Technique Tutorials

Embroidery Stitch Tutorial – Learn to Backstitch

The backstitch is one of the easiest embroidery stitches to learn.  It covers the pattern line in a series of straight little dashes with no space in between the stitches.

Supplies needed:

  • a skein of standard DMC embroidery floss
  • a needle — (embroidery size 7 is a good choice)
  • scissors to trim your floss
  • fabric with pattern traced onto it (already placed into an embroidery hoop)

First, cut a piece of embroidery floss 18”-20″ long.   I just use a piece approximately the length of my arm :).

Standard DMC embroidery floss is made up of 6 individual strands. The number of strands that you use will determine the thickness of your completed stitched line. I typically use 2 or 3 strands for most projects.   In this example, I will use 4 strands just to make it easier to see my stitches.

To separate your floss, gently hold one end of your cut length. Now, pull a single strand up and out – slowly and gently to avoid tangling. Set it aside.  Repeat until you have the desired number of strands for stitching. Rejoin the separated strands by lining them up at one end and gently stroking down the length till they sorta stick together.

Now you will need to thread your needle and tie a small knot in one end. I have posted a photo tutorial that will teach you how to tie a perfect knot for stitching.   In the future, I’ll teach alternative methods for securing the first few stitches (leaving a tail and then weaving it in at the end, or using a waste knot) but for now, a small knot should be fine.

1. Starting from the back of your fabric, insert your needle at point A (the start of your stitching line) and pull it all the way through to the front.

2. Insert your needle down at point B and pull it through to form your 1st stitch. I like to use a stitch length of approximately 1/8”.

3. Come up from the back at point C (which is one stitch length from the end of your 1st stitch) and insert your needle at point B into the same hole you previously created. Pull it through to form your 2nd stitch.

4. Repeat this process until you complete the line of stitching.

You can stab your needle up and down and pull your fabric through each time (nope – not for me!) OR…. you can go much faster by doing steps 2 and 3 in one motion before pulling your thread through all the way.   See below.

The back of your work will have an overlapping line of thread on it.

To tie off your thread, weave your floss through the stitches and then form a small loop and insert your needle through it to make a tiny knot to secure it. Trim close to your knot.

TIP – Avoid jumping from one set of stitching to another across an open area.  Anytime I need to stitch in a new and unconnected section, I always tie off and restart my thread.  This avoids a messy back and the likelihood that the excess thread will show through the front.

TIP – As you go around curves, taking smaller stitches helps to avoid a choppy look.

Now you can use this simple stitch to try out my free crayon embroidery medallion pattern (coming soon) or on some of the patterns available in my etsy shop.

Happy stitching!


How to tie a perfect knot for stitching


It seems simple right? Most instruction sheets start with “thread your needle and tie a knot in your thread”.   Then they get to the good stuff.

Over the years I have taught many craft and stitching classes and have found that I can’t just assume that everyone has been taught how to tie a knot.   New stitchers often struggle and then mistakenly think that they just aren’t talented at sewing before they’ve even gotten started.    It’s one of those thing like tying your shoelace: easier to just do it than to explain.  It’s also much easier to teach in person, but I’ll give it a shot here.

First you will need to thread your needle. To do this I pinch the thread between my index finger and thumb of my left hand with just a smidge sticking out free. Then I take the needle in my right hand, squint, and push the eye (the hole) of the needle over the thread ends until they go through. Grab the thread and pull it through the hole about 3-4″ to keep the needle from becoming unthreaded.

Now we will tie the knot at the opposite end.

Hold the needle in your right hand with the point facing away from your palm.  Hold the end of the thread in your left hand.

Now place the needle over the thread end and pinch both the needle and the thread end in your right hand as shown.

Using your left hand, wrap thread around the needle approximately 3 times. The more you wrap, the larger your knot will be.

Lightly pinch the wrapped section with your right hand index finger and thumb to keep them in place.

