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+Your guide to stitching with Jangala

Learn freestyle embroidery the easy way with Jangala

An introduction by Chandra Brown

Jangala's embroidery kits use our Easy Sew technology to make freestyle embroidery easier than it has ever been before.

If you've ever been intimidated by freestyle embroidery and thought it was too difficult for you then this is your site to make it easy. Here you'll find all the tips and information to supplement our Easy Sew kits and make freestyle embroidery easier than you'd ever believed. Once mastered you'll find freestyle an easy way to complete the detailed and realistic patterns you always admired.

Here you can learn all the tricks of the trade to make your freestyle embroidery as easy as possible. You will learn how to prepare your fabric and thread, how to stretch fabric, how to stitch, how to finish you work and present it. Everything you want to know about freestyle embroidery; including common problems and how to avoid them.

An introduction to Easy Sew

Easy Sew is a new concept in freestyle embroidery. A detailed copy of the finished pattern in full colour is printed onto the fabric you will be stitching. Previously freestyle patterns were just an outline, leaving you to guess at the details such as thread direction, thread length and stitch type. This is one reason freestyle was so difficult. Now you just follow the detailed pattern printed on your fabric, rather like a typical tapestry pattern.

The Easy Sew pattern shows almost every stitch in the design. However, you need to be aware that the limitations of the printing technology mean than an occassional thread may not be visible. To overcome this we also enclose a print of the finished pattern which should overcome this problem. It should be clear from the position of adjacent threads where any other thread must fall. You should also be aware that there may be slight differences between the printed colours of the pattern and the actual colours of the threads supplied; again due to limitations of printing technology. In our simple kits the colours are clear-cut so that this is not a problem; but in more complex designs the solution is to avoid looking for absolute matches in the colours and instead compare relative colours. I'll explain this in more detail later on. That's what this site is for!

Don't be afraid of making mistakes

For the present the important thing to remember is to start with the small and simple kits for beginners, to gain experience and skill. Even more important is to remember not to be afraid of making mistakes; everybody makes mistakes, including me! You may be surprised to learn that even if you make mistakes the pattern will still look good. This is one of the beauties of freestyle; it has the capacity to absorb mistakes, there is scope for considerable error in the sewing whilst still achieving a good result. You might also be surprised to learn that neatness is not terribly important; indeed excessive neatness can be a disadvantage. The fact is that nature itself is rather messy and your pattern will look more realistic if it is also a bit messy. If your pattern is too neat and tidy it will look stiff, dead and unnatural. What this means is that whilst you follow the pattern we provide it doesn't matter terribly much if you make quite a few mistakes in the stitching. Nothing could be easier!

Getting Started

Before you open your kit there is one thing you should know. Never wash freestyle embroidery. Never, never, never! Washing will fluff the threads, also it will disturb the lie of the threads, finally it will likely shrink the fabric (even pre-shrunk fabric!) making the threads go slack. I've lost count of the number of patterns I ruined as a beginner before I learned this lesson. As a result of this fact you must be very careful that you do not get the cloth or thread dirty; so make sure your hands are perfectly clean when stitching.

As you will not be washing your pattern we have used water soluble dyes in the patterns for various technical reasons. These dyes are extremely soluble so that a single drop of water (Tea, Coffee or other liquids) will cause a spot which could ruin your work. So be very careful not to get your tea or any other liquid near your work. Even a misplaced cough could damage you work with a spot of liquid, so be extremely careful.

Stretching your work

Some people do freestyle embroidery without stretching their cloth; indeed this is how I myself worked for many years, so I know how difficult it is! It is not recommended. Indeed it is important not only to stretch the fabric, but to stretch it as tight as possible. You can use one of the embroidery hoops which are widely available for this and they will be adequate for smaller patterns. However, we recommend using a much more substantial frame. I use the kind of frames used by artists for stretching canvas. Here is how to use such a frame.

Ideally, you should pin the fabric to the frame with a staple gun, but if you don't have one you can use thumbtacks/ drawing pins. You should stretch the fabric as tight as possible. I stretch the fabric so tight that if it is pulled against a single staple the staple will tear the fabric. The fabric should be so tight that it needs two or three staples to hold against the pull without tearing. The choice of fabric is very important and we have gone to considerable trouble to pick a good fabric for our kits. If you ever use your own fabric you should pick one with as little stretch as possible. Many fabrics are so stretchy that it is almost impossible to get them adequately stretched.

