Fiber arts · Freestyle Embroidery

Embroidery without the Hoop

Where I get an idea.  Ditch the embroidery hoop.

I do not care for embroidery hoops.  So I tried not using one. 

This idea came from seeing a reel on instagram (video from youtube showing the technique) from an embroidery company located in Kashmir that featured one of their workers embroidering a shawl and I noted that he wasn’t using a hoop or other frame.  He was working using quick tailoring stitches parallel to the surface of the fabric rather than the more typical embroidery stitches which involves doing stitches perpendicular to the fabric.  I have a decent amount of hand sewing experience so this looked to be much faster.  

After doing a bit of searching I found that the style of embroidery is called Sozni Needlework and it is based in the Jammu and Kashmir region.  A more extensive page on sozni work can be found on Google’s Arts & Culture site.  There are several short videos embedded in the page showing that the embroidery process is done using a tailoring thimble and worked on without a hoop.  The embroidery is incredible intricate and the patterns are printed on the fabric using wood blocks before the embroidery work begins. 

A bit more research turned up a few youtube videos and a page from Sproule Studios showing how they do hand embroidery without a frame or hoop. 

My Process and test case for unsupported hand embroidery

A piece of white cotton with an embroidery pattern reading "Be Gay Do Crime" in a florid script

I started with a piece of Kona Cotton and printed out a pattern that I had done in photoshop using letters sourced from The Embroider’s Book of Design. I printed this on a piece of stick-on stabilizer and then laid it on the cotton.  

My initial choice of needle was an embroidery needle, maybe a size 7.  I tried to work parallel to the surface of the fabric but found that the stabilizer was too thick to allow it to bend very much.  The needle was also too large to smoothly punch through the fabric and stabilizer.  I could feel it sticking on the adhesive.  

A hand holding a #10 sharp needle over a piece of embroidery

I switched to a #10 (I think) sharp.  This was a very short needle that I’ve used for hand sewing.  Due to the stabilizer I couldn’t use it as I would use it when doing hand sewing.  This was a step in the right direction as it was able to punch through the stabilizer easily.  On the downside, this isn’t the proper way to use this needle and I ended up pricking myself so many times I was bleeding from my cuticle.  

Two sewing needles embedded in a piece of wax.

I switched to the smallest embroidery needle that I had on hand.  As you can see this is slightly longer and thicker than the sharp.  It worked far better as I still needed to do the vertical embroidery stitches rather than the parallel stitches I had hoped to do. 

Close up of a piece of embroider with a florid letter "B" finished.

After switching needles twice I got a very florid B done in an evening’s work.  This wasn’t the speed improvement that I was hoping for but it is quite feasible for me to work without a hoop.  Its maybe a bit faster than using a hoop stand but its much easier to turn the piece when working on the various curves.   

Next Steps

Due to the use of the stabilizer this didn’t work out how I had hoped.  Since I’m still working perpendicular to the surface of the fabric I can’t use the tailoring stitches or a smaller needle.  So it seems that I need a new method of transferring the pattern to the fabric and taking a cue from the sozni work, that would be drawing the pattern directly on the fabric itself.  I’ve used a variety of fabric pens when drawing sashiko patterns on fabric but those are generally geometric rather than freehand.  If I want to use this for thread painting, I’ll have to get a lightbox and clamp the pattern and fabric to it so I can trace it out.