Let go of the thread with your left hand and grab the needle.  Keeping your right hand still pinching the looped end,  you will pull that needle (and the thread that follows) out.  Go slowly.   Pinch more with your right hand as you get close to the end and it will tighten that knot right where you want it.

You should end up with a knot near the end of the thread. Sometimes it’s a loopy disaster.  That’s ok.   Just trim it a bit on the end and start over. Keep practicing and you will get better at it.

Trim the end close to the knot and you are ready to stitch :).

Facing tutorial

Sometimes a traditional binding adds another strip of color on the edge of a quilt that looks great. And sometimes you just don’t want anything to distract from your main design – especially if it’s an art quilt.

I decided to try a facing instead of a traditional binding on my Future looks bright art quilt fat quarter panel. I had seen a great tutorial at The technique is taught by Robbi Jo Eklow. I invite you to check out that tutorial as well as reading how I did it below.

This method uses a folded square on the corners. Super easy and great for beginners.

After quilting my fat quarter panel (see my quilting process HERE), I squared up the edges.

For the facing I used the same fabric as my backing (Kona Lemon!), but you could use anything. It will NOT show on the front when you are finished.

Cut (4) squares of facing fabric.  I used 5″ squares here, but a bit smaller would work just as well.  Fold in half on the diagonal and press well. Place them at each corner on the FRONT of your trimmed quilt as shown.

Now cut four strips: 2.5” wide x (Length of quilt side – 2.5”). Fold the strips in half lengthwise and press well. Now center these on each edge of the quilt so that they start and end 1 1/4” from each corner. The strips will be layered on top of the quilt sandwich and on top of the folded squares.

I used clips to hold everything in place but you could use pins instead. Clip or pin well all the way around.

Now stitch all the way around using a walking foot and a 1/4” seam allowance.

Reinforce the stitching at all 4 corners by stitching on the diagonal back and forth.

Flip all four side strips outward and press. Don’t flip the corners at this point.

Topstitch very close to the folded edge of the strips. This will help it stay folded over when you turn it toward the back.

I carefully trimmed the excess seam allowance at the corners to eliminate some of the bulk when it is turned. It helps you get sharper corners. Be careful not to trim away the stitching.

Finally it’s time to turn the corners and flip everything to the back side.

Poke out the corners as much as you can. But, honestly, it’s a quilt. They won’t be super sharp.  And that’s OK! I used the Purple Thang, but you could use a chopstick or whatever pokey thing you have around.

Press it well, making sure that the facing does not show from the front of the quilt. Now you can cheat and take your quilt photo if you are in a time crunch :).

Hand stitch the facing to the back of the quilt just as you’d hand stitch down a normal binding. You can also add a sleeve and a label now if you like.  Instead of a real label, I just signed my name right on the facing to serve as my label.  Better than nothing, right?

Here’s how it looks from the back.   Flat and tidy 🙂

And while I LOVE how a big full binding looks on a bed quilt, I am really really loving how this looks so clean and tidy and doesn’t distract from the art quilt design. 



Turn a printed panel into a faux applique mini quilt

As you may know, Spoonflower is a print on demand fabric company. Designers from all over the world upload amazing designs that you can order. Spoonflower holds weekly challenges with a variety of themes to inspire the designers. Earlier this year, I hand lettered and illustrated this piece for the affirmations challenge. I wanted something that could be printed on a fat quarter and easily turned into a banner or art quilt.

My little art quilt turned out super cute and was pretty darn easy and fast. When I showed it at my quilt guild meeting, many of the ladies were impressed by how long it must have taken me to applique all those words. LOL. Like I have time for that! They were surprised that it was a panel. The secret is to machine stitch around all the shapes.

If you love this project and want to order this fat quarter to make one of your own, you can find it here: The default setting on Spoonflower is Basic Cotton, but I recommend selecting KONA COTTON from the drop down menu. You should select Fat quarter to get one panel. If you select 1 yard, then you will be able to make 4 little quilts.

