No More Puckers

Hello everyone

This week heralds the first of a series of mini lectures throughout this year that I hope will be helpful and informative.  We will talk about anything to do with needle painting embroidery so if you have any special requests let me know.

I have numerous emails from readers who have problems with puckering in their embroidery.  As  mentioned before these are the most common causes of puckering:

  1. Using a fabric that is not 100% cotton/linen.
  2. The fabric is too light weight to support the embroidery
  3. The fabric has a slight stretch in it so when it is taken out of the hoop it distorts.
  4. The fabric is not cut on the straight grain before being mounted into the hoop/frame.
  5. Pulling too tight on your embroidery Stitches (this is very uncommon but can be a cause).

Having experienced similar problems in my early years of embroidery I have mulled over this many times and came to the conclusion that we were limited to using certain types of fabric for our embroidery to achieve success.  HOWEVER…………..  Quite often the very solution we need is right in front of our noses, as I soon found out.

In the last few months I have been brushing up on my rusty sewing skills – trying out prototypes for various types of patterns that would be suitable for making up our finished embroidery.  When I say brushing up I used to sew a lot when I was first married – things for craft fairs, clothing for my children and even my poor husband was subjected to some of my elasticated shorts!

In researching fabrics and materials for these patterns I came across several helpful internet sites in particular Sara Lawson of Sew Sweetness who was kind enough to give advice.   I also got advice from my cousin Gill who is a professional in this field – she makes machine embroidered items and sews like an angel.  Things have certainly changed since I last did sewing – there are so many innovative products on the market that make life much easier and allow us to achieve a more professional finish.  In so doing I was lead to find the most wonderful product that will solve all our puckering problems and allow us to use so many more fabrics for our embroidery.

shape flex compliments Colonial Quilts USA
shape flex compliments Colonial Quilts USA

The product is Pellon shape flex SF101, it is an all-purpose woven fusible interfacing that provides support and adds body and permanent stability when used as a backing for needlework and embroidery.  Who even knew this existed?  Well apparently it has been used for years by dressmakers but anyway  I tried it out and it is amazing – all those fabrics that I had previously found impossible to embroider on suddenly, like magic, were transformed into the perfect fabric for needle painting embroidery.  Actually if you think about it, it makes sense that machine embroidery needs to be stabilized in the hoop and so does our hand embroidery – so why not use the same products.

Here are some examples of Kona cotton and linen fabric with and without the shape flex interfacing ironed onto the back.  The fabric on its own has a slightly loose weave which is not suitable for stitching needle painting embroidery – we need a very close weave to provide lots of placement for our needle.  This is the effect when the stabiliser is ironed onto the back – click on each image to get a closer view:

Kona cotton weave
Kona cotton weave
Kona cotton without backing
Kona cotton
Kona cotton with fusible backing
Kona cotton with fusible backing
Natural Irish linen with fusible backing
Natural Irish linen with fusible backing
Natural Irish linen
Natural Irish linen
  1.  The fabric has more body – i.e. a quilt weight cotton is transformed into a medium weight fabric.
  2. The fabric has more stability – it will not stretch in the hoop and the weave is denser providing a solid foundation for our needle painting and additional placement of the needle.
  3. The shape flex does not give that fused look that other interfacings sometimes do.  The right side of the fabric is smooth and crisp.
  4. When removed from the hoop not a pucker in sight – a nice smooth finish to the embroidery.
  5. The shape flex does not stiffen the original embroidery fabric but is still pliable and easy to work with.

The natural linen pictured above is a lovely linen but a nightmare to stitch on because the weave was just too loose – it is virtually impossible to source good Irish linen that has a high enough count for needle painting.  But with the inclusion of the shape flex on the back of the linen it became a joy to stitch on.

So how does this discovery affect our embroidery?

Embroidery on Kona cotton with fusible backing
Embroidery on Kona cotton with fusible backing
  1. No more puckers – when you remove your fabric from the hoop it is smooth and irons up beautifully.
  2. It allows us so much more flexibility with our choice of fabrics.  As long as it is a good quality, high count cotton or linen that is pre-shrunk and washable, just about any fabric can be used.  I refer here to quilt weight cotton not dressmaking cotton and definitely not Polycotton.  You will have to do some mini testers to see what works best.
  3. We are no longer limited to white or off white background fabric but have complete freedom with background colours.  For instance Robert Kaufman Kona cottons  which I had tried in the past, has approx. 270 shades of colour and we can use every single one of them!  The only thing I would suggest is that the colour used provides a suitable backdrop for the embroidery, i.e. if stitching on a dark blue background the embroidery needs to be light enough to show up well.  We will talk more about using different background colours in the future.

fabric 6

Kona cotton colours
Kona cotton colours

Products Details.

The product is manufactured by Pellon in the USA and is called SHAPE FLEX SF101.  (Make sure you get the fusible one and not the sew in one) (link).  The equivalent in UK & Europe is Vilene iron on woven interfacing G700.  Both these woven interfacings are available online or from any good fabric outlet.  When ironing the interfacing onto the back of your fabric you need to use a steam iron – there is a great instruction video here.

