Embroidered & Embellished by Christen Brown by Christen Brown - Read Online

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Embroidered & Embellished - Christen Brown

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My Needlework Beginnings

I remember sitting alongside my mom as a kid while she worked magic with a needle and some thread or yarn. She was self-taught in many techniques, including crochet, knitting, and tatting. One of the skills that she was proficient at was embroidery, which was the first needle-art technique that I learned. From that moment on, not a day has gone by that I don’t have a needle in my hand.

The first piece of fabric that I ever set a needle and thread to became a small tote bag. My mom had designed this project for my Bluebirds group (the junior division of Camp Fire Girls). We embroidered a California poppy in bright oranges and greens on the front of a blue canvas bag. I still use it for carrying small projects.

California Poppies tote bag

Hand embroidery continues to be my favorite form of needle arts, because of the variety of techniques and materials it encompasses. I often combine materials, pairing threads with beads, ribbons with threads, and beads with ribbon. I am intrigued by the variety of colors and textures, and I love the realistic, dimensional designs that can be created.

Stitches from Around the World

Over the years I have collected many embroidered textiles; some are stitched by hand, others by machine. Whenever I find a discarded handkerchief or table runner at the thrift store, I wonder who made it and why the family didn’t keep it as an heirloom.

Embroidery and lacemaking continue to be living art forms because of the creativity of the artists, the designs, and the materials that continue to be developed. Every culture has embraced this form of needle arts, creating new stitches and designs unique to that region of the world and representing the materials available there.

The very beginnings of embroidery aren’t certain, but what is certain is that embroidery has been used for almost as long as people have sewn cloth into clothing. The basic outline, straight, and buttonhole stitches are some of the earliest recorded stitches, possibly used at first for garment assembly rather than for decoration.

The embroideries of the Middle East and India are known for symbolic geometric forms worked in bold, rich colors. The chain and buttonhole stitches are used both as borders and as fill-in stitches, along with the satin stitch.

Shisha mirror embroidery, India

The cross-stitch, so popular today in counted canvas work, is used throughout Europe and the Middle East as a border and fill-in stitch, without the help of a counted canvas or grid.

Cross-stitch, South Asia

The satin stitch shows up in rich polychromatic silk shawls from Spain and China. The artistic use of color and a single type of stitch throughout a design is referred to as needle painting or thread painting. The satin stitch, void stitch (satin with a thin line separating the sections), and knotted stitch are liberally used in rich, symbolically themed embroideries from China.

From China, blue fabric satin stitch and Chinese knot, with chain and outline stitches on the ribbon trim

Laid and couched threads have been used with many different materials over the centuries. In the beginning, real metal was used to create rich, opulent, and exquisitely embellished textiles, often incorporating glass or real jewels. Now the threads are made of synthetic fibers and materials, though they still retain a rich opulence.

Kalaga tapestry, Burma

Goldwork embroidery, China

Tambour embroidery is a technique that came to us from France. The continuous decorative chain stitch is worked on fabric held taught in a frame, and is formed using a tambour hook. The hooked needle is stabbed through the right side of the fabric to catch the thread lying underneath. The stitch is formed with the thread pulled through the hole, forming a small loop. The needle is stabbed back through the fabric and through the loop a short distance away to create each stitch.

Chain stitch embroidery, Afghanistan and India

This form of embroidery was adapted in the early twentieth century as a technique for applying pre-strung strands of beads and sequins to fabric. The process is reversed, with the strand of beads held against the right side of the fabric, which is held upside down in the frame, and the chain stitch on the wrong side of the fabric.

Bead embroidery can be found in both Native American and African cultures, on garments, accessories, and ceremonial items, often in combination with natural elements such as porcupine quills and shells. Especially recognizable is the continuous stitch or backstitch, used to cover an area entirely with beads.

Bead embroidery, French

Many different techniques are used to make lace with fine cotton, silk, or rayon threads—tatting, crochet, knitting, and needle lace among them. Many of these methods share common knots, which are similar to some raised and textured embroidery stitches.

Vintage laces

Crazy for Aubergine (full view on page 154)

Marie’s Boudoir Pillow (full view on page 155)

Jean’s Garden (full view on page 156)

Anemone Purse (full view on page 152)

Four Styles of Embroidery

All of the embroidery techniques that I show you in this book are considered freehand stitches, because they are stitched by hand onto fabric rather than onto a counted canvas or grid. I’ve categorized the stitches into four basic types of embroidery: traditional, silk ribbon, raised and textured, and bead. Each technique uses specific types of thread, ribbon, or bead; specific needles or other tools; and specific materials for the background canvas. Each technique will be discussed in detail in later chapters, but here’s a brief introduction.


Traditional embroidery may have adorned a favorite blouse or your grandmother’s vintage crazy quilt. You may already know some of the basic stitches; perhaps you learned them from your mom, aunt, or older sister. These stitches can be used in various ways, and you’ll find that they cross over nicely with other techniques.

Most commonly, six-ply cotton floss or perle cotton is used, but any of the threads described in the chapter Embroidery Threads and Ribbons (page 25) will work.

Vintage Redressed Wallhanging (full view on page 67)


Silk ribbon embroidery became popular during the French Rococo period of the eighteenth century, when ribbonwork was combined with ribbon embroidery. Many designs also included ribbonwork flowers and lace yardage. I’ve combined traditional ribbon embroidery techniques with newer ones that have been created to capture the unique qualities of silk ribbon.

These stitches can be worked with the silk embroidery ribbon and silk threads described in Embroidery Threads and Ribbons (page 25).

Lovely Silk Gardens Wallhanging (full view on page 90)


Historically, needle lace and tatting have been used to create sections of lace with embroidered components. The techniques in this book are adaptations of both forms of lace, creating textured and raised stitches that rest on the fabric surface.

The stitches include traditional, needle lace, and cast-on stitches, using a combination of threads described in the chapter Embroidery Threads and Ribbons (page 25).

Framed Lace Wallhanging (full view on page 117)


In recent years, bead embroidery has expanded to include techniques modified from traditional thread embroidery stitches. To accommodate the bead shape, the techniques are somewhat different from those used with thread.

The stitches include a combination of traditional and raised stitches, using the beads described in Beads and Embellishments (page 32).

Beautiful Beaded Blooms Wallhanging (full view on page 143)

Using the Stitches Effectively

Stitches can also be categorized by how and where you will use them in a particular project or design.

Some stitches are stitched in a continuous line, making them excellent for borders or base rows. Others are stitched as individual components that can be embroidered onto a base stitch or are combined with another stitch to create a larger component.

Some stitches can cross over from one category to another, while others are designed to work specifically with certain materials.


These stitches can be formed along a straight or curved line, including pieced fabric strips, appliquéd fabric or lace, or the edge of a hankie. They can also be used to fill in an area entirely or as the base of a design, with other stitches embroidered to a tip or edge of the base design.

Chain stitch

Split ribbon stitch

Open chain stitch

Continuous bead stitch


These stitches are worked one at a time and can be used alone or in a grouping to create a shape or to fill in an area. They can be embroidered onto the tip of a base stitch, or they can be combined with a detail stitch to create a design.

Lazy daisy stitch

Ribbon loop stitch

Cast-on buttonhole stitch

Lazy daisy loop


This technique may combine two or more stitches, different threads or ribbons, or a mixture of beads.


Woven ribbon rose

Buttonhole rose

French rose


These small stitches can be worked into flower centers or used as a single detail in a background.

French knot

Gathered bud

Petite twisted rose

Single beads


The various basic stitching