When my fabric arrived, I did a little happy dance, and then washed it per Spoonflower’s recommendation. I used gentle cycle with a tiny bit of Ivory dishsoap (my favorite for fabric – as was recommended to me by Harriet Hargrave in a class I attended from her many years ago). Dry on gentle cycle, remove promptly, and press well.

For the backing, I chose a fat quarter of Kona Cotton in Lemon Yellow (sized slightly larger than my spoonflower panel).  It was also prewashed and pressed well.  If you choose to use a printed backing fabric, be sure to place it on your cutting table, printed side DOWN so that when the quilt sandwich is completed the pretty side will be facing outward.

Cut a piece of batting to match the size of your backing fabric and smooth it out over the top of the backing fabric. For small art quilts I use Hobbs Thermore batting. ( It comes queen size and folded in a bag. One bag lasts me a LONG time. I like it because it is very thin (1/16”) and not lumpy and bumpy. Since it’s polyester, it doesn’t require dense quilting and if you need to wash the completed quilt, then it won’t pucker up like cotton batting does. While I LOVE a puckered up lap quilt, I don’t really want my art quilts to have that same effect.

Now I layered the quilt panel on the top of my sandwich and smoothed it all together. This is the point that it should probably be basted to avoid the fabrics shifting around while quilting.

Confession: For small quilts like this, I sometimes don’t pin or spray baste. GASP!  I know!  I really should but when the layers are sticking together well and I know that I won’t be doing a lot of heavy quilting that will cause it to shift, I just throw it on the machine and quilt.

Now it’s time for the fun part! I set up my machine with a new needle and put on my walking foot. I used matching thread for the top and either matching thread or yellow thread in the bobbin. I used cotton 50 wt thread – usually Aurifil.

First I quilted the line along the top curve of the rolling hill. Then I started quilting the line underneath it. Then I ripped it out because I just couldn’t see it well and veered off the path… oops. So I got out my trusty chalk pencil and drew a line so I could actually see where to sew.

When those lines are quilted, it seriously looks like you took a long time appliqueing that green onto the blue.

I changed my thread from green to white and outlined the edge of the clouds and one edge of the inner cloud accents too. You could do this with the free motion foot if you prefer.

With yellow thread, I SLOWLY outlined the main shape of the sun using the free motion foot. As you can see in the photo, I stitched a line connecting all the dots to the sun image. Although it’s not shown yet, I also stitched a line straight down the center of the darker yellow lines.

Now, I tackled the letters. If you go slow, it’s not hard. It just takes a bit longer. But seriously, nowhere NEAR as long as it would take to prepare all those shapes and applique them all down. I again used the free motion foot and went very slow.  Honestly, the worst part was all the starting and stopping and burying the threads.

In these photos I had already buried the threads at the beginning of the T. I usually don’t do that until the end. Aaaand pay no attention to the unfinished U. I remember going back and ripping it out and re-doing it.

When I was done with the stitching, I flattened it out on my cutting table and grabbed my biggest ruler and my rotary blade. As is the case after any sort of machine quilting, the edges needed a bit of straightening out. Making sure you have right angles at the corners, trim the excess batting and backing away. I didn’t really measure it because this is a panel and my finished size wasn’t critical. I just trimmed a smidge away on all 4 sides.

Now my panel was ready to finish. I considered a standard binding but then thought it might look better without that line around the edge. I decided to try a facing instead. It was super easy.

Next time I will share how to add a facing and finish the art quilt panel.

If you end up making this panel, be sure to let me know.  I’d love to see it!

How to photograph your quilts

At some point or another, every quilter has faced the challenge of getting a good photo of the quilt they just finished.   And the usual method is to grab a family member or two and have them hold it up while you snap a photo.   If you take the picture inside, the lighting can distort the colors.  If you go outside, you are at the whims of Mother Nature – too dark, too bright, too windy, too rainy…    And then you try hard to get your quilt holders to hold it steady and try not to get too many fingers and feet in your photo.

