Help me make a Christmas tablecloth
October 29, 2009 11:29 AM   Subscribe

I have been taken over by an urge to embroider a Xmas tablecloth. Trouble is, I know nothing about embroidery or cross-stitching and I need a little (a lot of) help getting started, if you would be so kind.

I'm not very crafty, though I like to knit (I'm not very fast or that good at it, but I do enjoy it). Lately I keep thinking I'd really like to embroider or cross-stitch a tablecloth for Xmas (aiming to complete for next year's Xmas).

I've done some googling and it looks like maybe embroidery kits like this or this are what I'm looking for. Would you agree that these are the best way for a novice? Or would cross-stitching be easier to start with? I'm not averse to cross-stitching, I just haven't found a pattern that I liked.

If so, what supplies do I need to get? The kits say that the tablecloths are stamped with the pattern, so I'm assuming I only need the right needles and thread? Err... what are the right needles and thread? I'll probably be ordering the supplies online because I can't find any craft stores near me (I'm in southern CT) that carry embroidery kits (but maybe I'm not using the right terms in my search?).

Also, how long do you think such a project would take? Assuming I'm a complete novice and can only devote an average of 1-2 hours once or twice a week, could I reasonably complete it by next Xmas?

Lastly, I prefer the first design (the baubles) but I can't find the kit anywhere - all the hits lead to sold-out links or to the placemats. If there's something I'm missing and you can find it easily, please share your secret. I'm looking for a 60 x 90 or 60 x 104.

Thank you so much for taking pity on me and helping me unleash my inner craftiness!
posted by widdershins to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (23 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: When you buy the "kit" that contains the stamped fabric, it will also include a list of the embroidery floss colors you need and the approximate quantities. It should also list the appropriate needle for the thread size and fabric. Embroidery floss is made up of six individual threads wound together, and the pattern should say whether you're working with one, two, three, or even all 6 threads at a time. The number of threads you're working with will determine what size needle to buy.

You should be able to find embroidery floss at any craft store like Joann Fabrics, Michael's, Hobby Lobby, etc. They should also sell a variety of embroidery needles there. Basically, the search term you're looking for is "embroidery floss".
posted by muddgirl at 11:40 AM on October 29, 2009

I've seen kits in the Herrschner's catalog for holiday tablecloths.

Locally, though, there's not much. There used to be a store in Branford, in the plaza near the 'Apple and Business Machine' store on Rt 1, but I think it converted to yarn only. Michael's and AC Moore (up in Milford) have some kits; Joann's has less embroidery supplies, and their service has gone to hell since they closed the little stores and merged them. In both these cases, I'm not sure of the availability of holiday tablecloth kits specifically.
posted by cobaltnine at 11:41 AM on October 29, 2009

What muddgirl said. Also, yes, you can finish it by Christmas 2010.
posted by amro at 11:41 AM on October 29, 2009

I think you'll probably get some conflicting advice. Some people think embroidery is super easy and some people think it's really hard. I started with cross-stitching and moved to embroidery. It takes some amount of practice to achieve mastery - I suppose the amount depends on the person. There are different stitches used to achieve different looks on the fabric and some of them can be tricky for a novice. Cross-stitch, on the other hand, is as easy as making an X. It's a bit harder on regular fabric as opposed to cross-stitch fabric, but probably easier than embroidery.

Can you get it done by next Christmas? Good question. The more you work on it, obviously, the better you're going to get at it. So, maybe? I'd say probably yes.
posted by cooker girl at 11:42 AM on October 29, 2009

You might also need an embroidery hoop to hold the fabric taught while you work with each section.
posted by librarianamy at 11:44 AM on October 29, 2009

Best answer: Also, how long do you think such a project would take? Assuming I'm a complete novice and can only devote an average of 1-2 hours once or twice a week, could I reasonably complete it by next Xmas?

You'll have to really focus. The eyes can't handle it for very long, anyway, and you'll have to keep at it day after day.

