Bibs keep babies tidy. They go in and out of fashion, but a stack of baby bibs was a must-have to any vintage household with a baby in it. Some were for utilitarian use, and they got thrown into the laundry hamper after one messy meal. Others were designed for decoration, and matched or complemented the baby’s wardrobe. You can embroider a baby bib that falls in between these extremes. Make one to match a special outfit. Or create a couple special warm weather bibs for that baby in your life.
Lots of vintage bib patterns exist, because the bib became a staple of the layette. While looking through a stack of old patterns, I came across these two that I just had to share. They’re from an undated layette pattern set, probably from the 1940s or at the latest, early 1950s. I thought they were darling and I wanted to pass them along in case anyone could use them.
To Embroider the Baby Bibs
These patterns measure about 8 1/8 to 8 1/4 inches from side to side, and 8 to 8 1/4 inches from back to belly. They should print well on US size letter paper.
To embroider the bibs:
Two 10 x 10 inch pieces of white or pastel fabric, light to medium weight like quilting cotton, batiste, or muslin. You can also use 1/4 yard of any of the fabrics.
1 yard of bias tape to coordinate or match your base fabric. This will edge the neck and form the ties.
Embroidery floss in your choice of colors.
Embroidery hoop to hold your fabric taut.
Sharp embroidery needle – not a cross stitch tapestry needle. This one needs to have a sharp point to go through the fabric.
Use these stitches:
French knots or satin stitch for the dots.
Satin stitch or lazy daisy stitch for the flowers.
Outline or stem stitch for the lines.
Buttonhole stitch for the edges.
Rambler Rose stitch for the roses. (See below for illustration).
Colors You Will Need
Really, you can use any colors you want. Traditionally these were embroidered in light, wispy, pastel colors. But as you can see from the first picture, the original artist colored them with bright reds, yellows, and blues. Is this because it matched their pattern envelope brand colors? We will never know.
The pattern itself does suggest some colors:
Work entirely in one color. This is great for a more formal bib, or one where you want it to match a particular outfit without question.
Flowers: pink or blue, or any pastel color on white. Or white on any pastel fabric color.
Centers: light yellow or white.
Leaves and stems: light green.
Ribbons and dots: pink, white, or blue, depending on colors used for flowers. You can match them or contrast.
If you need ideas for embroidery stitches, or instructions on how to do the stitches suggested, I created a whole set of blog posts with vintage embroidery lessons. It’s called Lessons In Embroidery.
Creating the Bibs
Here are the steps to putting one of these bibs together.
Print out the design you want to use. The original bib measures about 8 x 8 inches or 8 1/4 by 8 1/4 inches. Either is fine. I printed the image at 45% to 46% to match the size.
Transfer the design to your fabric. You can trace it, use fabric carbon paper, prick the lines with pins and rub powder over them, whatever you like.
Embroider the main design.
Use a buttonhole stitch to go around the scalloped outside edge of the bib. This finishes it off.
Cut out the bib carefully. Be sure not to catch your buttonhole stitches. Cut along the cutting line at the neck. You’ll have about a 3/8 inch seam line.
Fold your bias tape in half. Attach the middle point to the middle front of the bib neckline and pin it around. Sew the bias tape onto the bib, either by hand or machine. Fold it over and hem the tape to the back of the bib. Sew the long edges of the bias tape straps together so they don’t unfold. You can sew the ends of the tape, or not. It’s cut on the bias. It won’t unravel.
Here are the patterns you will need to create the bibs.
And here is the second design.
The thin line around the outside of the bib shows where to place the buttonhole edging.
Where to Go from Here
If you enjoyed this project, you might also like some of the projects in Lessons in Embroidery. Here’s Lesson 2, all about various straight line stitches. This is the information that hooked me on vintage embroidery stitches, many years ago. Check it out. Lessons in Embroidery: Outline Stitches
Redecorating a room is a fun and exciting project. You pick out the paint, the furnishings, the floor cover. Then you set to work. But what if you have no money for a major remodel? In the 1930s and 40s, few had the spare funds for complete overhauls each year or two as the fashion changed. However, fabric gave homeowners one easy way to redecorate. In the kitchen nothing gave as much versatility as the humble potholder. Today we explore one possibility with the patchwork fan potholder.
During the Depression and for years afterward, crafters reveled in using every scrap of material so nothing went to waste. Little scraps of fabric became appliqué decorations on curtains, tablecloths, and dinner or luncheon napkins. Or they might find their way onto the corner of an apron or a handkerchief. Some scraps became part of that larger mosaic we call patchwork.
In the Thirties and Forties, needleworkers loved to make potholders. These were also known as pan holders. Potholders made great pickup work. This means that the worker could grab the project, or pick it up, during spare moments through the day or week. In fact, I finished the trim on this one while I was waiting for the morning coffee to reach a boil in the percolator.
Use the Cotton
When you make potholders, the fabric must be 100% cotton or you risk injuring yourself or someone else. Likewise, the lining needs to be 100% cotton batting, thick fabric layers, or a layer or two of Insul-Bright insulated batting. You can find it on Amazon here, if you don’t have access to it locally. These projects were designed for workers to use what they had on hand, without going to any extra expense. They were truly scrap projects.
It’s also a good idea to prewash your fabrics before you use them. Everything I used was a leftover from some other project, so it was all prewashed. You can see the strings on the dark brown fabric from being tumbled around a hot dryer. Potholders eventually end up in the laundry, and you don’t want yours to shrink.
Pair them up
Usually potholders appeared in pairs. With a pattern like today’s patchwork fan potholder, two fabrics usually switched places in the design. You can see that in the red pattern sketch, which dates from the 1940s. The polka-dotted fan plumes of one potholder become the ribs of the other.
This is a pattern I’ve had for a long time and always wanted to try. It was part of a stash from my husband’s grandmother. The pattern took up a tiny section of a large transfer sheet of embroidery patterns, and it caught my eye the first time I saw it.
I happened to have some tiny scraps of brown and batik that would work great together, so that’s what I used. First, I traced the pattern from the sheet. Usually these large sheets were designed to be cut. Then they were placed design side down onto fabric and ironed.
However, the way this pattern was placed makes it obvious that it was a trace-to-use pattern, even though nothing says that. The pieces overlap enough that cutting each one out to use them would be impossible.
