Join us for week 3 of the Kaylee Tunic Sew Along with designer, Kay Whitt! In week 1, we discussed fabric selection, and for week 2, we covered lace trims. Today, we’re all about the decorative details. There’s still time to join us – grab the pattern, grab your supplies and sew up the perfect fall tunic!
Hello Everyone! It’s Kay Whitt here with one last post for the Kaylee Tunic sew along. Today I’ll be talking about adding decorative elements to your projects. A couple of my favorite techniques are hand embroidery and applique. These techniques add a uniqueness to the finished project and certainly a personal touch. Everyone’s hands and brains work a little differently, which means no two people will stitch the same way. It is this wonderful quality that I love the most about this type of embellishment.
The best areas of a garment to add embellishment are along a neckline, on a yoke, on the cuffs, or along a hemline. I love adding details to the flap of a bag or on the main side of a bag to dress it up. The best background for adding decorative elements are neutral ones without a lot of other texture going on, such as a bold print or anything that you would consider “busy”. Your work will stand out better on something plain or with a calm pattern to it.
Depending on the project, I try to know ahead of time that I want to add a decorative element so I can plan its addition during construction. For instance, it is easier to add to the yoke or a cuff before that part of the garment has been completed. Mark the seam allowances and be mindful of the positioning of the work so that you are happy with it once the garment is complete. Doing this type of work during construction also means that you will have the opportunity to conceal the back of the stitching, such as in the case of a cuff or a lined yoke. For bags, I prefer to work with a single layer of fabric, such as for the main side or a flap before the stabilizers have been added and the sides are sewn so that the pieces are easier to access.
Hand embroidery has been a favorite of mine for about as long as I can remember. It was the first type of handwork that I learned as a girl from my mother. There’s something calming about having just fabric, a needle, and lovely thread to work with. I like having something to keep my hands busy in the evenings while lying on the couch and watching TV and hand embroidery has fit the bill for me on many occasions. Embroidery is an easy project to carry around and it is amazing what quick progress can be made in an hour or two. Most stitches are a cinch to learn and there are so many ways to interpret them.
The Willow Tunic with hand embroidered motifs added to the bodice and sleeves; Embroidery designs are from Alison Glass
My usual go-to for embroidery is six stranded embroidery floss. I particularly like overdyed threads. If you have never worked with them, they behave as a tonal color, fading from light to dark. They lend a feeling of depth without ever having to cut the thread to blend in a different color. When working with small shapes, I often split the thread and use only two or three strands at a time.
I also love working with pearl cotton threads. When I want a heavier look, I will work with pearl 5. If working in smaller areas, I work with pearl 8. Be sure to look for overdyed threads or a nice variegated thread for added interest and depth in your work.
I use the smallest, sharpest needle that the eye can still accommodate the thread. I aim to use embroidery needles most of the time, but sometimes a chenille needle will be necessary in order to work with the thread. The best practice is to test the desired thread with a needle onto the fabric you’ll be working with. If the needle leaves a hole in the fabric as you stitch, it is a good idea to try and size down the needle a bit. The best combination is a needle that pulls easily through the fabric without distortion or damage to the fabric fibers.
To Hoop or Not to Hoop?
Many people use hoops to complete their embroidery work. I haven’t used a hoop in a long time. I have done enough work that my tension is consistent and I have trained myself to pull the stitches just enough to lie nicely on the fabric without puckering the stitch or the base fabric. Certainly, a hoop is perfectly acceptable to use and if you feel more comfortable stitching in this manner, feel free to do so. Be careful of French knots and hooping over them can damage or compress the stitching.
There are so many stitches to choose from! Some of my all-time favorites are backstitch, running stitch, lazy daisy, chain stitch, satin stitch, and the classic French knot. These can be combined in a myriad of ways to create words, flowers, animals, doodles, or just about anything you can think of. Stitches do not have to be complicated to be interesting! Be adventurous and see what sort of interesting combinations you can come up with.
Finishing and Care
I prefer to briefly press my stitching. In some circles this is taboo, but I am careful not to crush French knots. I just prefer the crisp finish of pressing. I find that the base fabric looks better and the stitches themselves look more polished. I have had people ask if my work has been completed by machine! It is certainly a personal preference, so follow your conscience here. To care for embroidery work, watch to be sure that you have used colorfast threads, then wash by hand if needed, but be careful. Even though some threads claim to be colorfast, dark colors may bleed.
Another of my favorite techniques is applique. I have been adding applique in one form or another to projects for many years in a number of different ways. When I started out, I was working exclusively with cotton and satin or blanket stitching the edges. Over the years, I have opted for simpler designs and these days I gravitate toward wool or felt for the applique pieces as the edges do not fray and I can finish them any way I want.
I personally prefer to fuse pieces onto the base fabric with an iron and then finish by hand with embroidery stitching or on the machine with a blanket stitch, satin stitch, or a simple straight stitch that closely follows the edge of the applique piece. When working with fusible products for applique, be sure to use a type that is safe for machines. There are some products that have aggressive adhesive that can wreak havoc with a sewing machine. I have also found that these products are quite difficult to pull a needle through by hand. Therefore, I have found that lightweight fusible is the way to go for just about any circumstance where stitching will be added to the applique pieces.
Styles of Applique
Traditional applique is just that: cutting out a shape, applying it to the base fabric, and finishing the edges. This is what most people think of when they think of this technique. Where you can add your personal style is the manner in which you choose to finish it. I have often added embroidered elements to the edges and shapes to add texture and interest.
Kaylee Tunic yoke with appliqued birds from my Birds in Flight stitchery pattern
I love finding fabrics with interesting motifs to cut out and add to a base fabric. When doing this style of applique, it is more about the elements you are adding and putting with one another, so the finishing is minimal. I usually opt for using a clear monofilament thread and an open but narrow machine zigzag stitch to finish the edges.
This technique is very much like traditional applique, except you will be adding pieces on top of one another. I especially like to do this with felt, making flowers. It adds texture and dimension to the work. I usually finish this type of applique with hand embroidered stitches or a minimal machine blanket stitch.
Reverse applique means that you actually cut the detail shapes out of the base fabric and allow a different fabric to peek into the shapes that have been cut. In this instance, the fusible is applied to the base fabric and the contrast is added from the back and fused in place. The cut edges of the base fabric can be finished as desired.