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What Flowers Mean in Chinese Embroidery

What Flowers Mean in Chinese Embroidery

The Symbolic Meanings of Flowers in Old China

Everyone loves flowers, but in China, their love goes beyond beauty. Flowers have symbolic meanings to ward off bad luck and promote success and good fortune.

In centuries past, when most people lived off the land, life was hard. Many died young, believed to be victims of evil spirits waiting to pounce. Even today flowers are carefully chosen by the superstitious Chinese to bring joy, and not give offense.

Qing Dynasty Clothing and Home Furnishings

Clothing and household furnishings were covered with floral embroidery. The large loose jackets and skirts with flat panels at front and back worn by Chinese women were ideal places to display intricately embroidered flowers. Since most women and girls bound their feet in the fashion of the time, their tiny shoes were also covered with delicate blossoms. The feet were even called golden lotuses, as they resembled the bud of that flower. Children’s tunics and trousers were important places on which to display lucky emblems to protect them from harm.

Lotus Flower, Peony, Orchid, Chrysanthemum and Plum Blossom: What They Mean

The most popular flowers were the peony, lotus, orchid, plum blossom and chrysanthemum. The peony is thought to be the Queen of Flowers and is a symbol of spring, a symbol of love and affection, as well as signifying wealth and distinction. An emblem of feminine beauty, it was the favorite flower of the Empress Dowager in the late 19th century. Pots of peonies surrounded her rooms in the Forbidden City in Beijing, and her gowns lavishly embroidered with the flower.

The lotus is a representation of chastity and perfection since it grows in mud but is not defined. An essential Buddhist emblem, Buddha is often shown sitting on the sacred lotus. It is a sign of summer and fruitfulness because the pods yield many seeds. For this reason, it was frequently used on children’s clothes to encourage more little brothers! It is a favorite of Chinese people as all parts of the flower are used: the stem and seeds are eaten, the leaves used for wrapping food, the yellow stamens as a cosmetic, and the flowers simply enjoyed.

Plum blossom is a symbol of winter and of long life since the flowers appear first on leafless branches. But it is also a promise of new beginnings and always an important part of the festivities at Chinese New Year. Gardeners believed the colder the weather, the more abundant the blossom. The orchid is a symbol of fragrance and refinement, as well as love and beauty. It was said a beautiful women’s breath is like the perfume of an orchid!

The chrysanthemum is a representation of autumn and appeared on clothing that is worn by older women. The flower also symbolized a life of ease and retirement from public office, so desired by harassed officials in Qing dynasty China. Red, purple and orange chrysanthemums are considered cheerful flowers. But don’t give white chrysanthemums, the color of mourning, or yellow, which is always used at funerals.

Antique Shops and Markets Yield Embroidered Treasures

Many fragments of these antique embroideries linger forgotten in attics in the west, in markets in China, or in corners of antique shops around the world. They serve to remind us that, though the flowers which inspired the embroiderers are long gone, their beauty lasts forever.

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Custom Embroidery on a Home Sewing Machine

Custom Embroidery on a Home Sewing Machine

Embroider by Machine Without an Embroidery Sewing Machine

Sewing a monogram, name, simple logo, or picture is possible on a home machine. While costly embroidery machine sewing is faster, it’s limited in size and design options.

For the home sewer, spending a lot of money on an embroidery sewing machine or an embroidery service to produce the occasional embroidery isn’t very practical. It is possible to embroider unique customized designs on a home sewing machine. If you simply want to add a child’s name to a quilt, Christmas stocking, or article of clothing, the fonts in your word processing program offer great variety. Make them as fancy or simple as desired, embroidery on a home machine can be very pleasing.

The key to success is able to sew on the line of the design accurately. Once the outline of the letters or design is established, the kind and amount of stitching is a personal choice. It is possible to completely fill the shapes or letters with thread, such as the stars in the quilt pictured below. Click on the picture for a larger image. Fabric can be used as part of the design without as much stitching, for unlimited design and size options.

Sewing curved lines on a sewing machine can take some practice. Tight curves, such as in small letters take more time and effort than gentle curves. Tight curves can be mastered by using a very small straight stitch and guiding the needle for every stitch to stay on the line. Large letters are easier. Practice both to decide where your comfort zone is. It works best to do the embroidery before sewing it into the project. Hooping the embroidery is optional.

