Knitting Vertical Pleats and Pintucks


It’s no secret that I learned to sew long before I learned to knit, and I still love them both, but while sewing is essentially the art of taking a flat piece of fabric and manipulating it into a 3-D structure, the magic of knitting is that you can work that structure into the very fabric itself.

The simplest example of this is knitting in the round - rather than knitting a flat piece and seaming it into a tube, you just make the tube to begin with. Similarly, increases, decreases, and short rows can be used to form curves and undulations. I love designing my stuffed animals in the round, because it forces me to think in three dimensions from stitch one. But when it comes to garments, I’ll admit to finding a bit of a thrill in translating traditional sewing techniques, like pleats and pintucks into knitted forms.

Just like with sewing, working a knitted pleat involves securing folds in the fabric. To work a horizontal pleat, like in my Bob & Wave Cowl (see bottom of post), you pick up and knit a stitch from several rows down together with every active stitch. The vertical pleat, as used to shape the hands of the Turning Leaf gloves, is worked across two rows and is a tad more involved, so I’ll walk you through the process step by step.


Here I use the the term “tuck” to cover pintucks (which are very narrow tucks) and any other vertical pleat.

The Turning Leaf Gloves (used as an example here) have a series of three tucks across the back of the hand. The tucks start at three stitches wide near the wrist, and then decrease to a two-stitch tuck, and then one-stitch tuck just below the fingers.

I’ll be showing the three-stitch tuck throughout, but the same technique can be applied to a tuck of any width. A tuck with more stitches being folded will be more visible and decrease more fabric.


In the image above, I’ve already worked four rows of the three-stitch tuck pattern. You can see the three tucks, and the four recessed “channels” that fall on the sides of the tuck. Worked over two rows, the tucks are formed by slipping the tuck stitches on every other row and pulling the working yarn very tightly across the back, which pulls the stitches on either side of the tuck closer together, essentially folding them and holding the fold together.


  1. Knit to the start of your first tuck.

  2. Slip the tuck stitches (here, three stitches) on to a spare double-pointed needle or cable needle held in front of your work. [NB: if your tucks are small, you can use the same spare needle for all the tucks in a row]

  3. Tension the working yarn tightly as you work the first stitch post-tuck. The more snugly you work the stitches together on either side of the tuck, the more visible your tuck will be. Continue knitting normally until you reach the next tuck.

Repeat steps 2 and 3 until you reach the end of the tuck section.

In the example shown, the tuck section is 11 stitches wide: three tucks three stitches wide, plus one spacer stitch on either side of the center tuck. When you finish working your first row of tucks, you should have nine stitches (width of tuck x number of tucks) on your spare needle (or needles, if your tuck is very wide).


  1. Knit to the start of your first tuck.

  2. Pick up and knit the tuck stitches (here, three stitches) off the spare needle.

  3. Knit normally to the next tuck.

Repeat steps 2 and 3 until all stitches are back on the main needle.

It will take a couple of rows until the tucks start to look like anything on the right side of the fabric. On the wrong side of the fabric, you should clearly see where the working yarn has held behind the slipped stitches. Try to keep that horizontal line the same length for tucks of the same width, and the short it is, the more prominent your tucks will be.


Try out the pattern below which incorporate tucks, horizontal pleats, or smocking!

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Knitting Colorwork: Tips & Tricks

I love knitting colorwork. But, for the uninitiated, colorwork can be quite intimidating. How you choose the right colors? Why does it make my gauge all weird and pucker-y??  What do I do with all these ends?!!

Today, I'll be sharing some tips and tricks for success with colorwork. This isn't a be-all, end-all guide, but it should help get you starting on or improving your colorwork skills.

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Embroidery 201: Coloring Your Embroidery

Coloring Embroidery v1.png
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. 



  • 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.


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

Seed Sower
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Reading Lace Charts: A Tutorial


When a non-knitting colleague or friend sees me knitting with an open pattern in front of me, they’ll often take a quick glance and ask if I’m a) taking a multiple choice test or b) cracking a code. 

I always get a good laugh because, in some ways, they’re absolutely right! If I’m knitting up a multi-sized pattern, and I’ve circled or highlighted the stitch counts for my size, that’s pretty much multiple choice and if you’re never come across the language and abbreviations for knitting before, it might as well be a foreign language. 

