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:
- Using a fabric that is not 100% cotton/linen.
- The fabric is too light weight to support the embroidery
- The fabric has a slight stretch in it so when it is taken out of the hoop it distorts.
- The fabric is not cut on the straight grain before being mounted into the hoop/frame.
- 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.
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:
- The fabric has more body – i.e. a quilt weight cotton is transformed into a medium weight fabric.
- 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.
- The shape flex does not give that fused look that other interfacings sometimes do. The right side of the fabric is smooth and crisp.
- When removed from the hoop not a pucker in sight – a nice smooth finish to the embroidery.
- 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?
- No more puckers – when you remove your fabric from the hoop it is smooth and irons up beautifully.
- 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.
- 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.
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