Embellish Your Quilts with Hand Embroidery
Sometimes a quilt needs just a little (or a lot of) oomph. Embellish your quilts with hand embroidery to do just that! There is so much to enjoy about the process – slowing down, playing with different textures and colors, challenging myself to learn new stitches or relaxing with the familiarity of stitches that are old friends. While I love how my sewing machine cranks out fast work, I also love the meditative process of stitching by hand. And smaller projects can come along on road trips (when I’m not driving) and on long flights.
Here are a few of my favorite quilts that I embellished with hand embroidery. Maybe you will want to pick up a needle and some pretty threads, too!
Embroidered Fibonacci Quilt
Begun as a design challenge at an Off Grain Stitchers retreat, Embroidered Fibonacci Quilt was years (off and on – more off than on) in the making. (See more Design Challenge Art Quilts.) This assignment was to use the Fibonacci Sequence or Golden Ratio to design a piece of textile art. After deciding that I would not do the assignment, I began to think, “what would happen if….” All of the examples I had seen built the spiral from neatly nested squares. What if I turned each square 45 degrees, then shifted the rows until the pieces fit? A long, skinny (40 X 15-inch) quilt top of 1-inch pieced on-point squares.
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Assignment satisfied. Then it sat. And it sat and it sat and it sat. And collected dust. Lots of dust. It wasn’t until I sketched some “bones” over the design years later that the elongated spiral became clear and took on life as a branch. Flowers, stems, and leaves followed in a variety of stitches using cotton and rayon threads hand dyed by Elin Noble. Almost a table runner, but it’s not. Hence, wine will never be spilled on this piece!
Fibonacci spiral “vine” markings:
More embroidery stitches:
Basted and ready for simple grid hand quilting:
And here is the completed Fibonacci Garden Quilt:
Birds of a Feather African Folklore Embroidery Quilt
Birds of a Feather African Folklore Embroidery Quilt begins with kits that come with pre-printed line drawings on solid black backgrounds, a hank of colorful cotton threads, and a needle. South African artists designed these panels. Members of the Ndebele tribe drew the embroidery designs for this quilt so they were all ready to stitch.
These blocks are well-traveled thanks to the portability of the project. No hoop is necessary with the stable fabric. The threads are pre-cut into usable lengths, so I didn’t even have to take scissors along! Very TSA-friendly! Kid-friendly, too. I taught embroidery to a ten-year-old when stormy weather confined us to a television-free, internet-free beach cabin. She enjoyed it so much, I sent her a kit for Christmas.
The stitches are mostly basic line stitches – chain, stem, backstitch, feather. I’ve seen these done exclusively in chain stitch, and they are lovely. Anything goes – just follow the lines or add your own additional touches.
The finished quilt is four embroidered blocks sashed with African cotton prints.
Basking in the sunshine feels so good!
Having a good hair day.
Love me some striped stockings!
Yeah, I have big feet. So what?
Embroidered Yukata Quilt
I wanted an embroidery project for some silk, rayon, cotton, and wool threads I had collected. They were so beautiful and kept calling to me from their bin in my studio. But I just wanted to start stitching – marking the fabric is my least favorite part of the process, and I didn’t want to take the time. I cut a 14-inch square (perfect size for an airline tray table) of 14-inch wide vintage Yukata cotton from Okan Arts and used the hand dyed design of the fabric to guide my needle for hand stitching. I used a light cotton batting as my stabilizer and embroidered very simple stitches – chain, feather, back stitch, running stitch, buttonhole.
To hold all the layers together with the backing, I quilted an asymmetric design in variegated cotton quilting thread with my walking foot and Bernina sewing machine. Again, no marking was necessary. Keep it simple! My Bernina feed dogs tracked the fabric through to stitch straight lines – look, Ma, no hands! I folded the backing forward for the simple binding, then topstitched the binding to the front of the little quilt with a machine buttonhole stitch in the same variegated thread that I used for quilting.
Fused Art Quilt with Hand Embroidery
I took a super-fun class called “Tiny Homes” with Laura Wasilowski. I had so much fun, I made two more fused small quilts and had a blast doing hand embroidery on all three!
