I received an embroidery kit as a gift recently, and this weekend I finally got the chance to dig in and start working on it. I’m now 1/6 of the way done with my sampler, and I have to say I’m enjoying it even more than I had expected to. It’s quicker to pick up than knitting or crocheting, which is refreshing; after just a couple hours I had something I could show off to people. Here’s how far I got today, learning five stitches from the direction book as I went:
Skills I Learned / Practiced as I Got Started with Embroidery
On Friday I had a conversation with a makerspace skeptic who wasn’t really convinced that making things is learning. As a result, I found myself paying close attention to my learning process as I started learning these embroidery stitches. Some of the things I had to figure out as I worked included:
- If the circle in the kit’s picture has 20 leaves on its vine, and I want to match it, how big should I make each of my stitches?
Yes, I had to do math in order to do embroidery! The answer to this question involved subdividing the circle into precise quadrants and then doing some further, estimated division on the fly to size my stitches appropriately to fill each quadrant.
- If one arm’s length of floss got me about 2/3 of the way around the circle, what length of floss should I cut off to complete the circle without wasting much/any?
More math! Don’t forget that the two-inch tail at each end of the floss is a constant so you can bury your ends, even if the rest of the length varies.
- Why on earth aren’t my French knots working?
Troubleshooting, experimentation, and identifying (and filling) an information need. Internet research skills to the rescue!
Plus, I ran into lots of questions really just needed a willingness to experiment with things until they looked right. Some of those questions included:
- Why doesn’t my feather stitch look right, given that I followed the directions exactly?
After comparing successful-looking stitches to unsuccessful ones, and trying a few things, it turns out that I just need to careful to always pull the floss in the correct direction.
- How can I keep the floss in the threaded backstitch from messing up past stitches as I adjust the current stitch?
I can adjust how I hold the fabric so that I hold the end of the last stitch in place as I go.
- Where do I need to position my needle to start the stitch, when I want a detached chain stitch to look like a leaf?
This is a matter of taste, I suppose, but for me trial and error showed it to be about one thread away from the end of the “vine.” And talk about hand-eye coordination needed to get the needle through precisely there without spending all day on a single stitch!
All of those are a sampling of the things I learned just from the process of trying to make my embroidery kit–but there are a lot more tie-ins to learning that can be made with embroidery. For example: The real reason I suddenly gained an interest in embroidery was not that I feel a burning need to decorate textiles (though I admit, that *is* right up my alley). No, it was actually the historical aspects of embroidery that drew me in.
Embroidery and History
A few months back I was reading about the Bayeux Tapestry, a medieval masterpiece recounting the Battle of Hastings. I was struck by the revelation that this so-called “tapestry” is actually an embroidered wall hanging (a totally different beast from a tapestry). I really need to hunt down more information about this “tapestry,” especially since I am very intrigued by the mystery around Aelfgyva, the only prominent female character on the Bayeux Tapestry.
Add to that the glimpses of life that you can gain from other historical embroideries, and I was very interested in embroidery; throw in a connection to The Da Vinci Code (yes, the stolen panel depicts *that* Rosslyn Chapel) and I couldn’t pass up learning to embroider. Who wouldn’t want to be part of such a fascinating global tradition?
Embroidery and Libraries
Learning to embroider is slower going than learning to make balloon animals, but it’s faster for getting appreciable results than knitting or crocheting. That makes me think that embroidery could be another good activity for library maker events, especially if you started people off with a couple of choices of small, easy-to-complete patterns. It looks like plenty of other libraries have beaten me to this conclusion; has your library done anything with embroidery? Or, do you embroider, and have any ideas about how an embroidery program could work in a library setting? Tweet @makerbridge or drop me a comment; I’d love to hear from others who are interested in spreading the word about embroidery!