And what if you don’t have anyone handy to hold up that quilt?  You lay it out in the grass and take a lovely photo that looks like the bottom of your quilt is 6″ wider than the top due to the angle.    UGH.

I was frustrated by this, so I started doing some research to figure out a better way.   This is how I make it work for me.

You’ll need:  Camera, Tripod, Design Wall or flat wall surface,  tiny pins or tape,  daylight bulbs.  Clamp lights with reflector dish, measuring tape, painter’s tape.

First I hang the quilt on the wall approximately where I think it will go – it will need to be adjusted as you finalize the setup.   Place your camera on the tripod by screwing it into the base (or using a cell phone mount).  Now you will need to move it out from the flannel wall until you can see the entire quilt in the viewfinder without zooming in.    This will keep the distortion of the edges of the quilt to a minimum.

Now take a moment and grab your lint roller and get all the cat hair and lint off of your quilt.  If your quilt has creases or fold marks, you want to press them out and rehang.

After you have the tripod set up, measure from the floor to the center of the lens.    You will want the center of your quilt to be at the same distance up from the floor.   In other words, the center of the lens and the center of the quilt should form a horizontal line.    I mark the center of the quilt with a piece of painters tape and measure the distance to the floor.   Adjust as necessary and pin the center and the top center edge to the flannel wall.    I then measure the distance from the ceiling to the top of the quilt and use that measurement on both top corners of the quilt to make sure it is hanging level.

Use tiny sewing or applique pins as needed to hold the quilt up on the design wall.    You don’t want them to show up in your final photo so don’t use your big yellow headed quilting pins :).

Check your quilt placement by looking through the camera to make sure the marked center is in the center of your viewfinder.  (Remember to remove that painters tape before taking the photo!)

About the lights:     You will need to purchase some Daylight Bulbs.  These are important to get the colors to show up correctly.   You want bulbs that say 5000 Kelvin on them!   Approx equivalent to 100-150Watt.  I chose LED bulbs.   They are difficult to find in normal hardware stores, but I had no problem ordering them from Amazon.   Look for:  LED,  Daylight 5000k,  A19 shape (standard lightbulb shape),  E26 base (standard base).  100-150W equivalent (17 W is what I found).   Mine were approx $20 for a set of four.

Clamp light reflector:  These are very affordable and found at any hardware store.    Your daylight bulbs as described above should screw right in.


Now you will want to set up the lights on each side of the quilt so that they are about halfway between the quilt and the camera on each side of the quilt but out of the way of the photo shot.  Currently, I use some floor lamps (with their lights turned off) to clamp my lights onto.   It’s not ideal but until I can figure out another DIY option, they will do.   In the setup I’m showing here, I got a little bit of shadow at the top edge of the quilt, so I probably should have moved my lights up higher.   Also you’ll notice that my tripod is set up on top of my very heavy cutting table.   Ideally I’d have a bigger space in front of my design wall but, I’m working with what I’ve got.  I just shortened my tripod legs to compensate.


Now lets talk about camera settings.    It’s very important to set the white balance on your camera to match daylight.  My cell phone even lets me select 5000K to match the bulbs I’m using.    For my Canon camera, I have to choose the Program mode to be able to select daylight white balance.

To take the photo, I set my camera on a timer.  This eliminates any shaking from me touching the camera.

Now, take your camera off of the tripod and take some close up shots as well.    Remember to fold up the backing to get a shot of that and take a shot of the label as well.    It’s nice to have close up photos that really showcase your quilting.  Experiment with the placement of your lighting to highlight the quilting.

Any simple photo editor will let you crop out the excess background.

For very little investment, you can now produce nice straight-on photo of your quilts that are ideal for entering them into a quilt show or for keeping in an album for documentation purposes.    And there are no fingers and feet in the picture ;).

Pinwheel Space. 2001 Laura Bryant