Suggested Projects to Add Home Sewing Machine Embroidery

  • Handbags and other bags
  • Quilts and wallhangings
  • Pillowcases
  • Towels
  • Clothing – including t-shirts, sweat shirts, collars, cuffs, jacket lapels, yokes and panels
    book and album covers

Materials Needed for Home Sewing Machine Embroidery

  • Printed design to embroider – this can be as large as desired. Larger designs and letters are easier to sew by machine than very small ones.
  • Non-fusible interfacing or stabilizer such as HTC Inc. Pattern-Ease, or Pellon Easy Pattern
  • Background Fabric larger than the desired finished size.
  • Fabric for the design, again larger than the finished size.
  • Thread
  • Fray Check or other product to prevent the edges from unraveling

How to Embroider the Chosen Design

  1. Trace the design onto the interfacing with a sharp pencil or waterproof pen. Check to be sure the lines are visible on the reverse side of the interfacing.
  2. Place the interfacing with the design face up on a table. Place the background fabric face up over the interfacing. Place the fabric for the design face up over the background fabric. Placement doesn’t need to be precise because of the extra fabric allowed. Pin all three layers together and flip them, so the interfacing is up.
  3. With bobbin thread to match the design fabric, sew along the lines of the design. Use a small straight stitch or a tiny zig-zag stitch. Here again, having extra fabric aids in easy handling.
  4. Apply Fray Check, or similar product around the stitching on the design fabric, and let dry.
  5. Cut the excess design fabric away. Applique scissors are highly recommended for easy cutting.
  6. On the right side, satin stitch over the cut edges and stitching.
  7. Tear away the excess interfacing on the back and cut the background fabric to the desired size.

Filling the Design Completely With Thread

Instead of using another fabric for the design, layer just the interfacing and background fabric. Using a heavier weight thread in the bobbin, sew rows of stitching side by side to fill the shape. It’s not necessary to use a hoop. The finished embroidery is the bobbin side. Heavier weight thread works best on the bobbin and reduces the amount of stitching needed.

Embroidery machine sewing is more practical for those who do a great deal of embroidery. For a lot less money and a lot more creativity, casual embroiderers can create alphabets and simple designs in fabric and thread on a home sewing machine. If your machine has some fancy stitches, they can be incorporated into the designs. Instead of feeling limited by not having an expensive machine to embroider alphabets and other designs, feel free to create unlimited unique designs.

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Guide to Counted Cross Stitch Fabrics

Guide to Counted Cross Stitch Fabrics

Learn When to Use Cotton, Linen, Paper, Plastic Canvas, Waste Canvas

Cross-stitchers can choose from a wide variety of different fabrics, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. Here’s a beginner’s guide to the available options.

Counted cross-stitchers use special fabrics that are woven specifically to make counting stitches easier. These fabrics are also known as evenweave fabrics because they have the same number of threads per inch from top to bottom as they do from left to right. Some threads may be thicker than others, especially in linen fabrics, but the thread count of an evenweave fabric will always be the same vertically and horizontally.

Fabric Count Measures Threads per Inch

Every cross stitch fabric has a “count” that identifies the number of threads or squares per linear inch. A fabric marked 12-count, 12ct, or 12 HPI, has 12 threads or squares per inch. Some linen fabrics have more than 30 threads per inch. The higher the fabric count, the smaller your stitches will be.

Aida Fabric, a Good Choice for Beginning Cross Stitchers

Aida fabric is 100% cotton, evenweave fabric woven with groups of threads bunched together to leave well-defined square holes between the threads. Some of Aida’s advantages:

  • Aida fabrics come in a large assortment of colors and thread counts.
  • The visible grid of squares makes it easy to keep track of stitches and find the correct place to put the needle.
  • The grid on Aida fabrics matches the grid on counted cross-stitch patterns, making it easy to follow the pattern.
  • Aida is rather stiff, which means it can be stitched without a hoop.

One disadvantage of Aida fabric is that the background of the design shows the woven squares. The grouped threads can also make fractional stitches more difficult.

Other Cotton Evenweave Fabrics—Davosa, Hardanger, Jobelan, Linda

There are many, many evenweave fabrics to choose from. Each one has a different weave, fiber content, and finish. Here are a few you may want to try:

  • Davosa fabric. This is a 100% cotton, 18-count (18 threads to the inch) evenweave fabric that looks less bulky than Aida.
  • Hardanger fabric. This 22-count (22 threads to the inch) cotton block weave fabric was designed for Norwegian Hardanger embroidery, but it can also be used for counted cross stitch. The threads are arranged in pairs. The holes in Hardanger are smaller than the holes in Aida fabric.
  • Jobelan fabric. A soft, cotton/rayon blend evenweave fabric designed for stitching linens, pillows, and apparel. It hangs and washes well, and is less expensive than most linens.
  • Linda fabric. A tightly woven 100% cotton fabric manufactured by Zweigart. It produces a better-looking background than Aida fabric.