The same goes for knitting charts - they are little boxes of code - but once you’ve cracked it (and have a few tricks up your sleeve) they’re a great tool!

Today, I’m going to walk you through reading a lace chart for soup to nuts. And all you need to do is ask yourself three simple questions.

Bracteole Chart  KEY for tutorial-02.png


A lace chart comes with two pieces: the Chart and the Key. The Chart shows you the stitch pattern and the Key shows you what all those little symbols mean. 

Before you do anything, look at the Key. Some knitting symbols are fairly standard (a blank box is a knit stitch, a dot or a dash is a purl, a circle is a yarn over), but how different increases and decreases are displayed can vary by designer and publisher. 

Generally, increases and decreases are going to lean in the direction that the knitting will eventually lean, so something more or less looking like this: 


can be any kind of left leaning decrease. Slip, slip, knit is a common one; but it could also be slip 1, knit 1, pass the slipped st over; or k2tog through the back loop. 

The designer will have made a choice in designing - so check the key and ask yourself our first question. 

Question #1: What do these symbols mean for this pattern? 

There’s a reason the designer chose that particular decrease - it could be that it plays to the design best, or it could simply be their personal knitting preference. If the design calls for a SSK but you prefer k2tog tbl - feel free to switch it up! It might result in a slightly different look, but it’s your knitting. 

(Is the Key missing? It totally happens sometimes in the process of getting something to print. Your best bet is to email the designer/publisher or you can see if there is a written out version of the chart and extrapolate from there).

Bracteole Chart for tutorial-01.png


Now that you know what all the little symbols mean, you can start to read the chart. But before you get into the nitty-gritty (knitty-gritty?) of individual stitches, it’s best to look at some big-picture items first.


First, unlike text, you read a lace chart in the direction you knit. That is, right to left, bottom to top (see red arrows above). The stitches and rows should be numbered in this direction to guide you. 


A lot of lace patterns are designed so you don’t have deal with any yarn overs or increases/decreases on the wrong side of your knitting - you focus on all the “tricky stuff” on the front, then mindlessly purl your way across back.

Even if a lace pattern in worked in the round, you often alternate between a lace round and a non-lace round. (Fun fact: patterns with yarn overs on every round are called openwork). 

But those “spacer rows/rounds” aren’t just nice from a mental break perspective, they make a big different in the way the lace looks - skip it and you’ll have a really squat-looking pattern. So they’re important to remember.

Knitting designers and publishers like to save space (especially magazines), so they often truncate charts to the most pertinent information. Which leads us to…

Question #2: Is this chart showing every row/round or every other row/round?

To tell, look at the numbers along the side the chart.

If it’s a chart for knitting flat, right side row numbers (usually odd numbers) are generally listed to the right hand side of the chart. Wrong side row numbers (usually even numbers) are generally listed to the left hand side of the chart. 

Ezekiel Saw Lace Charts_1-01.png

The chart above is for openwork, there’s yarn overs on both right and wrong sides. All rows are shown, because you need to know what’s happening on every row. 

But a lot of times, there’s nothing interesting happening on a wrong side row. So to save space, the chart will omit it. 

Scallop Lace Charts-03-03.png

On this chart, every wrong side row is purled, so the chart only shows the information on the right side. The numbers on the right read 1, 3, 5, etc, but instead of having a “spacer row” between them (as in the openwork above), they’re right next to each other. 

The same rules go for lace worked in the round. If all you’re doing on an even-numbered round is knitting, the chart probably won’t take up space to show you that.

Bracteole Chart WS highlighted-01-01.png

This chart is an example where every row/round is knitted, but there’s only lacework (i.e. yarn overs) done on the right side. So why bother with showing all the rows/rounds? 

Take a closer look at those wrong-side rows (in blue). The pattern combines purl bumps with the lace, so to carry that pattern, the bumps need to be worked on every row/round. 


The next big-picture thing to look at is repeats. If a shawl is 100+ stitches wide, showing all those stitches in impractical, and, honestly, not that helpful if the pattern repeats every 6 stitches. Repeats help break down the pattern into manageable chunks. So next you want to know: 

Question #3: How does this pattern repeat? 

