Saturday, October 31, 2009

About needles and backstitch...

Dearest friends, as indeed you are, thank you for the lovely emails and comments over the last few months with regards to my neat backstitch. Many of you have asked "how" do I keep my stitches so tiny and tidy, and what needles do I use, so I thought we could chat about that today.

When I first began stitching in 2005 it was like being bitten by a mosquito...I just couldn't ignore the itch the stitch! My husband had a temporary teaching position in Armidale and because it was only for a few months we moved into a tiny cabin at the local caravan park. I was homeschooling the children (aged 11 and 12 at the time) and it was mid-winter - icily cold in the Southern Highlands! We would crack the ice off the inside walls of the cabin each morning, and wait until about 10am for the water in the taps to thaw so we could shower and cook. Lots of fun! ;-)
To keep myself occupied after their lessons I had taken up sewing small blocks and embroideries. My sewing machine, previously only ever used for hemming curtains or skirts, was packed in storage with most of what we owned, so everything I made was hand-stitched while living in that cabin. This was all new to me and I loved the beauty created by my fingers through the designs I stitched from craft magazines bought, or borrowed from the local library. Mostly this was backstitch, and my stitches were simply exquisite.

When we eventually moved away and into a house again I was able to use the sewing machine at last, and discovered how quickly I could make items without hand sewing all those seams! This was wonderful, BUT, over time I began to rush through projects, wanting to do more and more faster and faster...and those lovely backstitches weren't so lovely any more. My applique stitches were getting larger and larger in my attempt to finish items quicker in order to start on new ones. How sad.

Last year I decided it was time to slow down and enjoy the journey with needle and thread once more, and soak in every stitch. I began to breathe slower and to relax my shoulders...I looked with new eyes at my work and was not afraid to unpick a row of hand-stitching to re-do over again. I started to take pride in my workmanship in a way I had not done previously.

I experimented with different needles, and found I loved the long slim ones but they bent easily and some would even break in my fingers. Eventually I found myself returning again and again to these ones...

...easily found, the lovely Birch Size 9 embroidery needle. They never let me down.

Added note: Kim asked if I used a hoop when I stitch, and I appreciate her prompt because I have been asked that before and forgot to answer on the blog.
No, I never use a hoop. When I was rushing through my embroideries I had to use a hoop because when you rush you pull, then you pucker the fabric...but I have not used a hoop for the last year. Since I took care with the stitching and slowed down to enjoy the process and rhythm of the needle and thread working together with the fabric I have had no need of a hoop. The stitches are gently woven into the fabric and I can see that I have no need to pull or tighten. As I relaxed, the stitches relaxed with me.

Diane asked, "Do you only use one thread for letters?"
No, Diane. I use one thread for certain things like the string of lights on this Christmas tree, where I'd like the finish to look as though I drew it.

On these stitcheries I used two threads...

...but on these stitcheries I used 3 threads.

I find that the fabric used has a lot to do with how many strands I use - the two photos above where I used 3 strands were stitched on Osnaburg which has a very open weave and needs to have a thicker embroidery line.
I hope that has helped?

And finally, this was the thought of the day for October 29th, but I can't turn the page yet because it is speaking to me, right where I'm at, so I need to read it often during the day.

It also speaks into this little lesson about stitching...don't hurry the stitches. Enjoy the process, love what you do, and be at peace as you sew.

Love and hugs


  1. So true, its amazing how relax one gets when they take their time to stitch, and consistency comes naturally. I do admire your stitches so, you inspire me so!


  2. Thank you for sharing your talents with me. I haven't stitched anything for years (other than quilting), but you are inspiring me to start up again.

  3. Thanks for sharing this with me and I also agree to slow down and enjoy the journey is the best way to go. I love your stitching and it is an inspiration to me when I see your work to try and get my stitches much neater, hehehehe.

  4. This speaks to me on so many levels. God bless you and your creative working hands!

  5. You have beautiful stitches. Do you use a hoop when you stitch?

  6. That is so true Jenny and I could relate to the quick finishing to move onto the next thing resulting in sloppy work.
    That little quote definitely inspires.

  7. Thanks Jenny. Lovely of you to share. Especially the bit about the inner calm - so necessary in today's world!

  8. Jenny, Thank you for the wonderful tutorial on your stitching you have just answered alot of questions that i was thinking of sending you in an email so thank you again. The thought of the day is it on a calender or on a web site that you visit as when i read that saying out loud it made me feel so calm after the busy day that i have just had.
    Big hugs

  9. {{{{{{{Thank you}}}}}}}}sweetheart, for such a beautiful post which has left me with a calming inner peace. Your very being evokes that calming beautiful stream within me to run its gentle course - did you know that?

    Loves ya! Vikki xoxo

  10. What a beautiful post. Thank you. I really identify with the hurrying through one project to get to the next. Today when I stitch, I will relax my shoulder and enjoy each and every stitch and I'll be sending your hugs and kisses. :)

  11. Thank-you Jenny, xo
    Your work is always so beautiful just like your spirit!

  12. Thank you for your instruction on stitching and life as well. How true.

  13. Lovely post and I do like St Francis de Sales verse.

  14. Thank you Jenny for your insight into stitching your's is beyond beautiful I will practice what you have said & hopefully it will eventually work for me also!

  15. Jenny thank you for the advise on the needles and hoop . I am shopping today so I hope to pick them up, I have been working on some stitchery so it was perfect timing.

  16. Very, very interesting post! Thank you for sharing.


  17. Dear Jenny,
    each time I read one of your posts I always learn something new.
    This time I learn to appreciate the process of stitching. I'm always too busy because I love joining various swaps and SAL and, sometimes, I realize that, in order to finish them in time, I loose the pleasure or stitching or sewing. I think sometimes it's important to slow down and reflect on what you are doing and why. If stitching (as well as quilting, or sewing) becomes a stressor...where is the pleasure?
    Thanks for this important lesson you gave me.

  18. Thanks Jenny, The tips will help!

  19. Beautifully said.....thank you so much for sharing all you do with us.

  20. I love the quote on your calendar for October 29. It sure does speak to me and my life right now! Enjoy your day! :0)

  21. Thanks for sharing all that helpful information. Even though I have been embroidering a long time I learned some new things from you. I find it very interesting that you don't use a hoop. I never did when I did cross stitch.

  22. I couldn't agree more with what you say - and so beautifully written. I am guilty of rush rush rushing to get onto the next thing that I'm excited about sometimes and then wondering why I'm not completely happy with what I've made. I think that quote would be great as a stitchery hanging on the wall to remind me to slow down sometimes :)

  23. What a wonderful post, dear Jenny. You're so right about enjoying the process - I don't use a hoop either, and if I'm too tense, it shows - it reminds me to slow down and relax.

  24. Hi Jenny,
    Thanks for the information and pictures on stitching.

    OK, Now I know I need to slow down after readin your blog and next time I'm at the shops, I'll be buying size 9 needles.

  25. What a lovely post. I am a machine quilter but believe in taking my time to get the best results. I enjoy the journey as much as the arrival.

  26. I have been offline for a week~~our computer failed last Friday. So I am just getting around to reading this post. One thing I wondered: Do you keep your needle on top of the fabric when you stitch? Or do you bring it up and down and move your hand from the top of the fabric to underneath and back to the top again? I do it both ways. But I wonder if one is more efficient than the other?