the next stitch...

... and finally back up half way between the two.  See how I've turned the work?  Left to right, loop towards me.  Pull the thread and off I go with more stem stitches.

Ending the thread is pretty straightforward.  Wind 'er around a few stitches on the back.  I also use this method to secure a new thread if the next stitches are next to existing ones, rather than the waste knot technique.

So there you have it.  There aren't absolute rights or wrongs.  This is simply what worked to handle the things that eluded me when I started. 

May your hands stay busy and happy!  


Quilt Hollow said...

Perfect some point I will give it a try. Good thing you are marked on my side bar to return to!

Darlene said...

Wonderful wonderful tutorial. I'm so happy to see your excellent work - awesome! I can 'hear' the excitement in your words. :-)

Notjustnat said...

I love your snowmen and would like to start collecting them from next year. Redwork is fun, it's my favorite kind of embroidery. You patterns are so adorable - Hugs Natima

teresa w said...


Thanks so much for the tutorial. It was very helpful. Can you tell us where we can get the pattern for the redwork BOM featuring snowmen? Thanks

Teresa / IL

Crispy said...

Great tutorial Beth, I've put this post in my favs so I can refer back to it. My embroidery skills are woefully rusty and with your lesson I hope they will improve on my next Tisket Tasket block :0)


Carrie P. said...

I learned something new today. Doing the point. thanks
I have Mary's site bookmarked. Lots of great stuff on her site.
If you check out this blog she shows you another way to start without a knot which I like to use. scroll down a bit.
Your work is fabulous. Thanks for sharing.

Robin said...

Thank you for the wonderful tutorial! I'm just starting to do stitchery, and I know I will be coming back to this for ideas. (And to check out some of the resources you've pointed out, too!)