As the end of the year approaches I would like to discuss two subjects dear to every embroiderer’s heart and that is Fabric & thread. This week we are going to talk about FABRIC – which fabric is best for which type of embroidery, where to get it and how to use it. As there are so many types of fabric on the market it can be confusing so hopefully this article will simplify things a bit for you.
WHAT TYPE OF FABRIC DO YOU NEED FOR SURFACE EMBROIDERY
Firstly lets clarify “surface embroidery”. This is fine embroidery like Needlepainting and Whitework where one strand of thread is mainly used. (Not crewel where wool/thicker threads are used).
Whitework with colour
Because the embroidery is fine you need a fabric where the warp (lengthwise yarns) and weft threads (crosswise yarns) are closely woven with a smooth feel to it. Let me try and put this into layman terms for you: the fabric should be closely woven, and with a plain weave, something like a good quality bed sheet with a count of 200 or more. It is equally important that the fabric should be of medium weight and have little or no stretch in it so that when it is mounted into a hoop or stretcher bars it will not distort the design.
Plain weave cotton/linen fabric
Twill weave fabric
THREAD COUNT OF FABRIC
Very briefly here is an explanation for thread count from Wikipedia: Thread count or threads per inch (TPI) is a measure of the coarseness or fineness of fabric. It is measured by counting the number of threads contained in one square inch of fabric or one square centimeter, including both the length (warp) and width (weft) threads.
FABRIC WITH CLOSE WEAVE: so the higher the count the closer the weave. Stitching on fabric with a close weave (Diag 1 & 2 below) allows for precise placement of the needle wherever you want it to go without going into the same hole twice.
FABRIC WITH LOOSE WEAVE : Stitching on a fabric with a loose weave (Diag 3 below) means you will have to go into the same place with your needle twice or more , therefore you will end up with little holes or the stitching will bunch up on the fabric.
TO SUMMARISE YOU WILL NEED:
- Close weave fabric with a plain weave.
- Medium weight so it supports the weight of the stitching.
- Little or no stretch in the fabric.
DIAG 1 Close weave 200 count cotton muslin
DIAG 2. 200 count muslin enlarged weave
DIAG 3. loose weave muslin enlarged
TYPES OF FABRIC
It is best to use fabrics with pure fibres like cotton or linen, not mixed/synthetic fabrics like polycotton. Silk could also be used as long as it meets all the criteria for surface embroidery fabric. To clarify the types of fabric:
- A good quality pure cotton/muslin with at least 200 count.
- A good quality pure linen with at least 200 count. The type of linen used by our Great Grandmothers for handkerchiefs, doilies etc.
CAN I GO INTO A FABRIC/HIGH STREET SHOP AND PURCHASE THIS FABRIC?
COTTON: If you are looking for a good quality 200 count cotton muslin then you could probably look in some of the quilting shops or online. Some cotton muslin’s I can recommend are:
- Rockland Supreme 200 count muslin
- Southern Belle 200 count muslin
- Kona premium 200 count muslin
- Cotton satin from UK – this is a cost effective alternative to cotton muslin and can be used successfuly for Needlepainting but not whitework.
- Other – if you are unable to source these fabrics in your Country of Origin you could buy a 200 count cotton percale sheet and cut it up. This is not ideal but will work.
LINEN. You are highly unlikely to find this in a store or online embroidery supplier, it is only available from specialist suppliers. The closest would be a good quality Church linen or Irish Cambric linen available from Church embroidery sources, which works fine but I still find the weave a little loose. If you are fortunate enough to come across a high count linen while shopping in Paris or at a flea market, or if your Grandmother happened to leave you a stash, then that is wonderful! I have spent years sourcing the perfect linen which I now import from the manufacturer in Belgium and sell in my ETSY SHOP. It is a smooth, tightly woven linen that is used for specialist bed linen.
SILK. I tend not to use silk as find that the fibres tend to separate slightly when I am stitching, but many stitchers’ favor it. If you are going to use silk ensure that it is a good quality pure silk such a Silk Dupion from a reputable supplier.
WHERE CAN I BUY FABRIC FOR SURFACE EMBROIDERY?
