Today, I want to touch on a subject that may change your approach to hand embroidery forever!
This just might be the secret you’ve been looking for, to vastly improve the finished results of your embroidery projects.
The topic is lining your embroidery ground fabric with another fabric – why to do it, when to do it, what to do it with, and how to do it.
For many of you, I’m sure this tip is Old Hat. But newbies to the embroidery scene might not even know they have the option of using a lining behind their ground fabric, and that doing so can make a huge difference in the outcome of an embroidery project.
Defining Fabric Terms
Before we start the discussion, it’s a good idea to define terms!
When talking about embroidery, the ground fabric is the fabric you are embroidering on. It’s the “background” of your embroidery.
Most of the time, at least some ground fabric is visible in a finished embroidery project, but there are times (for example, with this Marian Medallion Project) when the ground fabric is completely covered with embroidery and never visible.
Regardless of whether or not the ground fabric can be seen, the fabric you choose is always an important consideration in hand embroidery. Your choice of ground fabric can make or break your embroidery project, so it’s a good idea to always use a high quality fabric as your ground fabric.
I’ve written quite a bit about ground fabric here on Needle ‘n Thread. If you’re looking for more reading on the topic, you might find these two articles especially useful:
5 Things You Need to Know about Hand Embroidery Fabric
Choosing the Right Fabric for Hand Embroidery
By lining, I mean another fabric that is situated right behind the ground fabric before you start embroidering, so that you are embroidering through both the ground fabric and the fabric right behind it.
By lining, I don’t mean the silky-satin polyester lining found in the clothing industry, or fabrics (woven or non-woven) sold as “interfacing.”
Why Line Embroidery Ground Fabric
There are several reasons you might consider lining your embroidery ground fabric with a lining fabric:
1. Your embroidery ground fabric is lighter or semi-translucent, and you want the assurance that threads from the back of the work (especially tweakers that you aren’t expecting!) don’t show through to the front.
2. Your embroidery ground fabric needs extra support. If you plan to do some heavy duty stitching or you plan to use some heavy threads, a lining will provide an extra layer of support.
3. Your embroidery ground fabric is not densely woven or does not have a compact, smooth hand (for example, you’re using an even-weave linen made more for counted work.) If your embroidery ground fabric is more loosely woven or it does not have a smooth, compact hand that will support surface stitches, the weave of the fabric will try to dictate where your needle can go. With this type of fabric, it can be difficult to stitch smooth flowing lines or to achieve a smooth edge on satin stitch or long and short stitch motifs. Using a lining like a cotton muslin will give all your surface embroidery stitches more freedom – you won’t have to rely on the weave of the ground fabric to hold your stitches.
When to Line Embroidery Ground Fabrics
First, refer to the why to line embroidery ground fabrics, above. If your situation fits, use another layer of fabric to line your ground fabric.
Some examples of techniques that benefit from lining the ground fabric:
Goldwork and silk embroidery – for example, these projects are lined with another fabric: Marian Medallion, Mission Rose, Agnus Dei, this goldwork IHS ecclesiastical project
Crewel Work done on even weave linen instead of twill – for example, this project.
Regular surface embroidery done on lightweight fabrics – for example, the current kaleidoscope design I’m working on, which is on lightweight linen backed with a white cotton muslin.
Surface embroidery employing beadwork, dense stitching, or heavy threads – for example, Late Harvest, which is densely stitched in some areas and which is encrusted with heavy beads here and there, is worked on a linen / cotton blend backed with muslin for extra support.
When Not to Line Your Fabric
You don’t need to line embroidery fabric that will support the stitches just fine for the type of project you’re doing, and that aren’t too light or too transparent.
And, of course, in certain types of stitching, you wouldn’t even consider lining the project, because it would interfere with finishing or with the desired results. For example, shadow work embroidery like this would not work with a lining.
With household linens like this table runner or even simple flour sack towels like this, a lining fabric would either interfere with finishing or would just be pointless.
So keep in mind that not all embroidery projects need a lining fabric.
What Fabric to Use to Line Embroidery Ground Fabric
If your ground fabric is silk, velvet, or the like – used, for example, behind goldwork or ecclesiastical-type embroidery – then the lining fabric is usually a fine but sturdy linen. Some stitchers prefer to use a good quality cotton muslin, but when it comes to ecclesiastical embroidery, for example, I like to use a linen behind silk and velvet.
If the ground fabric is linen or cotton or a blend, then the lining fabric can very reasonably be a good quality cotton muslin.
For lining fabrics, you don’t have to break the bank by purchasing very expensive fabric, but they should be a decent quality fabric.
Don’t use polyester blends or the like! Use natural fiber fabrics, like linen or cotton.
How to Use a Lining Fabric
If you’re going to use a lining fabric behind your ground fabric, these suggestions will help you get the best results with your finished embroidery project:
1. If you pre-shrink your ground fabric (for example, I always pre-shrink linen or cotton, especially if I’m planning to wash the finished project), then definitely pre-shrink your lining fabric, too!
2. Cut your lining fabric on the grain and line it up with the grain of your ground fabric before you put the fabrics in your hoop or on your frame. You can read about fabric grain here.
3. For small projects, you can hoop up your ground fabric and the lining at the same time, without basting the two fabrics together. Just make sure the grain of both fabrics are aligned and that there are no “bubbles” or wrinkles in the lining fabric behind the ground fabric. Both fabrics should be pulled taut in the hoop at the same time.
4. For larger projects, you can baste your ground fabric and lining fabric together outside your design area, or in areas of the design that will be covered with stitching. I like to baste my fabrics together after I have framed them up, like I did with the Marian Medallion Project, here. But some folks like to baste both fabrics before framing or hooping.
5. For some projects – especially goldwork on silk or velvet, or large ecclesiastical projects, or projects worked on a silk ground with a linen lining – you can mount a large piece of lining fabric onto the embroidery frame first, and then baste your ground fabric onto the lining fabric, as I did with this ecclesiastical piece on velvet. First, I framed up the linen lining fabric, then I sewed the velvet ground fabric onto the linen with herringbone stitch. Another example: this crewel piece on even weave linen with a cotton lining – although with this one, I sewed the two fabrics together with the herringbone stitch, with the ground fabric sewn onto the larger lining fabric, and then the lining fabric was mounted on the frame.
Do you often use a lining fabric behind your hand embroidery projects? Do you have any tips you’d like to share? Or anything pertinent I may have overlooked?
Do you have any questions about using a lining fabric behind your embroidery projects? Any points that you find confusing or you’d like more clarification on?
Feel free to join the discussion and leave a comment below!
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