Since they’re generally both horizontal and vertical, repeats are typically shown with a box that  outlines the repeat area. 

Bracteole Chart repeats-01-01.png

If we take another look at the chart above (which is designed for the top of the foot of a sock) - the full lace section (only 35 sts) is represented, but even with that there are repeats. Each repeat is 10 stitches wide and 9 rows high). But here’s where it can get tricky - you have a 10 stitch repeat over 35 stitches - there should be three full repeats, plus 5 extra stitches, right? 

Not always.  

Bracteole Chart repeat exception-01-01.png

If you look at the chart above, sts 24-33, they are almost exactly the same as sts 14-23 and 4-13. It acts like an additional repeat. But there's one important exception with stitch 33 on row 5. Instead of a double decrease, like the other repeats, it’s a single decrease. The other “half” of the double decrease is at stitch 3 on row 5. SO if you're marking out a repeat (on your page or in your mind) make sure it's a true repeat. 

Now, assuming that the item this chart is for something taller than 10 rows/rounds high. When you get to row/round 11, just start back at row/round 1.  

Summer Rain Lace Charts_1 repeats-01.png

Here’s another chart (for a shawl), which shows only a portion of the lace section. Section A1 is worked across about 439 stitches, B1 across 411 stitches, and C1 across 387 stitches. But the charts for each section look about the same width.

This is possible because each section uses a 6 stitch wide/12 row high repeat. The stitches on the left and right of the repeat box are just to get to to that repeating section.

For example, to knit chart A1, row 1: you’d knit the first 11 sts to the right of the repeat box as charted (SSK, k4, yo, k2tog, k4) and then you’d repeat the section within the box as many times as you needed until you were 6 stitches from the end of the row (or marker, whatever the design dictates) and then you’d finish up with the last 6 stitches of the chart (yo, k2tog, k3, k2tog)

And that's basically how most lace charts work!



With a large lace (or colorwork) chart - the trickiest part is keeping your place. There are a lot of tools available to help.

You can purchase some pre-made items like magnetic boards or copy holders.


You could also be a little more DIY and use highlighter tape, washi tape, post its notes (my go-to) or a ruler. Basically anything that’s straight, long enough and easy to move (but won’t slip when you’re in the middle of a row!) 

If you are using something opaque (like a post-it), arrange it so the bottom of the marker is ABOVE the row you’re working on, so you can still see the rows you’ve already worked. That way you can continually check to see if everything is lining up appropriately.


If you want some extra security when working lace, you can always put in a “lifeline.” To insert a lifeline, thread up a darning needle with some high-contrast colored yarn and slip it through the live stitches on your knitting needle, as if to put them on a holder. 

But instead of removing the stitches from your knitting needle, remove the darning needle and leave the “line” in and continue knitting normally. If you make a mistake you can’t easily fix, rip out back to the lifeline which will nicely hold your stitches for your while you put them back on the knitting needle. Only insert a lifeline into a row you’re confident is correct, and if you’re going to use them, I’d recommend inserting it after every repeat or more often if the rows are really long. 


To read a lace chart go right to left and top to bottom. Before knitting, ask yourself the following three questions:

Question #1: What do these symbols mean for this pattern? 

Question #2: Is this chart showing every row/round or every other row/round?

Question #3: How does this pattern repeat?

With those answered, you should be ready to tackle some charted lace! 


For some beginner-friendly lace patterns, check out the following designs:

The West Branch Cowl was designed to show off a special skein of handspun or hand-dyed yarn and is a great beginner lace project - the lace is only on the right side and has a short repeat. 

The Ferrous Shawl uses simple motifs that are easy to memorize and was designed for the complete beginner to lace shawl knitting in the traditional triangle shape.

The Maian shawl consists of two 4-stitch repeats and all the increases are done on the edge with a backward loop cast on, meaning you won’t get your lace yarn overs confused with your increase yarnovers.


The lace border on the Cresting Waves Shawl is only 21 stitches wide and is knit separately from the body of the shawl, so if you make a mistake, you only have to tear back a few stitches (instead of the whole body of the shawl) to fix it.

Want a little challenge?

Alaria uses the same construction as Ferrous, but adds some more complex motifs.

