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Fall is in the air, and I’m feeling a need to embroider. If you’re like me, you have an enormous pile of yarn left over from other projects. In my case, it sits in my needlework bag and taunts me, daring me to dig into it and make something pretty. So, one early fall afternoon with Vivaldi’s Autumn Allegro playing on iTunes, I took the challenge. Using one of the butcher linen placemats from my Felix Populi product line, I set about laying down some fall foliage in yarn.


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Materials

Leftover yarns of various different colors
Substratum to embroider on
I used a placemat.
Scrap fabric strips to enlarge the mat for the embroidery hoop
Scissors
Embroidery hoop
Ballpoint embroidery needle

Directions

The first step is to create a color story. I’ve chosen warm fall tones in orange, golden yellow, brown, and white, with some green accents. The colors felt like the fall landscapes of my youth. Now, I’ve used both wool yarn and cotton floss, so my finished product won’t be washable. If you want a washable mat, use all cotton floss or acrylic. Lay your yarns out on your substratum, and if the color combination pleases you then you know you have a winner.
Once you’ve chosen your yarns, you need to enlarge the mat so you can put it in the embroidery hoop. I used strips of leftover muslin, which I stitched to the mat using a basting stitch on my sewing machine.

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If you don’t have a machine, you can stitch them down using a hand backstitch. Be sure the stitch is tight, though. The hoop will put some pressure on your stitching. Put your subject in the embroidery hoop (I started at the upper left-hand corner) and you’re ready to begin stitching.
Now the whole point of freeform embroidery is to work without diagrams, to let your imagination go and create a pleasing design one element at a time. I decided to create a pattern of flowers using 3 basic stitches: the satin stitch, the detached chain stitch, and the French knot.
For most of the flower centers I used a satin stitch.
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It’s one of the simpler stitches to do. Begin by imagining a small circle or oval on the fabric in the center of where you want the flower to be. At about 2 o’clock on that circle bring your needle up from the bottom of the fabric. Leave about a 1″ tail below the surface. Hold that tail under the surface so you’ll catch it with your subsequent stitches.

Bring your needle down again at about 4 o’clock on your imaginary circle, then up again just before your first stitch. Continue working your stitches close enough to each other, so that none of the surface of the fabric shows. Follow the outline of your imaginary circle with the in and out points of your stitches. When you’ve completed the shape, bury the leading tail of your yarn under the stitches on the back of the work. If you’ve held the trailing tail in place while stitching, it should have been caught by your stitches.
I’ve also used the satin stitch to create some tiny triangular leaves. This is easily accomplished by imagining a small leaf shape, just as you imagined your circle. Work this shape in the same manner.
The petals of my flowers have been worked with the detached chain stitch (see photos below). To form this stitch come up with your needle (using a new yarn color) at the edge of your satin stitch center and then insert the needle down through the fabric right next to the exit point for the yarn, but don’t pull it tight. Lay the loop on the mat to determine how long you want your petals to be; mine range from 3/4″ to about 3/8″.

When you’ve determined the optimal length for this particular flower, bring your needle up through the loop right next to the end (below, left) and down just outside the loop to catch it. Then move on to the next petal, right next to the first. The petals should radiate out from the center, perpendicular to the outline of the circle that defines the flower center (below, right).

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To give my flowers a casual, off-hand feeling, I overlapped some of the petals.
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I’ve accented the flowers (and created some of their centers) with French knots (see photos below). French knots are one of my favorite stitches because they’re easy to make and have a charming three-dimensional quality. Bring the needle up at the point you want the French knot to appear. Then wrap the yarn around the shaft of the needle twice. Insert the tip of the needle right next to the exit point of the yarn (but not in the same hole), and pull the coiled yarn snug around the needle and flat against the fabric. Pull the needle through, and your knot is formed.

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I’ve scattered knots between the flowers and allowed them to help define the overall shape of my patches of embroidery. I’ve also used them for the centers on the white daisies, singularly and in clusters of 3.
I’ve placed my flowers in 3 loosely defined patches: in the upper left corner, the lower right corner, and one on the right side just above the lower corner. Play with placement for a pleasing effect.
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The nice thing about these flowers is that if you don’t like the placement of one or its color composition, you can easily take it out and replace it without too much trouble.
Once you’ve finished the embroidery, take it out of the hoop and remove the strips by pulling out the basting stitches. Then give your mat a press and it’s ready to use!
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You can make several of these to use on the dining room table, or you can make one for use on a dresser. If you want to make enough for a dinner party but don’t want to commit to days of embroidery, I suggest making an elaborate one for a centerpiece and then simplifying the design to 2 or 3 flowers for the individual mats.
This technique can be used on all sorts of projects. It can adorn everything from clothing to handbags to kitchen items. If done in holiday colors it can be used on tree skirts and stockings, and if you use raffia it can decorate summer picnic linens. The possibilities are myriad!
About the Author:
Brini Maxwell is a domestic guru, television personality, and the face of the Felix Populi brand of home accessories. She lives in New York City.