"The ordinary acts we practice every day at home are of more importance to the soul than their simplicity might suggest."

Thomas Moore

Friday, April 10, 2015

Supplies - the things I use when I stitch...

I'm often asked what my favourite stitching supplies are and where I source them so at the end of each month's issue of The Stitchery Club I have all that answered, plus a few links to reputable suppliers.
However as not all of you are members of the Club (but I'd love it if you were - all the info is HERE) today I thought we'd chat a bit about what I use, and why...


Back in late 2005 when I first began playing with needle and thread, calico or homespun were my normal go-to surface to lay down some pretty stitches, but over the past decade with the dramatic increase of interest in the gentle arts of embroidery and quilting by a younger generation more lovely options have become available to us craftswomen.
Like the lovely cotton/linen blend I tend to use more than any other.
In Australia this is called 'hanky linen' and is available in most quilt shops as well as online...

Now the strange thing about this fabric is its name - 'hanky linen'. 
Purchasing it based on what it is called we'd immediately imagine a fabric that is fine, whisper thin, lighter-than-air, right?
But it's not. It feels just like linen. Sturdy, but soft. Hanky Linen is a 55% cotton/45% linen blend.
Overseas it may be easier to use Essex Linen by Robert Kaufman (I found a huge range here) which is the same blend, though not quite as 'knobbly' as what we use in Australia. Both are sublime to stitch on!
I also use 100% linen sometimes. It depends on the project, or what I have on hand...

Pure linen is quite expensive, but not if you browse the racks of your local charity shop (goodwill/op-shop). I have a stack of lovely linen on my shelves cut from shirts, pants and skirts I purchased for a few dollars and because it's been washed and worn the softness is divine...

Other surfaces for stitching are prints. I don't use these a lot, but if I find a fabric that doesn't battle with my embroidery for centre stage I'll definitely have a play with it...

Vintage doilies are another obsession as the background for Elefantz designs...

...and will feature in some very special projects later this year for my home.

Fusible Stabiliser:

I do not use a hoop, so after tracing the design onto my surface fabric I fuse a fine fabric stabiliser behind it.
My favourites are Weaveline, Staflix or Whisperweft...

These are not thick backings like Pellon or Parlan, but thinner than your quilting or stitchery fabric and therefore beautiful for gentle hand sewing, adding no stress to fingers or hands (perfect if you suffer arthritis).
They have a very fine layer of adhesive on one side and you iron that behind your traced design before you begin the stitching.
Whisperweft has a weave and drapes with your fabric. It's found in many quilting stores across Australia, but if you are overseas it's a little difficult to track down.
 Robin at Happy Valley Mercantile on Etsy stocks it by the yard HERE and another online store selling it in the US is THIS one.
Weaveline and Staflix are in most quilt shops throughout Australia, but overseas you may need to ask. It's like fine tissue paper with minimal adhesive on one side. Perhaps your store may stock it under a different name? Remember when you describe it, that it's as fine as tissue paper, not writing paper.


 I use Birch size 9 or 10. 
These are inexpensive and never fault me!
If you are new to embroidery you may prefer to stitch with a size 7 or 8 as they are a little larger.


I think it's very important that you choose a good brand of 6-strand floss/thread.
In the past I've dabbled with the generic or cheaper brands and immediately I can tell that they will be trouble - perishing quickly from being pulled through fabric and needle eyes, and knotting again and again. They frustrate and waste money so I choose to only stitch with reputable brands that have been tested over and over by my own handiwork.

I really like the variety of colours in the Cosmo range and especially swoon over their variegated Seasons range as they are quite sublime...

...but I also use a lot of lovely DMC and occasionally Anchor which are also beautiful. Both seem to be very easy to find worldwide.

Another favourite is Australian 'Cottage Garden Threads' which are hand dyed in glorious colours with names that shout 'I'm Australian' like GalahBillabong, or Desert Rose.
 These threads are quite pricey (between 6-9 dollars per skein) but perfect for something special or when using a single variegated colour in your project. They are also a very special gift to give.
I do suggest however that you only use the reddish threads in projects which will probably never see the inside of a washing machine (framed embroideries or sewing kits for example, but not table runners)...

When hand quilting I use DMC Perle #12, Precencia Finca Perle #16, or Oren Bayan Perle #12.
Each of these are as lovely as the other and I occasionally stitch a design with the Finca Perle because it's so fine...

A word of caution when purchasing any brand of thread-

  They will deteriorate over time if left out in the elements, even hanging for years in a shop. 
How do I know? 
A craft store came under new management recently and the owner was selling off her rack of DMC threads at 25c per skein just outside the door. I didn't think, just jumped in and bought myself a bundle of 50 skeins whilst Mr E waited patiently nearby.
Clear vision wasn't great at the shop door because of the extremely bright sunlight which made everything  'glare', and there were about a half dozen other women twirling the rack around as they chose their own threads around me, so I just grabbed all the pinks, blues, greens etc that I knew I'd use.
It wasn't until we arrived home and I opened the paper bag to crow over my bargain purchase that I saw how very dis-coloured, even rusted,  many of the threads were...

