are picking out tiny detail or want to create a rich, textural piece,
you'll find that french knots are versatile, tactile and easy to work.
by Ian Cole
Remember the craze for painted pebbles? Well, anything that can be painted onto a pebble can also be embroidered and then sewn on. You can use any design. There's nothing to stop you having a representational picture on the top: flowers, for example, or a landscape, or simply stripes of colour. I particularly like the idea of embroidering in naturalistic pebble colours, and having a group of different-sized pebbles together, mixed perhaps with a few real, unadorned, smooth stones, for contrast and surprise.
When choosing your colours it's a good idea to stay in one section of the spectrum; avoid high-contrast colours, and move gently from shade to shade. For example, choose hot, vibrant colours from the red/purple/blue side of the spectrum, moving into greens at the edge. It's a good idea too to end up with one colour, albeit different shades, at the edge, as this means you can use a single colour of thread to attach the embroidery to the stone.
I enjoy working freely, moving gently from one colour to the next, as each thread is used. Each time the thread is used up, as far as possible I choose a colour similar to the last. When I was working the pebble illustrated here, I decided quite early on that I wanted to end up with greens on the outer edge, so I moved from reds, pinks through lilacs and purples, to blues, turquoises and, finally, greens. You may wish, however, to have a plan and mark your fabric before you start.
What you need
- A smooth, heavy, flat-bottomed pebble, about 10 cm long x 7.5 cm wide x 2.5 cm deep
- A selection of stranded embroidery threads in your chosen colours
- A piece of background fabric large enough to fit in an embroidery frame - I chose a raw silk
- A piece of felt about 5 cm larger all round than your pebble, in a colour that co-ordinates with your embroidery
- A tapestry needle
- An embroidery ring-frame
- Water-soluble pencils (optional)
- Strong sewing thread
- An easy way to mark the fabric is to use water-soluble coloured pencils. Simply colour the fabric with the pencils, shading the colours into each other until you have enough to cover the pebble. To make the colours run and blend into each other, place the pencilled fabric on a piece of absorbent paper and spray with water. Turn it over and iron dry on the wrong side.
- Cover the base of the pebble with felt. Decide which way up you are going to use the pebble. The base should be the flattest side, the top the more curved. Take the piece of felt and place the flat side of the pebble in the middle. Mark a line about 4 cm larger all round the pebble and cut round the line.
- Using a very strong thread and leaving a long tail of thread at the beginning and end of each row, work 2 rows of running stitch around the edge of the felt. Place the pebble flat side down in the middle of the felt and then pull firmly on the ends of the threads so that the felt is drawn up around the pebble. Tie the ends together tightly to fasten off. Ease the gathers so that the felt covers the base of the pebble smoothly and evenly.
- Pad the uncovered area on the top of the pebble with off-cuts of the felt, cutting them to a suitable shape to fit the space. You are now ready to work the embroidery for the top of the pebble.
What you do
This paperweight was worked with a variety of threads and wools in softer, natural colours - the butterfly was added later.
your fabric into an embroidery ring-frame, as the thread should
be kept taut when sewing french
- Before you begin, practise working a few french knots on a spare piece of fabric.
- Following your colour guide,
fill in the marked area with french knots. To give variety
and texture, all kinds of thread may be used. Vary the number
of times the thread is twisted around the needle and, if you
are working with stranded embroidery threads, vary the number
of strands you use.
- Keep adding knots and changing colours until you have enough embroidered fabric to cover the top of the stone and wrap right around the sides to the back. If you lay the pebble on the embroidery, you should have about 4 cm extra embroidered fabric all round. Work the knots as close together as you can, to cover the background completely, stitching more densely around the edges, as the fabric is more likely to show through when it is pulled round the edges of the stone.
- When you are happy with the embroidery, remove it from the frame and trim excess fabric, leaving about 1.5 cm of fabric all round the stitched area. Using strong thread and leaving tails of thread at the beginning and end, work a row of running stitches around the edge of the fabric.
- Pull the thread gently to draw up the running stitches until the fabric folds over towards the wrong side of the embroidery and lies smoothly. Fasten off. (This thread should not be pulled too tightly, as it will distort the work and make it difficult to finish neatly.)
- Now place
the embroidery, right side up, over the top of the padded
side of the pebble. Using a very strong, visible thread (it
will be removed later), lace the opposite edges tightly together
(the technique is the same as is used for lacing
fabric onto card, spreading out the gathers evenly as
you work. Ease the gathers with your finger, to see if the
embroidery will, with encouragement, lie flat. Don't worry
if it won't flatten, just ease the gathers until the excess
is accommodated. When you are satisfied, tie off the thread.
The stitched area and the felt should join together smoothly.
- Now, using a matching thread - I use all six strands of stranded cotton as it needs to be really strong - appliqué the embroidery to the pebble by over-sewing the edge of the embroidery to the felt. These stitches tend to slip down to the base of the knots and 'disappear' when you pull the thread tight. Keep smoothing the top surface of the pebble while you work. This will ensure a nice tight fit.
- Once the stitched area and the felt are joined firmly together, remove the lacing stitches.
- Use any close-worked embroidery stitch in place of the french knots.
- If you do not wish to paint or print your own background, choose a fabric that appeals to you (furnishing fabric remnants are good) and emphasise elements of the design with embroidery stitches. Use the fabric itself as a guide when choosing the colours of the threads you use. The great advantage of using a pre-printed fabric is that there is no need to cover the fabric completely with stitching.
- Use up odds and ends of textured threads in toning colours.
On printed fabric, you can pick out the sections you like and leave the rest plain, or, as in this sample, use a variety of simple stitches, reducing the density gradually towards the edge.