This is part two of a six-part series on the basics of creative surface embroidery, for beginners and those looking to refresh their hand embroidery skills and knowledge.
The two types of fabric used for creative surface embroidery are your ground fabric – the fabric you embroider on – and backing fabric, which is optional.
Natural fabrics work best for this style of embroidery, such as cotton, linen, hemp and blends of these. Linen and hemp can get expensive, but are lovely to embroider on and you might decide they’re worth the price for a special project. Cotton and cotton blends are more widely available and prices vary, but cotton can range from really good to not-so-good in quality.
These are the things to look for when shopping for fabric to embroider on:
What’s it made of: Look for fabric made from natural materials.
Look and feel: Is the fabric soft and pliable or stiff and shiny? Softer fabrics will be easier to embroider.
Stretch: Hold the fabric in both hands and pull it in all directions to gauge how much stretch it has. The less stretch, the better.
Weight: Imagine the fabric with embroidery on it. Is it substantial enough to “hold” the stitches but also not so thick that you’ll struggle to pull a needle and thread through it.
Surface: Run your hand over the fabric. Is it nice and smooth?
Weave: Look for fabric that has been tightly woven.
Colour: Think about your thread colours and how they’ll show up against the fabric.
Pattern: You can embroider on patterned fabric, but bear in mind that it’ll dilute the effect of your embroidery if it’s not part of the design.
Backing fabric is basically just an extra layer of fabric behind your ground fabric that helps stabilise your stitching. Cotton voile is ideal as it’s made from natural fibres and is soft and lightweight. I always back my fabric but you don’t have to, especially if your ground fabric is fairly thick.
Cut a piece of voile the same size as your ground fabric and tack it by hand or stitch it by machine/overlocker/serger to the back of your ground fabric after you’ve transferred your embroidery design.
Mary Corbet of NeedlenThread.com goes into the details of backing fabric for different styles of embroidery here.
These are the basic things to consider when choosing fabric for a creative surface embroidery project. For more in-depth advice on what to look for when choosing your ground fabric and the ins and outs of backing fabric in detail – including how to prepare your fabric before you start embroidering on it – see Embroidery Tips, Tricks & Techniques.
Read Part 3: How to transfer embroidery designs to fabric