Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Make some embroidered kitchen art & Drink English breakfast tea

Before I get on with the post, I feel I must provide the obligatory explanation for the gap between blog posts. I've got some really good excuses! In the months since my last full post, I have moved almost 200 miles, hunted for work, started a new job and have been planning a wedding that is now just three months away. So there! Now I have justified myself to the blogosphere.


Lately I had been craving a project with a more quaint and folk-artsy flavor. Maybe it's because of the yummy descriptions of antiques and collectibles in the book I had been reading, Killer Stuff and Tons of Money, by Maureen Stanton. Whatever the reason, what better tea to enjoy with a sewing project than English breakfast?

English breakfast is by far my favorite type of tea. Since I don't drink coffee, it's the stuff that wakes me up in the morning and revives me after lunch. I drink it in the traditional English manner, with honey or sugar and a small amount of milk or cream. This is how it was first served to me by my British math tutor, Helena, and I have enjoyed the ritual of it ever since.

The two varieties I had on hand during this project are loose leaf, but I'm not opposed to using bags. Trader Joe's sells a wonderful and wildly affordable English Breakfast blend and their Irish breakfast (read: stronger) is great too. English Breakfast is a blend of several types of tea leaves, so it can vary greatly in flavor. I have found some pretty bitter supermarket brands, but also amazing packets sold in bulk to restaurants. Trial and error is the name of the game. Good old Lipton is always a surprisingly good option.

During this project, since it took several evenings, I alternated between a tin of EB from Peet's Coffee and Tea and Upton Tea's Bond Street EB (a really yummy blend of tightly rolled Ceylon and Assam leaves). During the spring and summer I try to find local honey for my tea. Since the bees make the honey using pollen from the plants that grow nearby, this can work as natural allergy prevention. Plus local honey often tastes richer and is organic! I find that Whole Foods stocks local honey varieties, but usually with a heavy price tag.

Now for the project. This project could take a little longer, since for a few of you embroidery is a totally new skill to learn. If you are new to the craft (and believe me I'm no expert) this should be a fairly simple first project for you. If you're experienced with embroidery or needle crafts, go ahead and skip ahead.

I learned embroidery (and cross-stitch) from Needlecrafts for Dummies. For most craft endeavors, I found this tried and true book series is a great place to start. However, I have noticed they aren't meticulously edited, so keep an eye out for errors in the instructions for projects. You can also often find fairly good instructions in the beginning of embroidery pattern and idea books. Many such books can be found at thrift stores for a few dollars, especially those published by Better Homes and Gardens.

Of course the internet is another wonderful resource for learning embroidery basics. Many great videos pop up if you plug "how to embroider" into YouTube. I also found a few great step-by-step explanations with pictures.

Embroidery 101 on
The only thing I disagree with is knotting the floss on the back of the work, which can be problematic if you ever want to mount your work and can also add bulk. I always work the loose end into the first few stitches as I make them, rather than making a knot.

Hand Embroidery Tutorials on
Wonderful pictures and graphics and a very well organized site, but the instructions aren't super in-depth.

Embriodery How-To on
Probably goes into a bit more detail than you need, but very thorough. Beware that Martha's site is often very slow, however, and I have encountered errors within instructions (though mostly in recipes).

What you will need:
fabric scraps
an embroidery hoop
embroidery floss
scissors (preferably small and pointy)
embroidery needle
fabric marking pencil
glue (hot if you have it)

My fabric scraps came from an old table cloth and thermal blanket I had used to turn a table into a small upholstered Ottoman. I found both for a few bucks at a thrift store. For a project like this it's better to use fabric with as little natural stretchiness as possible. (Think woven, not knit fabric).

I was lucky enough to find my hoop at a flea market on a table full of random containers of beads and other craft paraphernalia. But embroidery hoops can be found at any good craft supply store. Just make sure you look for less expensive wooden or metal hoops, because the hoop is going to become a permanent part of this project, like a picture frame. Many plastic and some metal hoops are intended for reuse.

Embroidery floss is the name used to refer to the stranded thread necessary for most embroidery projects. It is packaged very similarly to the craft string used for things like friendship bracelets, so be careful. What we want to use is six-stranded floss. The strands of the floss can be separated, allowing you to vary the thickness of your stitches. When I first started with needle crafts I bought big bag of floss in assorted colors which has been very useful. I chose the floss for this project from that bag.

