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Embroidering with Hand Spun: Experience & Tips

Here’s where I am with my next embroidery project using my hand spun. This time around I’m intentionally spinning for embroidery rather than using hand spun yarn I had spun with knitting in mind.

The red and pink of the flowers are what I started with and both yarns come from the same fleece I bought at Shenandoah Valley Fiber Festival lo these many years ago (probably 2011 or 2012). I didn’t do a great job scouring this fleece: it was while washing this fleece that I discovered that washing fleece isn’t worth it to me. Yes, dear reader, it was before I discovered Unicorn Power Scour, which was just coming onto the market (or getting popular).

This fleece sat semi-washed in my wool collection until I made my friend Suzi a Calcifer Plush in 2015. I pulled out the fleece to exhaust (use up) the dye pots I had going to dye the yarn, thinking I’d use some for stuffing and some for other, to-be-defined future projects like this one. Even after a spa day in the dye pot, the fleece was (is!) still sticky with lanolin, which isn’t fundamentally a bad thing but not the easiest for me to work with, either.

When I started thinking about this project, I knew I had colors for the flowers in my spinning stash and I knew I wanted to work from the center of the piece outwards, so I started the project by carding the the dyed, still-not-totally-washed fleece. Here is the original picture, for reference.

It wasn’t a fun carding experience.

The resulting batt was light, puffy, and greasy. It had tons of neps in it and I didn’t dare to put it through the carder more than twice for fear of ending up with even more neps. In hindsight, I should have stopped here and properly washed the fleece but, dear reader, as is my general habit, I forged onward.

Spinning the batts was unpleasant and I should have stopped there and properly washed the fleece but I finished the yarn, a single, in my usual way: a hot soapy soak, a quick squeeze, and some drying. Then I embroidered with the resulting single, which kept falling apart. I adjusted by using much shorter lengths of yarn, which I now noticed I had spun unevenly in the beginning and then periodically unevenly as I encountered greasy snarls in the batt. I should have stopped there but you know what I did instead? I finally googled “embroidering with hand spun.”

I decided to forge ahead and spin the green for the flower stems. It went much, much better than the red and the pink thanks to some handy tips I learned or picked up. Then I got some beautiful roving with all the blues from Three Waters Farm and decided to tackle the blue.

Yesterday I finished the second section of blue and decided to dissolve the stabilizer I had traced the design on to and just draw/trace the design directly on my wool felt backing with water soluble markers because when I did it the first time around I forged ahead instead of taking a break and it was unusable in some areas, like the last half flower on the left. Anyway, here’s The Great Dissolve video with my assistant, Eevee. Note that I was feeling kind of tired and blaaaahhh yesterday and even though I cracked a few jokes, my delivery is very flat.

Tips I’ve gleaned for embroidering with a single:

  • If possible, use commercially prepared wool (unless you’re much more experienced processing fleece than I am).
  • If blending colors on a drum carder for an even result, run the batt through properly at least 3 times. (Properly running the batt through means pulling it apart, handful by thin handful, and loading it back onto the carder – tedious but worth it.)
  • Shock the yarn a few times to felt it slightly when finishing the hand spun. I picked this tip up from somewhere, possibly this series of articles in Spin Off, and used it on the second and third yarns I spun for this project (green and blue, both from commercially prepared wool).
  • Embroider without using knots; just secure the ends with a tiny cross stitch plus one more stitch.
  • Carefully untangle the thread/yarn when it gets tangled up on itself: it probably won’t knot.
  • If the yarn knots, cut it and rethread the remainder so you can salvage the rest of that length or finish the stitch.

Have you embroidered with hand spun or wool? Have you done crewelwork?

I posted in a Facebook embroidery forum about this very project and got a lot of confused responses – why embroider with hand spun? Can’t I afford embroidery floss?

Just to be clear, I’m embroidering with my hand spun for a number of reasons. First, because I like the idea of using up my leftover hand spun singles (what’s left after I make a yarn with more plies). If I think beyond the utilitarian, the possibilities of embroidering with handspun are so much more exciting than anything DMC offers or that’s commercially available: all those colors from all those indie dyers and all those different wool breed and fiber blends!!!

What about silks blends? Think of the sheen! And a natural sheen from the material, not something resulting from an chemical process (mercerization): that’s right folks, cotton isn’t naturally shiny, it has to be mercerized to look like that.

I chose the white felt backing for this piece because I want the whole thing to be made from wool and would have chosen natural white had it been available from the person I got the wool from. The process for making wool felt is, I estimate, much easier on the environment than using my other available material: white cotton canvas. And yet what do we have readily at the craft stores? Acrylic felt: plastic. Yuck. I had to order the felt from someone on etsy (the other non-big-box-store option was Purl Soho).

I think I need to think and write more explaining my motivations behind this piece. I also am in the process – the very very slow process – of overhauling this site to better show my skills and pieces. Thanks for sticking with me and thanks for reading: it means more to me than I can express.


4 responses to “Embroidering with Hand Spun: Experience & Tips”

  1. sixthirteen Avatar

    I really like hearing about the technical and design processes with your fiber arts. I have zero knowledge and it’s inspiring and informative! Thank you and keep on creating.

  2. madgeface Avatar

    Thank you so much! I’m trying to explain without throwing too much in while still hopefully holding everyone’s interest – it’s a weird balance for me, I’m used to just making information easily found and grokked.

  3. kathy beynette Avatar
    kathy beynette

    this is fascinating. I am so happy I had the opportunity to read/watch. beautiful design. thanks.

  4. […] talked pretty extensively about embroidering with handspun at the end of March in Embroidering with Hand Spun: Experience & Tips and thought it was time for an update because I’m calling the piece done and I’m also […]

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