Rambling Eden uses the same construction as Cresting Waves, but with a really wide border and openwork lace.

Bracteole takes lace into the round and adds some purls into the mix. (And it’s the main chart we’ve been looking at throughout this tutorial!!)

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Transferring Embroidery Patterns to Opaque Fabric

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Generally, when it comes to transferring a printed pattern on to fabric for embroidery, my favorite (easy and cheap) method is to tape it to a window and trace.  But what do you do if you can't see through the fabric, even with a window/light box? 

Enter tracing paper. 

A pretty common notion in the sewing world, my mother taught me to mark my sewing fabric with tracing paper and a jagged edged wheel. For transferring embroidery designs, we'll skip the transfer wheel and use a pen, pencil or stylus to do pretty much the same thing.

Transferring an Embroidery Pattern to Opaque Fabric

To transfer an image to opaque fabric you will need the following:

  • Fabric
  • Embroidery design printed to appropriate scale and facing the finished direction
  • Single-sided transfer/tracing paper in a contrast color (I used double-sided here, because it's what I had on hand. In a pinch, you could rub a piece of chalk generously across a sheet of paper and use that.)
  • A pen, dull pencil, or stylus. Something with a decent point to get details, but not so pointy you poke through the paper.
  • Chalk pencil or water-soluble pen (optional)
  1. Sandwich the transfer paper, chalk side down, between the fabric.
  2. Trace over the pattern using your pen, pressing firmly and going over each line several times as needed to make a clean mark. 
  3. Remove pattern and transfer paper.
  4. The chalk marks can be very light and easy to brush off - if desired, trace over your marks with a chalk pencil or water-soluble marker for a more clear line.

That's it! Easy-peasy, right? 

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Corrugated Ribbing Tutorial (for Two Hands)

Corrugated Ribbing Tutorial
Woodland Hat and Mittens

Corrugated, or two-color ribbing, is a common decorative edging on many colorwork designs, including my Woodland Mittens. It has a great effect, but it can be a bit trickier than regular colorwork, which is usually done all in knit stitches.

I'm typically a "picker" or continental style knitter, but this tutorial will use both the "picking" and "throwing" techniques for the most efficient way to work this pattern. Not familiar with continental style? This is a helpful tutorial. 

By working the rib with two hands this way, you don't have to fuss with dropping and picking up a different color for each stitch.

For the purposes of this tutorial, the green will be our contrasting color, or CC; and the grey will be the main color, or MC. This tutorial also assumes you will be working in the round.

One important thing to know before you start, two-color ribbing will have less recovery/elasticity than regular ribbing, so you may wish to go down a needle size, especially if you're replacing a solid rib with a corrugated one.  


To start, cast on in your CC and join in round. Knit one round in CC.

Join your MC at the start of the round. From here, you will knit in the CC, and purl in the CC.

Holding the yarn

Take your CC, or the color you will be doing knit stitches with, and hold it in your right hand. Take the MC, or the color you will be doing purl stitches with, and hold it in your left hand, tensioning the yarn around your pinky finger as in Continental style. To begin, both yarns should be behind the needles, with the CC in front of the MC. 

Step 1: With the yarn held in your right hand, work a knit stitch by "throwing" or wrapping the yarn around the needle with your right hand. 

Step 2: Shift the left hand needle, so the MC yarn is in front of the work. Purl the next stitch Continental-style. Shift yarn back behind work.

Repeat Steps 1 and 2 until you reach the desired length of rib! 

Ready to Get Knitting?!

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Embroidery 101: French Knots, Shading, Blanket Stitch and Finishing

Embroidery 101 French Knots and Shading.jpg

Today we'll look at more fill stitches, namely the French knot and using satin stitch to blend colors. Then it's on to the last step - finishing your hoop to hang! 


The classic stitch for adding texture, the French knot is a great addition to your stitching vocabulary.


  1. Secure thread at back of fabric.
  2. Bring up needle through fabric at desired position.
  3. With needle pointing away from fabric, wrap thread around shank of needle 2-3 times. (The more wraps, the bigger the finished knot).
  4. Holding onto the yarn tail until it becomes too short, push the needle down through the fabric just next to the spot it came up in. Pull snugly against fabric.

Repeat steps 2-4.

