Eliza Wright -> Hints and Tips -> Essential Items

Essential Items

Although I dislike gadgets there are some tools and items of equipment that I find are essential. Some are obvious; others perhaps not so.

1.Embroidery Frames

There are three types of frame in regular use in my studio.

Traditional roller frames.

With these frames the fabric is stitched to canvas strips on the frame bars. I use this type mainly for larger cross stitch designs. The advantages are that it’s probably the cheapest frame you can get for a large piece of embroidery, and it's easy to loosen the tension, so that the fabric is only under strain when you're stitching.

However there are also disadvantages:

(a) you must stitch the fabric on to the canvas strips before you can start, which can be time-consuming.

(b) sometimes the canvas strips have not been placed as neatly as one would like, so if possible you should check this.

(c) when attaching the fabric you must get it lined up properly so that when you put the frame together the fabric is square.

(d) the fabric is stretched one way only. Aida for cross stitch is quite tough and will stand this, but lighter fabrics may be pulled out of shape.

Note: there are also ‘no-sew’ versions of this type of frame where the fabric is kept in place by a wooden rod. These are fine for stiffish fabric such as Aida. Some frames also have clips, but I have never used this sort myself. My reasoning is that if I’ve sewn it on myself, I know it’s going to stay put!

Bar Frames such as Siesta Bar Frames.

These are supplied in packs of two, from 4 inches upwards in length. With these you can make a large variety of rigid frames by fitting the bars together.My opinion is that these are a marvellous invention. I don’t know what I'd do without them! I rarely do large embroideries apart from cross stitch, 10 inches square is about my limit, and in that size range they perform wonderfully well both for freestyle embroidery and also for small counted thread designs. I pin the fabric on using architects pins, which have three prongs and are easier for me to use than drawing pins.

I have not found them so good for machine embroidery, because the bars are too fat to get them easily under the foot of my machine. Also, unless you pin the fabric to the side of the frame, the pins scratch the plate of the sewing machine.

Traditional Double Hoop Frames.

I use these for my silk shading designs. Silk shading work demands that the base fabric is stretched drum tight, and I find that the easiest way to do this is to use a hoop. More details are given under the silk shading heading. If you’re buying a hoop in a shop check the following:

(a) When the two hoops are put together, ideally they should fit perfectly. Hold it up to the light and you should not be able to see any gaps.

(b) The wood should be smooth and well-finished.

(c) The screw should be of good quality and it should be firmly attached.

If you, like me, are forced to buy mail order then you can’t check these things before you buy. In that case I’ve found you get what you pay for. The more expensive hoops are made from better quality wood and fit together well.

There are also some ‘square’ hoops available now which I rather like. They are very good quality, though as a result they are much more expensive than round hoops.

Before using your hoop you will need to bind the inner hoop. I use either white tape or bias binding. This step is essential as it stops the fabric from slipping. If you have ended up with poorly fitting hoops, you can try to remedy this by adding extra packing at this stage. (Otherwise you can fill the gap by winding a piece of kitchen roll around it before positioning the fabric). Fastening off your tape can be done with a few stitches, but try to keep the join as flat as possible and place the stitches on the down side of the hoop; you don’t want to form a bump where it comes into contact with the outer hoop. When not in use, leave the two parts of the hoop fitted together so they will hopefully be unable to warp independently.

A note about Slate Frames.

Many serious embroiderers use what are called ‘slate frames’. I have tried these and find that although it’s possible to get a really tight tension on the fabric, they have certain disadvantages as far as I am concerned.

(a) They are quite labour-intensive to set up.

(b) They take up a lot of room compared with the size of the embroidery.

(c) Because they are so flat, you have to be really careful where you put the embroidery down!

On the whole I have found they are not necessary for the small embroideries I do.

2. Scissors.

Whatever kind of embroidery you do, you will probably find a use for at least one pair of Really Sharp Fine Pointed Small Scissors. Now acquiring scissors by mail order is a total lottery! The best scissors I have ever had, I obtained by accident – I won them in a competition! Although I have added to my collection over the years, these ‘free’ scissors have never been beaten! If possible, test the scissors you're about to buy on a piece of silk, and make sure they cut, cleanly and without snagging, all the way along the blades.

Stitch rippers are also part of my weaponry.

3. Needles, Needle Threaders etc.

As needles are quite cheap, it is worth getting the best quality. Gone are the days when needles had to be carefully kept for years and smoothed with emery paper – thankfully! I find a needle-threader is also very handy even if you have good eyesight, as any thread that can split into several parts (such as metallics) can be relied upon to do so when you’re in a hurry! A threader is also useful for fastening off very short tails of thread. These sometimes arise if you’ve been unpicking, or have been doing a repair:

(a) Weave the unthreaded needle where you want the thread eventually to go.

(b) Push the wire threader through the needle’s eye.

(c) Ease the short end of thread through the threader and pull it through the eye of the needle.

(d) Then pull the needle through.

There is a special tool you can get for this job called a ‘dololly’ but I have never found one fine enough for my work, and the needle threader works just as well. Also, a fine crochet hook will sometimes do the job.

4. Good Artificial Light.

There is nothing like good daylight, but if this is not available (frequently the case in Scotland!) don’t underestimate the importance of good lighting. This may be even more important if you need to use magnification. The more your lenses magnify, the more light you will need. Recently I was convinced I was going to have to give up silk shading because working even just one thread length left me with runny, smarting eyes and the beginnings of a headache. I had forgotten that I had recently ‘upped’ the power of my magnifying specs – I needed to up my light source too! Now that I have done this my eyes are fine.

5. Magnification.

Not everyone will need magnification, of course, but as we get older most of us tend to become more and more long-sighted and need ‘reading glasses’. If your eyes are uncomfortable and seem to be under strain when you embroider, magnifying specs and/or better lighting is usually the solution. My embroidery specs are bifocal reading glasses, to which I attach those clip on magnifying lenses. I have a set of 6 different magnifications so that I can choose the right one for the job.

6. A Sewing Machine.

Even if you don't intend doing machine embroidery, a sewing machine is very handy for finishing and hemming. Mine is a Bernina and is nearly 30 years old. He has performed brilliantly over the years and is still going strong.

7. An Iron.

I have to admit that ironing is not my forte, and these days I don't iron anything except items to do with my embroidery! It is often essential to iron your basic fabrics flat, especially if they've been hand dyed, and sometimes the dyes will need heat-fixing. Bonding powder and fabric also require the use of an iron. I have found that modern domestic irons are just too large, so have acquired a couple of 'travellers' irons, one for steam and one for dry ironing. Also I have one of those tiny little 'Clover' irons. They are quite expensive, but they reach the parts other irons cannot!

See Also: Eliza Wright homepage | Mixed Media Gallery | Silk Shading Gallery | For Sale Gallery

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