My years at Camp Northland for Girls provided plenty of rough ‘n’ tumble activities — canoe trips, cooking over an open fire, capture the flag. But all I remember one summer was the embroidery.
The women’s movement was in full bloom that year and we practically lived in our overalls and blue chambray shirts, sure that the rugged garments freed us to do any damn thing we pleased. Even so, the womanly arts had their say. We’d hang in the counselor room after our young campers had gone to bed, inhaling cigarettes (we’d just learned how) and talking tough, all the while stitching butterflies and flowers onto our overall bibs. A goofily grinning worm adorned one of my shirt’s pockets while an elaborate, embellished tree bloomed on the back. If I found a spare minute I stitched, and by summer’s end my tough-girl clothes were more maidenly than macho.
Though I left camp (and cigarettes) behind, my love for embroidery never waned. That’s why I was so pleased to learn that Diana Rupp has written Embroider Everything Workshop: The Beginner’s Guide to Embroidery, Cross-Stitch, Needlepoint, Beadwork, Appliqué, and More. The founder in 2002 of New York’s Make Workshop, Diana is a consummate educator and just the person, I thought, to bring new embroiderers into the fold. We chatted last October at Quilt Market, where Diana pulled project after project from her bag.
“Embroidery travels so easily and for many people it’s less intimidating than working with a machine,” she says.
A sewing machine is something Diana uses regularly when she teaches students skills from zipper installation to dressmaking in her Make Workshop classes (and in her first book, SEW: Sew Everything Workshop). But she finds embroidery has a wider appeal. “There’s not the same expense as machine sewing,” she says. “You just need a hoop and a scrap of fabric and some thread.”
She appreciates the freedom of embroidery. As she says in her book, there’s no right or wrong, and no stress about whether something will fit, as there can be with garment sewing.
“When I’m teaching and something ‘bad’ happens, we figure out a solution and it ends up being an interesting design detail,” she says. “All sewing is very fluid, but embroidery is even more so. Your work can be perfect and exact or organic and messy and both are okay.”
That same flexibility is reflected in the projects in her book, which range from needlepoint done on canvas to smocking to simple stitching. “Depending on your mood, you might want to do something freeform or something more structured,” she says. “The stitches are basically the same, and you’ll get beautiful results either way.”
The variety is also reflected in the complexity of projects. “Embroidery is something you can complete in an afternoon or something you can work on over years,” she says. “You can make something you use every day, like a patch for your jacket, or something you keep and pass down to your grandkids, like an embroidered hanky to carry at your wedding.”
While Diana loves to embroider, she especially loves to teach. She’s proud that newbies can learn stitches by poking a needle and thread in numerical sequence through the practice card she designed for the book. “I can’t teach everyone in person, so the card gives people a way to take it one step at a time and not get overwhelmed,” she says. The book also includes sidebars with tips and stitching history — did you know, for example, that archeologists have found needle artifacts dating back to 40,000 BCE? And that actress Grace Kelly and professional football player Roosevelt “Rosey” Grier were needlepoint fanatics?
Sharing knowledge comes naturally to Diana, who while earning her MFA in creative writing considered becoming a teacher. Then her interests turned to fashion, and she designed a line of knitwear. In the end, though, she is happiest helping other people learn to make things themselves. “It’s one thing to write a project book, and another to teach,” she says. “I’ve taught thousands of people over the years and that informs the way I put the book together. My hope is that people will get comfortable with the sense that embroidery is a work in progress; it’s just like when you cook something and first follow a recipe, and then you start improvising. My mission is to teach people and share my love of stitching.”
Upgrade a plain wool scarf into something Maria might wear in The Sound of Music as she hikes, all ruddy-cheeked through the Alps. Here’s a project you can finish by the fireplace in an hour or two — especially if it’s snowing outside. The results look great from both sides of the scarf, so you don’t have to worry about how you wrap it. And it’s so easy and quick, you can whip up a batch for holiday gifts. Try embellishing a hat to coordinate. Then find the nearest mountaintop and start yodeling!
You will need:
- Woven wool scarf in grey
- Anchor tapestry wool in dark brown 9666, bright red 8198 (2 skeins of each)
- Size 22 chenille needle
- Embroidery scissors
- Sewing ruler
- Air-solute fabric marker
Draw the Stitch Guides on the Scarf
1. Use the fabric marker and ruler to draw guidelines on the scarf. Draw a line 1/4″ from each long edge. Draw a second, parallel line 1/2″ from the first. If the ink disappears as you’re stitching, reapply the lines and continue to embroider.
Stitching the Scarf
2. Following the drawn lines, use 1 strand of dark brown tapestry wool and the chenille needle to embroider feather stitches along the long edges of the scarf. Note: If you want the feather stitches on both edges to run in the same direction, start stitching each edge from the same end of the scarf.
3. Finish the tops of the feather stitches with straight stitches made with 1 strand of bright red tapestry wool. The feather stitching on the back of the scarf will look like herringbone stitches.
For more embroidery projects, check out Diana Rupp’s Embroider Everything Workshop: The Beginner’s Guide to Embroidery, Cross-Stitch, Needlepoint, Beadwork, Appliqué, and More, available from Amazon or an independent bookstore near you.
A lifelong sewer/knitter and former weaver/spinner, Linzee Kull McCray, a.k.a. lkmccray, is a writer and editor living in Iowa. She feels fortunate to meet and write about people, from scientists to stitchers, who are passionate about their work. Her freelance writing appears in Quilts and More, Stitch, UPPERCASE, American Patchwork and Quilting and more. For more textile musings, visit her blog.