Greetings, LadyNerds and LadyNerds-in-Training! Gift-giving holidays are in full swing, and while a Lady is always prepared for all possible situations with token gifts such as a bottle of wine or a plate of homemade cookies, a Nerd frequently has no idea what a hostess gift is and forgets even her mother's birthday -- and a LadyNerd probably accidentally drank the last bottle of wine and ate all the cookies on the way to the dinner party. But no not despair! I'm here today to give you some gentle craftypants instruction so you can dazzle your friends and lovers with beautiful handmade gifts you can't accidentally eat.
If you've done the Lady section of your LadyNerd homework, you've watched endless hours of BBC costume drama and know a timeless gift for a gentleman friend is a lovingly embroidered linen handkerchief (you also know a Lady is never without a fresh, white hankie, although it's entirely appropriate to feign a lack of hankie so you can borrow one from a potential Special Friend).
As a Nerd, your gift of choice is usually a t-shirt -- and if you're crafty, a hand-screenprinted t-shirt -- printed with an inside joke. And while screenprinted gifts certainly have their place in life, sometimes you just need to step things up a level or two on the Lady scale. Enter embroidery.
The genius of embroidery is its endless customization -- the perfect marriage of Lady and Nerd, if you will. Mark a hankie or tea towel with your favorite quote from a book (a Nerd might give a significant other a t-shirt saying, "You. Yes, you," but a LadyNerd would embroider it on a hankie), a song quote, or anything you desire. My favorite embroidery project was the set of human organ dishtowels I made for a doctor friend's wedding gift. See? Lady + Nerd.
"But Meghan!" you cry. "I don't know how to thread a needle, let alone design and create a textile masterpiece!" Never fear! Read on to earn your LadyNerd Embroidery Merit Badge.
First ... the preliminary work
While it's tempting at this point to throw caution to the wind and start poking holes in stuff with those new needles, a Lady knows she should always reign in her enthusiasm and never set out unprepared. Besides, this is the part where you get to go shopping!
1. Pick a project. Tea towels (also known as dishtowels)? Hankies? A pillowcase? Knock yourself out, but be aware the more stretchy the material, the harder it is to work with, so t-shirts can be tough.
2. Choose your design. There's lots of inspiration on Craftster's embroidery boards, and of course there're your favorite quotes. The simpler the image, the easier it will be to work with, so line drawings are great -- I've always thought Kurt Vonnegut's drawings would be boss.
You don't have to get things perfectly drafted yet. Just get an idea of what you want to do, what colors you'd like, what materials you want to embroider. Then it's time to hit the stores and collect your materials.
3. You can buy plain handkerchiefs in department stores or lots of places online, or you can usually score vintage ones at your favorite vintage shop (but they're not always plain). If you're interested in the advanced course, check out how to make your own hankies from thrifted mens' shirts. I pick up my blank tea towels at my local big box craft supermegastore, over in the "needlecrafts" section.
While you're chilling in needlecrafts, pick up some embroidery needles and embroidery floss. Both Ladies and Nerds can take a little time to geek out over the rainbow of colors arrayed on the shelves, but usually a Nerd is the only one heard wondering which floss color is more brain-colored, DMC451 or DMC318.
4. Now's the time to sit down at the computer or with a pencil and paper and hash out your final design.
a. Measure your fabric and decide how big you want your design to be.
b. Find or draw your pattern. If you're working with a quote, write it out or type it up how you like it.
c. Transfer the design to your fabric. You can trace it with pencil, using a sunny window as a lightbox, or you can buy fancypants stuff called "water-soluble stabilizer" that you can run through your computer's printer, then stick on your fabric and stitch through.
OR, if you're cheap like many Nerds (and me), just grab a roll of Press and Seal plastic wrap and a permanent marker. It's more of a pain to remove than water soluble stabilizers, but it's more durable than plain tissue paper and you can also trace the pattern directly from your book, original drawing or computer screen! No printing or backlighting required!
Place a square of plastic wrap over your design. If you're working directly from your computer screen, hold the sheet up to a light to check for holes first!
Using your marker (I like regular Sharpies), trace the design onto the plastic wrap. You can use different colors to indicate which color embroidery thread you plan to use, or you can just go monochromatic. Be careful, and use a very light touch to avoid poking holes in the plastic. It'd be very sad to have a pancreas permanently scrawled on your monitor.
Apply the plastic wrap to your fabric et voilá! (When you finish the embroidery, make sure to remove the plastic carefully. You might need tweezers to get the plastic wrap out of small areas.)
5. Once you've got your design on your fabric, place it in your hoop. You're ready to go!
But ... what do I do now?
At this point, more than a few of you are thinking, "Wait, what about the actual HARD part? You know, the sticking needles into things?" Don't worry -- I've got you covered.
Some Extra Credit
Check out these pages for some super fun fancypants embroidery stitches to liven up your work.