The original instructions for this project included the red and white illustration above, plus these terse commands:
These fan shaped pan holders can be made from any scraps of fabric you have available.
Piece, pad, bind, and quilt.
That was it. Beyond that you’re on your own. So I thought I’d make one and give an idea how it goes together.
You can see from the sketch that the potholder is supposed to use six fan pieces. Well, I can’t count, apparently, because I cut and used seven. First I hand-sewed the two pieces of each fan blade together.
Each blade is sewn together on the diagonal in the middle, like the photo below. Sew right sides together and then press the seam toward the wide end.
Once all the pieces were assembled, I sewed them side by side and found another scrap of fabric to use as a backing.
I cut around the fan and used the backing piece as a pattern to cut the lining.
I sandwiched the three pieces together, and ran a stitch 3/8″ from the edge around all the edges. I used a sewing machine for this part, although you could easily do it by hand.
Then, because terry cloth tends to move while it’s squashed between two pieces of fabric, I had some edges to neaten before attaching the bias binding.
I made the binding myself from another scrap of brown fabric that I cut into 1 1/4″ diagonal strips and then sewed together. First I pinned the bias tape to the front of the fan and then sewed around it using a 1/4″ seam allowance. I started at the fan’s point. That way I could end there with a loop of extra bias tape that I then secured to the back of the fan with a few solid stitches.
Once the bias tape was attached to the front, I turned it over. Folding the tape over the raw edge, I sewed it down by hand all around the edge of the fan. This is what I did while the coffee brewed. When I got back to my starting point I cut off the bias tape, leaving a couple inches on the end. I turned under a little bit at the very end, and then folded it together and whipped the long open edges to make it a tube. Then I bent it into a loop and sewed the end onto the back of the fan at the point.
This makes its own hanging loop so I don’t have to hunt for crochet thread or a wooden ring.
Finally, I hand quilted all three layers together. Of course, you could use a sewing machine for any or all of this.
Now You Make One!
Here’s a copy of the pattern so that you can make yourself a pair of fan potholders (or pan holders, as you prefer.) I traced the pattern onto one 8.5 x 11 inch sheet of paper, and it took about half of it. This is not a large pattern.
I’ll dig out the fabric scraps I have left from this project and make another potholder to coordinate with the first one. I really enjoyed making this little patchwork fan potholder and I hope you make one or two to add a bit of Forties Flair to your kitchen.
Today I have two small Lazy Daisy stitch projects for you. These are suitable for a small frame. Or they would look wonderful decorating one end of two scarves, at the top or pocket of an apron, or even embellishing the back of a jacket. Do you need a small decorated pillow? They would rock that as well. If you need a stitch review, you can find it in Part 1 and Part 2.
Flowers in flowerpot
You can see the first project above. This design measures about 5.5 inches square. You can print out the image above at about 90% of its full size. Or simply sketch it from the picture inside a 5.5 inch box. This design is 100 years old and somebody drew it freehand to begin with. Who’s going to know if your dimensions are a tiny bit off?
Once you get the design transferred to your fabric, you will need to grab your colors. The original was embroidered in fine embroidery yarns like 1 or two strands of tapestry yarn. (It comes with four strands together.) You could use one strand of pearl cotton or four strands of embroidery floss instead.
Colors you will need
You will need:
pale jade green for leaves
How to embroider the flowers and flowerpot
Begin with the leaves in tree stitch. Start at the tip. Use the green.
Use chain stitch for the stems. Also in green.
The tendrils use the green in back stitch. (This is the curly line coming off the stem.)
The large flower is worked in chain stitch from the outside in. Starting with the outer row:
The outer row is lazy daisy stitch in orchid.
Work the row inside that with lazy daisy stitches in old rose.
Complete a row of chain stitch in the rose.
Inside the chain stitch, a row of lazy daisy stitches in heliotrope. The tips of the daisies will go into the chain of the previous row.
Make the center in a yellow tree stitch. Start at one end and work to the other.
The circular flowers
Complete the two circular flowers by making eight long lazy daisy stitches. For the lower flower, make the daisy stitches in orchid. Then with rose, weave over and under the stitch arms like you see in the illustration above. Complete the flower with a yellow center of tiny lazy daisy stitches or French knots.
For the upper flower, make the spokes in heliotrope and complete the flower in the same color. Instead of weaving over and under, this time you will loop around and around the two threads that make each lazy daisy stitch as you see above.
After the first row or two you will loop around each individual thread of the daisy stitch, as above. This makes a nice, tightly woven flower. Make the weaving as large or as small as you like. Again, make a yellow center.
The upper edge of the bowl is in separated lazy daisy stitches. They march in a line across the rim. Keep the loops a bit loose so that the line of stitches and their spaces appear even. This row is in delft blue. Then:
Hanging from the top border of the bowl, seven woven drops dangle.
Work a row of back stitch in rose just above the blue chain stitch.
Also use back stitch for the two lines coming down from the sides of the bowl, but work these in blue.
Use jade in regular chain stitch for the sides of the bowl.
Also use jade for the bottom of bowl, but work closely-spaced separated chain stitches.
Above this line, work four points in tree stitch, as you see in the illustration below.
Use four different shades of thread or yarn for these stitches. The first, or inner, stitch is yellow. Follow that with heliotrope, then orchid, and finally rose for the largest outside stitch.
I liked this design a lot. For some reason this one really appealed to me, and I’ll try to find something to embroider it onto.
This would be a great decoration for a vintage style handbag or small pillow. It measures six inches in diameter.
To work the second of the lazy daisy stitch projects you will need one or two strands of tapestry yarn, pearl cotton, or four strands of embroidery floss. The original instructions even suggested four-fold Germantown, which was worsted knitting wool. The worker would then separate the four strands and use one at a time. The color list:
medium dull blue, like DMC 793
dark dull blue, like DMC 792524
light/medium blue green, like DMC 518
dark blue green, like DMC 3760
gray-green, like DMC 524
heliotrope, like DMC 33
flame, like DMC 347 or any red/red-orange that you like
Usually I don’t match DMC colors to vintage patterns, but the suggestions for this particular design were very vague. It suggested two shades of dull blue. What in the world is that? I had to consult a DMC color chart so I could figure it out for myself. While I was there, I decided to jot down the numbers that I found. If you have a selection of threads in this color range that you think works better, by all means use them.