Excellent for eyes, textured fill on things like hair, clouds, sheep.


To create blended or shaded colors, I use "hairy" satin stitch, but instead of using one color for the entire section, I use a contrast color for one or two "rows".

Again, think of it like coloring with a very sharp colored pencil.  Using a single ply will give you a more blended look than 2 or more plys.

To subtly define the individual petals and clean up the edges, I used backstitch to outline each petal in a single ply of the darker shade.


While you could certainly do any number of things with your finished stitching (make it into a pillow, quilt square, a pocket, etc.) my favorite thing to do is frame it in the hoop. 


  1. Using the smaller inner hoop, trace a circle unto some felt and set aside.
  2. Put the inner hoop back on and make sure your finished image is placed where you want it in the hoop.
  3. Run a long line of basting stitches about a 1/2" from the edge of the inner hoop, securing at one end and leaving a long tail.
  4. Pull on the tail to gather the extra fabric around the back of the hoop.
  5. Place the felt circle over the gathered fabric and attach with a whip stitch or a blanket stitch (see below)


So named because it was often used to finish the edges of wool blankets, this is my favorite way to sew two pieces of felt together, or create a tidy edge.

  1. Leaving a long tail, insert your needle back to front about 1/4” from edge of fabric. Pull thread around outside edge of fabric and re-insert in needle at same spot, making a loop. Send your needle sideways under this loop at the top edge of the fabric, grabbing a bit of the fabric to anchor your thread.
  2. Insert needle back to front 1/4” from previous stitch at same distance from edge. Pull needle so thread tail is trapped along edge of fabric. 

Repeat step 2.

For a one-stop guide to all the stitches covered in this series,  click here for a downloadable PDF of basic stitches

Embroidery 101 Hoop finishing .jpg

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Embroidery 101: Stem Stitch, Split Stitch, Chain Stitch, and Satin Stitch

Embroidery 101 Satin Stem Split Chain.jpg

So the danger of beginning to post a tutorial series before you've taken all the photos for it is after posting the first two sections, you might get a massive paper-cut on your finger, which would make for less than appealing tutorial photos, so you have to wait for it to heal and then you go to Canada on vacation for a week, and then suddenly it's been a month. Or is that just me? 

In any case, today we'll look at the other basic outlining stitches (stem, split, and chain) and start down the rabbit hole that is satin stitch. 

Needles threaded and paper-cut free? 

Let's go!


Stem stitch is my personal favorite outlining stitch. It curves beautifully, and I find it easier to stitch alongside my previous stitch than to evenly split the plys (as in split stitch below). As the name implies, its great for curving lines, like stems (or rivers or hair, etc.). 

1. Make a stitch of desired length.
2. Along the design line, bring up the needle at the center of the previous stitch, pushing the plys of the previous stitch to the side (left or right, but be consistent).
3. Bring needle forward and push down through the fabric at the same stitch length as first stitch.
Repeat steps 2-3.


The split stitch and stem stitch are pretty much two sides of the same coin. They're almost identical to work and can be used in the same way, though they do vary in appearance, with stem stitch having a more twisted rope appearance, while split stitch looks more like a mini chain. 

1. Make a stitch of desired length.
2. Along the design line, bring up the needle in the center of the previous stitch, splitting the plys evenly.
3. Bring needle forward and push down through the fabric at the same stitch length as first stitch.
Repeat steps 2-3.
Excellent for straight or curving lines, thicker borders.


Not a chain of fools, but a lovely stitch for thick lines that work lovely as outlines and (as used here) fill for smaller areas. It's a little more involved than the other outlining stitches, but when used as a line, you get one twice as thick. You can also use a single chain stitch individually as drops, petals or leaves.

1. Bring needle up through fabric, then push back through at same spot, leaving a small loop of desired length.
2. Along the design line, bring needle up through fabric at the base of the loop you just made (on the inside of the loop), then re-insert needle along the design line at the desired length of the loop, trapping the thread tail under the needle and pull tight.
Repeat step 2.


Ah, satin stitch. For so long this was my stitching nemesis. I never felt like I could get it look, well, satiny and my edges always looked a mess. Two things changed this for me:

  1. Practice.
  2. Using 1 ply. 

When you're using a single ply, it's much easier to fill in gaps and make small adjustments and really, it doesn't take all that much longer to do than with multiple plys. 

