Last week we talked about miniature embroidery, what it is, and its origins. As promised we are going to talk about the materials needed, i.e. fabric, threads, needles and hoops. This week I would like to talk about fabric.
Fabric is an important if not essential ingredient to the success of your embroidery – here are some of the qualities I look for in fabric for embroidery:
A good quality fabric will allow our embroidery piece to be preserved for hundreds of years, as is evident by those few remaining historical pieces where the fibres of the fabric have literally disintegrated over time. You may say – Oh well I won’t be around in one hundred years so it does not matter but it would be nice if our great, great, great grandchildren could still appreciate our efforts! The quality of fabric ensures a beautiful piece of crisp embroidery – why put all that effort into something that looks shoddy and crumpled?
There are different fabrics for different types of work – some embroidery uses thicker threads and is heavier than others, such as crewel work and others requires a counted thread for say cross stitch. Using the right fabric for the type of embroidery you are doing is crucial. There is no point in trying to stitch a piece of fine needle painting on counted linen or coarse fabric as you will end up with a mess. You need a close weave (or high count at least 200 count) to allow for the precise placement of each stitch. If you are using a loose weave you will find that you have to go back into the same hole more than once, so we cant get your stitches close together. The diagrams below show the difference.
The weight of the fabric is also important. If you stitch a heavy piece of embroidery onto a flimsy, fine piece of fabric it will not support the weight and come out of the hoop looking puckered. No amount of ironing or blocking will remove these wrinkles and you may as well chuck it in the dustbin (I think you call it the garbage can in US?) Example of puckering compliments of Lindee G EMbroidery.
The fabric content is another fundamental in choosing fabric. I prefer natural fibres such as cotton or linen , however a good quality duchess satin or silk fabric that meets the criteria of weight and weave can and has been used successfully for needle painting.
There must be little or no stretch in the fabric otherwise it will distort in the hoop resulting in puckered stitching. Another hint is that when you mount your fabric in the hoop it should be DRUM TIGHT – if you press with your finger and it gives even a little, it is not tight enough.
Warp & Weft
We need a fabric with an even warp and weft – this can be better understood by the diagram below. An uneven warp or weft will result in our embroidery being stretched in the hoop more one way than the other and a lopsided picture will be the outcome. Many years ago when I first started embroidery and was living in Zimbabwe there was an “even weave” linen available for sale which I bought and proceeded to do a large piece of cross stitch on. When I had finished I noticed that the design seemed to be elongated and on closer inspection noticed that each cross stich was longer, not square. This cheap fabric was not evenly woven!
Another thing to consider is that when you mount your fabric in the hoop, that the threads in the fabric are lined up. In other words make sure you pull a thread at right angles to that the piece is square with the grain – if you line it up crooked your stitching will be crooked.
Washable & Colourfast
It is important that our fabric is pre-shrunk so that we are able to give it a wash if necessary when the embroidery is complete (it can get grubby whilst stitching) and of course it is nice to be able to settle the stitching with a gentle ironing. I like to steam iron my fabric before starting to stitch as this will make sure that it really is shrunk!
So Which and what Fabric?
With needle painting embroidery it helps to see your fabric as the canvas or piece of paper you will be painting on – if you were painting a fine watercolour you would use a fine specialised paper whereas if you were doing an oil painting you would use a thicker more textured canvas. When we talk about high count cotton or good quality linen this does not mean you can go out to your local fabric shop and buy any piece of high count cotton fabric or cut up your old percale sheets – it won’t work (I tried it)! The type of fabric you buy is dependent on all the qualities we talked about earlier such as weave, weight, content, stretch etc. Having said that there is no reason why you should not experiment with different types of fabric such as cotton, silk, satin etc but make sure you always spend a bit extra and get a good quality fabric.
Fabric for Miniature Embroidery
So what is the best fabric to use for Miniatures and why? I have spent many hours researching and trying out different pieces of fabric and without a doubt a good quality, medium weight, 100% cotton with a 200 count or more works best for miniatures. The fabric I like to use is Southern Belle 100% cotton muslin, which is available here, as it meets all the essential criteria – you can see the closeness of the weave in comparison to the other fabrics:
- It has a nice smooth finish which greatly helps when tracing the outline as the pencil glides across the fabric.
- It has a high thread count of 200 which allows for very precise placement of the needle. This is vital for miniatures as we are working very fine stitches which would get lost on a dense, coarse weave fabric.
- It has very little stretch in it so does not distort in the hoop.
- The warp and weft are even.
- It is sturdy enough to support the weight of the emrboidery without a backing fabric, but can be used with a lightweight backing fabric for heavier embroidery if required.
There are two other types of fabric which I recommend and sell by half metre lengths in my Etsy shop. You can see the different weaves on the examples shown below.
The first is cotton satin – this is a sturdy, medium weight fabric composed of 75% cotton and 25% satin which works well for most type of embroidery but not recommended for miniatures as the weave is a little too open.
The second is high quality 14HC Irish Cambric linen which can be used for all types of embroidery including miniatures although the weave is a little bumpier than the smooth cotton so you may not find it so easy to trace the outline on.
Next time we will talk about those all-important threads – I have being doing some research and come up with some interesting ideas which I look forward to sharing with you. Meanwhile wherever you are be it winter, spring, summer or autumn have a wonderful week and many happy stitching hours. Trish