A celebrated Japanese textile artist and avid gardener,Embroidered Garden Flowers: Botanical Motifs for Needle and Thread(Roost Books, 2017), by Kazuko Aoki brings the vibrancy and brilliance of the flora and fauna seen throughout her garden to needle and thread. Each of her patterns are presented with care and realistic detail including buds, blooms, roots, seeds, and accompanying insects for the plants. The following excerpt is from the “How to Make” chapter.
Embroidery Floss and Thread
I mainly use DMC embroidery floss.
For DMC No. 5 and No. 8 and for linen thread, I embroider with a single strand.
DMC No. 25 is sold loosely plied in 6 strands, so first I cut it to the length I will use (I find about 20 to 25 inches is easiest to work with) and then I pull out the number of necessary strands, one by one, and reassemble them. I embroider with 3 strands, unless noted otherwise here and in the individual instructions.
For instructions that use the term “variegated,” I embroider with 2 or more colors threaded on the same needle. Blending colors is an effective way to add intensity and depth.
For projects that call for a couching stitch, I use 1, 2, or 3 strands of No. 25 unless specified otherwise; sometimes I call for No. 5 or linen thread. So as not to call attention to the No. 5 laid thread, I use a single strand of No. 25 in the same color to fasten it in place. When using linen thread for the laid thread, I use a single strand of No. 25 in a similar color to fasten it in place.
The correlation between embroidery thread and needle is very important. Choose an appropriate needle according to the weight of the thread, and always use sharp needles.
DMC No. 5, single strandFrench embroidery needle No. 3 or 4
DMC No. 8, single strand French embroidery needle No. 5 or 6
DMC No. 25, 2 or 3 strands French embroidery needle No. 7
DMC No. 25, single strand Thin sewing needle
Linen embroidery thread, single strand
French embroidery needle No. 7
For projects, I worked in the center of a 12 x 15 inch piece of 100% linen. You can finish each project in various ways, but if you plan to insert the final embroidered piece into a panel or frame, then leave a margin of at least 4 inches around the pattern.
Always apply single-sided fusible interfacing (midweight) to the reverse side of the fabric before embroidering. This application reduces the amount the fabric stretches, prevents the stitches on the reverse side from pulling on the front, and dramatically improves the look of the finished product.
The embroidery patterns are shown actual size. To transfer the pattern to your fabric, first copy the pattern onto tracing paper. Then, layer Chaco paper (I recommend using gray), the tracing paper with the pattern, and cellophane on the right side of the fabric. Use a craft stylus to transfer the pattern onto the fabric.
Stretching embroidered fabric on a frame is a beautiful way to finish a project. For smaller projects, use a circular hoop; for larger projects, use a rectangular frame in a size that corresponds to the project.
Use a running stitch when you want to add a stitch but you want it t be inconspicuous.
A back stitch produces a neat and cleanly finished line of stitching. When working along a curve, make fine stitches. I use the stitch for leaf designs and the tips of stems.
A couching stitch is a good choice for embroidering fine lettering because you can freestyle your own lines. Or use this stitch to creat a vigorous stem with No. 5 floss. Work compact laid stitches for a beautiful finish.
An outline stitch creates line stitching that has volume and texture. You can also use this stitch to create a surface of stitches next to each other, such as those used to create stems and roses.
A straight stitch is a simple stitch, but it can make your embroidery come alive. Use it to work fine petals or the details on a plant.
I often use a split stitch to work a surface of stitches next to each other. Even on broad leaves, where the stitches overlap, this stitch is not bulky. Use a slightly longer needle for a flat finish.
A satin stitch is a perfect stitch for the flat and shiny aspect of flower petals. You can also use it for leaves. Create a nice finish by pulling all the stitches at the same tension.
Long and Short Stitch
I often use the stitch for broad areas like flower petals (such as pansies). Be sure to work stitches by bringing the needle up from somewhere outside of the pattern line, and then coming back down inside the line.
I mainly use the fly stitch for the calyx that encloses a flower bud. You can create different lengths of stem depending on the anchor stitch.
The leaf stitch conveniently includes the design of the veins on a leaf. The trick is to keep a V shape in mind as you work and you will end up with a leaf shape, ready made.
My Tips and Tricks for Embroidering Flowers
• Embroider in this order: stem, branch, flower, leaves. Keep an eye on the whole project as you go along. The directions usually call for using No. 5 floss and often lots of couching stitches for the stems. The standard is to work the pattern from top to bottom, trying to keep the flowers centered. Aim for curved lines, as opposed to straight ones, to give a more natural look. Make the roots thick and the branches thin.
• For flowers, work the embroidery from the outside toward the center. For petals, start from the middle, then finish each side. Even for small flowers (such as forget-me-nots), you get the best shape by working the center, the left, and then right. For the pistils and stamens at the center of the flower, add these last and with a gentle hand.
• Leaves differ depending on the flower, but for spindle-shaped leaves, work stitches from the tip to the base. Before you begin embroidering, decide on the angle you wish to work. You can also adjust the angle while you are working.
• Before you begin, it’s important to imagine what your work will look like. Whether you want it to be flat, or soft, you can work with that idea in mind — even if it differs from the pattern or even if the stitches aren’t perfect — so that the finished product is in line with your sensibility.
• If a flower has many color variations in real life, you can also change the color of the embroidered version. In this case, rather than choosing a thread color that is the same as the flower, I recommend going with whatever hue is closest to the one you prefer.
Use French knots for flower centers, small buds, or seeds. Knots can appear stiff or soft, depending on the tension of the thread. (shown with 2 wraps)
You can use a chain stitch to create line stitching that has volume by working a thin chain of tightly pulled stitches.
Lazy Daisy Stitch
Use a lazy daisy stitch for small petals or calyxes. You can also combine it with a straight stitch to fill in the middle of the shape. Adjust the shape by shifting the tension of the thread.
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From Embroidered Garden Flowers by Kazuko Aoki, © 2017 by Kazuko Aoki Reprinted by arrangement with Roost Books, an imprint of Shambhala Publications, Inc. Boulder, CO.