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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Shisha Mirrors for Embroidery


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Remember the impromptu hand embroidered Christmas ornament I finished right before Christmas?

Shisha Embroidery with Mirrors and Other Objects

Well, when working on the backside of it – the side with the mirror in the center, that you can see in the photo above – I heard from many of you, wondering where to find mirrors for shisha embroidery, and other general questions about mirror embroidery.

If you’re wanting to learn how to work shisha embroidery – how to attach mirrors and the like to ground fabric with secure, decorative stitches – you’ll find four tutorials for shisha here on Needle ‘n Thread, each with a different variation of decorative stitches.

All four tutorials are listed in the Stitch Fun Index and in this alphabetical index of embroidery stitches, under S.

Today, though, let’s talk about resources for shisha mirrors, different types of mirrors for embroidery, and other objects that can be attached effectively to ground fabric with the same stitches used in shisha embroidery.

Practicing Shisha Embroidery

If you’re practicing shisha stitches, you might not want to invest in mirrors right off. The mirrors are not really expensive, but you might want to try different shisha stitch variations first, to see if you like the techniques, before shopping for mirrors.

What can you do?

Shisha Embroidery with Mirrors and Other Objects

Well, you can make your own mirrors. You can punch 1/2″ to 1″ holes in card stock and wrap the resulting disk in aluminum foil. This is something that Erica Wilson suggests in her episode on shisha embroidery, which you can watch on YouTube. (Fantastic episode – definitely worth watching!)

Truthfully, this isn’t my favorite solution to “immediate mirrors.” Even if you use heavy duty aluminum foil and a tapestry needle, the needle catches in the foil, dents it, pushes it about, can even inadvertently tear it.

It works in a pinch, and it can be done, but it’s not super convenient.

Shisha Embroidery with Mirrors and Other Objects

An alternative that I’ve written about before, that I think works a lot better, is to skip the mirror look altogether while you’re practicing. Instead, punch out 1/2″, 3/4″ or 1″ pieces from pretty greeting cards that you might have lying around, and use these paper punches for practice pieces.

The results are really pretty! And you can coordinate your thread colors with the decorative paper. Just make sure that the pieces are at least card stock weight.

Shisha Mirrors and Where to Find Them

Of course, if you want to go straight to mirrors, that’s great, too! Shisha mirrors, in general, are not too expensive, depending on the type you get.

Shisha Embroidery with Mirrors and Other Objects

Mylar “mirrors” are not really mirrors, but they’re made and sold for shisha and other techniques, costume decorations, and so forth.

These are very thin, flexible, shiny pieces of mylar – essentially polyester – that come in various shapes. For the quantity you get, they’re the least expensive option for bought “mirrors.”

The mylar mirrors have holes punched in them, which can be an added boon. You can tack your mirror to your ground fabric with sewing thread and then do your shisha work over that, and not worry about the mirror shifting.

The disadvantage of mylar mirrors is that…well, they aren’t really mirrors, are they? They’re somewhat reflective, true, and they’re shiny.

But in the end, they look a lot like thin little pieces of shiny plastic – probably because that’s what they are.

Shisha Embroidery with Mirrors and Other Objects

More authentic mirrors are these prepared mirrors, which are really mirrors.

And that particular mirror above would be a bit more mirror-looking, if it hadn’t been quite so cold in my workroom. On cold days, like any glass, these steam up when you start handling them or are close enough to breathe on them.

They’re made of glass, they’re cut out into specifically sized disks, they’re about 1/8″ thick, and they have relatively smooth edges. They’re much heavier than the mylar mirrors, so if you’re planning to encrust something with mirror embroidery – especially something you plan to wear – take the weight into consideration!

Both the mylar and these specifically sized glass mirrors can be found at Lacis. In their catalog, search “mirrors” and both options will show up in the search results.

You can also find different shaped mirrors (diamonds, rounds) in different sizes at Stitching Shop, out of Denver, Colorado. The shisha mirrors are listed under “new products” right now. I’ve ordered their Shisha mirror variety pack (24 / tube) to try them. I’ll let you know how they are when I’ve worked with them a bit!

Shisha Embroidery with Mirrors and Other Objects

Now, if you want to be super-duper authentic with your shisha embroidery, then these traditional mica mirrors from India are the way to go.

These are very rough little mirrors, not perfect in shape and size, but they are the mirrors used for traditional shisha embroidery. They are much lighter than the pre-cut mirrors above, though not as light as the mylar mirrors. They’re bubbly and not perfectly smooth. Occasionally, you might come across sharp edges that require a little buffing with the right sand paper.

