Studio: Fibers – Advanced Embroidery with Cassie Stephens
Hi, it’s Cassie Stephens for the art of education. I am a kindergarten through fourth grade art teacher and I have been teaching art in the Nashville area for close to 20 years. I love teaching embroidery to my students but if you are going to go into advanced embroidery with your students it’s really important that you’ve covered the basics. Advanced embroidery, when you do it with your students, means you can actually start using real fabric with them and not burlap because now they understand the basics.
Let’s talk about supplies for advanced embroidery. When you are doing advanced embroidery it’s still good to use a fabric that has a little bit of a grid to it. The reason I like burlap is because it has those vertical and horizontal threads. When doing advanced embroidery I have found that using Gingham is a really good alternative because it still gives them a grid to follow. The great thing about Gingham is it comes in a wide variety of colors. I like to use the Gingham, though, that’s a little bit on the bigger side, not the very fine Gingham. I also don’t like to use Gingham that’s too big because this would involve stitching forever, so just keep that in mind when you are shopping for your Gingham fabric. Like I said getting a wide variety of colors is great this gives kids a good choice to choose from when it comes to doing their embroidery.
Unlike burlap when you’ve purchased your fabric, this fabric, you can easily just tear it to cut it. First, you need to just decide on what kind of size you want your students to work with, this, by the way, works with all fabric except for burlap and all you need to do is snip your fabric where you want it to be cut and then just tear the fabric. It will wrinkle the edge a little bit but it will make it so that it cuts down on the amount of prep time that you have. Now you’ve got your piece of fabric that’s already the correct width, you just need to cut it and tear it again for the correct height. I’ve already done that with my fabric here and what I have found when working with Gingham is this. It’s very thin and a little bit translucent and for that reason, I like to back it with another piece of fabric.
The fabric that I usually back it with is muslin. Muslin is great because if you don’t want your students to be embroidering on something like Gingham if you want them to have a blank canvas so to speak, then muslin is a great resource for that because muslin is very very cheap. I like to buy an entire roll of muslin when I’m doing sewing with my students so I don’t fear running out and it’s very economical. When I’m doing advanced embroidery with my students I usually have muslin as the backing for their embroidered projects so I’ve just overlapped these two, or I have them do it. Stack one on top of the other and just kind of iron it and flatten it with your hands. Now, when you are doing advanced embroidery I like to have the students use embroidered hoops.
Here is my finished advanced embroidery. I’m going to go ahead and take it out of the hoop to share with you how to have your students put their embroidery in the hoop. You don’t have to use embroidery hoops with your students, however, I have found that it does a great job of keeping the fabric taunt. I also have noticed that the more real tools that you give your students and allow them to use it the art room the more respect they will have for these tools and the greater care they take care of them. The way an embroidery hoop works is it has two circles to it. One circle is completely empty the other one has a screw at the top, you just need to pop one out from the other the one that’s completely empty goes on the bottom.
Set that on a firm surface, don’t do this on the lap. Set that down and then I am sandwiching my fabric in between so my fabric goes on top and then I’m going to place this hoop over it. Now, the thing is that you want this hoop to be able to stretch big enough so that it can cover the fabric and the wooden hoop underneath so you just press it over that. Now that went on pretty easily. I’ve noticed sometimes it’s a struggle for my students if you find the same just have them loosen the screw a little bit. Once it’s on there have them tighten it and it should be taunt like a drum. If it’s very loosey goosey then they need to do it again. Once they’ve got this ready they can start to practice their stitches.
When we do embroidery I do not have my students use embroidery floss. If you are familiar with embroidery floss it comes in a wide variety of colors, it’s very inexpensive, which is all well and good but what I don’t love about it is that it’s actually six very small strands of yarn bundled together into one and when you embroider you are to cut a length and then separate those strands two by two. I have found that is very tricky for my students to do because as they are separating there is a lot of tangling. An alternative to that in my art room has been to use this very thin crochet thread. This is number 30 crochet thread, so it looks a lot like embroidery floss but it’s just one single strand, it’s not six strands. When my students are doing embroidery I have them go ahead and cut this on their own.
Measure it by pulling it all the way to the end of your arm, do not cut right here, make sure you pull it away from your body and snip. Now, when you are doing this kind of embroidery you will be using a smaller tapestry needle. This is a tapestry needle that’s a lot smaller but the reason I still use a tapestry needle is because it’s not sharp. It’s still a little bit dull on the end. You can’t use your same hot dog trick in this when threading this because the eye of this needle is so small. There are a wide variety of needle threading tools to choose from. There’s the metal one that looks like a dime. I used to use those a lot but they tend to break a lot. Instead, I like using these little bitty lasso tools. The only problem I have found it that these guys can get lost pretty easily so you need to have a system in place to keep track of these.
