“Ground Fabric” sounds funny. If you’ve been around embroidery for a while, you probably know what it means, but for newbies, when they hear the term “ground fabric,” it raises questions.
I don’t mean ground, as in the past tense of grind – we aren’t putting the fabric in the coffee grinder (well, not today, anyway). And I don’t mean ground, as in dirt. By all means, keep your fabric out of the dirt! By “ground,” I mean the foundation upon which embroidery is worked. So, “ground fabric” is your embroidery fabric – it’s the foundation of your embroidery.
Right now, I’m in a Ground Fabric Quandary. I have a few projects in the Test Run phase. They’re ready to be worked out, but I’m oscillating over choices for ground fabrics. So let’s chat a bit about ground fabrics!
Fabric Swatch Books
I already know I want to use linen for the projects I have in mind, so I’ll concentrate on just my linen choices at this point.
Above, you can see part of my collection of linen swatches.
It’s super handy to build a collection of swatches. With a swatch collection, you have a little sample of different types of fabrics that will help you make some preliminary decisions about the fabric to choose for a hand embroidery project. Knowing what’s available and what it looks and feels like is a huge help, when it comes to making fabric decisions.
Build Your Own Swatch Collection
You can easily build your own collection of swatches over time. I really liked the idea of these clear plastic sleeves, each one labeled with the type of fabric, the color name, the thread count if applicable, and so forth. So I invested in these baseball card sleeves from Amazon, which I keep in a binder. As I try different fabrics for different projects, I put a small piece about the size of baseball card into a slot on the sleeve, and I label the outside of the slot with whatever information I know about the fabric, including where I originally found it.
It helps to cut and categorize swatches right away, whenever you acquire knew fabric. Otherwise, you might forget some details – like where you found it, or exactly what kind of fabric it is.
I try to keep my swatches categorized by manufacturer and type. So, for example, all my Legacy linen swatches are in their own pages, while I have a separate page for other linens, a page for silks and silk satins, a page for different types of velvets, a page of muslin from different manufacturers (Moda, etc.), cotton blends, linen blends, and so forth.
The swatches aren’t big, so I can’t stitch samples on them, but they are large enough to get the feel of the fabric, to know its weight, to see what it looks like alone, and to see what it looks like with different colors of thread.
Narrow Down Your Fabric Choices
After examining my swatch book, taking out different pieces and feeling them, putting them next to the threads I’m thinking of using, I narrow down my possibilities to usually a few fabrics. Sometimes, to more than a few!
After my last perusal of my swatch book, I narrowed down my linen choices to this stack. I ordered some pieces of the linen, so that I could stitch on them.
The pieces you order for testing don’t have to be huge. Some stores allow you to order linen in common sized cuts, which can be a whole lot less expensive than buying a fat quarter, for example. Needle in a Haystack in California will do this for you – and they’ll even neaten the edge of your cut of fabric for you for free, which is a nice bonus! I love them for that! If you visit the fabric page on the Needle in a Haystack website, you’ll find all kinds of good information about embroidery fabrics, cut sizes, and fabric terminology. Definitely worth perusing!
After seeing the larger cuts of fabric, I decided to focus on four that I’d like to test by actually stitching on them with the threads I have in mind, plus any other threads that might work better.
You can see that I’ve strayed away a bit from my “normal” palette of ground fabrics. My normal palette is usually white, bright white, antique white… you get the idea! And occasionally, I dabble on natural colored linens, too (kind of oaty colors).
For this experiment, I’ve narrowed down to four Legacy linens. I really love their linens.
Color was on my mind for a change, so I’ve chosen Atmosphere, Baltic Green, Wren Wing, and Porcelain Pink. Wren Wing, I’ve used before for surface embroidery projects, and I like it a lot. It’s a dark natural color, but the other three colors are blue, pale green and pale pink. All four of the fabrics are even-weave, from 30 to 34 count fabric, but they are suitable for surface embroidery because the threads of the fabric “fill” the fabric. There aren’t a lot of really thin threads that leave big, naked strips in the fabric.
For the type of stitching I’m planning to do, all four of these should be suitable. They wouldn’t hold up to heavy surface stitching (goldwork, heavy crewel work and the like) without a backing fabric behind them, but for medium-type surface stitching (most whitework, and general surface embroidery) they will work well.
Now, I’ll test! I’ll see how my color choices really work, stitched, on the fabrics. (In fact, I’m hesitating about colors, too – I have a palette of colors in mind, plus I have the option of whitework threads – not quite sure yet.) I’ll also see how the fabrics hold up to the stitching I want to do – whether they will need a backing fabric, whether they will work on their own. And who knows – maybe in the testing, I’ll decide that none of the four will do. Or maybe I’ll decide that all four will do, and then I’ll have a tough choice to make.
I’ll let you know how it pans out!
What about you? Do you have a favorite go-to fabric for your hand embroidery projects? If so, what is it and why do you like it? Are you always on the look out for decent embroidery fabrics? What do you look for in the fabrics you choose? Let’s chat about fabrics for hand embroidery! Have your say below!