Both linen and cotton muslin for Needlepainting & Whitework are available in the ETSY SHOP HERE.
Cotton Satin fabric can be purchased from either:
THREADS & BLOOM USA or MACE & NAIRN UK.
SHOULD I USE A BACKING FABRIC?
It is not necessary to use a backing fabric if the fabric is of medium weight and can support the weight of the stitching alone. Using a backing fabric can present problems if both fabrics are not lined up correctly together and also means you need to stretch both pieces separately when mounting your work for framing so I tend to stay clear of backing fabrics. This is a personal preference but if you do want to use a backing fabric it is best to use a very lightweight cotton muslin.
WHAT KIND OF FABRIC DO YOU FAVOR?
I like both – actually I love to stitch on cotton because it is easy to stitch on and the stitches tend to be more defined, whereas linen the stitches tends to melt slightly into the fabric , but cotton does not hold the embroidery as well as linen does. Linen is more resilient, bounces back into shape when you remove it from the hoop and will ultimately out last cotton over the years. Linen is much more pricey than cotton, so you will need to decide which suits you (and your pocket) more.
Both Linen and Cotton can be used for Needlepainting and Whitework. I tend to use linen for larger designs as it holds the stitching better.
Larger Pansies stitched on linen
Small Pansies stitched on cotton
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN LINEN THAT IS USED FOR SURFACE EMBROIDERY & THAT USED FOR OTHER EMBROIDERY?
There are a lot of embroidery linens available for sale online and in the shops, but please be aware that 99% of these are for counted thread work or for Crewel Embroidery. The counted thread linens come in various counts from +/- 10 – 50count but are not suitable for surface embroidery. There are also some lovely linens like linen twill and Belgian linen for Crewel Embroidery but these are coarser and again not suitable for fine surface embroidery.
IS THERE A CORRECT WAY TO MOUNT FABRIC INTO A HOOP OR STRETCHER FRAME?
Yes there is and it is important as will make all the difference to the final outcome of your work. There is nothing more depressing than to find that your embroidery is puckered or distorted when you remove it from the hoop. Even if you are using the right fabric this can happen – the reason is probably that you have mounted/stretched your fabric against the grain.
Let me clarify: The fabric has a grain as shown below – the grain runs at right angles and there is very little stretch, but if you pull it across the bias you will find it stretches a lot. If you mount your fabric into the hoop on the bias it will over stretch and distort the fabric, and the result will be that your stitching is puckered/distorted. Another reason to use a fabric that has little or no stretch in it? Here is a diagram to illustrate:
To summarise: Pull a thread on your piece of fabric to make sure it is lined up on the straight of the fabric. When you mount it into the hoop or frame make sure that you stretch it more on the straight grain then on the bias.
WHAT IF THE FABRIC HAS A PRINTED OUTLINE ON IT AND THIS IS NOT STRAIGHT?
It is virtually impossible for a commercial printer to ensure that each outline is screen printed in line with the grain of the fabric. As long as you mount the fabric into the hoop on the straight grain and not in line with the printed outline it will be fine. To clarify: pull a thread on one side of your fabric to find the straight grain. Mount the fabric into the hoop and stretch it across the straight grain not the bias.
WHAT CAN I DO IF MY EMBROIDERY IS PUCKERED OR DISTORTED?
Don’t worry there is a solution! You can still block your embroidery to get it back into shape. You can find instructions on how to do this on my WEBSITE HERE. However, this can only be done if you have used a thread like DMC stranded cotton which is colourfast, not recommended if you have used silk thread.
SHOULD I WASH MY EMBROIDERY?
I do like to wash my embroidery as it freshens it and removes any dusty marks that may have accumulated during stitching, however I have had some disasters with washing my embroidery so tend to rather try and keep it clean when stitching. You can purchase little white cotton bags for this purpose here in the ETSY store. Sometimes even colourfast threads like dark reds can bleed when washed and of course you should never wash your embroidery if you have used silk threads. If you are going to wash your embroidery you can find more details on my WEBSITE HERE.
I hope this article has clarified Fabric for surface embroidery for you. All the information here and more can be found in my HANDBOOK.
Till next time, take care, keep smiling and happy stitching!