1. Outline area to fill with an outline stitch. If a large area is to be filled, stitch randomly within fill area to provide padding.  (Both of these are optional)
2. Starting at one side, pull up needle just outside outline stitching and pull across fill area.
3. Push needle down through fabric just outside the outline stitching.
4. Bring up needle on same side as step 2 right next to previous stitch.
Repeat steps 2-4

In general, I'd recommend thinking about working satin stitch as if you were coloring with a very sharp colored pencil. You're going to see the direction of the lines, it's not a blended or smooth as a crayon or a marker, but isn't that kind of the point? 


Is this still satin stitch? I think so. You get a glossy appearance, but I think this looks more natural, like fur, and serves as a great basis for shading, which we'll cover in the next post. 

For "hairy" or "furry" satin stitch, I like to start out making lines in the direction I want in 3-5 different lengths. Because the ends are staggered, you don't have to loop back underneath to the opposite starting point like with smooth satin stitch. Make one "row" of the staggered stitches. When working the next row, start some of your stitches in between the first row stitches and some starting at the end of the first row stitches. Basically, you don't want any clear "lines." Continuing adding "rows" until your area is filled.

In the example above, you can see about three "rows" in the main body of the bee, with one staggered row each for the remaining brown and yellow tail portions. 


When I talk about embroidery, someone will always invariably ask me how to keep the back tidy. The truth is, since I usually hang my hoops on a wall, or use them on a pillow and you don't see the back, I generally don't much care what my backs look like. But, if the back is visibe and you are concerned, my tidy back tips are this:

  1. If you have to move to a spot more than an inch away, cut the thread and anchor it anew in the new location OR
  2. Weave the working thread through the existing stitches (as seen above) until you reach your new starting spot.

That's it, pretty simple! 


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Embroidery 101: Prepping the Hoop, Back Stitch and Fixing Mistakes

Embroidery 101 Backstitch.png

You've got your design on your fabric (either by transfer, drawing or pre-printed designs) and gathered your supplies. Now what? 

First, you've got to get your fabric in your hoop. Embroidery hoops come in two pieces, the outer "open" hoop with a screw closure and the inner closed hoop. Hoops are most often found in wood and plastic. I prefer wooden hoops because of the warmer feel and they make great inexpensive frames, just make sure to get one that is reasonably thick. When possible, I like to fit my whole design in the hoop without having to keep moving it across the fabric, so most of my designs will fit a 6" hoop, which I find the most comfortable to hold. Hoops can also be found in 4", 7", 8" diameters or there are straight edged stretchers for larger projects.  If you're just starting out, a handful of 6-inchers will get you far.

Prepping the Hoop

I generally prefer to put the inner hoop on the back, which I'll show here, but others prefer to do it with the inner hoop on top, try both and see what you prefer! First, loosen the nut at the top to allow the inner hoop to drop out easily.

Place your fabric, design up, on top of the smaller inner hoop. If the whole design fits in your hoop, center it. For larger designs that don't fit the hoop, center the part you're planning to work on first.

Testing the Hoop Tension

Place the larger outer hoop on top, trapping the fabric between the inner and outer hoops. I usually put the screw at the top of the hoop, but place it wherever it will be in your way the least. Pull the fabric tightly around the inner hoop, making sure the design looks even and tighten the screw until the fabric is well-tensioned between the two parts of the hoop. It should have only a slight amount of give and will feel like a drum head when tapped. If it's too tight, you're needle will squeak as you stitch. Too loose and you risk distorting the design. 

Separating Plys

Pick the thread color you wish to work with first and cut a length about 1 yard (36 inches) long, or the distance between your fingers and the center of your chest. If you've used my thread prep tutorial, your thread will already be the perfect length. For this tutorial we're using 6-strand embroidery floss (DMC is the most common brand). If you're using Perle cotton or another tightly twisted thread, skip this step. 

6-strand floss is so-called because it's made of six individual plys that are very loosely twisted together. Depending on the thickness of line you want, you can stitch with up to all six plys for a thick line, to one ply for a very fine line. For most standard stitching, I use 2-3 plys, except for satin stitch (we'll cover it later), which I always work with 1 ply. 