On closer inspection and after trialing some by stitching through fabric many perished after a few tugs through the needle. 
About 20 of the 50 skeins were obviously unusable so no more 'clear-out' thread sales for me. 


When tracing my design onto fabric I only use a Zig Millennium pigma pen (0.3 brown).
This is a permanent pen so the lines will not vanish like air, water or heat erasable pens do if you make a mistake.
However, it glides across the fabric better than anything else I have ever used (and I have tried many)...

In Australia I buy these from an art supply store as they are more affordable than from quilt shops and I buy 10 at a time.  (I trace designs almost every day)

UPDATE: As of mid 2017 the Zig Millennium is no longer being manufactured so my next option is the brown Sakura Micron 01 (.25mm) pen. 
You can see them here for USA and here for Australia.

I know some people like to use graphite pencils to trace onto fabric (these are still known as lead pencils but there is no lead in pencils these days), however, there is a residue left behind that sullies the thread and the fabric so I never use them.
White and pale colours are never true after stitching over penciled lines.

If you're not confident using a permanent pigma pen choose a good quality air/water erasable one from your craft store.

Warning: Some people like using a Frixion pen because it disappears when heat is applied, but the company who make Frixion warn against this use as it does not disappear completely.
On some fabrics you will clearly see a line if the fabric is held at certain angles - this is especially obvious when used to draw quilting lines.  The line also reappears if you put your design into the fridge or freezer, and though we wouldn't normally do that it does bring home the point that the lines have not really disappeared.
As convenient as these pens are, I choose to use one only when marking a line that will be cut - like a fussy cut piece from fabric where the line will be removed or covered afterwards. For that purpose it's great.

Free Design and Tutorial:

 I hope I've answered most of the questions that have been emailed or asked via comments so far this year. 
If you're new to this craft and would like more help with decorative stitching my detailed tutorial for backstitch and lazy daisy can be found here (with a free practice design)...

...or follow me through 5 days of a very detailed tutorial to make this Holiday Hostess project which was shared here on the blog in October 2014!
This also included a free Christmas tree pattern to stitch...

I hope your weekend is restful, filled with laughter, and overflowing with goodness!
Mr E and I will definitely be taking that advice...



Nanna Chel said...

Thanks for those hints, Jenny. I used to do some ribbon embroidery back in the day! It is nice to see these crafts are becoming so popular with the younger generation as well.

Selina B said...

beautiful little stitchery, thanx for the free block again
thanx for sharing

Julie said...

Hi Jenny, I find myself going back to your tips & tutorials time & time again when I doubt myself. These have been so useful many times - thank you. I have now changed to the same needle size as you & also the same pen for tracing. That is such a shame about all that thread, I think I remember you posting about it when you bought them for such a reasonable price. Have a wonderful weekend ... x0x (oh p.s I pay $10 for Cottage Garden threads over here !!!)

Ondrea said...

It is interesting how we all find our own comfort zones when stitching after trial and error. I have always followed the concept that whatever works for you and gets great results is the "right way" . I like to use a hoop and use stabiliser as well. I use a size 7 needle for stitcheries and size 9 for hand piecing. Others I know, like yourself, do not use a hoop and get great results as well. I have been using linen for a while now and love it. I also use different background fabric on some projects but they need to be easy to see through for tracing. I also love the Cosmo threads and their Seasons range too. I am an avid user of the Cottage Garden threads as I find that the variegation is really good and shows up well. I recently saw the lady who makes them and she has certainly increased her business simply with word of mouth. I have collected the DMC threads for over 40 years but have recently found that the quality is not as good as it was. You have put a lot of time and energy into your tutorials and posts. One can see that you love what you do and you are so lovely to share your journey and your joy
with us. Thanks for another lovely post.

Baa. xxx said...

Thank Jenny. So good to have your blog that have such great hints and tips that I can go back to. Such a shame about the threads - what a nuisance!

Melody said...

Such a great post. I found it very informative and full of valuable information.

Pat said...

Jenny, thanks so much for such good information. I love your designs and love following your blog posts. Your stitchery is exquisite and I've always wondered if you backed the linen with a stabilizer - I'll be ordering Whisperweft from that U.S. shop. Could you share your U.S. source for Essex linen? It seems like the link is missing in your post. Please keep designing and thank you again!

Mdm Samm said...

nice to see your fav tools and essentials that has you creating magic

Kathy H said...

Thanks for the hints, jenny. Very helpful. I have used the linen here in the us but will try to find some hanky linen too to try it out.

Chrissy Leiberan-Titus said...

Hi Jenny,
Thanks for sharing your favorite stitching tools! I am also in love with the linen cotton blend. It's definitely my favorite to stitch on!
Chrissy from Muse of the Morning

Nancy Coburn said...