This illustration shows how the flower center is worked.
The very center horizontal satin stitches are in flame/red/red-orange.
To the right and left of the flame stitch, work tree stitch. Begin at the center and work out to the edges. Use the lighter blue-green thread.
Surround the oval with back stitch in heliotrope.
The first lazy daisy row, closest to the flower center, is in dark blue.
Use gray to complete a second row of daisy stitches, about half the size, at the ends of the first daisy row.
Extending from the flower center, work the large petals in light blue tree stitch.
Connect the petals close to their tips with buttonhole stitch done in heliotrope.
The rest of the embroidery
Here’s how to complete the embroidery.
Work the central flower stem in dark blue-green tree stitch.
The two leaves closest to the flower are the lighter blue-green. Use tree stitch for this as well.
Work the small tendrils (curly lines) coming from the top two leaves in lighter blue-green, using back stitch.
The large dark tendrils coming from the base of the flower stem are back stitched in dark blue-green.
All other leaves and tendrils are in gray-green.
And this concludes Lazy Daisy Stitch Projects. The next embroidery lesson series focuses on appliqué. If you enjoy the look of Twenties and Thirties appliqué quilts and needlework, you won’t want to miss it.
In this second installment of Lazy Daisy Stitches, I give you several more variations of the stitch. If you missed the first part, you can find it here. It includes the original stitch, and the introduction to Lessons in Embroidery for Beginners: Lesson Five. You’ll also find several variations that you will need for the upcoming projects.
The original article discussing lazy daisy stitches covered a page and a half of very small type on a large-format magazine page. With eleven examples and much discussion to go with them, it posed much too long for any modern web page. However, taken at one time, it did provide a nice month’s amusement for the needleworker who wanted to master and expand the lazy daisy stitches and variations.
The first time we discussed the actual lazy daisy stitch, leaf sprays, a dedicated leaf stitch, and single spaced daisy stitches. This time you will learn four more variations. However, I don’t know that one of them really counts as a lazy daisy stitch. The original author Ethelyn Guppy thought so, though. We rely on her expertise in 1928.
Covered Open Daisy Stitch
I’m not sure what else you would call this. No description appears in the text.
To make this stitch you first complete a row of open lazy-daisy stitches, often called the fly stitch. They are made like the second and successive rows of the leaf stitch. You come out at the left top edge of the stitch and take the needle back into the fabric at the right top edge. The needle goes underneath and catches the loop at the bottom of the stitch, in the middle.
Once your first row is complete, go back over the arms of the stitch with a buttonhole stitch. This can be the same color as the foundation, or a different color. Your call.
This is actually a form of a buttonhole stitch. It is not in any way a lazy daisy stitch. However, one of the projects originally featured in this lesson was a hand towel. The article suggested this stitch as a decorative hem. So how do you make it?
If you know how to make a buttonhole stitch from Lesson Four, you can make this easily. Normally you would come up from the bottom of the fabric and lift the top thread as you go back down. The needle passes under the thread top to bottom. Right?
This time, you come out of the fabric from the bottom. You reach behind the top thread and send the needle underneath, back to front. This creates a little twist or loop at the top of the fold. Then you bring the needle from the front and take it back down behind.
In the example above, the stitches are completed in groups of two. This adds strength the the edge as well as a decorative element. Two threads, in this case, are better than one.
Points in Tree Stitch
This is made just like the leaf or tree stitch described in Part 1 of the Lazy Daisy series. Instead of beginning with closed lazy daisy stitches, however, you start with open ones.
First make a long, narrow lazy daisy stitch. Then bring the thread back up just under the tip and weave back and forth back towards the starting point. These make nice accent pieces.
The next embroidery installment will be Part 3, two small projects for the lazy daisy stitch. Stay tuned!
Welcome to Lesson Five of Embroidery for Beginners. This installment of the vintage embroidery series focuses on embroidering lazy daisy stitches. Although we may know how to make the stitch, it has lots of variations that you might enjoy using. In fact, this one lesson offers eleven different stitches, plus several project options. Because of this, Lesson Five appears in three articles rather than the usual two. We have a lot of material to cover.
First, if you haven’t done the lazy daisy stitch, you’ve surely seen it in embroidery. It’s that loopy stitch used to make flowers. Sometimes it appears as open leaves below a flower.
The stitch actually had several names. Early on it was called the bird’s eye stitch because workers thought it resembled the eye of a bird. Perhaps they found the stitch useful for making simple eyes for the birds that appeared on so many embroideries at the turn of the century, 1890-1910. It got its common name, lazy daisy stitch, from the way it resembled the daisy petal and its perfect use in representing the flower on fabric. In the Twenties it became known as the loop stitch although you can see that didn’t stick, although it was accurate.
Actually, the lazy daisy stitch is a single chain stitch. We covered the chain stitch in Lesson Two. Even in the Twenties the lazy daisy stitch was maligned. Many designers considered it “too easy” and thus omitted it from pieces. This is unfortunate, because the lazy daisy stitch adds so much to the mountainside and cottage flower gardens which were so popular at the time.
The point of this lesson was to show that yes, the lazy daisy stitch provides the easiest way to make a daisy. However, its use extends far beyond the simple daisy into some intricate-looking needlework.
The daisy stitch
Here you see the needle making a daisy-style flower. Begin without placing a knot at the end of the thread, as usual. Make two or three tiny running stitches along a line that will be covered by the thread to hold the strands in place.
Bring the needle, with all the working thread, up from below at the base of the petal. Put it down again in nearly the same place, perhaps a couple threads to the right or left. At the same time, hold the thread on the surface under your left thumb as though you were making a buttonhole stitch. Bring the needle out at the tip of the petal, over the thread strand or strands. Draw up the thread gently and evenly to form the petal, and then put the needle through the fabric just outside the loop. This forms a tiny stitch to hold the loop in place.
Bring the needle up at the base of the next petal and repeat.
For large petals, use a rather heavy thread. If you use stranded embroidery floss, use enough strands in the needle to give each petal a full look.
Leaf spray in lazy daisy stitch
Here is a leaf spray made in the same stitch, with a stem made in back stitch. First create the back stitch stem, and then place the leaves onto it. Work the lazy daisy stitches as you come to them, back and forth under the stem, finishing with the loop at the end.