Here, we'll use 2 plys. To separate plys, take the number of plys (2) you wish to use in your dominant hand, with the remaining plys (4) in your non-dominant hand. Pull your hands apart and the floss will begin to form a "Y" shape. It can be helpful to hold the loose end between your teeth to keep the floss from tangling as it separates. 

Back Stitch

Back stitch will get you incredibly far in the world of embroidery. You could do an entire project with the one stitch. It's great for straight lines, text and turning corners.

As it's name implies, back stitch works backward - you put the needle up through the fabric a stitch length away from your previous stitch and the the needled is insert back down by the end of the previous stitch.

Because of this backward nature, it's great to start any stitching line with as it holds the floss in place after a few stitches with no need for knots, simply hold the thread tail with your hoop hand until established. 

Back Stitch:
1. Make a stitch of desired length.
2. Along the design line, bring up the needle the length of one stitch away from previous stitch.
3. Bring needle backward and push down at the end of the previous stitch.
Repeat steps 2-3.

The bee leg shown here is made of four back stitches. A good stitch length will vary by the design, for example, tight curves will require shorter stitches. I generally work most stitches 1/8" to 1/4" long. Try to keep your stitches even (this will get easier with time), but don't worry too much about perfection, you're going for an overall effect and no one is going to look at individual stitches.

Embroidery 101 Tutorial

Fixing Mistakes

If you DO wish to pull out a stitch (or two), simply remove the needle from the thread, use the needle to pick out any wayward stitches, re-thread and carry on. If it's all knotted up, use fine-tipped scissors (like the iconic stork embroidery snips) to cut out the offending stitches and re-stitch. Any offending needle holes can usually be steamed out with an iron. 

I'll go into detail on other outlining stitches in the next post, but until then you can Click here for a downloadable PDF of basic stitches

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Embroidery 101: Transferring a Design to Fabric

Embroidery 101 Transferring Patterns.png

While you can certainly improvise embroidery (and I suggest you do at some point!), to learn, I recommend working an established design. You can do this in three primary ways: draw, trace or transfer or you can purchase a pre-printed design, which are becoming more and more widely available. 

embroidery transfer tools


Draw is exactly what it implies. You draw the design you wish to embroider directly on your fabric. The pro is that you can make the design anything you want, but it can be harder to adjust once you've drawn it without starting from scratch. You can draw on your fabric with a number of tools, (from bottom to top in above photo)

  • A regular pencil (a thin mechanical pencil gives a delicate line). You might be able to erase it, but it is pretty much permanent.
  • A water soluable dressmaker's pencil - you can sharpen to a fine line and erase with water if needed.
  • A water soluable dressmaker's pen - this is a darker line and can be washed out, but is generally thicker.
  • The top tool is a iron-on transfer pencil, which we'll discuss later.

If you're working on a dark fabric, look for white dressmaker's pencils and pens. 


Tracing is my favorite transfer method. You can tweak the design on paper as much as you want beforehand and then when you're happy with the design and scale of your image, you then transfer to the final fabric. To trace, you'll need any one of the tools listed above, plus some painters tape and a bright window (or a lightbox).

Take your final design and tape it up against your window. Tape the fabric over the image, so it is placed where you want. Tape the fabric securely so it doesn't shift as you trace. If it's sufficiently sunny (or you're using a lightbox) you should be able to see the image to trace easily. Using your tool of choice (my preference is the water soluable pencil or pen) trace the entire image, coloring in lines thicker or thinner as the design dictates. 

When you remove the fabric (last image) you should have a light copy of the design to stitch over. 

Iron-on Transfer

I don't really recommend this method, since the marks the transfer pencils make are permanent and, honestly, really hard to see, but it's an available method, so I thought I'd share. 

To do a iron-on transfer, you'll need to print or copy your final image as a mirror of what you want the finished design to look like. That is, any text should be backwards, etc. Using a iron-on transfer pencil, darkly trace your design on the paper. Then using an iron set on medium heat, press the image, traced side down, on the fabric. It will leave a faint pink mark. (Last image - can you see it? Squint really hard.)

Once you've got the image on your fabric, we'll get it in a hoop and start stitching!!

Click here for a downloadable PDF of basic stitches

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