Hello sweet Jenny! I too love Cosmo threads and I'm madly in love with my Cottage Garden collection because as variegated threads go, the colors change so quickly and really add something special to a project. I was introduced to them by Gail Pan when she was here for Spring Market some years ago and I had the joyful experience of spending an entire day with Gail and her delightful friend Sandra and before we parted that evening she handed me some beautiful gifts, including a variety of the CG threads...so I have her to thank for my addiction to those gorgeous and pricey threads, LOL. I've also got a bit of Hanky Linen, but I'm running low, I truly love that also. I use Foxglove Cottage needles, distributed here in Utah, as the shaft is very thin and though the eye is large enough too use even 3 strands if needed, it is no thicker than the shaft so they glide smoothly through and of the fabrics I'm stitching on and they are longer than most embroidery needles, making it easier for me to hold on to them as I have no feeling in my finger tips. One thing I've not tried is the Zig Millenium pigma pen...I've used Pigma's but not the Zig, are they smoother than the regular Pigma's as I have problems with them catching the threads of the fabric and hopping. I love seeing your tools and supplies, but I did notice you don't show a thimble. I use the little leather dots that stick on the tip of my fingers to prevent injury because I can't tell if I stick myself, so one on top, one on the bottom hand. Anyway, thank you so much for sharing your "tool chest" with us. I have tell you before I close, that I also have the beautiful figurine of the girl holding the bouquet to her face. My Grandson and Grand daughter in law, gave me mine as a gift on their wedding day. It is a lovely music box which plays "You are my sunshine". They told me it was a thank you for being who I am...I cried like a baby...my face was still splotchy from crying when I had to get up during the ceremony and read a poem they had asked me to write after they spoke their vows. Ah well, I've rambled on for far too long, but it is a good day for me. My first out of bed in a while and I'm even doing some quilting so I'm feeling joyful and blessed and just had to share. Big Hugs to you my dearest friend, keeping you and yours in prayer always....God Bless and Keep...

desertskyquilts said...

I'm a Cosmo fan, too, and definitely loved the Cottage Garden Floss! I've become a fan of the Aurifil 12, but my favorite perle is Sassa Lynne. It's an 8, but a very fine 8 and glides like it's going through butter. I have some Finca 16 and agree it's quite nice to use. I also love Zig pens for archival printing, and have used my black ones before on blackwork. I will have to look for brown at the art store. I use a red Pigma for redwork. Harder to tell if I missed a spot. LOL Thanks for your information. How sad about the bargain threads! When is a bargain not a bargain - now we know!

TerriSue said...

Dear Jenny,
Thank you so much for sharing. I too am a linen stitcher and a linen/cotton stitcher. Another combination I love but do not use often because of expense is cotton/silk, which they also have at Fabric.com. It has an absolutely tight sumptuous weave. Gorgeous! I do use a hoop or frame and I also use a thimble. I am going to look into finding your brand of needles as I haven't been happy with any since England stopped making theirs in England. I used to use Richard Hemming and Sons. Now, though the quality is not up to par. I have bookmarked the Whisperweft. Thank you for the heads up. I have never tried Cosmo threads as they are hard to get here. I have used Cottage Garden in some hardanger projects. I love it but it also is not easy to come by. I have told Jim my dream vacation would be Australia, and I would take two empty suitcases just to fill with embroidery threads and fabrics. I have my stores picked out also. Australia is leaps and bounds ahead of the U. S. in embroidery. Here people still think counted cross stitch is the best thing since sliced bread. Well I bake all of our bread and I can't stand counted cross stitch. lol.

Sandra Bryan said...

Thank you so much for sharing your supplies and fine embroidery work. It is so beautiful.

Jeanette Inger said...

What a great wealth of information you give us Jenny. I love stitching but dont get much time. Lately Ive done a few and used cottage garden threads. Unforunatly I had to rinse one of my stitchery out and the cotton bled. Might have to try dying the stichery in a pale pink mixture. Ive learnt needle size from you as well as using other things as stabilzers for the backing as i use a thin pallon at the moment. AND Im excitedly running around op.shops for doilies and hankies to try stitching on. Thankyou for all your help and handy hints, you are a treaure.

jolanda said...

Thank you for all your tips!! When I saw what you said about the thread that was on sale but appeared not usuable because of the stains it reminded me of something else. I believe I didn't read it in this post so maybe it is something worth mentioning.
I found out it is always good to be careful using thread that is lying in a drawer for some time. When my mum past away I took home all her embroidery thread and it was a huge amount. Lots and lots of different colours but from some of the colours there was only a little bit. So when I used that bit I went to the store to get me some more and then I found out that even though the colornumbers were the same, the colour wasn't.
Some of the threads from my mother were several years old and over time DMC (and I'm sure others brands will too) had changed some colours a little bit. Soooooo... the part I already embroidered I could throw away! From now on I always take little bits of old thread to the shop when I go for new. 😉
Have a nice day