I’ve always been very good at starting things and not finishing them for a VERY long time. I’m sure I’ll share a few things on here which fit into this category, my worst I think is a quilt that I started when I was 14 and didn’t finish till after I’d left Uni I was probably about 23, these napkins will probably beat that record if they haven’t already! Luckily my Mum is very patient and is happy with the two she has and doesn’t mind waiting for the other four to finish the set.
In all honesty I have no idea what made me sit down and think ‘I’m going to embroider some napkins with wild flowers, butterflies and the odd snail! I do remember that I bought that napkins from a Sue Ryder sale and that they came with the lovely, drawn thread edge detail. What I do know is they started as sketches. I would love to claim that I could draw like this from memory or imagination but that would be an outright lie. I use books, magazines, Google or whatever I can find that is useful and relevant to help make my drawings accurate. In this case I’m pretty sure I used ‘The Country diary of an Edwardian Lady’ (and quite possibly ‘The Nature Notes of an Edwardian Lady’ too) and ‘The Concise British Flora in Colour’. These are all books I’ve picked up in charity shops and are not hard to find but make great reference books.
Before starting I cleaned all the napkins. First in a sink with warm water and Vanish OXi Action Gel which I’ve found very good at removing general dirt and grease that builds up over years as well as much more stubborn stains. You can mix it with the water to treat the whole item and then apply full strength to small stubborn areas of dirt. Then I washed them on a hot wash just in case they haven’t been before in the hope that if they are going to shrink at all then they do it now rather than after I’ve finished the embroidery causing it to pucker.
Transferring the pattern from the paper to the napkins introduced me to an amazing product….drum roll please…..disappearing fabric pens! OK so if you’re into quilting then you’ll already know of these but to me it was a real revelation. Beware, there are a couple of different types of pen. One vanishes in 24-72 hours, on it’s own, as it reacts with the air and the other, that you’d want for a project like this, which is removed by wiping the fabric with a wet cloth or by gently soaking the fabric once you’ve finished. You do need to be careful that your project doesn’t get damp in any way before you finish as the pen lines will very easily disappear.
To transfer the pattern onto the fabric I used masking tape to fix the paper to a clean dry window. Then I used the same tape to hold the napkin in place over the top. The window acts like a light box allowing you to see the pattern through the fabric. Obviously if you have a light box use that as it would in all honesty be MUCH easier!
Now I was ready to start the embroidery. In all honesty I’ve really only learnt as I go with embroidery, I’m experts could pull holes in my technique but it suits me. I treat it a little like painting, first building blocks of the main colours and then using thinner strands of embroidery thread to build up texture, shading and outlines for definition. I use standard DMC 6 stranded embroidery threads and in the majority use three strands. For the shading and outlines I use two or even one thread, for very fine details.
The Clover (pink flower below) is made using DMC Pearl Cotton as this was the perfect texture and colour. I have quite a large collection of embroidery silks which I’ve collected over many years and very rarely buy new instead picking them up as and when I need or feel like it from places like Sue Ryder sales or Workaid.
There are only three main stitches used. Satin stitch which is when all the stitches are long and lay next to each other running in the same direction. This produces a lovely satin finish, hence the name. Back Stitch is used for the outlines and thin stems and French Knots for the Daisy centres. Just writing this has made me very aware of how little I actually know about different embroidery stitches, it’s definitely something I’m going to try and teach my self more about in the near future.
If you’re not confident enough to produce your own designs to embroider you can buy transfers which you iron onto the fabric. The transfer lines will wash out after. It’s possible to get old transfers too if you’re into vintage designs.