June 28, 2020

Ideas for filling in embroidery shapes

Some people are 'born with a silver spoon in their mouth'. That certainly wasn't me, but I think I may have been born with a needle and thread in my hand!

I have loved embroidery from when I was a little girl. In those days, the sum total of embroidery patterns seemed to consist of stamped linen. The design was pre-printed on linen and you had a coloured picture to follow to give you an idea of what the finished product should look like. Sometimes they might come as a kit with threads and instructions included and a pattern for the crocheted edge. 

In my teens and early married life, I spent countless hours embroidering on these beautiful linens. Most of the ones that I worked were for the dressing table, either a large doiley or large doiley and two small doileys.

I think the fabric and threads must have been of very good quality because the ones you see above have been washed umpteen times in their 50-60 year old life and are in quite good condition apart from a few rust stains.

Of course, fashion comes and goes, and stamped linen embroidery became old fashioned and obsolete,  which is probably why a friend had no further interest in embroidering a small tablecloth which she had purchased, and gave it to me.

That was more or less my initial reaction too when I received it, but when I caressed that beautiful quality linen fabric, I decided it deserved some love and care and it should have its opportunity to shine. And so this little supper cloth has become the project I work on between designs, or when I don't have everything ready to begin a new piece of work, or when I just need to embroider something that requires no brain power at all.

I have nearly completed one whole corner and done bits and pieces on the other three. There was no picture to go with this project, so I chose my own colours and thought about how I would work the various shapes.

Embroidery, no matter how vintage or modern, can look quite 'empty' if we just outline a shape with backstitch or stem stitch and do little else. The ones I did above so many decades ago are filled in with satin stitch or long and short stitch. They give a very satisfying coverage of the shape but take good eyesight and quite a bit of practice. I chose to do a little bit of satin stitch on this new tablecloth. You can see I have used satin stitch for the flower centre above, then outlined it with backstitch (which is a good way to cover up any imperfections around the edge of the satin stitch!!!)

For the larger flowers, I chose to embroider a spiral of stem stitches for the centres. It covers the space and gives a different texture to the satin stitch.

Now, what was I to do with those leaves? I wanted them to have some 'body' but to be in the background. Filling them in completely would have overwhelmed the design because there are so many of them in this design. You can see that I simply edged them in backstitch, then added a running stitch inside the edge. With the veins embroidered as well, I am happy that they have the look that I wanted without feeling sparse.

For the small flowers I chose to work a chain stitch edge, then outlined the petals in a different colour in stem stitch. 

Oval shapes, like these purple petals are not easy to satin stitch. They are too long to do vertically, and so have to be done horizontally or diagonally. It is then very easy to find you start at the top on one angle and by the time you get to the bottom, it is a little bit 'off''. I solve that problem by drawing lines with an erasable pen to try to keep me on track.  However, for these purple flowers, I decided on filling in with French Knots. They completely fill in the space, and the bonus is the texture that you gain on your embroidery. 

I hope this might give you some ideas for working your embroidery - be it vintage, modern or in-between!

Happy stitching!


  1. Beautiful work Val and I remember learning to embroider on the same type of linens. My satin stitch was never very good no matter what technique I used. I have learned to fill with many different types of stitches to avoid it.
    I have a table cloth inherited from my mother that I intend to finish one day and will pass onto one of my daughters. It has a Mexican design and lots of satin stitch which is probably why I haven't finished it.

    I also remember buying lots of baby clothes from a company in Sydney that used to sell stamped fabric that also had the shape of the garment printed on it. You embroidered the design and then made up the garment. I had matinee jackets, nightdresses and bunny rugs. The little jackets also had crochet edges. I cannot for the life of me remember the name of the business.

  2. Lovely to hear from you Petal49. I only vaguely remember the preprinted baby garments so I'm not much help with the company name! All the best with your Mexican tablecloth.

  3. Wow, Val! Your handwork is absolutely stunning! I remember seeing some preprinted quilt squares for baby quilts growing up. I think I may have been gifted one but didn't want to sit still as a kid and learn to do handwork!! Looking forward to seeing the finished product! Hope your sprain is better and no pain with stitching!!

  4. Thank you Val. I learned quite a bit from this post and I really appreciate you taking the time to explain these things to us.

  5. Great Job. I like your ideas of getting best shapes. Thanks.


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