There are too many different evenweave fabrics to list them all here. A visit to a store that offers cross stitch supplies is a good idea for anyone just getting started with counted cross stitch.

Linen Cross Stitch Fabrics, the Traditional Favorite

Beautiful and expensive, linen has been used for cross stitch embroidery for hundreds of years. Linen has a stiff feel and makes a magnificent background to show off your stitching. It is also more challenging to work with than Aida fabric for several reasons:

  • High thread counts (up to 30+) mean that smaller stitches are required to work with linen.
  • Irregularities called slubs make linen harder to work with than perfectly even fabrics.
  • It is harder to control thread tension and create even stitches.

Make sure the linen you choose is woven tightly enough that threads won’t show through from the back. Any cross stitch store will carry a variety of different linens.

Perforated Paper and Plastic Canvas for Stiff or 3-D Projects

Cross-stitching an item that is stiff or three-dimensional, such as tissue boxes, bookmarks, samplers, ornaments, or pins, requires a stiffer base “fabric.” Two popular options are:

  • Perforated paper, which first became popular in the Victorian era as a less-expensive alternative to linen. Perforated paper has a grid pattern of holes similar to the ones in Aida fabric. It is available in some colors, usually in 14 counts (14 squares to the inch). It can be cut into shape without fraying at the edges.
  • Plastic canvas is a durable plastic mesh that is used for much the same kind of projects as perforated paper but is less expensive. It is available in sheets or precut shapes in a wide variety of counts. Plastic canvas is easy to cut, won’t ravel, tear, or shrink, and is stiff enough to use for 3-D projects.

Waste Canvas to Cross Stitch on Clothing, Tote Bags, and Quilts

Waste canvas is a fabric grid that makes it possible to cross stitch on fabrics that don’t have an even weave, such as t-shirts, jeans, quilts, or tote bags. It is called “waste” canvas because it is temporary and gets removed after stitching. The threads in the waste canvas are held together by a water-soluble glue. After stitching, the glue is washed away, and the fibers pulled out, leaving the cross stitching attached to the fabric underneath.

Waste canvas is available in some different fabric counts. The threads are marked with a grid to help you with counting stitches.

Experiment to Find Your Favorite Cross Stitch Fabrics

As with any craft, it takes time and experimentation to discover your own favorite supplies, tools, and ways of working. If one type of fabric doesn’t appeal to you, there are many other possibilities available.

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Essential Cross Stitch Supplies

Essential Cross Stitch Supplies

Learn the Basics of Patterns, Fabric, Needles, Threads, and Hoops

Cross stitch embroidery is fun, easy to learn, and portable. To get started with cross stitch, all you need is a few inexpensive supplies.

The simplicity of cross stitch embroidery means you can take your stitching with you wherever you go and work on it whenever you have a spare moment. Here’s a list of the essential supplies you will need to make your first cross stitch project.

Stamped or Counted Cross-Stitch Pattern

There are two types of cross stitch patterns.

  • Stamped cross-stitch patterns are printed directly onto the fabric, with color coding to show you where to stitch each thread color. When you are just starting out, a stamped cross stitch pattern is the easiest to work with.
  • Counted cross-stitch patterns are graphs on a grid that corresponds to the grid of holes or threads in the fabric. The pattern includes symbols to show where to stitch each color.

You can buy both kinds of patterns online or at a needlework store.

Evenweave Cross Stitch Fabric

Cross stitch is sewn on special fabric that is woven in a grid to help you count stitches accurately. If you don’t use a stamped pattern, which comes with a ready-to-use piece of fabric, you will need a piece of fabric large enough to accommodate your pattern.

Tapestry Needle

Regular sewing needles are too sharp for cross stitch. What you need instead is a tapestry needle. Tapestry needles have blunt points that slide between the threads of the fabric instead of piercing them, and eyes large enough to hold several strands of embroidery floss. They are available in sizes from #26 (shortest, with the finest point and smallest eye) to #13 (longest, with thickest point and largest eye.) What size needle should you use?

