A Stitcher's Supply Guide: Fabric
I get asked all the time about the supplies I use to create my embroidery work. The short answer is: fabric, thread, a hoop and a needle. But you all want to know more; you want to know what type of fabric works best for embroidery, which hoops are strongest, how to avoid thread bleeding, etc. I'll break down my long answer to all of those questions here on this blog, as well as share what I'm working on, and let you into my life as a maker and a mama.
All of the expertise I share with you is from my own experience--the trial and errors that have peppered my journey as a contemporary embroidery artist. Other stitchers may do things differently than I do and I certainly have more learning ahead of me. Hopefully the things I share here will assist and encourage you on your journey into the world of embroidery.
When it comes to choosing a fabric for your embroidery project, there are three main things that I like to think about:
1) Fabric weight
2) Weave size
3) Color and pattern
You can stitch into any fabric you choose--quilter's cotton, linen, denim, velvet, anything goes! However for most embroidery projects, choosing a fabric of an appropriate weight can make things easier and help you avoid some common embroidery pitfalls. Ideally, you want to choose a fabric that is of a medium weight. You want something heavier than quilting cotton but not so heavy that you have difficulty getting your needle through it. A fabric that is too lightweight can cause several problems, the first of which stemming from it's sheerness. Sometimes as you stitch you want to cross your thread across the back of the fabric and begin again in a new spot, but when your fabric is too thin the thread will show through on the front side of the fabric, which can be distracting. The other problem with a lightweight fabric is that it is more prone to bunching. Keeping appropriate tension in your fabric and thread can be tricky, especially for beginners, your fabric is much more likely to bunch up under your stitches if it is too thin. I've seen masses of lovely embroidery pieces ruined by unsightly bunching.
From my experience, I have found that linen-cotton blend or linen-like fabrics (but not actual linen, I'll explain the reasoning for this in a moment) are the very best for embroidery. My absolute favorite fabrics are from the Pond Essex series by FabricBubb. These fabrics are a divinely soft blend of linen and cotton. They are both the perfect weight and weave for embroidery. They have an assortment of really lovely colors, even some with metallic flecks of silver and gold!
Now on to the second component of choosing the perfect fabric--weave. The size of the weave generally goes hand in hand withe the weight of the fabric. usually a very thin fabric will have a small, tight weave and a heavier weight fabric will have a wide weave. A very tight weave can cause problems in embroidery for a few reasons. The thin threads that compose the warp and weave are often not strong enough to hold up to the tension of stitches; this can cause holes to appear at the stitch entry points. A very tight weave can also be difficult to keep straight in the hoop. As you stitch the fabric pulls slightly in the hoop and can cause a section to look wavy, and in turn off-set your pattern.
Conversely, a weave that is very large can also cause issues, depending on your stitching style. I have experimented with embroidery on linen and have decided that the weave is just too wide, It can be difficult to make neat edges with satin stitch if your weave is too wide. I also feel that sometimes the wide weave can distract from delicately-designed stitches. The "holes" in the weave jump out at you when you view the piece and can end up competing with your stitch-work. Fabrics such as linen, canvas, or Evenweave usually have too wide of a weave for embroidery. That being said, some embroidery artists love stitching on linen--it's all a matter of taste and stitch style.
Check out the photo below to compare weave sizes. The fabric on the left is linen, the center is a Pond Essex linen-cotton blend, and the right-hand fabric is quilter's cotton.
Deciding on a fabric color for your project is completely a matter of taste and style. I generally avoid using patterned fabric for my work because I find it distracting, but I've seen it used effectively with minimal stitching (like when you're just stitching words). I find that a helpful thing to think about as you choose your fabric is to make sure the fabric complements your embroidery design and doesn't compete with your design, I love my fabrics to provide a strong, clean background for me work, so I often use light, non-patterned fabrics. When I use a brighter color fabric, I like to make sure that the design and colors of my stitches will be strong enough to remain the focus of the piece. Check out a color wheel if you're unsure which colors are contrasting, complementary, etc.
Here are some more brightly colored fabrics that I've picked up at Joann's. Each of them is either a linen-blend or linen-like fabric (sometimes the best ones are actually polyester!).
I hope this information serves you well as you embark on your next project! I'm looking forward to digging into some of these fabrics as well as experimenting with some stitching on velvet. I'll be sure to report back and let you know how it goes.