Years ago I started a Christmas table runner, after having completed just 2 very small cross-stitch kits before that. It was kind of ambitious, but very fun. It's beautiful and now reaching family-heirloom status. However...I didn't finish it that first year. I think it took me about 7 years, off and on (obviously) to actually complete it, because I found it much too hard to prioritize every single day.

The "Baubles" pattern is simpler than the other one.

You'll be using standard stuff, most likely - standard DMC floss, and standard cross-stitch embroidery needles. You'll also need embroidery hoops, and might want hoops in two or three sizes, especially as you get the hang of it and want to see more of the design at once. And you'll want thimbles, a threader, sharp tiny scissors, and probably a pinchusion. And, depending on the sharpness of your vision, you might want to grab a cheap pair of 1x magnifying eyeglasses (fashion statement!)

Often the instructions will have you separate the floss for a more delicate appearance. Regular floss has 6 strands. Often for cross-stitch you separate it to 3-strand lengths. Do that gently and slowly, or SNARL.
posted by Miko at 11:44 AM on October 29, 2009

If by NEXT Christmas you mean 2010, yes. 2009? Maybe not on 2-4 hours a week between now and 12/25. Maybe, but I'd say it's unlikely, this shit takes FOREVER, esp. for a n00b. :)
posted by tristeza at 11:45 AM on October 29, 2009

To go from not needlepointing/cross-stitching at all to a really physically large project might be challenging. Depending on the intricacy and volume of work, it could take much longer than 50-100 hours, which seems to be what you're aiming for. I'm an experienced cross-stitcher. middling embroiderer, and I'd bet that each corner of the first example, if cross-stitching, would take me about 8-10 hours. Embroidery would be longer.

Cross-stitching can just be flat boring and tedious since you're only using the one stitch over and over, pausing only to change colors. If you don't have small kids or your kids are better-behaved than mine, you can just leave it in a basket and work on it while watching TV or whatever, which helps with the boredom factor.

My advice? If it stresses you to have an unfinished project lying around for a really long time, start with something smaller, like an Christmas apron or even ornaments, and once you decide you really enjoy it and want to commit, then try out the tablecloth. I have large pieces (like 14 inches by 17 inches) that I've worked on off and on for years. Literally years. I just take them out of their hoops every time I reach a stopping point, fold carefully, and put the cloth, thread, and etc into a large zip lock for a while.

Good luck! It is a fun and rewarding craft for sure.
posted by pomegranate at 11:48 AM on October 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

See where they say "DMC floss requirements printed on instructions"? That means there's a list of the threads you need to buy to complete the project. DMC is a brand, it comes in little skeins with number codes for each shade/colour.
posted by CKmtl at 11:52 AM on October 29, 2009

Cross-stitch is really, really easy. If you don't like the pre-printed choices or if this feels too much like paint-by-number, you can get "waste canvas," which is a fine plastic grid that you baste onto the item you're cross-stitching onto, to serve as a guide so all your x's are nice and uniform. When you're done, you snip off the edges of the waste canvas and pull out the strands.

Going this route, you'd want to get the tablecloth of your choice, the waste canvas, a book of Christmas cross-stitch designs, and the colors of floss specified on the design you pick. I haven't done this for years, so I hope someone will correct anything I've misstated here.
posted by lakeroon at 12:41 PM on October 29, 2009

Best answer: You might already know this, but I didn't know it for the longest time: when cross-stitching, it's much easier/tidier/more efficient to stitch one row across from left to right and then go backwards and complete the stitch.

So if you have a row of seven green stitches, instead of doing one X at a time, like X X X X X X X

you start left-to-right with / / / / / / /

and when you get to the end work right-to-left, \ \ \ \ \ \ \

I'd also recommend getting bobbins for all your floss (the cardboard ones are just fine), and winding them and labeling them with the DMC number as soon as you get them. The little labels slip off the skeins like butter, and the floss tangles up and soon you're left with a giant knot of unidentifiable string.

And it's easier to cut your floss into 12-18 inch lengths as you need it. You might need to do a giant field of the same color, but working with a four-foot length of thread is pretty unwieldy.