That depends on the fabric count. Busy Lizzie Crafts’ Cross Stitch Needle Shop offers this general guide:

  • Size 18 – 6 count Aida fabric
  • Size 20 – 8 count Aida fabric
  • Size 22 -11 count Aida fabric / 22-25-27 count evenweave
  • Size 24 -14 count Aida fabric / 28 count evenweave
  • Size 26 -16 count Aida fabric / 32 count evenweave / 22 count Hardanger
  • Size 28 -18 count Aida fabric / 36 count evenweave

Buying a package that includes several different size needles will guarantee that you’re ready with the right size needle for any project.

Embroidery Floss

This inexpensive cotton thread made for hand embroidery is available at any sewing or needlework store. DMC and Anchor are both popular brands. Floss comes with six strands of threads, but you don’t usually sew with all six at once. Your pattern will tell you how many strands to use.

Embroidery Hoop

An embroidery hoop consists of two rings that fit tightly together and a tightening mechanism such as a spring or screw. A hoop makes stitching easier by keeping your fabric taut while you work. You don’t need to use a hoop, especially if you are stitching on a stiff fabric, but many cross-stitchers swear by them. Be sure to unhoop the fabric when you’re not working on it to keep the hoop from marking the fabric.

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Guide to Needlepoint Canvas

Guide to Needlepoint Canvas

Seven Different Types of Needlepoint Fabrics and When to Use Them

Learn about the different types of canvas available for needlepointing: mono, interlock, penelope, rug, plastic, waste, and gauze canvas.

Canvas is always the base fabric for needlepoint embroidery, which makes the end result stiffer and more durable than forms of embroidery like cross stitch, which uses similar stitches on softer fabrics. In fact, needlepoint was called canvas work until the early nineteenth century.

Understanding Needlepoint Canvas Gauges

Needlepoint canvas is woven in a grid with evenly spaced openings between the threads to allow the yarn or thread to pass through easily, without fraying. The number of vertical threads per inch of canvas is called the gauge or fabric count. The lower the gauge, the larger the holes between the threads, and the thicker the yarn or thread that can be used.

All-purpose needlepoint canvas is available in gauges from 5 to 24. Needlepoint stitching on canvas with an indicator of less than 16 is called grospoint. Canvas with a gauge of 16 or higher is used to make the tiny, detailed stitches called petitpoint. Needlepoint gauze canvas for ultra-fine work is available in gauges from 20 to 60.

Single-Mesh Mono, Interlock, and Rug Canvas

These popular types of needlepoint canvas have a single-mesh structure, which means that the woven grid is formed by the junction of one horizontal and one vertical thread. Single-mesh canvas is good for most needlepoint projects.

  • Mono canvas is woven of vertical and horizontal threads in a plain over-and-under weave. It is available in a wide variety of gauges and colors. Specific needlepoint stitches don’t work well on mono canvas, such as half-cross stitches. For those, use interlock canvas.
  • Interlock canvas is a stiffer and more stable type of single-mesh canvas. It is woven with two vertical threads that are twisted around each other and also twisted around the horizontal threads at the grid intersections. The “locked” construction of the weave makes interlock canvas better for half-cross stitches, which tend to slip on mono canvas. Interlock canvas is available in a wide range of colors and gauges.
  • Rug canvas is a very heavyweight canvas woven with two vertical threads that are twisted around each other, and two horizontal threads that aren’t twisted, but lie side by side. The threads can’t be separated. Rug canvas comes in gauges from 3 to 5 and is usually used with very thick yarns made especially for rug-making.

Double-Mesh Penelope Canvas for Combining Small and Large Stitches

Penelope canvas is woven with pairs of vertical threads and pairs of horizontal threads in a way that creates one larger and one smaller opening at each grid intersection. This double-mesh construction makes it possible to separate the double threads and work smaller stitches in the smaller openings, so the same piece of canvas can hold both smaller and larger stitches.

This makes penelope canvas ideal for needlepoint designs with areas of fine detail. The gauge on penelope canvas is given in two numbers: 5/10 or 14/28, for example. The first (smaller) number denotes the number of openings per inch if the meshes are left as is, and the second number designates the number of openings per inch if the threads are separated for smaller stitches.

Plastic Canvas for Extra-Stiff or 3-D Needlepoint

Plastic canvas is molded, not woven, and is quite stiff, which makes it great for 3-D projects such as tissue-box covers or stiff projects like coasters, or bookmarks. Plastic canvas comes in a variety of gauges and precut shapes. It is quite inexpensive and good for practice stitching.

