This story was originally published on Of Small Matters, a website by Sacha McNeil celebrating the handmade, home-crafted and those who create and employ time-honoured skills.
Recrafting, upcycling, bedazzling, clothes-pimping - whatever you call it, I’m all for this sustainable fashion movement starting to get a foothold.
Ngaio Blackwood is an artist and designer from Napier who works magic with a small piece of thread and a needle. Recently she has been working with teenagers and encouraging them to rethink how they can personalise garments, or give a piece of clothing a new lease on life.
Ngaio has generously put together an embroidery tutorial for all of us, at any age. You will also find a free PDF with some of her beautiful designs to print off and use on any kind of fabric, not just clothing.
"When I was a teenager, I spent my time cutting through the cuffs of my jeans and inserting fabric to make little flares," says Ngaio. "If my jeans wore out, I turned them into skirts. Strangely, I find myself 20 years later encouraging today’s teens to personalise their own clothing at a workshop held at Creative Arts Napier."
Materials needed for embroidery on a denim jacket:
Embroidery cotton of your choice
Line Art - you can draw your own line art or trace around an image that you like or search online for free line art. Please be considerate of other artists' work and copyright laws - if in doubt ask permission before copying, even for personal use.
Soluble wash-away embroidery medium (either stick-on or pinned to fabric). Brands I’ve used - Legacy “Sol-U-Film Lite” (purchased through Spotlight) and Legacy” Stick-N-Washaway”.
Iron on interfacing (optional) - Interfacing is a strengthening material that has two different sides to it. You iron the shiny side down and it’s a good idea to put a piece of fabric in between the iron and the interfacing just in case you go round it the wrong way. This can be purchased from most craft stores.
Top tip: if embroidery is new to you, practice your stitching on some fabric before you try doing it on your jacket. Head back to the post about creating a sampler here and try some of those stitches to find what you like.
Choose your design
Think about placement and size on your piece of clothing. Do you want other people to see it from a distance, or is it just for you? I’ve done bridal jackets with text on the back celebrating the date of the wedding or the new name of the bride. So placement is normally on the upper back of the jacket.
The colour of your thread also needs to be thought out - do you want it to contrast with the jacket or not?
You can draw directly on to your jacket with any method you choose. If you have a light-coloured jacket, you may be able to use a water soluble pen (easily found in most craft stores). I prefer to use a soluble medium, so all traces of my pattern disappear like magic when I’m finished.
Transfer your design onto a soluble medium using a light box or a window
I’ve found that the best one to use is the stick-on wash-away embroidery type, but it can be hard to find so I’ve been using a sew-on soluble interfacing and just pinning the design to my clothing. I find a fine tip permanent marker gives me the best results, I like Artline pens in 0.1 or 0.2.
Once you’ve transferred your design to your jacket or onto a soluble medium, you can hoop your project. If you’re stitching onto an item of clothing that has a stretch to it or is thin you may need to use interfacing on the back to give more stability. Stick or place your design to the area you wish to embroider, then hoop it. Be careful not to overstretch your garment when stretching in a hoop otherwise the work will pucker. Interfacing is a good idea to keep the tension of your stitches even.
Thread your needle
Choose the cotton you wish to use for your project - I recommend either 6-stranded embroidery cotton or pearl cotton. Knot the end of your thread (Extra for Experts - try a quilter's knot) and leave a tail of thread through the eye of the needle of about 5cm. Remember to pinch the eye of the needle with your thumb and forefinger when pulling your needle through the work so the thread doesn’t slip out.
Stitch your pattern
Follow your line art with an outline stitch such as back stitch or stem stitch. Chain stitch is also a favourite of mine.
Once you’re finished, unhoop your work, cut off any excess interfacing or soluble medium and wash your jacket in a sink. If you feel like you need to, you can use iron-on interfacing on the back of the work to hide the stitches and protect them from getting caught on anything.
Hoop marks will wash out and so will the soluble pattern, leaving you with a cool project.
Here is your free design PDF - print it off and give a few a go!