To stretch you work position it carefully so that the work area is centrally positioned in your frame, making sure that there is sufficient room around your pattern so that you can work easily. When it is positioned put a staple through the cloth into the frame about halfway along one of the long sides. Gently pull away from this staple and put in another couple of staples in a straight line perpendicular to the edge of the frame. Now pull the fabric taught to one of the corners nearest the first staple and insert a next staplein the corner. When doing this ensure that the fabric is kept straight (line up the fabric's warp with the straight edge of the frame). The fabric should be so tight that it would tear round a single staple (hence the need for the initial three staples). Quickly insert more staples between these first staples, spaced about an inch apart. Now do the same thing on the other side of the first staple. One whole long side of the cloth should now be tightly and neatly stretched.

Now start opposite the initial staple on the other long side of the frame. Pull perpendicular to the stretched side and place a staple in the centre. You should try to pull with about the same pressure as you used earlier. You should also ensure that you keep the fabric even. Then work out from this staple along one side progressing about an inch at a time, stretching and stapling as you go. until you reach a corner. When doing this study the warp of the cloth carefully and use it to ensure that your stretching is even. Repeat this procedure on the other side of the frame. You have now completed two sides of the frame; the worst is over.

Stretch one of the remaining sides by alternately working in a staple at a time from the corners. Remember that the distance across is now fixed by the existing staples, so you don't need to worry about stretching this. There will also not be much tension in the other direction as there are no staples at the far end of the frame. The important thing is to study the warp of the cloth and ensure that this is kept even.

All that remains now is to repeat this procedure at the other end, again ensuring that the warp of the fabric remains even. Your fabric should now be taught on the frame like a drum skin. It should also be even. If it is not you can release some of the staples in key areas and replace them after correcting this.

The stretching is in some ways the most difficult part of the work and you may need a little practise to get it perfect. There are several methods and with experience you will develop your own way. The stretching is neither difficult nor critical with small patterns such as we recommend for beginners. However, it is best to practice getting it right from the beginning as it is critical for large patterns which are harder to get sufficiently tight.

A backing for your fabric

Your fabric should now be tightly and evenly stretched on your frame, and you can begin stitching. However, for best results, especially with larger patterns, it is best to back your fabric with an iron-on interfacing such as Vilene. One reason for this is that it makes the fabric more opaque so that stray threads do not show through the front and spoil the appearance of your pattern. It also reduces stretching by making the fabric stiffer. This is particularly important on larger patterns where it is difficult to get the fabric sufficiently tight. It is also useful for patterns with a lot of dense stitching which can cause small localised tucks in the fabric which can spoil the appearance of your work.

Use a medium weight of interfacing, a light interfacing does not have sufficient effect, whilst a heavier interfacing would be difficult to stitch through as it would resist the passage of the needle. It is simply cut to size and ironed on the reverse of the fabric with a hot iron. It needs a good quality iron to attach the fabric in the corners of the frame as some irons are not very hot near their edges and a hot iron is needed to attach it firmly. Also be sure that you use a dry iron which does not leak any water, as a drop of water would spoil your pattern.

Matching Colours

You are now ready to begin stitching. Before starting check the colours of your threads against those of the patterns. It is difficult to get an exact match between the colours printed on the pattern and the actual colours of the threads due to the limitations of printing technology. As a result you may find it difficult to match the two correctly, especially in a complex pattern. The solution to this is to lay out all your thread and match them up against the pattern. Thus, your pattern may have three blues; dark, medium and light. It is easy to match these up with the thread colours because you will also have three shades of blue in the threads and the correspondance should then be clear even if the colour reproduction problems mean that the dark blue in the pattern is actually closer to the medium thread.

You don't have to get it perfect!

In the more advanced patterns some of the colours may be subtle and difficult to separate, but with experience of the simpler patterns you should gain the experience to deal with this. It is also important to realise that if the two colours are so similar that you can't distinguish them, then it probably doesn't make a lot of difference anyway! Don't be intimidated by the pattern, there is a lot of flexibility in the pattern which allows for changes to the colours whilst still achieving satisfactory results. It is important to realise that you do not have to get it perfect, thread for thread.