It's not a kit like you're looking for, but Klutz's Simple Embroidery book is a really good how-to that covers a lot of different stitches and has plenty of ideas for inspiration.
posted by Metroid Baby at 12:50 PM on October 29, 2009 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Wow, thank you all so much for your responses - incredibly helpful! Am having a hard time picking the best ones...

Based on this, I think I'm going to go with a cross-stitch kit - see, I didn't even know there were different stitches to worry about in embroidery, and I think learning them on my own would make me give up on the project in frustration.

I definitely hear those of you who have suggested starting with something smaller - if I were a rational human being I'd absolutely do that, but I have no interest in making anything other than a tablecloth for Xmas, so that's what I'm going to do. And if I don't finish it by next Xmas, well, there's always 2011.

lakeroon, I like the idea of the waste canvas, but I think I need something slightly more foolproof for my first time...

Metroid Baby, what a great tip - thank you! And thank you for the book suggestion - I was just going to ask for useful resources. If anyone has any others, please share.

Thank you all again so much for your help!
posted by widdershins at 12:55 PM on October 29, 2009

Best answer: Metroid Baby's advice is great - basically exactly the advice that my aunt gave me when she started teaching me to cross-stitch when I was 10. I've been doing it on and off ever since.

It wasn't clear to me from your question whether you're aware that if you want cross stitch, you should be good with the baubles pattern: it looks (from the wee picture) to be stamped cross-stitch, as opposed to counted cross-stitch, which is what lakeroon is talking about with the book of designs and the waste canvas. The second design, even though it says it's cross stitch and calls for embroidery floss instead of wool, looks more like it's using crewelwork-style stitches to me, but again, it's kind of hard to tell from the picture.

Good things for a beginner to look for in any cross-stitch design are mostly whole stitches (1/4, 1/2 and 3/4 stitches create finer shading and details, but will get exasperating when you're still figuring all this out) and sizeable blocks worked in a single color. Again, it's hard to tell from a small picture, but it looks like the bauble design might be a little more complicated than what I'd suggest for a beginner, but if you've got the patience to stick with it in the beginning when the going is especially slow, it should be quite easy by the end since you'll be very familiar with the pattern.

A hoop will work well with the outside of the baubles design, since the border is broken up into separate elements. I don't think you're going to find a hoop suitable for the center section, though. The reason hoops are helpful is that it's challenging, especially as a beginner, to achieve the right amount of stitch tension without them. You don't want the stitches to be loose, but you also don't want them to be pulling holes in the fabric. As you get better, it'll get easier to achieve uniform stitch tension without a hoop (if you're working without a hoop, it's also helpful to stitch one full X at a time, rather than the method Metroid Baby suggests). You don't want to have put your stitches under the edge of the hoop - they will get smushed, which is not pretty. Personally, if this was my project, I'd probably get a stretcher frame - Q-Snap looks like it would be relatively easy to use, but I haven't tried it myself.

I like to cross-stitch while watching something fairly mindless on TV. I found that having the TV on reminded me to look up and give my eyes a break fairly regularly, but generally wasn't enough of a distraction to make me lose my place in the pattern. I used to be able to go for a couple hours at a stretch pretty easily as long as I didn't let my eyes get too tired. And this probably goes without saying for a knitter, but wash your hands thoroughly before you pick up the project. I learned the hard way that can be incredibly difficult to get "stitched-in" dirt out of embroidery.
posted by EvaDestruction at 2:52 PM on October 29, 2009

"Cross-stitch" refer to either particular stitch used in embroidery worked on any kind of fabric, or it can refer to a particular sort of embroidery that usually utilizes Aida-style fabric that is woven with regularly-spaced holes.

