Mary Corbet

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I learned to embroider when I was a kid, when everyone was really into cross stitch (remember the '80s?). Eventually, I migrated to surface embroidery, teaching myself with whatever I could get my hands on...read more

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Reader’s Question: Stitching Applique and Using DMC


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Here’s another reader’s question that came in this past week. I decided to post it for several reasons: 1. I’ve received similar questions before; 2. the e-mail came back as non-deliverable, so I’m hoping the reader can find my answer here; and 3. other readers may have some input to help Twyla with her stitching decisions!

There are two points I’d like to admit about myself before I launch into this: 1. I don’t know the answer to every needlework question, though I will generally make an effort to find an answer if anyone e-mails me for help; 2. My answer may not be the best answer, or the only answer – there are lots of ways to approach embroidery and needlework and not everyone uses the same techniques.

So that’s my blanket statement, and I realize it sounds a lot like a bad excuse just to cover myself. And perhaps it is! Hmmmm…..

Ok, here’s Twyla’s e-mail:

Hello, I’m thankful for your videos. I like to make quilts and so I ordered a quilt kit called the Catnip Quilt. I live in Japan so I can’t just go to a store. Anyway, I ordered all my things on-line and I needed DMC floss for the kitty’s whiskers, and stuff like that. I’m using a fusible webb to put on all my cats and I don’t want to use my sewing machine to do the applique; I want to do them by hand. That’s where your videos have been helpful. I don’t know much about embroidery. I decided to use a buttonhole stitch to go around all my applique. I don’t know what DMC floss is. I ordered floss; it is 100% cotton and comes in 6 strands but it seems really cheap. So, what is DMC floss compared to other flosses out there?

Also, out of all your videos of stitches, what would be the ones you recommend for going around applique on quilts by hand? Also, how do you know how many strands of floss you use for different ones?

Thanks for any help you can give!

And here’s my response:

DMC stranded floss (cotton, 6 strands) is the most widely-available floss here in the US. It’s mercerized cotton, so it has a sheen to it, it’s fairly strong, and it’s fine for stitching. Like any cotton floss, it may pill or fray if you’re stitching with long strands through several layers of fabric and fusing. Make sure you stitch with short lengths of floss (no more than 16 inches, I’d say).

The best stitch for around an applique is buttonhole or blanket stitch. The spokes of the stitch go towards the inside of the applique, while the rope-like edge that forms ends right on the applique line. You can vary the width of the stitch, so that the spokes are farther apart or closer together (in fact, you can stitch them right next to each other if you wish), as you choose. It depends on the look you want. Alternately, you can also use an overcast stitch. I don’t have a video for overcasting, but essentially, it is just stitching a satin-stitch-type line over the edge of the applique and the ground fabric.

The number of strands you choose for your floss depends upon the size of the applique, and how much is required for the floss to be visible. If the appliques are a regular size (nothing miniature), I’d guess you’d need two strands at least. If they are big appliques, you might go for three strands. Anyway, try both – and then decide what looks best. You’ll want to make sure you have a needle with a big enough eye to accommodate the number of strands. A needle that’s too small, on this kind of work, will hurt your hands and will cause your thread to pill and fray.

Make sure as well that you strip your floss first. That is, after you cut the length you’re going to use, you separate one strand at a time from the piece of floss, until you have the number you’re going to use. So, if you’re going to work with two threads, you separate two threads from the rest of the floss (individually pulling one thread out at a time), and then you put the two threads back together. This keeps your floss from looking twisted and not giving full coverage.

The best way to strip your floss is to grip about an inch away from one end of the floss with one hand, holding the floss up in front of you so that it’s falling towards the floor, with the inch of floss sticking out above your two fingers. Then, with the other hand, pick out one strand from the bunch (above your fingers), and pull straight up out of the group – the rest of the floss hanging below your fingers will pull up as you pull the piece out, but fall again, once the piece is out. If you try stripping your floss just by pulling it straight apart, you’ll end up with a knotted mess.

If you have any advice that you want to add to help Twyla with her project, don’t hesitate to post a comment down below! Thanks!


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(3) Comments

  1. I am so glad you posted this today, as I was just searching for advice on embroidery with DMC. I have tried to do this in the past but had trouble finding a needle that would work well.
    I will be going through a cotton print and a piece flannel. Do you have any suggestions?

  2. Hi, Tyann –

    I’d definitely use a crewel needle (or sometimes they’re just sold as “embroidery” needles). These have a sharp point and a long eye. If you are using 2 strands, I’d look for a #7. If 3 strands, you can use a #5, I think.

    Good luck!


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