This is the Fused Art Quilt with Hand Embroidery I started in the workshop, and it’s made from just two fabrics. The secret? Laura’s hand dyed fabrics have wonderful gradations from selvedge to selvedge, so each piece works extra hard!
- ½ yard of a multi-colored dark-value hand-dyed fabric
- ¼ yard of a multi-colored light-value hand-dyed fabric
- 2 yards (at least) Wonder Under paper-backed fusible web (Laura’s preferred brand)
- Assorted embroidery threads
- Cotton batting and Timtex to match the finished size of your quilt
- Iron and ironing surface
- Nonstick pressing sheet and/or the Wonder Under release paper
- Rotary cutter (decorative blades are fun)
- Cutting mat
- Sharp scissors
- Hand embroidery needles sized to play nicely with your chosen threads
How to Do It:
(No patterns – quilting without a net!)
Fuse Wonder Under to the back of your fabric (yes, all of it).
Select sections of your fused fabric to use as background pieces then cut, layer, and fuse in place. Make sure you have a silicone sheet or release paper under the bottom layer – because you’ll be sad if you fuse your first piece to the ironing board!
Fuse-collage mini-fabrics and component pieces for your quilt. Take a deep breath and cut these pieces without a ruler. Go ahead, the first cut is the hardest. Now cut another. Save your scraps for future creations.
Place the components on the background in an arrangement that makes you smile, and fuse into place. Protect your iron by placing a silicone sheet or release paper between your quilt and the iron.
Layer your batting and Timtex and cut to the finished size and shape of your quilt. Mine is square, but your edges can have a slight whimsical wave if you like. Mark both batting and Timtex in one corner so you can match them up later.
Center the batting on the back of your quilt top, then fuse. Your top will be larger than the batting (you’ll fold the edges to the back later). Protect your iron and pressing surface from the fusible that is exposed around the edges of your quilt top.
Then embellish your design with embroidery stitches. You will stitch through the batting. Laura has some fantastic tips on needles, threads, and stitches.
When you have stitched until you can stitch no more, it’s time to finish your quilt! Place the quilt on your pressing surface so the back is facing you. Then match the Timtex to its proper position and place on the batting. Bonus: the back side of your embroidery stitches will never see the light of day.
Carefully fold the quilt edges to the back over the Timtex and fuse.
Cut a piece of backing fabric (with fusible, of course) smaller than your quilt top, but large enough to cover the raw edges. Finally, it’s time to fuse it in place. If you find exposed Timtex on the back, just cut a larger fun shape and fuse a patch – then it will look like you planned it that way, you clever quilter! Ta-da!
For detailed step-by-step instructions, check out books by Laura Wasilowski.
Ginger Grove Quilt
I love Sue Spargo’s whimsical folk art style and her inspired use of color and texture. This is her Ginger Grove quilt pattern, and it got me hooked on applique with wool!
Fabric and thread selection is more adventuresome when you have the freedom to combine fibers. Wool, cotton, silk, and rayon are all used in this quilt. Then layers of appliqué add to the rich texture. I free motion quilted Ginger Grove on my Bernina using wool batting and YLI variegated cotton machine quilting thread.
Ginger Grove quilt – my interpretation.
Wool Appliqué Birds and Branches
I love Sue Spargo’s folk art style. Sue’s pattern inspired Wool Appliqué Birds and Branches. It began in a workshop with her where we reviewed appliqué techniques and learned to embellish by combining various hand embroidery stitches, fibers, buttons, and beads. We laughed a lot, too!
Sue’s kit included the background fabrics and the wool for the appliqué. Then I had fun picking out wild cotton prints for the birds’ wings and bellies. Less wild prints worked better for the inner parts of the leaves to keep the attention on the birds. Once the appliqué was in place, there was really no plan for embellishment. So I focused on an element in the design and let the shape (or the print, in the case of the cottons) guide my thread and stitch choices. The light colored background print on the left, for example, was a simple polka dot fabric. I added daisy petals, French knot centers and cross stitches among the “flowers”.
This project was a great opportunity to experiment with stitch combinations, especially since Sue encouraged us to be bold. When we asked questions, she was quick to help. We learned from other students’ questions, too, as we gathered around for Sue’s demonstrations.
Learn more about Sue and her work at www.suespargo.com.
Browse through more quilt ideas and inspiration on Create Whimsy.