I wanna stitch on the edge!
August 20, 2012 7:32 AM   Subscribe

Hand Embroidery Filter: How do you keep something taut enough (ie handkerchief, tablecloth) to embroider around the edge of it?

I have a lot of project ideas that involve stitching a design into the edge (like right along the edge, or extending an inch or two from it) of a piece of fabric, but can't seem to figure out how to keep the fabric still while I'm sewing into it - all I've ever worked with in the past are hoops for keeping the fabric still as I sew, and anytime I need to get near to the edge of a piece it constantly requires re-tightening and readjustment, pretty much every time my needle goes through the fabric.

On one of my research jags, I found a passing reference on an Indian forum for people making saris that suggested running a safety pin through the corner of the piece of fabric relevant to the area being worked on and pinning it to something to keep it taut, but I haven't been able to find more information.

Pictures, while not necessary, would be greatly appreciated. Thank you for your time.
posted by koucha to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (8 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
For smaller projects I usually hold the fabric taut with my pointer and middle finger at the back and my ring finger and thumb at the front, both pairs pinching the fabric, but this is (as you can imagine) fairly awkward and cramps your hand after a while. I can get about 3 inches at a time that way.

A fancy solution is called a sewing bird, which clamps to a table and pinches one end of your hem in its beak to hold it taut when you hold the other end.

Another solution, just as you've read, is just to pin one end of the hem to your jeans (usually near the knee) with a safety pin and use your hand to hold the other end taut; sometimes I pin it to the arm of my (fabric-upholstered) couch instead. Obviously you want to be careful not to damage the fabric with the pin, or by pulling too hard with all the force on that single pin-point. You can use a couple of pins spaced apart to spread the force a little bit, sometimes.

Instead of a hoop, you can use Q-snaps, which I've found hold fabric a little taut-er a little longer when working on an edge. You might also try different hoops, like a plastic hoop with a "lip" that makes the hoops overlap. A wooden hoop won't hold the fabric as tightly.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:50 AM on August 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

A couple of suggestions:

- Use a smaller hoop. Maybe a 3 or 4 inch? (Though the viability of that depends on the size of your design.)

- Use a tear away stabilizer in addition to your hoop - it just keeps things tighter. Some information here.

- You can make the fabric "bigger" by sewing strips of fabric to the edges. This allows you to place your design more in the center. When you are finished, unpick the stitching attaching the strips. This is a little labor intensive, but it works.

Finally, if you are using a plain wooden hoop, consider binding the edges to strengthen the hold. (Personally, I always use a metal and plastic hoop.)
posted by cessair at 7:52 AM on August 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

When I do macrame, I pin it in place to keep it lined up and straight (or to aid in a zig zag design).

Sounds like you want to do a variation of a blanket stitch. This technique doesn't involve pinning, but two layers of cloth (the white layer to be a "surface) in a hoop that lets you get at the edge. Hrm -on reading it closer you're b-stitching one fabric to the other, but why not do it that way? Maybe you need a different hoop, smaller or more oval??
posted by tilde at 7:54 AM on August 20, 2012

For keeping fabric taut right to the edges, a frame with lacing is the general approach in traditional embroidery. Something like this Japanese embroidery frame, which holds the fabric lengthwise by wrapping around the rollers ("shuttle poles"), and widthwise by lacing thread that is sewn through the fabric and around the frame. However, this is a big deal to set up and you can't easily move the fabric around (which is why these frames are pretty large - the whole piece has to fit). Not practical for tablecloths and too much hassle for handkerchiefs, probably.

You might borrow a product from the world of machine embroidery: water-soluble stabilizer. There are a variety of products, but they are strong enough to handle (gently) like fabric during stitching, then are washed away afterward, leaving no trace. (There are non-soluble stabilizers but they usually leave little papery whiskers no matter how carefully you tear them away. These sometimes wash away after several laundry cycles, but not always.)

Here's how you'd use the stabilizer: baste your handkerchief to a piece of stabilizer that's big enough to fit in your hoop. The stabilizer should extend under the fabric by a few cm to give you room for a few rows of basting stitches, and stick out far enough to hold your design plus give you a margin for the hoop to grab. Hoop the whole thing, pull taut (gently - stabilizers aren't as strong as real fabric), and embroider. Then gently pull or cut away the bulk of the stabilizer and finally wash out the remaining traces.
posted by Quietgal at 7:54 AM on August 20, 2012

"anytime I need to get near to the edge of a piece it constantly requires re-tightening and readjustment, pretty much every time my needle goes through the fabric."

This also suggests your needle or thread may be too thick for your fabric, or you may be using a snub-nosed needle when you need a sharp-nosed one, or your hoop is badly-fitted. If you can't get a single stitch through without the fabric staying taut, I strongly suspect either your hoop is bad or your materials are not properly matched. (Stitching near the edge makes you wobbly after several stitches, but a single stitch ought to be do-able.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:54 AM on August 20, 2012

When repairing rolled hems, I attach the edge of the fabric to my lap desk with a binder clip. With a sufficiently wide binder clip, I'd imagine this would work nicely for a small border work, and it doesn't have to be re-adjusted too often. It's essentially the same thing as the sewing bird or safety pin, but (a) much more stable than the safety pin, and (b) way cheaper than a sewing bird.
posted by pie ninja at 8:14 AM on August 20, 2012

I'll second Q-snaps. I am OCD about having my fabric taught when I stitch and they really do the trick.
posted by Requiax at 10:43 AM on August 20, 2012

The Lokscroll embroidery frame from Artisan Designs might do what you need. Combine it with their Elan table/lap stand and they make for a very enjoyable stitching experience. (They also have a floor stand.)
posted by Lexica at 5:47 PM on August 23, 2012

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