Either way, you'll use the same embroidery floss. I think that usually the needles are different, but I don't do much embroidery.
posted by muddgirl at 3:27 PM on October 29, 2009

If you're interested in doing more embroidery-type projects that aren't cross-stitch, you might be interested in Sublime Stitching. I'm also an embroidery newbie, and Jenny Hart's stuff is what first got me interested. Her instructions are generally pretty clear, and her kits are great for beginners. She even has some iron-on Christmas designs that you might like.
posted by Diagonalize at 5:04 PM on October 29, 2009

I've done this type of needlework since I was 13 years old, almost 40 years. I know you have your heart set on a tablecloth, but seriously, you need to start with a table runner, table scarf, or bread cloth. Google any of those and you'll get a huge selection of styles. The runners are what I use in my home and give away for gifts, I have at least half a dozen of them in various styles. They work up fairly quickly, and this is a big deal. A large project such as a tablecloth takes a long, long time and you will get bored with it and put it away. I promise. Another benefit of the table runners is that they will not catch so many stains on the table since your plates do not sit on them, and your beautiful piece that took you hours and hours will not be ruined by a patch of spilled gravy. And you can switch them out for new looks and use them in other areas of your home during the holidays, such as the top of occasional tables or desks or bookcases, any spot you want. I especially like the bread cloths, as I like the look of the linen weave.
posted by raisingsand at 6:09 PM on October 29, 2009

I definitely hear those of you who have suggested starting with something smaller

My table runner was a good choice. It was very very large - 8' long - and rather elaborate, but not overwhelming. However, I don't think you need to worry about starting with something small. I didn't find cross-stitch was hard to learn, and even while doing the 2 small designs I mentioned, I was itching already for something bigger. You can do it, especially if you are they type who won't obsess about perfection or how the back looks (keeping the back neat is definitely embroidery finesse and a point of pride).

My table runner was a holly-and-berries design worked on black hardanger. It has turned out, over the years, that this was a very, very wise choice for a holiday table piece. Black doesn't reveal stains. I did have to special-order that fabric, but that was before the internet, and I bet it's easy-peasy to find dark-colored fabric to work on now.
posted by Miko at 6:39 PM on October 29, 2009

Here's a list of Michaels art and craft stores in CT. If you can go in person, you can usually get a 40% off one item coupon from the weekly ad. That's a great way to try one of the kits to see if you enjoy cross stiching or embroidery. A. C. Moore is another big chain but I don't think their needlepoint stock is as good.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 7:27 PM on October 29, 2009

Go with counted cross-stitch. It seems harder at first because you have to look at the diagram, but having the aida fabric is great because your stitches are always the same size! I find embroidery hard because I can't keep my stitches even - same with stamped cross-stitch.

I'd start with a little kit and work on a few small projects first. I lovelovelove Subversive Cross Stitch. Her designs are hilarious, and most are very simple. The "deluxe" kits come with everything you need except for scissors (and I recommend getting a little pair of foldable sewing scissors if you don't have them already).

Once you master the basics, the possibilities are endless! You will be able to look at a pattern and see how complicated it is...I prefer to stay away from complicated shading and funny stitches. I do however implore you to save this awesome tutorial on French knots...they come in handy for eyes and such.
posted by radioamy at 9:30 PM on October 29, 2009

Response by poster: Wow, thank you all for taking the time to help me.

Now here's the rub about table runners: I just don't like them (no offense meant to those of you who have made absolutely lovely ones, I'm sure!). You are so right that a runner would make a better starter project and that it's less likely to get ruined by gravy stains, but I wouldn't use it. So I'll just have to take my chances with the gravy boat I guess...

Thank you again so much!
posted by widdershins at 6:31 AM on October 30, 2009

You're right to make something you really want. That will keep you motivated.
posted by Miko at 6:51 AM on October 30, 2009

Response by poster: That's what I'm hoping, Miko. I'd really love for this to become a family heirloom like yours!
posted by widdershins at 9:51 AM on October 30, 2009

I don't know if it's exactly what you're looking for, but I found this book (more focused on freehand and self-created embroidery) to be extremely inspiring and helpful as a beginning embroiderer. Even if you're gonna go with the kit, I would suggest reserving the book from the library and flipping through it once or twice.
posted by R a c h e l at 9:03 AM on November 1, 2009

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