In this project, I used only backstitch, one of the most basic and easy to learn embroidery stitches. If you're new to this, I definitely recommend practicing a bit before starting the project. I covered a handkerchief sized piece of fabric with wiggly stitches before ever embroidering something I wanted to keep. Of course, if you're feeling fancy, you could certainly add some more complex stitches into this project, like split-stitch, satin-stich and French knots.

I started with a sketch of the design I wanted to embroider. This is just what popped into my head and it seemed suited to the theme of this blog. But you can choose whatever you want! A cat smoking a cigar, perhaps. A bundle of cooking herbs? Why not a wine bottle and some glasses? Or maybe just your favorite quote or proverb.

Next I gathered my fabric scraps and pinched them into my little metal hoop. I used a scrap of a thermal blanket (orange) in addition to my primary fabric (blue) because my flea market hoop was a bit loose and I needed some extra bulk to make sure it would stay tight enough to work with. Plus, I kind of like the padded feel the extra fabric provided.

When putting your fabric into a hoop, you want to make sure it ends up with even tension. I start by laying my fabric over the smaller piece of the hoop, then push the larger piece firmly over it. Then I gently tug the fabric around the hoop until the embroidery surface is taught. You want an almost drum-like tension. If you dropped a penny on it, would it bounce? This particular hoop was held tight with a spring, but usually you will find yourself tightening a small washer on a screw.

Next I transferred my design to my fabric in a very old-school way. So far I haven't experimented with any fancy-pants transfer methods. I wanted a kind of free-hand look to the piece, so all I did was mark basic guide lines on the fabric to help me keep track of my design. I didn't write out any letters, which would have been too difficult with my marking pencil. Instead I drew curved lines to help my backstitched lettering stay evenly placed.

Next, I just went for it. I started with the teapot and tea cup. I didn't worry about following the guidelines exactly, just as long as everything was in the right place.

Stitching the lettering took a bit more time. It was a bit of challenge to keep all the letters to the same scale. So I will admit I pulled out and re-stitched a few stitches when a letter didn't look quite right.

Once the stitching is done, you will want to wash your piece. Always hand wash! Even if you didn't use a marking pencil, there will be a bit of dirt and oils from your hands to wash off, simply from handling the piece so much. On white fabric you can usually see this sneaky grime.

I put a small amount of laundry detergent into a sink filled with warm water then gently rubbed and swished the fabric around with my hands. Be sure to take it out of your hoop first!

Look how nice and clean it looks! And the pencil marks are gone. To dry the fabric, I rolled it up in a clean towel and squeezed gently. Then I laid it flat and put it back into the hoop while still damp. Once it was air dried, I tugged a bit more to make sure the tension was still even and the image was centered.

Then it was time for some finishing touches... completed in the kitchen of my new apartment in San Francisco!  Same trusty old thrift store dining table though. I used my small fabric scissors to trim off the fabric around the back of the hoop. I got as close as possible to the edge, which involved lots of very meticulous snipping. Make sure those scissors are sharp!

Next I whipped out my beautiful pink, polka-dot hot glue gun. I slowly glued along the back edge of the hoop. I laid it on thick to make sure there was no risk of the fabric slipping out or the hoop pieces pulling apart.

Now it was time to add one last decorative touch. I happened to have some extra ribbon on hand, so I decided to use it to hang my creation on the wall.

First I clipped off a small section of the ribbon and trimmed the ends. I like the look of ribbon with chevron ends, so I pinched my pink ribbon in half like below an cut across at an angle. The result was two identical V-shapes.

Next I got out my trust bag of craft buttons and selected some possibilities. A lot of the colors looked great, but in the end one of the white buttons fit the best. I first secured the ribbon to the hoop with a small bit of hot glue, then I did the same with the button. I made sure not to put too much glue under the button, to avoid it oozing out through the holes.

Finally it was time to hang my folksy new creation. I chose a spot in my kitchen directly above my spice rack. When the afternoon sunlight is pouring through the windows, this little decoration looks its best. And guess what? That's also the perfect time of day to enjoy a cup of tea.

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