The only place I know of that carries the mica mirrors outside India is Silken Threads in the UK.

Using Shisha Embroidery to Attach other Things to Fabric

Keep in mind, you aren’t limited to attaching only mirrors to fabric using shisha techniques.

Shisha Embroidery with Mirrors and Other Objects

Flat semi-precious stones can be attached to fabric with shisha stitches.

Shisha Embroidery with Mirrors and Other Objects

Buttons? Sure! This is a painted mother of pearl button with a small shank on the back. I opened a hole up in the fabric with a stiletto for the shank to fit through, and then used the traditional shisha stitch to attach the button.

Obviously, it’s not going to work like a button, but that’s not the point!

Any type of semi-flattish object (round, square, diamond shaped – doesn’t matter) will work.

If you’re into the whole steampunk look, just think of the possibilities! You can attach all kinds of hardware to fabric this way, if you really wanted to.

Shisha Embroidery with Mirrors and Other Objects

And don’t forget objects from nature! Shells, beetle wings, small flat stones…

Shisha Embroidery with Mirrors and Other Objects

Shisha is a great technique for attaching beetle wings to fabric in a way that’s decorative and functional. You can find my tutorial for beetle wings with shisha embroidery here, if you’re feeling adventurous.

Washing Shisha-Embroidered Items

If you use mylar mirrors, regular mirrors, or mica mirrors, garments embellished with shisha are washable, depending on the other materials in the garment and embellishment. Make sure the washed piece is capable of drying completely. You don’t want mildew building up behind the mirrors, if the fabric never dries.

Obviously, paper, aluminum foil-covered paper, decorative card stock, and the like are not washable.

Beetle wings are washable in cold to lukewarm water. Hot water and steam for longer periods of time will change the color of the wings – they’ll turn a little more rusty looking. Again, make sure the piece can dry completely.

Buttons, stones, seashells – these are all washable, but be gentle when washing them. Too much stretching or moving of the cloth could cause them to pop out of the embroidery, due to their weight.

Hardware should be washable, but make sure the piece is able to dry thoroughly fairly quickly, because hardware can rust.

More to Come

I’m playing with a small spot of shisha right now, just to have a photo for illustrating an article. I’ll share it with you later!

In the meantime, if you have any questions about shisha, or you’d like to see something in particular demonstrated, or you have some suggestions for objects that can be used in shisha embroidery, Feel free to chime in below!

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(24) Comments

  1. You can use the foil that wraps and seals the top of wine bottles as a substitute for shisha mirrors. Some foils are soft and malleable, some are very stiff and colors vary on the inside as well as the outside. Don’t bother with the plastic “foils;” they are very sharp and unforgiving, too.

    After you slice off the circular top, take out the cork–and empty the bottle, you can cut the larger piece off the bottle and then cut it to shape. Or even save the circular top and use it if the design appeals to you.

    Any coin is another alterative.

    I’ve considered trying the silvered inner packaging of cookies such as “Nilla Wafers.” They are VERY shiny, could be cut to shape, and are far more sturdy than aluminum foil. Any packaging such as the silvered seal on peanut butter, etc. might also serve the purpose, though I haven’t tried it yet. Just remove it from the jar carefully so you don’t rip it.

    Since any shisha embroidery isn’t likely to be washed, you won’t need to consider how well any of these materials would do in the laundry.

  2. There are also the little round plastic mirrors that are available from craft stores like Michaels. There is one problem with these though, they are so smoothly round and slippery that it is difficult to make them stay in place while stitching, but they are there and I have used them for shisha stitched ‘ornaments’ on a felt Christmas tree. (the secret -a touch of craft glue on the back first to hold them still)

  3. Dear Mary

    Shisha embroidery is definitely going to be my next project I’ve decided I liked your Christmas decorations so much that I will make some for next Christmas and incorporate shish mirrors which I already have in different shapes I can’t remember where I got them from but they are generally available here in the Uk. Buttons would be interesting to use instead of mirrors I might even try them, never thought of shells I have a load of shells, I could use these as well. Thanks for the information on Shisha mirrors and where to buy them and how to care for them and tutorials and for sharing the information with us.

    Regards Anita Simmance

  4. I’ve done embroidery with Shisha mirrors. Only I did not buy mirrors. I cut them out of old CDs. You can’t tell the difference. The edges don’t need to be perfect. They’re getting covered up anyway.

    1. I’ve seen stunning work using bits of CD over on Stitchin Fingers. What do you use to cut them? Or do you smash them and select pieces that are the right size? (I’ve bought glass shisha mirrors at a discount craft chain here in Melbourne, Australia, but I like the idea of using CDs.)

