Embroidery 201: Coloring Your Embroidery

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Try Embroidery

I often describe doing embroidery as "Coloring with Thread" and more specifically, to think about working satin stitch as coloring with a very sharp colored pencil.  Turning that one it's head, today I'm going to talk about how to color your embroidery with colored pencils, crayons, and watercolors.

All the coloring implements used in this tutorial are your basic Crayola crayons, colored pencils, and watercolors, which I borrowed from my five year old (like you do). The techniques will work with whatever materials you have on have, but I chose to use the Crayola products because they're inexpensive and widely available - all of which is to say, you don't need fancy art supplies to make these techniques work. 

 Skin tones in colored pencil makes the suits "pop"

Skin tones in colored pencil makes the suits "pop"

 Skin tone in satin stitch makes a bolder statement

Skin tone in satin stitch makes a bolder statement

If embroidery is like coloring, why would you want to color your embroidery? 

A reasonable question.

One of the great things about embroidery is that is provides a fabulous texture and dimension to your work, but that texture isn't always want you want. For me, this usually happens in regards to skin and backgrounds.  I don't want a heavily textured background, because I want my primary image to "pop." I don't always want to stitch in the skin tone, because it can make the skin look "lumpy". 

Other times, it may just be that your hoop needs a bit more color, and you don't fill like satin stitching inches of sky or dirt. Either way, it's a good technique to have in your toolbox. 

A few things to keep in mind when using any of the three techniques below:

  • Test your color on a corner of your fabric - it may not look the same as on paper.
  • Just because the crayon/pencil/marker/etc says it's washable, doesn't mean that it's totally washable. Once you start coloring, you're probably committed, so keep that in mind and test first.
  • It's  easier to color your fabric before you do the stitching. I'm terrible at following this tip, but it is true.  And if worse comes to worse, you can always cover up a color you don't like with stitching, rather than having to pull out stitching because your watercolors bled. 

 

Crayon

  • Crayons give a nice soft color and are easy to blend and build to darker colors.
  • The higher the amount of pigment the better - avoid waxy crayons.  
  • Crayons will pick up on any texture under them including the texture of the fabric. You can use this to your advantage - if, for example, you want a wood grain texture, place your fabric on top of a piece of plywood. If you don't want additional texture, make sure to work on a smooth surface.

Colored Pencils

  • This is my personal favorite, easy to do, hard to screw up. 
  • The fine point of a pencil makes it easier to do detail work, especially if you've already stitched your piece.
  • It won't pick up texture as much as crayon, but tends to create stroke lines. 
  • Build in layers to get darker tones.

Watercolor

The prettiest results are often the trickiest techniques. With watercolor, you're essentially spot-dying the fabric and it can be tricky to control. I literally went through four versions to get this technique right for this tutorial - so try on scrap fabric and don't get frustrated if you don't get it the first time. 

Some tips for success:

  • I'd only recommend watercolor for larger areas.
  • Put a dry paper towel under the fabric - it will soak up the extra fluid and help control the bleed.
  • Try to get your brush as dry as possible when working near the edges of the design.
  • Barely touch the brush to the fabric. A tiny touch is all that's needed for the fabric to wick the fluid/color off the brush.
  • Work from the outside in and start at least a quarter inch out from the line you're trying to color up to. This will give you a chance to figure out how much the fabric bleeds.
  • Embrace the imperfections. Watercolor is going to give a mottled effect - if you want a solid color, go with crayon or pencils. 
  • Let the work dry completely before adding additional layers of color or beginning stitching.

Experiment and Have Fun!

Using traditional art supplies can be a fun way to add color to your embroidery pieces. And don't limit yourself to these three - try markers! Glitter glue! Have a mixed media field day!! 

To get started on the next step of the process, check out the tutorials below or click here for a downloadable PDF of basic stitches


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