Thursday, 11 April 2013

Vintage embroideries reborn

If you are in the UK you might have noticed the latest drive for funds by the British Red Cross falling through your letterbox.  There are often little inducements sent with charity fund raising campaigns and this latest one is particularly appealing for me.  The greetings cards, bookmark and coasters are decorated with images inspired by the Changi Quilt, a patchwork quilt created by women in Japanese internment camps during WW2.  With the current popularity of sewing, quilting and embroidery I hope the campaign is a success - I think I must make a donation, not least because our family have to thank The Red Cross for getting my Father through the five years he he spent as a Prison of War in Poland during the war.  He always said food parcels sent by the Red Cross saved his and his fellow POWs lives.

Behind the cards in the photo above you can see some of my latest embroidered household linens acquired and intended for up-cycling.  The best pieces for me are tray cloths - the embroidered motifs are usually quite small and they often have tea stains, which makes it so much easier for me to take my scissors to them without feeling too guilty.

Anyway, I thought you might like to see how I use the embroidered pieces so I've put together a little tutorial (not really keen on that word!).  Here's how I make a simple hanging bird. 

I've made myself some templates from acetate packaging and use them to decide where to place the pattern on the embroidered cloth to best effect. 

I only use the embroideries on one side of my bird - although these hanging decorations would look pretty in a window and therefore both sides would show, the light would soon fade the embroidery and discolour the fabric.  So I will hang my bird somewhere out of direct light.  Use a plain part of the same embroidered cloth for the backing or use a different complimentary fabric.  Here I've used a plain linen of similar weight but a printed cotton would look pretty too, especially if a colour in the embroidery is picked out.

The scrap for the beak is completely optional - I must admit the extra layer of fabric does make turning out the point of the beak cleanly a bit more difficult, and I think the bird looks just as good without.  Leave a turning gap in the seam of at least 2 inches (5cms) to make it easy on yourself when turning the piece right side out.

My favourite tools for turning through small pieces are these locking forceps and my old wooden clay modelling tool.  The forceps are great for pulling through stubborn shapes as you can grab and lock on to that awkward far end of the piece - just be sure not to damage the fabric.  They are also invaluable for pushing stuffing into tiny spaces.  The modelling tool is nice and blunt and won't poke through seams making a nasty hole.   Other useful tools are knitting needles, crochet hooks and the points of scissors if they are not too sharp.

Remember to add the hanging loop and legs BEFORE you start to stuff.  You can use anything - I've used some lovely thick cotton bakers twine here, but ribbon is pretty and cotton knitting or crochet yarn, twine or string are good too.  I sometimes make a twisted cord using thin crochet yarn or embroidery threads.  You can find lots of demonstrations on Youtube if you don't know how to do this. 

You can leave the legs out altogether - the bird looks just as good without them.  I use acrylic toy stuffing to fill together with something aromatic.  Lavender is always a favourite but I also like crushed spices (especially star anise).  Recently I've tried herb or fruit teabags with a few drops of an appropriate essential oil added.  Be sure to to push the stuffing right into any sharp corners.  Wrapping the lavender or spices in a layer of stuffing is a good idea too so they don't show through or stain the fabric.

Using a single length of cord for the legs ensures you can pull through to make sure the legs are the same length.  Be generous with the length of twine so you can knot it easily before cutting off any excess.  When I'm finished I like to steam press the seams flat holding the bird in my hand and being careful not to burn my fingers.   This gives the piece a nicer rounded shape.  And even though the back of my bird is plain I do add eyes on both sides. 

Here are some more I made earlier!  The Dalar horse is an experiment - the pattern needs tweeking a bit I think.

 This post has turned out much longer than I anticipated so if you have stayed till the end I thank you - and if you have any queries please don't hesitate to ask. 

I really like the thought that something that has had so much work put into it long ago but has since lain forgotten in a drawer can now be brought out and admired by another generation of crafters.


  1. Beautiful! Thanks for showing how you made the birds.

  2. Thanks , thanks for the explanation. What a good idea to use those old linens. I love to buy them in the Catholic woman thriftstore but the ones with the stains I don't buy, till NOW I ill go there next wednesday.

  3. I love vintage embroideries and am planning to decorate a new shirt with it. That's why I visited your blog when I found it on Baukjes site. I really like what you've made, so now you have a new follower :).

  4. Beautiful bird and horse! I still don't understand exactly how this embroidery really works, but the results are simply lovely!

  5. A great tutorial and wonderful end products! Thank you for sharing.

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  7. Oh this post is so informative Anne. Thank you so much for going to the trouble of showing step by step pictures. I love what you created and am tempted to start looking out for vintage pieces so I can have a go. I hope you are feeling better after your fall.

  8. The Red Cross is a very worthy charity! Your blog is very 'up market' these days Ann, you are doing a marvellous job showcasing your talents & ideas :) x (look forward to seeing what you do with the feathers!)

  9. Hi Ann, what a wonderful and inspiring blog you have! I came here after reading about you on Carol's blog (Inkyfingers) and I am so glad I did!
    I look forward to visiting much more!

  10. Hi Ann! I came over to meet you for Carol's wonderful Inky Fingers post about you and am I ever glad she wrote it and I came to visit!! Wonderful work and wonderful tutorial!! Thank you!

  11. A lovely and clear tutorial Ann. Many thanks. I inherited a good many tray clothes and armchair covers when we cleared out my FIL's property so now I know what I can do with them as the embroidery on them is so pretty snd a shame not to be able toshow off. Hugs Mrs A.

  12. I came by your blog via a shout out by Inky Fingers. Your creations are stunning!! I wish I had that collection of vintage embroidery to play with. Such cool ideas!! I am so glad I found you and will be subscribing to your blog.


Thank you so much for visiting my blog and taking the time to comment - its hugely appreciated. Ann :o)


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