    2. Replying to Elaine, I used a regular paper scissors to cut it. I have so many old scissors, so it didn’t matter to me if it got ruined. But, the CD plastic is softer than you think.

    3. I have been using bits of old CD’s for years. My husband cuts them out with a hole saw, then gives the edges a quick rub with sandpaper to smooth off any roughness. BTW this is a good thing to do with glass shisha too as sometimes they can be quite rough which as Mary points out is apt to cut the threads.

      I have never had much success attaching shisha via the traditional method as demonstrated so beautifully here, so I use washers of an appropriate size and cover them with buttonhole stitch all round. This covers the edges of the shisha and can then be stitched down using chain stitch, Cretan, herringbone etc. It can look very decorative in fact and in many ways is easier to do than the traditional way.

  5. For practice purposes, circular shapes punched out of soda/beer cans would work at least as well as the aluminum foil or the mylar mirrors, wouldn’t they?

    (However, before punching the circles out, make sure to flatten your aluminum can by running it a couple of times, against the curve, over the edge of a table or desk)

    1. Yes, but I think the edges on punched cans, etc. would be quite sharp, and you’d end up wearing the thread quite a bit. The stitching is done right up next to the edge of the piece, so I think anything that’s very sharp like that would end up having a detrimental effect on the thread. Card stock is a whole lot easier to work with!

  6. Mary, I registered some time ago. However I cannot access the acct with my ID and email. It says to contact an administrator…but doesn’t say how that is accomplished. Can you help????

  7. I’ve been playing with resin lately and it seems like you could use it with fragile things like foils, papers, etc. An excellent source for ideas and materials is little-windows.com and they have loads of ideas for things to do with it. It has a slight magnifying effect is cool.

  8. I love the idea of attaching carbachons with shisha – never thought of doing that. I’ve used beading and it looks great, but sometimes I don’t want the beaded look. Thanks Mary – for stating what should have been obvious!

  9. Mary, this is one of my favorite techniques to do. You have written about it before, and I appreciate the re-visit. I LOVE the candy cane weave thing you did with that mirror.
    I have worked on dresses for my Indian clients who use all sorts of embellishments – the younger ladies use the mica and seashells for party garb.
    It can never get boring, as there are hundreds of options to use as the center core of shisha embroidery. Once that is tacked and stitched, the entire outside can be elaborately embroidered just like a crazy quilt!
    Thank you for the post.

  10. I found small mirrors at the dollar store, but many years ago I did an Erika Wilson design on a denim jacket using large flat sequins or paillettes which went through the wash and dry quite well.

  11. Could you not use the larger pailettes/sequins that come in lots of colors? They often have a single small hole near the edge–it would be covered by the embroidery.

    Seems to me you could also use circles cut from some of the sheets funky heat-moldable plastic that you can buy in craft stores. It comes in all sorts of colors and finishes, including some nice iridescent finishes.

    If you didn’t mind a bit of thickness, you could also make some very interesting shisha shapes out of shrinky-dink plastic. Draw something detailed, shrink it down, and be amazed!

    Sooo many possibilities!

  12. Stealing from my goldwork, you can make circle raised mounds with felt and cover with large flat sequins to act as a mirror. Sequins come up to size 100mm these days.

  13. In India over the past two years I saw a lot of work that used cut-up DVDs and CDs, as described here. Also small circles of mylar from chip/crisp bags, turned inside out and taped onto cardboard disks. There were also lots of disks stamped out of aluminum cans, and in the crafts stores for sale -large plastic spangles, about 3cm across. I saw very few pieces for sale that included actual glass mirrors, and most of those were touted as being very old.

    I also found no actual glass mirrors in the shops for use in Shisha, although admittedly, the stores I was looking in catered to “ladies of leisure,” who from the shops’ stock seem to be more interested in non-traditional/non-indigenous forms of needlework.

  14. I am really intrigued about the shisha embroidery. There have been times where I wanted to attach something but couldn’t figure out how to do it. As part of my new learning curve, I will use this stitch before the end of the year!!! Yep, a New Years Resolution in action….write me on December 31st to see if I accomplished my goal.

  15. I have been experimenting with using the plastic bags that coffee and sometimes cat or dog food comes in in various projects. It is often a reflective material in many beautiful colors. That could work just as well as the sequins mentioned and would not cut the thread,

    I can’t wait to start on this project. I have long admired the beautiful embellishments on Indian garments. Consequently I have a large collection of saris and scarves that I cannot even squeeze myself into!

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