White Work – embroidery in white thread on white fabric – is not as hard as it looks. But another bonus is that it is really inexpensive. The one hitch about white work is that it seems to show your skill (or lack thereof!) in stitching much more so than other forms of embroidery.
You don’t need much in the way of supplies to produce a nice piece of white work embroidery…
First, you need fabric. Depending on what you want to produce, there are a lot of choices. If you’re just starting out, try it on a high-count, pure white muslin (like “Southern Belle” muslin). It’s relatively inexpensive, easy to work on, and produces a pretty end-product. If you’ve got your stitches down, and you really want to produce something nice, then work on good fine linen. Legacy linen makes some good stuff, but when you get into that quality, the price rises considerably! You can work on batiste, organdy, lawn, or anything, really, as long as it’s white! I’d say avoid synthetic fabrics or blends – natural fibers seem to be easier to work on.
You’ll need a hoop, a pattern, white thread, and needles corresponding to the size of your thread.
You can use a thread or two of regular 6-stranded embroidery floss (DMC or Anchor) or silk, or even very fine white wool, or coton a broder in the smaller sizes. I like using white silk, and YLI is relatively inexpensive and easy to work with.
To transfer the design, you should use blue – I don’t know why, but for some reason, if the blue sticks around, it eventually absorbs itself into the white so that it isn’t really visible. I use transfer pens that are water soluble, or Saral-type (no wax, no carbon) transfer paper. It wouldn’t hurt to test your fabric to make sure the markings will wash out, but I’ve never had any that wouldn’t.
If your fabric’s not thin enough to see through easily, you can use a light box for tracing, or – more economically – tape your pattern to a window, and tape your fabric over it. Trace it. If you’re using transfer paper, you don’t have to worry about tracing.
The typical stitches you’ll use are backstitch, stem stitch, satin stitch, chain stitch, buttonhole, and overcast. Other stitches can come into play, so it’s a good idea to have a reference book handy if you need it (see my recommendation)
What kinds of designs? They can be as simple or as intricate as you wish – it all depends on your project. If you’re just starting out, try something small. A book I like for white work designs is put out by Dover Publications – it’s less than $7.00, and has a wealth of nice designs for any type of project in it.
Oh – and good lighting is a must! You can’t work white-on-white in the dark!
Have fun with it!