The Creative Corner · Vintage Needlework

Embroider the Ship of Dreams

The Ship of Dreams in embroidery. A bird sits on the bow of a ship while water swirls below. Text: The Ship of Dreams.

Recreate this 1927 project and embroider the Ship of Dreams for yourself. This Dream Ship would go great in any vintage-style decor, especially if you have a room decorated in 1920-1940 style.

The Ship of Dreams was the original project designed to show off outline stitches and their potential. Even through the original black and white photo above, you can see the amazing texture that outline stitches provide. This is a project you can be proud of when it’s completed.

Sometimes you want embroidery to look smooth. A king’s cloak, the soft rose petal, the velvety down of a bird’s feathers. These things would look odd with a lot of texture. Color, yes. Texture, probably not.

But when it comes to the billows of an unbridled sea, texture adds interest. Intrigue. Wonder. I want to join that bird on the ship and go wherever that ship is headed. Texture keeps your eye on an object longer than it might be there otherwise. And using outline stitches in creative ways can build that texture.

Using all those outline stitches

In the last Embroidery Lesson installment, the first half of Lesson 3, I talked about variations of outline stitches. You can find that lesson here if you haven’t already read it. While the 1920s needleworker had access to far more threads than we have today, and more types of threads, that worker didn’t always have access to technique.

People were busy in the Twenties. Not everyone had hours to pour into the Perfect Satin Stitch as they did ten to fifteen years before. Radio, movies, automobile rides, picnics, parties, evenings with friends –– all these ate into the schedule of the needleworker, not to mention the daily toil of cooking, cleaning, sewing, and perhaps a full or part time job on top of all that. Enter more simple embroidery methods!

The original instructions suggest that you embroider this in wool. If the worker only has access to worsted weight yarn (commonly known as Germantown), the worker could separate the four worsted strands. Then they would use two of those strands for the embroidery.

While you can do that, if you have an abundance of multi-colored wool at hand, you also have other options. Embroider the piece with perle cottons. Or use 3-6 strands of 6-strand embroidery floss. Use one strand of sock (4-ply) yarn. Use whatever you have an abundance of. I happen to have a small bag of yarn used for punch-needle embroidery. It dates from the late 1970s – early 1980s. One or two strands of that would make a delightful pillow.

What you will need

To make this pillow, you will need:

  • Two pieces of tan medium weight fabric (heavy muslin, linen, etc.) that measure 15 x 15 inches.
  • An assortment of colored threads or yarns (see below).
  • A sharp embroidery needle that has an eye big enough for your threads or yarns.
  • The pattern, downloaded from below.
  • Your favorite method of transferring a pattern. See here for some options.
  • Your favorite embroidery hoop.

Colors you will need

You’ll need a handful of different colors to make this as it was designed. Here’s the original list:

  • Apricot for the boat sail
  • Light green to outline the diamond on the sail
  • Deep red-orange (called Chinese Red) for the diamond on the sail
  • Light sea-blue for the center of the diamond and the waves
  • Heliotrope (light lavender) for the waves and an outline around the green on the sail.
  • Cedar brown for the ship hull

How to make it

Here’s how to embroider and assemble the pillow.

The sail

  1. Download and transfer the pattern below. It should measure 6 1/2 inches high by 7 1/2 inches wide when you print it out.
  2. Center the design in your hoop. The embroidery starts with the sail and moves downward in the instructions.
  3. Outline the sail with apricot in chain stitch. Fill in the sail with the slant snailtrail stitch. Keep the stitches close together, but loose enough that the fabric doesn’t pucker. Stop when you get to the oval.
  4. Outline the oval with heliotrope (lavender). Fill in the four lozenges (flat ovals) that make up the oval with general outline (stem) stitch.
  5. At the diamond outline or right outside it, do two rows of chain stitch in light green.
  6. Inside the light green, fill the diamond with the red-orange. Use a chain stitch.
  7. The very center of the diamond is outline stitch in sea blue. I marked it with an X because that’s how it looked to me. If it looks more like a circle or a small diamond shape to you, fill it as you like.
  8. Work the pennants and the masts in snailtrail with the red/red-orange.

The boat

  1. Use the red (red-orange) to fill the hull. Use three rows of chain stitch. Then backstitch over the top row of red-orange with the apricot thread or yarn. This is what gives the deep color contrast at the top of the hull.
  2. The rest of the hull is also in chain stitch. Use the brown, and make the rows up and down instead on longways like the top of the hull you did in red. If you work one row with the chain stitches facing up and then back the other way when you reach the end, this will make the texture more obvious.
  3. Now let’s do the bird. This little guy sits on the prow of the ship, but he also functions as a figurehead. Work the bird solidly in outline (stem) stitch. Use green for the head, with tiny dots of heliotrope for the eye. Use apricot for the rest of the bird. His beak is red.

The waves

  1. Use the darning stitch to fill the waves solidly with sea-blue. Use the light green to whip the upper edges of the waves, like an overcast running stitch.
  2. On the lower edges of the waves there is an extra row of darning stitch using heliotrope.
  3. For the lines that represent the sea spray, use green and heliotrope side by side. First use outline stitch in green, and then a row of heliotrope in darning stitch.

The pattern

Here’s the pattern for the Dream Ship. Download it and print it. You may have to play with your settings a bit to get the design to measure 6.5 x 7.5 inches, or you may not. If you want a larger picture or cushion, download the design at a larger size. Remember to size up your fabric accordingly.

Outline drawing of a ship on the water. The ship has one mast, and it sits on billowing waves. A bird sits on the prow of the ship.
This is the embroidery pattern. Print it out and transfer it to your fabric.

If you enjoyed this project you might like projects that go with Embroidery Lesson 1 and Lesson 2.