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Heirloom Embroidery


No matter what your favourite embroidery technique, or whether you prefer machine or hand embroidery, heirloom embroidery offers something for all stitchers.

When they hear the term “heirloom sewing” (or embroidery) most people think of christening gowns and similar items. These are the most common forms of this type of embroidery and very fine fabrics are used.

The meaning of heirloom is an item that is handed from one generation to another, and embroidery is excellently suited to this meaning as it is hard wearing and the time taken to stitch means that we usually take great care of it.

In previous generations, girls spent hours working on the contents of their hope chest, which would contain items such as table napkins, table cloths, bed linens and lingerie. Once her engagement was announced, a young woman and her female relatives worked feverishly embroidering her new monogram onto all this linen.

Monograms remain a popular choice for heirloom embroidery as they can be worked on many different items – from handkerchiefs and clothing to bed and table linen.

The other very popular article for heirloom embroidery is the christening gown. Historical pieces are covered with very fine embroidery – with shadow embroidery the most popular technique.

Modern gowns are often made of Swiss muslin, a very fine, almost transparent, muslin. They can be bought plain, ready for you to embroider. Often, however, it can be extremely difficult to work on a pre-made garment, especially one as small as a christening gown.

When embroidering any sort of garment, it is usually easier to mark out the pattern pieces on the fabric, and then draw your embroidery design on the flat pieces. Once you stitch the embroidery you can then make up the article (or have it made for you).

Shadow work, where the stitching is done on the wrong side of very fine material, with the colours showing through the fabric, and outlining of the design done on the right side of the fabric. This technique may be done by both machine and hand embroidery.

Silk Ribbon embroidery is also a very popular technique to use in heirloom embroidery

Of course, any form of embroidery may be used for heirloom embroidery and, as always, you must choose a technique and materials that suit the ground fabric and design.

That said, heirloom embroidery is characterised mostly by the use of high quality materials, both as ground fabric, and for the embroidery. As these items are designed to be handed down from generation to generation, it is essential that they are well made and stored correctly.

Any embroidery piece that is to be stored should be laundered and ironed and stored only when completely dry. Spray starch or ironing aid should not be used when preparing an heirloom piece for storage. Over time, dampness and these ironing aids can cause mildew spots which will eat away at the fabric.

Each piece should be carefully wrapped in acid-free tissue paper before storage in a clean, dry place. Every so often you should take the piece out to inspect it for marks, etc.

Heirloom embroidery is a wonderful way to provide a memento for generations to come.

Recommended Reading

Creative Heirloom Treasures with Other

Shadow Work Embroidery: With 108 Iron-on Transfer Patterns

Elegant Ribbonwork: 24 Heirloom Projects for Special OccasionsHappy Stitching from Megan



© 2010 Megan McConnell



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Embroidered Monograms
Storing your Embroidery Supplies
Silk Ribbon Embroidery
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Content copyright © 2014 by Megan McConnell. All rights reserved.
This content was written by Megan McConnell. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Megan McConnell for details.

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