Having now sorted out your colours you can thread your needle. You can start working anywhere on the pattern. Most of the kits are worked with a single thread, whilst the supplied thread is multi-stranded, so you will have to separate off a single thread. The thread is already cut to length so you just need to pass about six inches through the eye of the needle and you are ready to begin. You may find it convenient to buy additional needles to the one supplied and keep several threaded up ready for use. The needles you need are very fine, size 10, embroidery needles.

Beginning to sew

You will begin to sew by passing the needle through the fabric from behind at the point where you want the stitch to begin. Leave a 'tail' of about an inch or two at the back, which will get caught in place by subsequent stitches and held in position by these. Do not use knots as these will sometimes show through the fabric and spoil the work.

The Joys of long and short stitch

There are hundreds of different embroidery stitches, but our kits use almost exclusively long and short stitch, or variations of this. Long and short stitch is one of the most flexible and simple of embroidery stitches. At its simplest it comprises stitches of uniform length placed side by side overlapping for half their length like tiles. This is how you will sew our simplest patterns, but in the more advanced patterns you will alter the stitches in various ways. The stitches can be longer or shorter which gives a different texture to the work. You can also overlap the stitches more in patches to create 'cells' of plain texture rather like satin stitch. Indeed if you extend the threads of long and short to make the edges even it becomes satin stitch. You can also create textural effects by altering the thread direction so that threads overlap or the 'cells' are in different directions. The beauty of long and short stitch is that you can create such a huge variety of texture and pattern by altering the stitches slightly. If you study one of our advanced patterns you will soon see what I mean.

The other stitches which are used occasionally are very well known, common stitches which will be explained by any basic embroidery text.

The beauty of our patterns is that most of the threads should be visible so that you simply follow the pattern of stitches you see. Stitching is simplicity itself; simply pass the needle through from side to side following the pattern of stitches shown on the pattern. You will not of course be able to see where the needle is when it is underneath the fabric; you will have to feel your way by gently prodding upwards with the tip of the needle until you see the point, then making appropriate adjustments until it is in the correct position. When you have finished using a colour leave a tail of about an inch of thread on the back of the pattern which you will then hold in place with later stitches.

That's really all there is to it for the simpler patterns. Simply follow the pattern until it is covered by your stitching and that's it!

Blending colours

In our more advanced patterns you will need to blend together adjacent colours. This is a very important technique in obtaining subtle gradations of colour which give an extra dimension to the picture. As most individual threads are visible in the pattern it should be simple enough to follow the pattern and obtain these effects. It is simply a matter of blending adjacent colours by adding a few threads from each of the colours to that part of the other colour which is immediately adjacent to it. You can alter the extent of the blending by changing the number of threads you add and how far into the other colour you add them. You can also create subtle effects, in bird plummage for example, by blending together several colours of thread over a wide area. The method can also be used to create the impression of a third colour which may not be available as a single colour. Blending can be quite complex, but again it is made simple by our patterns which enable you to see the individual threads and copy them.

Finishing off

When your pattern is completed there are various ways of finishing it off. Remember you do not need to wash it. Indeed, you should not get it wet as the colours in the pattern will run.

The best procedure is to back the fabric with another layer of interfacing. This has the advantage of holding any loose threads in position so they will not become slack. In addition, if a thick layer of interfacing is used it will maintain the tension in the fabric so that it can be removed from the frame without any danger of the fabric slackening and threads loosening. Use the thickest possible interfacing, which will give the finished work a board like consitency which makes it easy to handle and suitable for a wide range of presentations.

Final presentation

Your finished work will benefit greatly from correct presentation. Small patterns can by mounted in various kinds of greeting card, or made into book markers, drinks coasters, ash trays, or a wide variety of other objects. The choice is yours. In addition most of the patterns can by framed for display. The ideal way to do this is by lacing the work over a suitable frame, but this is clumsy, fiddly and time consumming. If the work is backed using the method given earlier then it can be handled much like a photograph, or similar piece of work on paper or card. As such it can be glued to a backboard using a glue such as Copydex and then framed in a frame and mount of your choice to make a beatiful piece of artwork for your home.

I hope this guide to freestyle embroidery will make your stitching easier and more enjoyable. If you have any questions or comments, please don't hesitate to contact me by clicking the name below.

Chandra Brown