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Design Tutorial - Using Embroidery

01 December 2016 09:30

If you follow our design challenges and competitions, you may have noticed that Helen Hodgson, aka Polly Dextrous, often creates her designs using embroidery.  Sadly, the detail on the designs doesn't always show up well on a screen, but the printed fabric has a wonderful 3D look, created by the stitches.  I'm delighted to say that Helen is with us today, to tell us how she creates her fabric designs.  Over to you, Helen ....


The thing that I love most about designing fabric, is that I can use whichever technique takes my fancy. I have always enjoyed experimenting with different techniques. I have grown up sewing and crocheting which sit happily alongside the more traditional techniques of drawing, painting, cutting and sticking in my palette of ways to make.

It was this need to try out different ideas which led me to start stitching on card. I often work whilst I am waiting for my kids to finish their music lessons or other appointments, so I like having something portable to do. I remember sitting in the corridor of the music school working out my cross-stitch Eiffel tower, which was the start of my first stitched designs.

It was originally created for a one-off tutorial on my Polly Dextrous blog, but I had so much fun that I had to try out some other Paris landmarks. (My background is in architecture and I still have a special affinity for buildings)

So how do I work up a new design?

I often sketch on the reverse of the card until I am happy with the outline. However, I have discovered that straight lines are crucial to getting a good result, so I will then draw over the sketches and work out the spacing of the stitches to get an even image. I do sometimes work on squared paper, but I prefer to start completely free-hand.

Once I am happy with the grid, I mark out the holes on the card using a needle vice or my hand-made ‘bodger’ - a champagne cork with a needle wedged into the end! (we do drink normal wine too, but the champagne cork fits nicely in my hand )


Now for the fun bit – choosing the threads and making the design come to life. I have recently been working with some hand-dyed threads which give a lovely variegated finish, but I also love mixing different colours. For the Paris series each vertical column was worked in a different colour thread to give the distinctive rainbow effect.

I must confess that the computer side of the design process is my least favourite part, but once the finished stitched images are scanned I do edit them to make a pleasing repeat and often add a coloured background. I have found, through trial and error (and lots of errors) that working on coloured card doesn’t give a satisfactory scanned image, so now work on white card, often recycled greetings cards. The card needs to be heavy enough not to bend during work, but not so thick that punching the holes is a chore. The main benefit of manipulating the design digitally is that I can try different colour combinations without having to re-stitch everything!


Not all of my stitched samples make it to a final fabric design, some fall by the way side and others are more suited to individual kits rather than a repeat design.

But for the ones that do work, the fact that you can see all of the individual stitches gives the fabric a lovely textured effect and makes my designs instantly recognisable.

I hope I’ve inspired you to have a try – the tutorial for the Eiffel Tower pattern is available on my blog and I would love to see your resulting blogs which you can share using #pollydextrous_sews .


Many thanks to Helen - and I look forward to seeing some more stitched fabric designs!

You can find some of Helen's fabric in our Market Place, and also, along with other items, in her Etsy shop.


All photos by Helen Hodgson