Tree or Leaf Stitch
This variation of the lazy daisy stitch makes beautiful leaves. You begin at the top point of the leaf.
Make a lazy daisy stitch to start, bringing the needle out at the top left of the first stitch and back down at the top right. Then to secure the loop, bring the needle out just a bit to the left of the first stitches, and put it in a bit to the right. As you see, this will make the center holding stitches slant just a little.
For your second stitch bring it out a bit below and to the left of the fist stitch, and back in a little to the right and below the first daisy. Your holding stitch should appear under the first one, also slightly slanted. Continue in this way until the leaf is completed.
Separated lazy daisy stitches
Sometimes when you are embroidering lazy daisy stitches, you want a different effect. Here the stitches march in a line, creating a loose border. The stitches are made exactly the same as a regular daisy stitch. But instead of returning to the center for the next loop, the needle continues in a straight line.
Next time I’ll introduce three more variations. In Part 3 we’ll put it all together with a six-inch round medallion and a five and a half inch flowerpot that would make a beautiful scarf decoration. Both are made almost entirely with lazy daisy stitches and variations.
When you think of gifts for friends, you probably don’t think Gee, I could give them a handkerchief! Or maybe you do. I know that every morning I tuck a clean hankie into my pocket before I start my day. They are so handy for a variety of things: wiping a smudge off your computer monitor or cell phone shield; cleaning fingertips after a salty snack; protecting a cracker or two in your pocket as you head toward the sofa with a hot cuppa. And yes, during allergy season they come in handy for their intended use. But a gift of handkerchiefs?
Nothing can be a more pleasing gift at Christmas or at any other “remembering time” than a pretty handkerchief – or more than one.
Needlecraft Magazine, October 1921
Actually, special hankies appeared as part of the annual gift selections throughout the Twenties and Thirties. They were used through the 1960s and beyond by many. If you find yourself in an antique mall, at least one vendor sells vintage handkerchiefs. They appear with hand embroidery, with lace edgings, or both. And many of them were hand made.
What you need to make handkerchiefs
You don’t need much to make a handkerchief for a friend. A square of soft 100% cotton like batiste will do. Or you can use Irish linen or cotton lawn if you want to get fancy. You can crochet, knit, or tat a lace edging for it, or not. Some of the nicest ones I see in the periodicals have beautiful embroidery but no real edging to speak of. Others, in the edging instruction manuals, offer gorgeous edgings but no embroidery.
Cut your fabric into a square. Anything from 10 x 10 inches to 12 x 12 inches will do. One yard of 36 – 42-inch wide fabric will give you 9 handkerchiefs. A quarter of an inch both ways will be used by hems, 1/8 inch per edge in a rolled hem.
If you like you can hem the square by hand, using a rolled hem. This is, frankly, the nicest way to do it, but it takes the most time. Here’s a YouTube video on how to sew a rolled hem by hand. Once you get the hang of it, it can be a relaxing time.
If the square design has one or more colored stripes or geometric figures in the fabric in addition to embroidery, you will want to add the stripes of color before finishing the rolled hem.
Embroidery Designs 1 and 2
The first two designs appear together. The top handkerchief is made of white lawn, a light, sheer cotton. The wreath that appears in the corner is about an inch in diameter. Place the largest rose facing the corner, with three roses going up each side from there. The buds at the top of the wreath are French knots. Use green embroidery thread for the leaves. Roses can be satin stitched in a shade of pink, including dark rose, with a darker color center.
The lines on the first handkerchief are made by pulling two threads from the fabric and replacing them with a thread of dark rose embroidery floss. Thread one strand of embroidery floss on a fine needle and weave in and out over the threads from one side of the fabric to the other. Follow the thin line made from the pulled threads. The original cloth had three lines on each side, dividing the handkerchief into sixteen equal squares. Do this before hamming the fabric. You can use one line on each side of the embroidered corner and it will look splendid.
If your fabric looks like the threads are too close together to pull well, simply take a strand of embroidery floss and create a running stitch from one side of the fabric to the other.
When you finish your embroidery and the rolled hem, work a cross stitch border around the square, over the hem. Use the dark rose floss, two strands.
The bottom handkerchief uses the top embroidery pattern below. Embroider the three roses in shades of pink. The medium circles in the middle are blue forget-me-nots. At each end you can use pink to create rosebuds with French knots. Use green for the leaves and stems.
Now, about the squares. The handkerchief will look good without them, but if you want to include them, this is how to do it. Inside the 1/8-inch border set aside for your rolled hem, draw two 1-inch lines that sit 1 inch from the corner. You’ll have a one inch square that sits inside the hem allowance.
Now measure down from the point you just drew, on the left arm of the square, 3/8 inch. Draw a line 3/8 inch into the square, and then 2 1/4 inches to the left. That gives you the long line.
Starting at the end of the line you just made, go up 3/4 inch. Turn, and go 3/8 inch back toward the corner, and then turn again. Go down towards the hem 1 3/8 inch.
You’re almost finished. Now return to the long line you made, and measure 3/8 inch towards the corner. Go up 3/8 inch and then over 3/4 inch. You have just completed one half the corner with three stacked blocks. Repeat for the other side. All the squares are 3/8 inch.
Once you have all this drawn in you can embroider it with running stitch, back stitch, or you can attempt to withdraw threads and replace them with the blue you use for the forget-me-nots.
Finish the rolled hem, and using 1 strand of blue, cross stitch through the rolled hem.
Here are the embroidery patterns for Handkerchiefs 1 and 2:
Embroidery design 3
These two designs are perfect for your Twenties costume party. The top corner that appears in the illustration is nothing more than the wreath above, with a small circle of black fabric appliquéd to the handkerchief and then the wreath is embroidered over the join. Embroider the roses in pinks, blues, or whatever shade harmonizes well with your background fabric (in the photo the fabric was terra cotta colored) and the black circle.
The second example here is Very Twenties. One might even say Perfectly Twenties. The fabric is white.
Two and a quarter inches from the corner, draw a stem line 1 1/4 inches long. Leave 1/2 inch space, and draw the second stem line 1 5/8 inches. Leave another 1/2 inch space, and draw the third line 1 1/4 inches long again.
You can pull threads from the fabric for the stem and weave in embroidery floss, or you can use an embroidery stitch like backstitch, running stitch, etc. to create the stem.
