Certain types of fabric will give you a better result than others when doing this style of embroidery. Natural fabrics tend to be best: cotton, quilters’ cotton, linen, cotton-linen blends, hemp, etc. Fabrics with some polyester in them will work as long as they aren’t too stretchy. And wash your fabric before you use it to get rid of any dust or shop marks, and to prevent it from shrinking and puckering after you’ve finished embroidering if you need to launder the finished item.
These are the things I take into consideration when looking for suitable ground fabric (the fabric you embroider on) for this style of embroidery:
I go for natural fabric, mainly cotton but occasionally linen or a blend of the two. Most of my pattern samples are stitched on bleached calico, which is sometimes called homespun – you’ll want the plain versions, not patterned. It comes quite heav- ily starched, so needs to be prewashed. Once that’s done, it’s a lovely soft fabric to stitch on and is reasonably priced if you plan to do a fair amount of embroidery. Calico does come in different textures and qualities though, so be sure to take the other considerations below into account. Another good option is quilting cotton, which has a good weight to it, although it tends to cost a little more.
Too much stretch and your fabric will pull out of shape as you stitch, distorting your finished embroidery. Natural fabrics have the added advantage of having less stretch to them. Hold a sec- tion of any fabric you’re considering between two hands and pull it in all directions to gauge how much stretch it has. The less stretch, the better.
You want to be able to work easily with the fabric, but it needs to be able to “hold” your embroidery. Too thick and you’ll strug- gle to get a needle and thread through it, too thin and this style of embroidery will outweigh the fabric and possibly cause it to pucker. Voile, for example, is too thin and canvas is too thick. If you back your fabric with cotton voile as I do, choose a ground fabric that won’t be too thick to pull a needle and thread through comfortably once the extra layer has been added.
It’s easier to transfer a design accurately on to fabric that has a smooth surface. It’s also easier to embroider on than fabric with a rough or textured surface. Take a good look at the fabric and run your hand over it if necessary to find one with an even surface. This is sometimes referred to as the hand of a fabric, basically the feel of the fabric against your skin.
Neater stitching happens naturally on fabrics with a finer weave as there is less space between the threads of the fabric and so they don’t force your stitches out of place. I try to find fabric with as tight a weave as possible. If the individual threads that make up the fabric are thick, that’s okay – as long as it’s tightly woven, you’ll be able to pierce the fabric through its threads fairly easily, as opposed to between them.
I embroider mainly on white as it allows me the most scope with thread colours. But it depends if the embroidery is for dis- play or something more practical – white is great for wall art, but something a little darker would be better for, say, a tote bag. And solid colours, rather than patterned fabric, keep the focus on the embroidery. But it depends entirely on your taste and the project at hand.