Fashionable Embroidery

The art of hand embroidery has always been a part of fashion, but it has just recently migrated back into popular culture. Embroidered shirts can be found lining the racks at stores such as Urban Outfitters, Brandy Melville, and even Forever 21.

Embroidery, thought to date back to 5th-3rd century BC, was usually considered a sign of wealth in Asia, and later in Europe. The needlepoint status symbol of hand embroidery continued far into the modern world as the affluent purchased and used expensive hand embroidered fabrics to symbolize their power. However, in America with the prevalence of cotton, even the poor were able to have access to materials and thus were able to learn the craft of hand embroidery. During 18th century America, most young girls were taught to hand embroider as part of keeping a home. Though it has now been largely replaced by machine-embroidery for mass production, hand embroidery is still considered a fine form of textile art due to its time consuming nature, the often costly materials required, and the complex techniques used. Embroidery is also influential in the high fashion world.  Embroidery is seen frequently on the runway, recently appearing in Valentino’s 2015 F/W and S/S collections, Dolce and Gabbana’s 2016 S/S menswear collection, and Alexander McQueen’s 2016 F/W collection.

With the popularity of social media, hand embroidery artists are able to share their detailed work with many. Embroidery art that is popular on Instagram often makes use of traditional embroidery techniques with modern content. The Instagram account topazos_13 features embroidered eye designs on patches as well as sneakers. Meanwhile the Instagrammer, larkinandlarkin, showcases hand embroidered denim jackets. Another Instagram account highstitch features hoop art as well as patches.  Designs range from donuts to pop culture references such as “you’re my person.” The Instagrammer stitchyouup also showcases pop culture related hoop art. The account has pieces featuring characters such as Beetlejuice and Chewbacca, and the artist also sells their work on an Etsy account of the same name. Etsy, the online-based marketplace specializing in vintage and handmade goods, features a wide variety of embroidery artists. Embroidered fashion pieces as well as hoop art works are sold within a wide price range, high quality pieces sell at around $25–$75.

The students of Emerson, however, seem to have taken embroidery art and fashion to a more accessible level. As far as wearable art, embroidery can be seen all over at Emerson. Embroidered shirts and baseball caps are frequently seen as must have wardrobe pieces. Chain stores do sell these embroidered pieces popular amongst many, but Emerson students themselves have also taken up the thread. Hand embroidered pieces are frequently sold from student to student either through in person connections or the Emerson community’s Free and For Sale Facebook page.These handmade pieces typically go for lower prices than anywhere else, and as an additional advantage the money goes to fellow Emerson students.

Sara Barber, a freshman, has found success selling her small embroidery hoop pieces on the Free and For Sale page. Barber began embroidering her senior year of high school. She typically uses five inch hoops to make her designs. While some people use doodling to focus in class, Barber now spends her time in classes embroidering.“I think that it’s so hands-on in the fact that if you make a mistake you can undo it, and it’s just really therapeutic,” says Barber.

One of her sources of inspiration is the embroidery tag on Instagram. Barber says, “I just have all these screenshots of things that I find really cool, and stuff I might want to incorporate into my work.”  Her favorite piece is a floral backed piece with pink stitches that says, “Kill Your Local Rapist.” As far as the popularity of embroidery as a medium, Barber says “It’s really cool to like see something made out of stitches.” The key to successful embroidery seems to be trial and error, Barber says, “how I developed my style is I would just go at it, and if it looked great: ‘Awesome.’ If it didn’t, then I would just get a new piece of fabric and start over again.” Basic embroidery is a fairly simple and fun craft. “It’s just an easy thing to pick up,” says Barber.

The main supplies needed for embroidery are: an embroidery hoop, scissors, a needle (be sure to choose the proper weighted needle for the material you are working with), embroidery floss, and fabric. The following are the basic steps of embroidery:

1. First, you may need to cut the fabric into the appropriate size, typically slightly larger than the embroidery hoop. (If you are embroidering a clothing item this is not applicable.) The fabric then should be secured in the hoop. This is done by opening the hoop and then adjusting the nut and bolt at the top of the hoop.  You may also want to mark out your design on the fabric ahead of time using pencil or fabric chalk.

2. From there, the needle needs to be threaded. First cut a section of floss long enough to work with, but not so long that it will get caught. A good measurement is from the tip of your fingers to your elbow. Typically most floss consists of six strands, so you then divide the embroidery floss in half into two sections of three threads each. One section of threads is placed to the side while the other is threaded through the needle and knotted on the end.

3. Now, it is time to begin stitching. Begin with your needle on the wrongside of the fabric and stitch up through the fabric and back down again. Repeat this to begin forming your design. This is a running stitch, different stitching techniques may be used once you become more comfortable with the medium. In addition, some artists choose to keep their stitches close together while others like them farther apart. It is all simply artistic preference. However, if stitching lettering it is typically better to keep stitches closer together.

4. Once you are reaching the end of your floss, cut the thread from the needle making sure to leave enough room to tie it off. Knot it tightly together on the wrong side of the fabric. Begin again with new floss. Continue until you have completed your design.

As spring approaches, another great and unique way to incorporate embroidery into a wardrobe is embroidered shorts. These shorts on Etsy price at upwards of fifty dollars. A trip to the Garment District in Cambridge or any other local thrift shop, is bound to turn up vintage jeans just ready to be cut into shorts. Then, it is simple to thread some designs through the front or back pockets. This will give a unique look, and due to the personalized nature the shorts could be altered to fit a wide range of styles. Adding embroidery is a simple way to add texture and character to any wardrobe.

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Photos by Delia Curtis