The stems are dark blue. The centers of the flowers are brown. Make the centers with French knots or short, straight stitches going in a variety of directions (sometimes called seed stitch). The outside of the flowers are made with bullion stitch. The first and third flowers use orange bullion stitch, and the middle flower’s bullion stitches are in yellow.
Use the same blue as the stems for the sepals, those little petals at the base of the flower heads. The rolled hem is covered in dark blue cross stitch.
If you need an embroidery refresher, my series of vintage embroidery lessons start here.
When I opened my grandmother-in-law’s stash of threads, I was amazed. Colors and types of vintage embroidery threads spilled out of the bags and boxes, left over from seventy years of embroidery. The vintage workbasket held more possibilities than you find in today’s 400 skeins of DMC floss, and Grandmother’s was no exception. In the early to mid twentieth century, needleworker had several companies from which to choose. Need six-strand embroidery floss? You could use DMC, or Bucilla, or Royal Society. What if you didn’t want to use six strand cotton embroidery floss? What then?
Then you chose from many different thread types and a host of manufacturers. Silk embroidery floss. Imitation art silk floss, made from rayon. Pearl (perl) cotton. Wool three-strand embroidery yarns. Coton a broder, also known as broder cotton. This was a single strand of thread, available in several sizes and many colors up to about 2010. Size 16 was equivalent to two strands of embroidery floss.
Embroidery used to be called Art Needlework when it was created for beauty’s sake. The person who made the family clothing always used a sewing needle. But when that needle worker used colored silks or cottons, and used the needle like a paintbrush, the work turned into art. Bluebirds sailed across household linens. Pine trees stood lonely and alone on hillsides. Flowers bloomed on everything from under linens to table runners. The vintage embroidery threads brought them to life.
Once needleworkers began to work with colors in embroidery they seldom looked back. You can see that by the current selection of modern cross stitch patterns.
The companies that released the threads also created patterns to work with them. After all, what good is a brilliant blue thread if you have nothing do use it for? Readers purchased patterns through the newspaper and monthly housekeeping or needlework magazines. They also found projects and threads from their friendly Frederick Herrschner mail order catalog, or through a flyer from their local dime store. By the 1930s it seemed that everyone was into the pattern or project by mail scheme, and needleworkers bought kits and supplies in droves.
Getting ready to begin
If the design didn’t come already stamped on fabric, the worker needed to transfer it. Then came thread selection time. Unless you planned to reproduce a lifelike flower in embroidery silks, or you worked from a prepackaged kit, colors remained up to the worker. Usually a pattern offered suggestions like brown, light blue, or dark pink. Which shades you pulled and how you incorporated the colors together was your choice. Between four or five cotton embroidery thread companies you might have ten or more shades of dark pink. This gave the worker a lot of leeway in color choice.
Often the project featured whatever threads I have on hand. An avid needleworker might have a small box of silk threads, a larger bag of cottons (or several bags of cottons), and some pearl cotton. These could be mixed into a work to create contrast, texture, and shine.
Bye bye threads
Most of these vintage embroidery threads exist no longer. Some, like Corticelli and Richardson silks, are simply gone. Corticelli silks and Richardson silk mills both ceased operation in 1932. By this time companies like Bucilla introduced their synthetic art silk, often made from rayon. These threads didn’t really feel like silk, but they were shiny and inexpensive for embroidering. They too are gone, although Bucilla remains as a subsidiary of Plaid Enterprises, and embroidery kits continue to appear under the Bucilla name.
As I mentioned before, most of the coton a broder threads were discontinued in the 2010’s, at least in the U.S. It looks like this thread (also called broder special or brilliant cutwork and embroidery thread) is still being produced in limited colors by both DMC and Anchor. However, getting any of this to the U.S. can be a difficult matter. You may have to special order it from Europe if you want some. This is NOT the same as the thread called Floche. Floche is far more expensive and not as sturdy.
All is not dreary news, however. Some threads, like cotton embroidery floss and pearl cotton, still exist. You can find substitutes for many others, even though you may not find them at your local craft store. You might need to poke around a bit on the Internet to find them.
Here are some options:
Six strand embroidery floss: DMC, Anchor, Sullivan’s, Madeira.
Coton a broder/ broder special: You may be able to locate white, ecru, black in the U.S. As a substitute look at Sulky Petites, size 12. It’s thinner than the size 16 coton a broder, but it will give you the same experience of one strand that equals two strands of embroidery floss.
Pearl cotton: still exists. Look for DMC. Some chains have house brands in limited colors.
Silks: Shiny silks in the U.S. have largely been replaced by threads like DMC’s shiny satin, which is 100% rayon. For a traditional embroidery silk from France, look for Au Ver a Soie’s Alger thread.
Silks: Although they are not all shiny, companies have produced 100% silk embroidery threads within the past 20 years or so. Some options: Treenway Silks, Caron Waterlilies (silk variegated), Kreinik Silk Mori, Rainbow Gallery’s Splendor.
Stranded wools: Appleton wools have existed since 1835 in the UK and they still provide wool yarns to the needlepoint market. These work wonderfully for embroidery. Once I came across some instructions from the 1850s calling for “5 shades of apple green wool.” Who makes five shades of apple green? Appleton wools does. Their leaf green selections fit my project perfectly.
Be creative… have fun!
Regardless what threads you use, I hope you enjoy the process. Picking out various threads, choosing or drawing a pattern, beginning a project… these are exciting times. Incorporate one or two of these old-time threads into your next project, and see how you like it. You never know. You may be hooked.
Recently I wrote about two color tatting. You can find that post here. This time I will give the patterns for the flower and the leaf above. These two-tone tatting patterns were designed with color in mind.
Compared to the other two patterns these are much more difficult. You tat both of them in one round. In one way that’s nice because you don’t have to worry about a Round 2. On the other, however, you can see this means lots of twisting and turning in completing that round. This is not a pattern to complete in front of the television set, especially the leaf. The flower tats relatively repetitively once you get started.
As I mentioned last time, this pattern dates from September, 1927. I can’t imagine trying to complete this while chatting with a front porch friend. Actually, I don’t have to imagine it –– I attempted to begin the flower while chatting with another tatter and it took everything I had to follow the pattern and the conversation at the same time.
