Floss, Ribbons and Threads...
Oh My!

Lisette Root © 2012

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If you are interested in crazy quilts and other types of quilting, then you probably love threads as well! In this article, I am speaking more to the hand embroiderer, although a lot of the techniques are useable with all kinds of embroidery. There are so many different types of threads out there, that it can be totally overwhelming at first if you are a beginner!

When you are looking for threads to start a project, you have some decisions to make. What type of project are you working on? Is it a small panel or wall hanging, or are you ready to start a bigger piece? One of the most pleasurable aspects of crazy quilting is building up your collection of fibers! There are the rough fibers such as wool, the larger Perle threads and different types of yarns, including the fun and fabulous new yarns like eyelash and fuzzy specialty yarns. These are a lot of fun to work with, and it is easy to go to different thrift stores and buy those projects that other people didn't finish; usually they run under a dollar and have lots of pretty colors of yarns and wools to add to your stash. Unfinished printed pictures that are in the kits can be very useful too. You can use the reverse side as a blank canvas, or as a test canvas. As an added bonus, sometimes you can cut out the embroidery, and then appliqué it on to your own project!

Then there are the cotton flosses to pick from. If you are a beginner, it can be very helpful to start with a collection of flosses, usually a great starter set. These bags of bright and pretty cotton floss runs under fifteen dollars or so. These flosses are generally not as perfect as the major brands, but even experienced stitchers like to have these on hand for filler work and for other applications. The finer cotton flosses, which run around a dollar each, can also be purchased in a nice collection in different color families for a reasonable price.

Silks and specialty fibers such as metallics will be more expensive, but just a touch here and there can be very effective in your projects. Silks are so very lovely, and there are a lot of different types and weights to choose from. Again, a small collection of silk threads can be purchased, and although it will be more expensive, it is worth the cost. Unless you are working with very fine silk threads, they are thicker than flosses and are used most effectively as broad strokes on your fabric canvas. For fine detail work, I have found that single strands of high quality cotton embroidery flosses give the most detailed works. Think of silks as oil paintings and cotton flosses as watercolors, both are beautiful, but they are totally different in application and end results.

You can also purchase silk ribbons which are a total joy to work with; but if you can't afford them at first, you can buy silk shirts and other garments at thrift stores, and then cut or tear them into ribbons yourself! Torn edge work can be quite beautiful in embroideries, and if you want a smooth edged ribbon of torn silk you can fold the torn strip lengthwise and press it. This gives you a ribbon with one smooth edge and one torn edge. Great for practicing ribbon techniques!

Metallic threads are also more expensive, but generally they are used sparingly.  I usually couch them down, because they don't go through fabric very well. There are a few ways to use metallic threads through fabric; I sometimes make a slightly larger hole with a bigger needle and then stitch the metallic thread through the fabric. I encourage you to just go ahead and start a small project no matter what threads you have; you don't have to have them all to enjoy hand work, and practice is always good! Back in the days when hand embroideries were something most women and girls did, they started with a "sampler," which was a teaching tool; it is a great way to start your adventures in stitching. You can then use what you have learned in future projects. You could even incorporate your own "sampler" in a larger work!

The most important thing in crazy quilting and other types of quilting is to do it! Even if you stitch just one line or seam a day, you can build on that.  You will be surprised at how much fun it is, and how beautiful the end result will be! If you feel the need to practice before you start a crazy quilt, pick up a pretty linen garment such as a dress or jacket from the thrift store and embellish it with your stitches. You can't go wrong if you just start stitching!

Happy Stitching,

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