Waste Canvas for Needlepointing Clothing, Tote Bags, and Quilts

Waste canvas makes it possible to needlepoint on fabrics that aren’t woven in a precise grid, such as t-shirts, jeans, quilts, or tote bags. It is called “waste” canvas because it gets removed after stitching. The threads in the waste canvas are held together by water-soluble glue. After stitching, the glue is soaked away, and the fibers pulled out with tweezers, leaving the needlepoint attached to the fabric underneath.

Silk and Polyester Gauze Canvas for Fine Details and Miniatures

The very highest-gauge canvas is an ultra-fine silk or polyester interlock canvas. It is used to make tiny items such as dollhouse rugs or miniature patterns for jewelry. Needlepoint gauze canvas is very expensive, so it is often sold in small pieces premounted on mats.

It Pays to Choose High-Quality Canvas

Good quality materials are essential for creating works of art that last—and they help avoid frustration while you work. Before beginning a needlepoint project, inspect the canvas to make sure the threads have no knots or cuts. The grid should be even, not warped or distorted. Make sure the weave and gauge of the canvas is the right scale for the design and yarn you plan to use. Make sure its stiffness and sturdiness are a good match for the way the needlepointed item will be used.

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Guide to Needlepoint Yarns and Threads

Guide to Needlepoint Yarns and Threads

Learn to Choose the Right Needlepoint Yarn for any Project

Needlepoint yarns and threads come in a wide variety of fibers, colors, textures, and weights. This basic guide describes the different options and when to use them.

The vast assortment of different yarns and threads available today can be confusing. Which ones work best for needlepoint? How should a needle pointer choose the right yarn or thread for a particular project?

It’s easier than it looks to choose the right needlepoint yarn. Start by considering what gauge canvas will be used for the project, and how the project will be used.

Match the Yarn’s Weight and Thickness to the Needlepoint Canvas

The yarn should be thin enough to slip easily through the holes in the needlepoint canvas you are using without catching or fraying, and thick enough that the canvas threads won’t show through the design. As a general rule, the lower the canvas gauge number, the heavier and thicker the yarn should be. Gauge 3 rug canvas calls for a very thick yarn, while gauge 26 silk gauze canvas needs ultra-fine silk thread.

Match the Yarn Fiber and Durability to the Project’s Intended Use

Needlepoint yarns are made from some different fibers, including wool, cotton, silk, acrylic, rayon, and metallic. Wool is the traditional favorite because it is naturally strong and comes in a rich variety of colors. Needlepoint wool yarn can last for centuries with proper treatment. Its natural durability makes it a good choice for projects that will get heavy use, such as chair seats or sofa cushions. Knitting yarn is not recommended for those projects because they are spun with shorter and softer fibers than needlepoint wool yarns, which makes them less durable.

Less sturdy options like rayon and metallic threads can work for projects that won’t regularly be handled, such as wall hangings or Christmas ornaments.

Some yarns can be separated into smaller strands to make a thinner yarn when needed. Persian needlepoint yarn has three strands, and embroidery floss has multiple strands, the exact number depending on what fiber the floss was spun from.

Most Popular Needlepoint Yarns and Threads

  • Persian Yarn. An all-purpose, 3-strand wool yarn spun specifically for needlepoint in wool and acrylic. The strands can easily be separated to make thinner yarn. It’s also possible to add more strands to make a thicker yarn.
  • Tapestry Yarn. This single-strand yarn spun in either wool or acrylic is slightly finer than Persian yarn. Separating tapestry yarn into thinner strands is difficult.
  • Crewel Yarn. A fine single-strand yarn spun from either wool or acrylic; crewel yarn is much finer than Persian yarn. It is usually used for crewel embroidery, but can also be used as a needlepoint yarn.
  • Embroidery Floss. This multiple-strand thread is available in cotton, rayon, or silk. The strands can easily be separated to produce the proper thickness for a particular project.
  • Pearl Cotton. A lustrous, single-strand cotton thread used for embroidery. It can’t be parted into thinner strands. Pearl cotton is available in three weights: fine (#8), medium (#5) and heavy (#3).
  • Matte Embroidery Cotton. A soft, single-strand cotton thread with a dull finish.
  • Metallic Thread. Available in a variety of weights, colors, and textures. This is mainly used to highlight small areas because it doesn’t wear well.

While the yarns and threads listed here are the ones most commonly used for needlepoint, they certainly aren’t the only choices. Almost any fiber that can be threaded through a tapestry needle and will fit through the openings in the needlepoint canvas can be used for needlepoint. It might be enjoyable to try some of the gorgeous decorative knitting wools available today, ribbon, or even strips of torn fabric for projects that won’t get heavy wear.

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