You may notice that the lines from the hexagon center seem wiggly. That’s because they are. In order to get this to lay flat you are either going to have to pull those center chains really tight, or remove 1 ds from both sides of each spoke. Or maybe both. I ended up with a cupped flower, which suits my needs exactly. I want to use this to decorate a Twenties style hat.
Without further ado, the patterns:
Hexagon/Flower two-tone tatting pattern
Fill two shuttles with two separate colors. Your rings will be one color and the chains another: thus, two-tone tatting patterns.
Make a ring of (3 ds, picot) three times, 3 ds, close. The middle picot should be a bit longer than the others. Reverse work.
Chain of (2 ds, picot) nine times, 2 ds. Reverse work.
Ring of 3 ds, join to last picot of previous ring, 3 ds, join to center picot of previous ring, 3 ds, picot, 3 ds, close ring. Reverse work.
Chain of (2 ds, picot) seven times, 2 ds. Reverse work.
Repeat Step 3.
Another chain like Step 2.
Ring of 3 ds, join to last picot of previous ring, 3 ds, join to center picot, 3 ds, join to first picot of first ring, 3 ds, close ring. This completes one compact group of four rings along the outside. Reverse work.
Chain of 5 ds, picot, 2 ds, picot, 9 ds. Reverse work.
Ring of 3 ds, picot, 3 ds, long picot (you will be attaching five more rings here), 3 ds, picot, 3 ds close ring. Reverse work.
Chain of 9 ds, join to last picot of long chain just made, 2 ds, join to next picot, 5 ds.
Ring like Step 1.
Chain of 2 ds, p, 2 ds, join to 8th picot of third long chain in preceding scallop, (2 ds, p) seven times, 2 ds.
Repeat from Step 3 around. When you get to the last long chain of the sixth scallop, join the 2nd picot to the 8th picot of the previous scallop as before. Also join the 8th picot to the 2nd picot of the first long chain to make a hexagon. In addition, join the last picot of the sixth center ring to the first picot of the first ring. Tie securely and hide ends.
This hexagon can be used for doilies, borders, or used as a single motif.
Everyone needs a good tatted leaf motif. Right? Especially if you are reconstructing vintage clothing or articles.
Two shuttles filled with two colors, as before. I knotted the ends to begin and then worked all the ends in later. This pattern begins with the top of the two rings on the far side.
Make a ring of 5 ds, (picot, 2 ds, picot, 7 ds) twice, picot, 2 ds, picot 5 ds, close. Reverse work.
Chain of 3 ds, picot, 2 ds, picot, 5 ds. Reverse work.
Ring of 4 ds, join to last picot of previous ring, 2 ds, join, (5 ds, picot, 2 ds, picot) twice, 4 ds, close ring. Do not reverse work.
Chain of 3 ds, picot, 2 ds, picot, 3 ds. Reverse work.
Ring of 5 ds, join to first picot of first chain made, 2 ds, join, (5 ds, picot) twice, 2 ds, picot, 5 ds, close ring. Reverse work.
Chain of 3 ds. Reverse work.
Ring of 5 ds, join to picot of second chain made, 2 ds, join to chain, (5 ds, picot, 2 ds, picot) twice, 5 ds close. Reverse work.
Chain of 3 ds. Reverse work.
Ring of 5 ds, join to last picot on ring to the side, 2 ds, join to next picot, (5 ds, picot, 2 ds, picot) twice, 5 ds, close, Reverse work.
Repeat Steps 8 and 9 until you have two more rings on each side. Do not reverse work.
After the last ring make a chain of 3 ds, (picot, 2 ds) three times. Reverse work.
Make a tiny ring of 3 ds, join to the side of the ring at the left, 3 ds, close. Reverse work.
Chain of 1 ds, picot, (2 ds, picot) 4 times, 1 ds. Reverse work.
Tiny ring of 3 ds, join to top of same ring, 3 ds, close ring. Reverse work.
Chain like Step 13 with 5 picots. Reverse work.
Tiny ring like Step 14 joining to next ring. Reverse work.
Repeat Steps 15 and 16 twice. (You should have 5 tiny rings total at this point.)
Chain of ds, picot, (2ds, picot) three times, 1 ds. Reverse work.
Tiny ring as before, joined to top of same ring as last ring. Reverse work.
Chain of 5 picots like Step 13. Reverse work.
Tiny ring joining to top of next ring. Reverse work.
Chain of 5 picots like Step 13. Reverse work.
Tiny ring joining to side of current ring. Reverse work.
Chain of 6 picots as before (add one more 2 ds, picot to make 6). Join to the top of the third ring you made (next in line as you progress around the leaf). Do NOT make a tiny ring to join. Then chain ds, picot, (2 ds, picot) twice, ds. Reverse work.
Tiny ring as before (3 ds, join, 3 ds) joining to the top of the next ring. Reverse work.
Chain of ds, picot, (2 ds, picot) twice, ds. Reverse work.
Tiny ring joining to top of next ring. Reverse work.
Chain of 6 picots. Reverse work.
Tiny ring joining to top of next ring. Reverse work.
Chain of ds, picot, (2 ds, picot) twice, ds. Reverse work.
Tiny ring joined to side of current ring.
Chain of 4 ds, join to 2nd picot of chain with which you started. Then for the leaf stem chain 6 ds, picot, 2 ds, picot, 12 ds, join to last picot made, 2 ds, join to next picot, 6 ds, join to picot where stem started, and fasten off.
As you can see this is a rather long set of instructions. Once you begin and get the rhythm you will be able to check every now and then to ensure you’re on the right track, stopping to count every couple rings or chains to make sure you’re in the right place.
How will you use them?
What uses can you imagine for these two pieces? Do you prefer them in two colors, or one?
Most of the time beginning tatters start with one thread color. For one thing, a single ball of thread is cheaper than two. Especially if someone embarks on a new hobby unsure if they will like it. As you can see above, however, tatting with two colors can be quite effective. Today I will give you patterns for several two-color designs.
Today many tatters incorporate color into their work. During the Twenties, however, almost all tatting was white –– or at least one solid color. That’s why the designs above caught my eye. They appeared in the September 1927 edition of Needlecraft Magazine.
