Machine embroidery designs are available that look just like the hand embroidery of days gone by. To recreate antique embroidery with a computerized embroidery machine, look for digitized motifs that mimic historical styles. Couple the designs with carefully chosen fabrics and threads for a beautiful faux-vintage result.
FabricsThe phrase “historic textiles” probably conjures images of coarsely woven fabrics in muted or dull colors. In fact, some antique textiles are incredibly fine. Colors were originally rich and vivid, but may have faded and dulled with time. In reproducing antique needlework, select fabrics and threads that fit your mental image of historical textile appearance rather than striving for historical accuracy. Fabric choices will vary with embroidery types.
Here are some factors to consider:
Cross stitch and other counted-thread recreations. Machine cross stitch has some great advantages over its hand stitch counterpart, especially in the variety of fabrics on which designs can be embroidered.
Aida and other traditional counted cross stitch fabrics can be used with machine-embroidered motifs, provided the stitch size matches the fabric count. Some digitizers list the size in the design description as the number of cross stitches that will fill a line 1″ long (for example, “14-count” means there are 14 stitches per inch). Be sure the fabric grain is straight before stabilizing and hooping, and align the first needle drop with a fabric hole to ensure that the stitches match the fabric weave.
Woven fabrics such as linen, weaver’s cloth, and linen-looks are wonderful bases for machine cross stitch. Their close weave supports the stitches without a need for perfect alignment. These fabrics also have the appearance of traditional embroidery materials. If the fabric’s yarns are easily distinguished, hoop carefully so the grainlines lie parallel to the hoop sides.
Knit fabrics such as T-shirts and sweatshirts can all be embellished with machine cross stitch. They can be difficult to decorate using traditional counted cross stitch by hand, but with proper stabilization knit fabrics are easy to machine embroider.
Crewel embroidery.Because it is characterized by heavy threads and dense fills, crewel embroidery should be worked on sturdy fabrics such as linen, canvas and denim.
Hardanger and cutwork. Choose medium-weight fabrics with a firm weave to support the stitches and hold together when areas are cut away.
In addition to fabrics from sewing supply retailers, look into the selection of fabrics at craft retailers specifically for needlework. As well as Aida and Hardanger, fabrics commonly associated with counted-thread handwork, there are beautiful linens and evenweave fabrics in other fibers. Needlework fabrics come in traditional neutral shades, but are also available in dark and bright colors and luscious hand-dyed gradations.
Threads & needles
Historically, embroiderers used silk, wool, linen, metallic and sometimes cotton threads for embroidery. Look for these fibers in spools for high-speed embroidery use. Consider using synthetic threads similar in appearance to their natural cousins or try the wonderful new fibers historical embroiderers never knew.
Silk and rayon. As the most expensive and prized fiber historically, silk was experimented with and used most often in precious embroideries. Today, embroiderers are more likely to substitute rayon or polyester embroidery threads. Their sheen matches that of silk, but their cost is much lower and more readily available. Rayon and polyester embroidery threads are most commonly sold in 30- or 40-weight sizes. A machine embroidery needle, size 75/11 or 90/14, is usually the best choice.
Linen and cotton. Until India’s borders were opened to European trade, cotton was relatively unused by embroiderers. Instead they often worked with linen floss. Today the situation is reversed and cotton is the fiber of choice for duplicating matte-finish embroidery techniques. Cotton machine embroidery threads are available from fine (size 100) to coarse (size 12) weights. Use a large size needle with a larger eye for heavier weight threads and a smaller size needle for lighter threads.
Wool. As the primary fiber used for crewel embroidery, wool is rarely used by machine stitchers. However, there are machine embroidery threads spun from a combination of wool and acrylic fibers that combine the soft, fuzzy appearance of traditional crewel yarns with the strength necessary for high-speed machine embroidery. To accommodate the thread bulk, use a size 90/14 or 100/16 top-stitching needle. It may also be necessary to lower the thread tension and machine speed to embroider successfully.
Metallics. Select a good quality metallic thread for high speed machine stitching. These threads combine the shine of precious metal with the strength needed for machine embroidery. Use an appropriate size needle designed for metallic thread in a size suitable for the fabric and thread weight.
Other specialty threads. Threads and fibers that are very large, fragile or of inconsistent size are unsuitable for high-speed machine embroidery, but they may still be used as accents by couching them in place with a sewing machine or by hand. Use them in small areas alongside more usual machine embroidery threads.
Bobbin thread. For embroideries where the wrong side will not be visible, use machine embroidery bobbin thread. If the project is stitched on fine or sheer fabric or if both front and back will be visible in the finished item, use a thread that matches the needle thread or fabric color in the bobbin. Use the lightest weight thread possible in the bobbin.
For items that will be framed or finished with a backing, the best stabilizer choice may be an iron-on interfacing without stretch. The interfacing lends its smooth, non-stretchy texture to any fabric and remains behind the embroidery to eliminate distortion during finishing.
Before fusing the interfacing, be sure the fabric’s warp and weft yarns lie perpendicular and straight. Fuse the interfacing to the fabric wrong side, locking the grainlines in place.
Tear-away stabilizer may be used in addition to iron-on interfacing for extra stability during hooping and embroidery. It can be hooped with the fabric or floated underneath the hoop. Fusible tear-away and cut-away stabilizers are another stand-alone option, but test first to ensure the fabric and stitches will not be damaged or distorted as the stabilizer is removed. Follow the manufacturer’s directions for fusingcarefully to create a secure but temporary bond that will not allowthe fabric to pucker during embroidery.
For doilies, handkerchiefs or other projects on lightweightfabrics, use a water-soluble stabilizer that will be completelyremoved after embroidery. These stabilizers will not change thefabric drape and texture, but provide enough stability for small motifs typically stitched on fine fabrics.
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