Tutorial: How to Embroider Your Own Freehand Landscape
Embroidered art is super popular right now but also can be pricey (for good reason: it's a ton of work - as you are about to find out! Ha!). I personally find embroidery to be super beautiful and therapeutic to work on, so I have no issue with the time it takes to create a piece, especially if it's a scene or location that I love. So here is a tutorial so that you can have some assistance in creating your own art! I am not going to go into detail of every stitch, more like an overview with tips for putting together your own designs.
Supplies I use mostly came from my local sewing shop, Needlework (full disclosure: I work and teach there, but they aren't sponsoring this post and I get no commission for any purchases you make because of this post. But you should definitely purchase from Needlework instead of Amazon if you can because it's owned by the two loveliest people)
- Fabric. Many fabrics will work, I prefer a linen or linen/cotton blend in a solid neutral colour. My sample is made in Robert Kaufman Essex Homespun Yarn Dyed in Heather (From Needlework. Obviously). You need a piece of fabric at least two inches larger than your embroidery hoop all the way around. My sample is made on a 6 inch hoop with a 10 inch square of cloth.
- Embroidery Hoop. I find anywhere from 4 to 7 inches a good and workable size for this.
- Needles: I use a variety of needles in different sizes depending on which material I am sewing with. A package of tapestry or embroidery needles in mixed sizes should cover most of your needs but it's good to have a large sharp needle with a big eye on it for the wool if you use wool.
- A variety of colours in a variety of embroidery mediums. What I have pictured above are:
- Embroidery Floss in a variety of colours (in the middle of the picture). I keep mine wound up on floss bobbins.
- Pearl Cotton in two weights (both items at the top left). Pearl cotton doesn't have the colour range of floss but I love the sheen of it and fit it in wherever I can.
- Scrap yarns if you have them (I am a knitter so I have many!)
- Optional other materials: beads or other threads or crewel wool. Whatever you have and feel like using!
- A picture for inspiration. I took mine at the Royal Botanical Gardens Rock Garden. More on selecting a picture below.
- A water erasable marking pen.
SELECTING AN IMAGE
A big part of what makes art successful is the actual layout and design part at the beginning. I recommend working from a photograph if you are new to making art. What you are looking for in a good image for this is some depth (items at the front, middle, and foregrounds), good variety of sizes and shapes and colours and light/dark, and nothing too fiddly or complicated. I often take a bunch of photographs at a location and then get home and look at them all on my computer as thumbnails - it is usually immediately obvious which layouts are the most successful when you can only see them tiny.
Things to look for:
- It has a foreground and middleground and background
- It has a variety of:
- Colours: I like to have one or two standout colours that might be a focal point.
- Shades/Contrast: areas of light and dark help give interest and draw your eye into the drawing
- Sizes: Larger foreground items and small background items help to give a feeling of depth.
- Shapes: if the entire drawing is the same shape repeated it's a bit boring (like all leaves). It's good to have some architecture/water/benches/people/pathways to give interest.
- Your eye should move through the photograph. Things like pathways or bodies of water often help with this.
Here are three photographs and the reasoning behind why I chose the last one.
Image 1: Although I love this view of the rock garden when I am standing at this lookout point, this image doesn't have enough foreground items or enough colour variety for me. Probably I would end up embroidering a lot of tiny fiddly green trees. It is nice that the paths and the water help draw your eye through the picture though.
Image 2: I was immediately obsessed with the colours of this stand of echinacea when I saw it. For colour pop, this picture is great - but there isn't enough depth or variety of sizes to make this a good choice for a landscape.
Image 3: The winner! Good variety of sizes, shapes and colours. Good foreground, middleground and background, and the architectural items help give it a bit of structure and depth! My only complaint about this is that a lot of the greens are very similar in shade, but we can deal with this by slightly changing the shades we choose when we embroider it.