You can see the influence of the 1920s in the leaf and the flower. These would look magnificent fastened onto a Twenties cloche or other style of hat as decoration. The leaves alone would bring a lively look to a Twenties outfit, marching in a vertical row down one side of a dress or jacket. If you pull the spoke stitches very tight, the flower should lie flat. (You may need to subtract a stitch from each spoke, however.) If you leave the spokes the tiniest bit loose, your tatting will cup like a flower. Your choice. Even in the original illustration the spokes did not lie completely straight.
Because a couple of these patterns are rather lengthy, I’ll present two this time and two in a later post.
You will need
For all these tatting with two colors patterns you will need two balls of thread in any colors. High contrast colors like the pink and blue I used work better, but if you want a subtle effect white and lavender, light blue, light green, or light pink would work too.
I tatted all these in size 20 thread. Use whatever size you enjoy working with, or the size that will best fit your final project.
I also used two shuttles, one filled with each color of thread, but you can use a shuttle and ball if you prefer. The most effective (and easiest) way of tatting with two colors is to use one color for chains and the other for rings.
A simple edging
This edging is simple enough for any beginning tatter who knows how to make rings and chains.
Make a ring of (3 ds, picot) three times, 3 ds, close ring. Reverse work.
Chain of 3 ds, picot, 2 ds, picot, 3 ds. Reverse work.
Ring of 3 ds, join to last picot of previous ring, (3 ds, picot) twice, 3 ds, close ring.
Repeat from Step 2.
This makes a nice edging for handkerchiefs done in a fine thread, or anything else small that needs a trim.
Two rows of bright pizzazz
You never know when you will need a good scallop pattern. This one makes neat, orderly scallops to trim something special. It’s made in two rows. Originally the instructions said to make all rings the second color, but that broke up the color concentration in the scallops. So instead I completed the first row and attached the ball thread to my blue-thread shuttle for the second row. Then I made the rings with the shuttle and the chains with the ball.
Make a ring of 4 ds, picot, (2 ds, picot) three times, 3 ds, close ring. Reverse work.
Chain of 6 ds, picot, (2 ds, picot) twice, 6 ds, picot, 2 ds, picot, 6 ds. Reverse work.
Ring of 3 ds, join to last picot of preceding ring, 2 ds, join to next picot, (3 ds, picot, 2 ds, picot) twice, 3 ds, close ring. Reverse work.
Chain of 3 ds. Reverse work.
Ring like Step 3, joining first two picots to last two picots of preceding ring. Reverse work.
Chain of 3 ds. Reverse work.
Repeat Step 5.
Repeat Step 6.
Repeat Step 5.
Repeat Step 6.
Repeat Step 5. (Six total rings made so far.)
Chain of 6 ds, join to last two picots of preceding long chain, 6 ds, picot, (2 ds, picot) twice, 6 ds. Reverse work.
Ring of 4 ds, join to last picot of preceding ring, 2 ds, join to next picot of preceding ring, (2 ds, picot) twice, 4 ds, close.
Repeat Step 2.
Ring of 3 ds, join the first two picots to last two of preceding ring, 3 ds, join to picots 3 and 4 of last large ring, 3 ds, picot, 2 ds, picot, 3 ds, close ring. Reverse work.
Repeat from Step 4 for the length required.
Either use one color for the chains and the other for the rings as before, or tie on your ball thread and use that color for rings and chains for this row.
Make a ring of 5 ds, picot, 5 ds, join to first of 3 picots at top of long chain, (2 ds, join to next picot) twice, 5 ds, picot, 5 ds, close ring. Reverse work.
Chain of 5 ds, picot, 5 ds, picot, (2 ds, picot) twice, 5 ds. Reverse work.
Ring of 5 ds, join to last picot of previous ring, 5 ds, join to chain picot, (2 ds, join to next picot) twice, 5 ds, picot, 5 ds, close ring. Reverse work.
Repeat from Step 2 across.
Need a thin narrow band and don’t have ribbon? Use tatting in two colors! Tat the first pattern in two colors for a great replacement. Looking for something a bit thicker? Make the first pattern twice, either connecting ring to ring or chain to chain. This creates two entirely different looks.
I’ll present the patterns for the leaf and flower in a later post. To explore other possible patterns that would look good in two colors, check out this post on Tatting with Rings and Chains.
Last lesson we looked at buttonhole stitch embroidery. If you missed it, you can locate that lesson here. This time we’re going to look at projects using buttonhole stitches.
People rarely look at the buttonhole stitch and think Wow, I could create an entire project with that! Usually needleworkers use it as an edging. Let’s change that with our dive into Twenties projects using buttonhole stitches.
First, we have The Lonesome Pine pillow that was featured in the last lesson. You’ll find that the Lonesome Pine motif appears quite often in Twenties and Thirties needlework. The term appeared with the publication of a romance called The Trail of the Lonesome Pine in 1908. The book made quite a splash as a romance and it’s still in print.
The Lonesome Pine Pillow
Here, in all its glory, is the Lonesome Pine Pillow. Isn’t it a beauty?
These pillows were often filled with balsam pine needles. It brought the fresh pine air into the room and smelled like the outdoors during months that those who lived among pine trees were stuck indoors.
You don’t have to fill your pillow with pine needles, though. You can use a pillow form or stuffing. That’s what I would do.
This pillow is made from a rough, relatively heavy fabric. The original instructions called for homespun, but you could use heavy linen, a drapery fabric in a neutral shade, or a heavy cotton.
Doing the embroidery
The article called for the pillow to be embroidered with yarn. By “yarn” they probably meant crewel wools, or wool yarn specifically spun and plied for hand embroidery. In the US, The Gentle Art’s Simply Wool is available from needlework shops. In the UK, you can’t go wrong with Appleton Wools. They’ve been around since William Morris was designing tapestries in the 1880s.
The entire 14 x 15-inch pillow is worked in simple buttonhole stitches. Although you can alter anything you like, this project means to be an easy introduction to using the buttonhole stitch as an art needlework stitch.
Use leaf-green for the pine tree and the grass, and two shades of tangerine orange for the setting sun: the darker shade for the two inner rows and the lighter shade for the two outer rows.
Work the sun first
The sun must be worked before the grass, because the grass covers the edge of the sun embroidery. For the grass use irregular long and short buttonhole stitches of varying length, from 1/4 to 1/2 inch, making each step 1/8 inch different from the one before or after. All the grass blades point straight up.
