Guiding principles for beautiful embroidery do not have to be a matter of hocus-pocus. Today I would like to share with you some points that I have found to be very beneficial for the quality of my embroidery. Better results with handwork is having respect for some basic principles.
Although I am talking here mainly about things related to Broderie d’art (also called tambour embroidery, tambour beading or Lunéville embroidery, the meaning of these terms differing slightly), some things will apply to other embroidery techniques or hand finishes.
How to create better results with handwork
If a painter treats window frames with the best quality paint, the result is tighter and more durable. This is something most people take for granted. Yet the materials used for embroidery are often economised on. A pity! Because the best quality material is also a good starting point for beautiful embroidery and you can expect a ‘tighter and more durable’ result.
You can distinguish two categories: tools and materials. Let’s take a closer look at these.
Personally, I like to start with good tools when it comes to the basics of beautiful embroidery. For Broderie d’art, the basic tools include an embroidery frame, a Lunéville- or tambour needle and a bobbin holder. Each of these tools are difficult to obtain, because these techniques are not yet widely used in the Netherlands.
What do you have to look out for? First of all, the sturdiness. The frame is made of wood and must be able to bear the tension of the fabric without bending. It is handy if the bobbin holder fits into a cut-out in the frame. Above all, both should have no chippings, as these can damage the delicate fabric (and you can easily get splinters). A smooth finish on the Lunéville needleholder is also nice, as you sometimes hold the needle in your hand for hours at a time. For that reason, it is nice if the bobbin holder feels soft.
Since I started giving lessons in broderie d’art, I am constantly looking for good materials. And it is precisely these basic tools that have cost me a lot of headaches. In the end I am happy with the local carpenter, who makes beautiful frames from tulip wood for my students. Now that the screws are tightened with knobs instead of wing nuts, the ease of use is optimal.
What I couldn’t find an address for were the so-called spool holders. Nowhere to be found! A retired woodworker is so kind to make these spool holders for me from walnut, specifically according to my wishes.
Of course, the tools category also includes pins, needles and scissors. It goes without saying that scissors must be sharp and only used for threads and/or fabric to keep them sharp. A must! Blunt scissors spoil your pleasure in working with fabric.
I recently discovered a special pair of embroidery scissors, based on an 18th century design but manufactured using modern techniques:
Guiding principles of beautiful embroidery: Materials
For the guiding principles of beautiful embroidery, the category of materials is somewhat more difficult. Sometimes you make different choices. Where you use tools for a lifetime, materials are different for each project. Of course, the basic principle remains the same for me: choose the best quality you can get.
For educational purposes, you can sometimes choose the same material in a cheaper version, because you are more interested in the technique.
In other cases, you look for a certain look and the corresponding material. If this is plastic, then that is fine. In haute couture, many different materials are used, some of them highly unusual: depending on the inspiration of the designer, and always in the interest of the result.
In broderie d’art I like to work with yarns of natural origin. For example, I prefer to use silk thread because it gives such a refined, soft shine. And cotton thread for the various ‘sewing chores’ involved in embroidery. The thread used mainly for embroidering beads and sequins, Fil à Gant, is also made of cotton. However, this thread is mercerised: this means that the thread has undergone special processing with alkaline solutions to become smoother, shinier and stronger. The fact that the thread is smoother is useful, because when embroidering with beads and sequins, the thread does not easily get tangled, despite the turning of the needle. The fact that the thread has been made stronger is useful to prevent the weight of the beads from pulling the thread apart.
Metal yarns are also widely used. These are yarns made of a core thread with metal wire wrapped around it. If this is coarse, it will quickly ‘strip’, which causes a serious obstruction during embroidery. You will have to unravel and start again after cutting the damaged thread. So look for a metallic thread that is as smooth as possible. I like the metallic threads from Fil au Chinois.
Beads and Sequins
The quality of beads and sequins is determined by the manufacturing method, the basic material and the finish. There are so many differences in these that you have to gain experience to see what works and what doesn’t. The starting point for beautiful embroidery is of course what looks good.
In general, I work with glass beads. Pearls are sometimes imitated from plastic, or real. When embroidering with real pearls, you can use either sorted pearls or rough, uneven pearls. Of course, this also depends on the effect you want to achieve.
Pearls can be made of metal, but also of plastic, which is usually the case. In the past, there were also other raw materials that have often not withstood the test of time. The quality of sequins from France and Italy is fantastic.
Webshops with materials
My favourite addresses that I recommend to my students at the moment (updated in March 2021) are the following two webshops from France:
- Brodely.fr is a fine French website, which is also searchable in English. The handling of orders is fine and nicely packed. Sometimes it takes a long time for the parcel to arrive. So order if you are not in a hurry.
- Another French website is BroderiePlaisir.
- For some years now, there has also been a webshop with materials in the Netherlands: Myrville.
Guiding principles of beautiful embroidery: Basic techniques
And if you are talking about basic techniques that help you get a regular and beautiful result, then I can give you two more tips:
- Before sewing the silk organza into your frame, tear the selvedge side of the fabric. However minimal, the tension of the fabric is different on the selvedge side than on a torn side. Remove the selvedge and the tension of the fabric will be better.
- Cut all the threads immediately. The loose threads can unexpectedly be “stitched along” at the back or front of your work, leaving a messy whole. The intention is that your work looks almost as beautiful at the back as at the front.
I hope these tips will help you enjoy beautiful embroidery. Maybe you have another trick or tip that will please me and other readers. Feel free to share it below.
Little experience with embroidery?
Do you have little or no experience with embroidery and are you curious whether it is something for you? Then the online course Silk Ribbon Embroidery might be something for you! With silk ribbon, a technique that is refined but quick to produce results, you can discover at home, in your own environment, what embroidery can do for you. You can read more about this great programme here.
The programme of workshops, master classes and training courses at Dutch Couture Academy is aimed at (future) professionals in the fashion industry who are looking for an opportunity to specialise in couture techniques. Enthusiastic amateurs are also very welcome! In the courses, a balance is sought between technique and inspiration, between knowledge and skill and artistic expression. Discovering one’s own handwriting is seen as crucial to the distinctive craftsmanship of each course participant.