PREPPING AND BEGINNING EMBROIDERY
To get started, cut your fabric to size and put it in the hoop. Pull it tight and tighten the screw to keep things as taut as possible while you work. Using your water erasable pen, mark in the main features of your landscape (like above). I like to think of the picture as a series of flat areas and details. For instance, in the pictures above and below, the coneflowers are a flat area that I filled with specific stitches (coral french knots and random yellow and green directional stitches). The tall green plants to either side are what I would consider details - so I stitch them more precisely as opposed to the flat areas where I just fill them with a type of stitch. It's hard to see because the blue pen is wearing away but I marked the lines of the building in the distance, roughly the positions of some background trees, and the stairs and some other large areas that need to be filled.
In this case I began with the coneflowers and the tall plants to either side because I wanted them to be the focal point. The tall plants are going to function as a sort of border for other stitches, so I wanted them in place early on. The coneflowers are also a good item that helps anchor the rest of the embroidery, as I can easily place other details in relation to the coneflowers.
I am not going to explain how to do every stitch you may want to use, since there are many tutorials online for that already (you can easily google any of the below stitches). I mostly use just long, directional and random stitches for most of the drawing. Vertical stitches can be stems and trunks and grasses. Horizontal stitches of different lengths for water and bricks and benches and stairs. I use french knots often for flowers (a good tutorial here). I like seed stitch (basically two small parallel stitches going all different directions - as you can see behind the tall plants on the left above). I use backstitch or chain stitch for outlining things or adding details that are small and precise. Occasionally I do satin stitch to fill an area.
Work across the hoop area as you please. I sometimes find I need to add in anchoring items first, which is why I added the roof of the building at this early stage - having it in place helps me position other items from the picture. As you can see with the seed stitch I added on the left, I do not always try to solidly fill in an area. I often add enough stitches to show what will be there and come back later if I think that the are needs more work. You don't need to precisely draw every detail, just getting down enough to get the point of an item across is often enough. People's minds will fill in the gaps more than you think.
A note about colour: you may be worried that you don't have enough colours, or that your photograph has 100 shades of green and you have only 5. I actually find that using the same few colours in multiple places throughout the embroidery helps unify the whole piece - so just use what you have! I would say that you need maybe 3-4 shades of the main colours in your photograph (in my case, definitely green - but if you are drawing an ocean or beach, maybe blues or sandy tones?)
Here you can see I am continuing to fill in the areas behind the focal flowers. As you work you can make decisions about contrast and lights and darks and which textures of yarn or floss will go where. I chose to put a lighter grass colour behind the coneflowers to help them pop. I used some long jagged and uneven stitches in a dark floss for the trees up on the hill to the right. Sometimes I use thicker yarns for items in the foreground and smaller ones (in this case half of a floss) for items in the background. (But sometimes I don't care - ha! Rules are made to be broken.)
Here I have decided after taking a look at it that the tree on the left behind the tall plants is too similar in colour to the plants in front of it and have started adding a lighter green to brighten it up and add contrast.
Aaaaand.... ta-da! A bunch of stitching happened over the course of the day today with no time to stop and take pictures because: tiny baby who won't be put down and toddler. But basically what happened is that I filled in the middleground trees and the building and I added some brighter highlights to the coneflowers and a couple of darker green stitches to the coneflower foliage to help the flowers pop more. I had originally planned to include the ornamental onions that were in front of the coneflowers but I decided it was just too much. I also was originally going to fill in the area to the right of the coneflowers but I decided I liked the negative space there and left it.
To finish up I usually spray my piece with water to erase the blue pen then press/iron it gently with a cloth over top before securing it in the frame for good. There are a bunch of methods of securing the final piece: you can run gathering stitches by hand around the excess material to pull it to the back or frame it in a picture frame. I personally layer a piece of solid white cotton behind the embroidery and trim it flush to the back hoop before hot gluing the (trimmed down) edges over the back hoop.
Hopefully this was a helpful post! I would love to see any work that you get inspired to do. Feel free to tag me on your instagram posts, my handle is @amandafarquharson - or email me pictures! Any questions, please post below.