Here’s how you use this little lasso. You’re going to take the end of the lasso, the one that’s not open the closed part, and you are going to thread it through the eye of the needle and once that’s in place you put the yarn inside that lasso and then pull the lasso through and now you have threaded your needle. Your needle, you are going to take both ends of the string and you are going to knot it at the end. If you find that this length it too short for your students and they whiz right through sewing with a string that is this long instead of having them just pull one arm have them pull all the way across and that will give you a longer strand of yarn to choose from. Now I’m just going to make the letter U and an O, take the tail, put it in the hole and pull. That builds on their skills they learned with simple embroidery.
When I’m teaching embroidery with the fabric I like to show them how to do a couple of different stitches. Very basic, using the grid of the Gingham and that really helps them understand the spacing and the size of their stitches. This time, instead of pretending that that little piece of fabric is the swimming pool they now have the embroidery hoop as the swimming pool. Always starting on the back and they are going to make a series of running stitches, pulling all the way up until the knot stops it and make sure to check the back because I could tell that wasn’t quite all the way, there we go. Pull it until the knot stops it and then make your first stitch, it should be the length of one square of Gingham.
Skip a square, go to the next one and I have them do this several squares across depending on what they are ultimately making. You could have them do this until they run out of thread. You could have them do this at a certain length if you want to involve measuring, have them measure off how wide this design is going to be. That is up to you, the amount of time and the goals that you have in your art room. How you might want to introduce this step. Once the students have mastered this simple stitch then you can have them move on to the next.
Just like the other kind of embroidery in order to tie a knot, knots are always tied on the back. Go underneath a stitch, airplane is taking off, have that airplane flip back around, pick up the loop and knot it. Don’t forget to do that twice and that will really anchor that knot in place and snip. Now, when you are doing this, once they’ve gotten the basics of doing this short stitch then they can move on to doing short vertical line stitches in the same manner. They are just going all the way across at the desired measured length. Once that’s been accomplished then they are ready to learn how to do the cross stitch which is what they will be using to ultimately stitch their name.
Let’s talk about how to do this cross stitch. I’m just going to go ahead and re-tie this knot at the bottom. Once they have learned how to make that horizontal and vertical stitch they can move on to making those simple Xs. It’s just a diagonal from one corner to the other corner. It’s that easy. By the way, if they ever have trouble finding out where their needle’s coming through I have them drive their needle around underneath and they’ll usually be able to see the top of the needle moving around and that will help them figure out where their needle is going to go. That’s how you do that simple cross stitch. When they have mastered those short horizontal stitches, those short vertical stitches, and those cross stitches then they are ready to do their name.
When you are having students cross stitch their name you might want to make sure that they pick a shortened version of their name. My name is Cassandra and there wasn’t any way I was going to stitch Cassandra all the way across this piece of Gingham so Cass was the alternative for that. What I like to do is have a laminated piece of graph paper. If this is laminated and the students have a dry erase marker then they can plan letter by letter. I tell them that their letters should be about five squares in height and three across. Now some letters are going to need to be a little bit wider, for example, an R might need to come out a little bit further, so they need to think about that but the great thing about having a giant piece of graph paper that’s laminated means that they can go ahead and practice this. I have them do this letter by letter. Once they’ve got that letter drawn out and they are ready to start then they can begin stitching their first letter of their name.
Just starting at the furthest point, going across, bringing it down and then over. I have them leave one little space in between each one of those letters. Oh, and one more thing. Adding a button. They’ve learned how to sew buttons on when they learn how to do basic embroidery so it’s fun to have them embellish what they’ve stitched with a couple of buttons for advanced embroidery. Doing this is the exact same way and since it’s so easy and simple to sew on a button a lot of my students love to embellish their embroidery with many buttons. All that to say that I know that you will find awesome ways to bring embroidery into your art room.
Here’s some alternatives that I thought of. Instead of simply doing their name they could use the grid of this to create a Minecraft design. I don’t know if your students are like mine but they love Minecraft and if they were going to do that, they could design it on that laminated piece first and then add that to their fabric. You aren’t restricted to just words, or a name, think of all the other alternatives to using this grid or using burlap simply for stitching in your art room. Remember, finding what works best for you or your students truly is the key to being successful when it comes to having embroidery and sewing in your art room. Thanks, guys.