On the tree the needles hang down, with the purling of the buttonhole stitches resting on the upper end of the boughs. The bits of trunk which show are made with two or three vertical stitches.
Here’s how to do it:
Obtain a piece of fabric that measures 16 x 29 inches.
Fold the fabric in half and transfer the design. It should be centered side to side and about 1 1/2 inches from the fold. The fold will be the bottom of your pillow.
Embroider the design in buttonhole stitch using your green and orange threads.
When you’re finished, fold the fabric so the right side of the embroidery is on the inside and sew around the three sides, leaving a big enough gap that you can turn the pillow inside out. Use a 1/2-inch seam. Stuff with the pillow form or stuffing and sew the opening closed with a slip stitch. A 15 x 15 pillow form can be squeezed to fit into this cover, or you can shorten it an inch with the sewing machine and cut off the extra before stuffing it into the cover you embroidered.
If you don’t have a pillow form the right size, take an extra large 1 inch seam along the wider sides, making your pillow 14 x 14 inches.
Here is the design for the pillow. Print the two single pages to fill an entire 8.5 x 11 inch page, then overlap to trace.
The work bag
This work bag is a little more complicated than a pillow. It’s designed to carry a 1920s needlework magazine along with the materials you need for a project. Thus arrayed, you appear at the next sewing circle in style!
You can make the bag from the same fabric you used for the pillow. You need a piece of fabric that measures 14 x 34 inches. Cut one long 2 1/2 inch piece off the side, so your pieces now measure 2 1/2 x 34 and 11.5 x 34. The thin strip becomes your handles.
You will also need some kind of firmly woven cotton lining, a sateen or comparable fabric, cut 12 x 30. Choose a color to that harmonizes with your bag. Fold the fabric in half so you have a rectangle that measures 12 x 15, wrong sides together. Sew a 1/4 inch seam up each narrow side so the rectangle measures 11.5 x 15. Turn it right sides together, sew another 1/4 inch seam in the same place you did before (you’ve made French seams so they won’t fray). Leave it this way, with the right sides on the inside, and turn a 1/2 inch hem along the top. Press the hem and leave it until you need to insert it into the finished bag.
Turn in 1/4-inch along each long side, and then fold in half lengthwise. You should have a strip 1 inch wide. Cut it in half so that you have two strips 1 inch x 17 inches.
Using a sewing machine, sew the strap together 1/8 inch from the long turned edges.
OR, if you prefer, you can cut them in half to measure 17 inches in length. Then sew with a 1/4 inch seam allowance along the long edges of each strap. Turn right side out, and press.
Now the bag
The instructions for this suggest that embroidery decorates both sides of the bag, and they are identical.
Print the design to fill a whole 8.5 x 11 inch page. Transfer the bird and lines twice, extending the lines to 2 inches from the top and bottom edges of the fabric.
The first half circle is included. Duplicate the smaller three rings of the circle in the appropriate places on the fabric.
Colors you will need
The bag calls for the same type of crewel yarn as the pillow above. Pearl cotton might work well in lieu of wool if you can’t find any or don’t have wool. Use size 5 pearl cotton.
How to work the embroidery
Work the long tail feathers of the bird with close (together) buttonhole stitch. Bring the stitches close to the central vein of the feather and place the purls on the edges. With the blue, back stitch over every two threads using the blue. Make the back stitches close to the purling.
Work the front part of the bird with the blue in Brussels net stitch. Catch the stitches into the material at each edge, and let the center stitches float. Make the loops at the back of the neck shorter while you allow those on the breast to be a bit longer. This will help give you the correct curve. Finish the outer edge of the bird’s head and body with close back stitches in blue. Use these to hide the ends of the buttonhole stitches.
For the eye, make one chain stitch in bright orange.
The back of the bird, beyond the spread wings, is made from four rows of buttonhole stitch. The outer row is pale yellow, then deep yellow, followed by medium orange and brilliant orange last, closest to the front part of the bird.
The lower edge of the wings are outlined with a row of chain stitching in tan. The top row of each wing is buttonholed in brilliant orange. The next row down is brown. Then two rows of tan. Work the second row of tan into the chain stitches all across the wings. Just outside the chain stitches, work a row of back stitches in blue.
Work the outer row of the half circles in tan, with blue back stitches across each two strands, just as you did for the tail feathers. The next row is brown, the next deep yellow. For the larger half circles that contain four rows, make the inner row light yellow. Work all the half circles before working the straight vertical lines.
The straight lines which run from bottom to top of the bag are worked in tan. You will continue these tan lines on the handles. Work both sets of lines in fish hook stitch with the hooks facing the insides, towards each other.
Finishing the bag
Before making up the bag you need to turn a 1/4 inch hem all the way around. For the first two inches from the corners and across both ends, turn the fabric to the RIGHT side. This portion will fold to the outside to make the decorative flaps. For the rest of the bag turn the hem to the WRONG side. You will cut a small slit, just shy of 1/4 inch, into the edge of the fabric where you want to turn from back to front and back again.
If you are using a heavy fabric, you don’t have to sew a hem. Simply turn the 1/4 inch, press it, and pin it. Finish the entire edge with a blanket stitch, making the stitches a bit short on the sides. In other words, they need to be closer together than they normally would in a true blanket stitch. Use the photo as a guide.
When you get to the corners, space the stitches around the curve enough that you can fit a back stitch of blue between the stitches later. Finish off the top two inches of each bag with the blue back stitches before continuing.
Fold the bag together, embroidery facing out, and fagot the sides of the bag with blue. At the top of the bag, fold the flap down, and make a small buttonhole loop joining the front and back flaps together at the fold. Repeat for the other side.
Now tack the flap down with a few blind stitches.
Remember the handles that you finished first and set aside? If you haven’t already, embroider two strips of fish hook buttonhole stitch on each handle, 1/2 inch apart, in tan.
Attach the handles to the bag so that the embroidery lines are continuous up one side of the bird, across the handle, and down the other side of the bird. You will want them sewn more than 1/2 inch below the fold on the inside so that the lining covers the join.
You probably finished the lining at the very beginning while you were gathering supplies. If you have it ready, sew it in now. It should fit just inside the bag and sit about 1/2 inch below the top fold line.
You did it!
Whew! That was a lot of work. Do you like it? It’s a bit amazing, isn’t it, that projects using buttonhole stitches can turn out this varied.