I am so confident that this interfacing will be an essential in our “embroidery wardrobe” , that I have decided to stock it in my Etsy store – it should be available in about a week, but meantime for the benefit of those who do not have access to online stores overseas I am giving away two packs of half a metre each of the Pellon shape flex.  In the true tradition of Mary Corbet (🙂  I am asking that you add a comment:

In one short sentence state:   which is your favourite embroidery design in kit form (not digital item) in my Etsy store   In the next week or two I will publish the results.

Meanwhile wherever you are, be it winter, spring, summer or autumn have a lovely week, keep smiling and many, many happy stitching hours.  Trish

44 thoughts on “No More Puckers”

  1. I always wonder how do you backing of the back of the embroidery piece? Let say we embroidery on a shirt and we wear the shirt and on the inside wont irritate your skin. Thank a lot.

    1. I would suggest you use a piece of soft vilene backing on clothing as this will support the embroidery and be softer against your skin. 🙂

  2. I love the orange butterfly! And thank you for the info about interfacing, I am still debating whether or not to try it out on my current project (just finished the design transfer!)

    1. If you are using one of the recommended embroidery fabrics that are in my kit you wont need the interfacing – this is or other cottons or linens that are not of a high count or too loose to stitch on. Good luck with yur project:)

  3. I can’t wait to get some of this. Will the fusible make the needle sticky?

    Everything in your shop is wonderful, but I do come back to the sacred kingfisher more than any. So much character.


  4. I would add one more suggestion when using the Kona cottons– use shorter strands of embroidery thread. I had trouble with the cotton wearing out my thread very fast.



  5. It is very difficult to choose just one. I have just finished the red butterfly but it is by no means my favourite – I am having trouble deciding between the sweet peas and the Spartan iris, so I will say it is a dead heat.

    I do a lot of crazy quilting and among many cqers fusible knit interfacing is very popular, but I am looking forward to trying this one too.

  6. What a great article and so helpful. Have you been in touch with Pellon? My question would be what affect does the adhesive have on the longevity of the embroidered piece?

    Trying to choose my favorite design is impossible. I may as well chose between breathing and eating! Each design is exquisite!

    Really looking forward to getting your new book when it is out. Congratulations!

  7. Love all your designs but really enjoyed stitching Bluebirds and Daisies. Have tried various interfacings but not that one so will give it a go.

  8. I love all birds, but I really love your kingfishers, especially the Pygmy one:) I would love to try the product, it really expands the types of fabrics to work on! Your work inspires me all the time:)

  9. I esp. like the recent sweet peas design, which I’m hoping will appear in a future book…=)

    I’ve been using light – medium weight interfacing for several years to give strength to fabrics for embroidery, so I certainly give a big thumbs up to this idea.=)

  10. It is hard to pick just one! I love the Kingfisher, but I think my favorite would be Miniture Bluebirds with Daisys. It is such a sweet design.

  11. Thank you for the information on the Pellon Shape Flex SF 101. I’m getting ready to start my first redwork piece. This may be a big help.

    Redoute’s Sweet Peas is beautiful! All of your designs are lovely, but this one is extra special.

    Have a wonderful day!

  12. Thank you! I will be putting the headache medicine away. I love using water soluble vilene for my machine embroidery. However, I did not realize how valuable the fusible vilene may become when used on both machine and thread painting embroidery. Has anyone had negative results with the fusible vilene?
    Off the subject: I fell in love with the three roses design you used on your example. Is it available?

    1. Thank you for mentioning the roses Deana (I was kinda hoping someone might!) they are part of the new collection of patterns for finished items and will be available in different colours. Hope to be able to tell you more about these soon:)

  13. I love the miniatures and my favourite Kit is the Bluebirds and daises. The birds all look so fluffed up like they have just come out of a spring rain shower. Love them. But Trish I really love all your Kits they are all wonderful hard to really pick a real favourite.

  14. I recently used Pellon SF101 on a shirt and it bubbles after washing. So please make sure you don’t use this product on an item that will be washed frequently!

  15. My most favorite embroidery design kit in your etsy store is the one I am waiting for in the mail right now – The Spartan Iris Kit, in those beautiful colours! <3

  16. Hi Trish, I have been using this product since I discovered your lovely kits and always apply to the reverse before mounting. Maybe it’s an American thing! Regards, Barbara Scotson

    Sent from my iPad


  17. The Iris Spartan! And when it quits snowing, I may have to go find some of this! Do you know if the American chains stores carry it or just specialty stores?

  18. My favorites are your birds and my favorite of them is the Little Bee Eater. I just love the colors!

  19. The Iris Spartan kit is the one calling me today. Though all of your kits are on my wish list.

  20. My favorite is the Azure butterfly and flowers pattern..I like the blue colors on the butterfly, and the creamy white of the flowers.

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