Stitching on Specialty Fabrics

Stitching on Specialty Fabrics

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One of the beauties of embroidery is the diverse background fabrics that you can use to stitch on. In fact - if it will take thread, then you can stitch on it.

However, some of these fabrics can have their own problems with stitching and I shall try to address these in this article.


Nothing beats the look, feel and richness of velvet - and embroidery on velvet can look absolutely spectacular.

The problem remains, however, as to how to get the pattern onto the fabric, and also how to stitch without crushing the pile in your hoop.

My friends who have experience in stitching on velvet have offered a number of very different suggestions on how to get the pattern on, but most of them concur that there is one way that is the best.

Put the pattern on the back of the velvet - there is no pile there and the back is usually a pale colour. The pattern can be applied by either tracing it using carbon paper, or tracing the pattern onto freezer paper, then stitching the pattern directly onto the velvet.

The second method takes out a step - as in order to show the pattern on the front of the velvet (and so be able to stitch) you will need to stitch the outline from the back in a contrasting colour (contrasting to the front pile colour).

Stitching directly over the paper can have it´s problems in keeping the design taught, and in removing the paper - however it is easier to remove the paper from the back than from the front.

If you are producing a counted thread design, the easiest way is to use waste canvas. Use water-soluable glue to stick the canvas in place and then when you are finished, soak the piece in warm water for a couple of minutes, then gently remove the threads using tweezers.

Because of the pile of the velvet, it is often best to use perle thread on it or several strands of stranded thread. Silk always looks stunning on velvet - the sheen of the silk compliments the sheen of the velvet.

It is vital to wrap both rings of your hoop when stitching velvet. Preferably, wrap it with a length of velvet so that you are not crushing the pile at all. Alternatively, wrap it with bias binding. Do not tighten the hoop so that the surface is drum-like - you will need to stitch with a slightly loose fabric, so it means that your stitches will need to have a very even tension. Above all - when you have finished your stitching session remove the velvet from the hoop.
Crushed pile is almost impossible to repair, so you should take all precautions to prevent it.

When you have finished stitching your piece on velvet, finish and block it by steaming the velvet - exactly as you would for a velvet garment.
Steam Velvet by placing it pile-side down onto a well padded surface and use a hot iron on the steam session. Hold the iron about 3 inches above the velvet and hit the shot of steam button. Once you have steamed the whole item, lay it flat or hang it up until it dries. You can then run your hand over the pile to lift any up that is a little flat.

Pierced Paper

An old embroidery skill that is becoming more popular, pierced paper embroidery is basically worked like a counted thread piece. The difference is that you are using paper instead of fabric.

This can create it´s own problems - and those who have done a lot of this work suggest using a slate or roller frame rather than a hoop to work this type of embroidery. It prevents the paper being crushed or tearing.

You should use a blunt needle to prevent piercing the paper and a fairly loose tension to avoid putting strain on the holes in the paper.
Any type of thread can be used on pierced paper - however ensure that it moves through the holes easily without tearing them.


Silk is another beautiful fabric to work with - however it does tend to stain very easily so when transferring your pattern, it is better to use the method where you stitch the design as an outline straight onto the fabric through freezer paper.

If you do use any other method, ensure that you fully cover all lines when you stitch.

It is also necessary to wrap your hoop in bias binding when stitching with silk, or use a slat or roller frame to work on. If using a hoop, ensure that you remove the stitching from the hoop at the end of each stitching session.
Again - any type of thread can be used on silk, however I love silk on silk - the sheen of both works well. However, rayon and cotton can also look good.

Sheer Fabric

Very sheer fabric can look even more feminine and delicate with embroidery - as shown by heirloom sewing. However it is vitally important when using Sheers that you ensure that the back of your work is as neat as the front.

Knots are a definate no-no - as is carrying the thread. Remember: everything on the back can be seen on the front.

Because of the delicacy of sheer fabric, it is best to use either stranded cotton or silk on these fabrics - and one strand enhances the delicacy and still provides the colour.

General Guidelines

And these work for all types of fabric - not just specialty ones.

Keep the back of your work as neat as possible. Try not to use knots as they will eventually show on the front of your work.

When using a hoop, always remove the stitching from the hoop when you have finished your session. This helps to prevent the hoop marking the fabric

Wrap the bottom hoop (at least) in bias binding. Again - this helps to prevent marking the fabric

Use a hoop large enough to give the entire stitching space clear. If you have to put the hoop over stitching, wrap the top and bottom hoops with bias binding, and try not to put the metal on the hoop over your stitching

Test a piece of fabric first to ensure that your method of transferring the pattern is not going to run, or permanently stain.

Always wash your hands before beginning to stitch

Do not put hand cream on before you stitch

When ironing a completed piece of embroidery, always iron it from the back on a padded surface. This will not crush the embroidery on the front of your fabric and will help to raise it from the surface.

Have fun stitching your piece on a special piece of fabric

Is there anything that you would particularly like to see an article on? If so, please e-mail me with your suggestions.

Happy Stitching

Happy Stitching from Megan

© 2001, 2002 Megan McConnell

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