Bunker Crafts: Embroidery Basics

Above, detail from “Catastrophe Sampler,”  Anne Luben

Last week on Freesearch Friday I wrote about Woolies, or Wool Works, nautical embroideries produced by sailors beginning in the mid 1800s. As a forever-fan of employing overly dramatic metaphors, I’d describe my current state as feeling pretty lost at sea. As a forever-fan of employing overly dramatic visual metaphors, I’m currently embroidering a shipwreck . I invite you to join me!


What You Need

One of the things that immediately appealed to me about embroidery is the small amount of materials needed to create a work of art. Because everything can be folded up, and easily packed away, the craft is also highly portable. I used to throw everything for my project in a bag and keep it on hand for downtime at lunch and between activities. Now that we’re stuck at home, I still throw everything in a bag, haul it out to my porch, and just pretend I’m out to lunch. You won’t need my level of denial for this activity, but a little imagination always helps.

Embroidery Floss: Embroidery floss comes in every color, as well as in a range of tints and shades. Metallic? It exists. Glow in the dark? That exists too. There are gradient skeins that shift color as you stitch, and fluorescent threads that strain your eyes like op-art. Better yet, each skein of embroidery floss costs somewhere between $0.60 and $1.00. I recommend DMC brand, a standard at most craft stores, for its satin like sheen and high quality fiber that doesn’t result in fuzzy stitches. Grab a handful of colors when starting out.

Embroidery Needle: Embroidery needles have a larger eye to accommodate the six separate threads that comprise embroidery floss. Anything that you can thread will ultimately work, but a new, sharp needle is always recommended for easier work.

Embroidery Hoop: These are those round wooden frames you see kicking around thrift stores. Embroidery hoops have two parts: an inner hoop that you stretch your fabric over, and an outer adjustable frame that tightens to hold the fabric. The hoop keeps your fabric tight and flat, resulting in uniform stitches and easier work for your hands.

Cloth: Really anything without stretch will do. Linen and cotton are traditional, but anything mid-weight or heavier is great for beginners. Find what works for you! Found cloth is a great starting place, including the classic denim jacket.


Let’s Get Started! 

This week, I thought we could cover the basics, beginning with a few stitches that I like to think of as “drawing” stitches. These stitches are great for outlining and structuring your composition. As you learn these stitches, experiment with the length of each stitch for different effects. embroidery stitches can look dramatically different when worked in varied scales, or by separating out the ply (number of threads) of your embroidery floss for thinner stitches.

Back Stitch

About the Stitch: The back stitch generates a line of connected stitches. Unlike a simple running stitch, there are no gaps in between stitches, making this stitch an excellent outliner.

What It’s Good For: Graphic lines, outlines, geometric shapes, that sharp panic that keeps you up at night.

Stem Stitch

About the Stitch: The stem stitch is a stacked series of diagonal lines. The result looks something like twisted twine or rope. Named for one of its primary uses – representing stems in floral compositions.

What It’s Good For: Stems, outlining with curved or organic lines, tentacles, your increasingly fuzzy work-life balance.

Chain Stitch

About the Stitch: Chain stitch is worked as a series of loops that upon completion resemble a chain.

What It’s Good For: Decorative boarders, flourishes, adding color and texture to compositions, waves, snares and entrapment, that ever tightening constricting feeling in your chest.


How did it go? We’d love to see what you’re working on in our Cloud Gazing Gallery!

Until next week in the Bunker,

Anne Luben