September 30, 2021
By Victoria Watkins
Learning about how embroidery has varied across cultures and historical eras is one of the exciting benefits of developing as a sewist. Throughout our catalog, Folkwear includes many variations of folk and historical embroidery, and our 209 Walking Skirt motif includes one example. I find that I am a person who learns best by doing, and working on this motif has given me a chance to accumulate a little bit of experience in the realm of hand embroidery.
To those new to embroidery, or looking for a refresher on how to transfer the patterns to your fabric, you may want to take a look at our previous blog that demonstrates different methods for transferring your embroidery motifs. Once your design is transferred, you're ready to begin embroidering.
Admittedly, this process was a learning experience for me. It also gave me a deeper appreciation for the accomplished embroiderers of the past, as well as reminded me that sometimes instructions can be flexible guidelines as opposed to unchangeable law. One area I found this to be the case was the first step, in which the directions say to embroider a running stitch a small distance around the marked circles of the motif. Personally, I found it easier to create clean and appealing work once I started experimenting without using this running stitch. Others certainly would find it useful to use them as directed.
The main stitch used for this pattern is a buttonhole stitch, which effectively creates a knot around the edge of the fabric. This in turn allows us to cut out the centers of the ovals and circles, giving us handmade eyelets. I found the most attractive success in pulling the thread tail up toward the center of the circle to tighten the knot, then pulling it back down toward the outside. This seemed to arrange the knots in a way that created a unified and tidy edge.
Once the round was complete, I drew the thread to the back of the work and slipped it behind a couple of the previous stitches, then clipped. This is another point in which I deviated a little from the instructions. They suggest taking tiny stitches to hop from circle to circle so you don't have to cut the thread each time. However, because the brown of the thread was so distinct from the yellow linen, I decided not to do this. If the colors are closer together, I could imagine this being a great way to avoid hassle.
At this stage, it's time to cut out the center, which is a bit nerve-wracking! However, if you've made a tight and consistent circle of buttonhole stitches, you'll find that this is not as terrifying as it initially seems.
It can be a little awkward trying to get scissors down into the taut fabric, so I found that first piercing it with a seam ripper was an effective solution. The instructions also suggest using something like a tailor's awl to this effect. After gently creating a small tear with the ripper, I cleaned up the edges with scissors. This is a step in which it pays to be patient and steady. If you clip too closely to the embroidery thread, you may undo your work and find the entire thing unraveling. However, if you don't clip closely enough, the eyelet is a little ragged on the interior. Of course, this particular example is very stark due to the high contrast between the color of the thread and the fabric base. During this part of the process, I imagined that embroidery that uses matching fabric and thread colors could result in a gorgeous, impressive piece that hides some of the roughness that sometimes characterizes handmade work.
Speaking of roughness, these photos do show the evidence of my initial attempts at this method. While it is a bit vulnerable to show the first shaky steps into a new skill, I hope it also demonstrates something that is part of the reason we are drawn to sewing in the first place. Sewing is a way to expand our capacity for self expression and creativity, and if we don't take the first steps into a new skill without a bold ineptitude, we'll never have anything to show for it. Now after being prompted to tackle this motif as a demonstration, I'm interested in playing around with embroidery at home for personal projects!
If you'd like to play with the embroidery motif featured in this blog post, as well as sew your own Walking Skirt, it's available in both our paper and PDF pattern formats. And the instructions for this embroidery technique are included in the pattern!
Have you dipped your toes into any new techniques lately? We'd love to hear about any learning experiences you've had!
Also, if you want to watch a video of me demonstrating this technique, it is on our YouTube channel (and below).