This post comes with a disclaimer: once you start embroidering your knitwear, you won’t be able to stop. Seriously, skip to the end of the post and see the depth of my cardigan depravity. You stand warned. Proceed with caution.
Step One: gather your supplies
- Cardigan – try to choose something that feels fairly stable. Lightweight knits or stretchy knits might be difficult to handle and may not hold the weight of the embroidery well. I always find a stash of good quality, cheap cropped cardigans at the local Gap outlet. They have lots of colour ways and are usually around £10.
- Embroidery floss – I used 6 colours.
- Soluble or air dry pen (you could use tailors chalk on darker knits). I tried out a Frixion highlighter this time which I’ve heard disappears when ironed but I wouldn’t recommend it because it didn’t!
- Scrap of interfacing (optional)
Step Two: mark out your design
With the cardigan fastened, mark 2cm in from the horizontal edge of the button band with a pin.
Then measure 2cm down from the neck rib and mark a dot where it meets the pin. The dot represents the centre of a flower.
Continue to do this until you have the amount of flowers you want. Mine go over the shoulder to the reverse and are concentrated on one side but you could be symmetrical if it floats your boat. Lay out your colours. Or, if you’re not a planner, go rogue.
Step Three: sew
I don’t embroider knitwear in a hoop. I find that when it’s released from the hoop, it shrinks and the embroidery doesn’t look right so I tend to embroider it ‘in hand’ which means I can pull it back into shape as I go.
At this point, if you think your knit is delicate, you could use your interfacing to stabilise the back of your neckline before sewing. Simply cut it to the desired shape and iron onto the inside following the manufacturer’s instructions. Otherwise, use it later to hide messy stitches and add a bit of strength to the new, heavier neckline.
Embroidery floss is made up of six strands and you can split them into 3 strands if you want a finer look. For this project, I like the look of big fat stitches so I used all 6.
Thread your needle and knot the end. As a rule, your thread should be no longer than the reach of your arm.
Bring your needle up through the centre of your first dot from the back of the cardigan to the front.
Wrap the floss around your needle 3 times.
Push your needle back through the centre of your dot. You’ll need to loosely hold the tail of the thread to make the tension that forms the knot. Pull too tight and you’ll struggle to get the needle through the knot. Too loose and your knot won’t be tight. Walk that line.
Repeat between three and five times to form a cluster of French knots.
Do a locking stitch at the rear of the cardigan and trim the threads. Repeat for each dot you’ve marked, changing colours as you go.
Thread your needle in a contrasting colour and knot the end as before. Bring your needle up through your cardigan from back to front, close to the edge of your French knots.
Push your needle back through your cardigan and up again, creating a ‘line’ as long as wish your petals to be.
Repeat, keeping your stitch close to the previous one. Always bring your needle to the right of your stitch and hold the thread tail gently where you want it to sit. You can vary the length of your stitches or you can keep them fairly uniform, depending on the look you want. You can also form five separate ‘petals’ or just work your way round in a continuous circle as I’ve done.
It may look a little messy at first but, as you build the stitches round in a circle, it will begin to look more formed.
If it looks a bit ‘gappy’, you can go around the circle again, filling the gaps but continue to keep to the right of every stitch and continue to hold your thread tail in place or your stitches will overlap messily.
There you have it. A completed flower! In the picture below, you can see the difference between a flower where I’ve stitched around the circle twice to fill gaps and one where I’ve stitched more lightly. Either is quite charming, I think.
Continue satin stitching every other flower in contrasting colours as shown above. The reason for skipping a flower is that, when you come back and fill them in later, they will look as though they’ve ‘grown in’ to the first set of flowers, joining up with them which I think looks nicer than just having a group of flowers that are perfectly circular and all the same size.
I’ve stopped at this point – just adding a bit of foliage using the same stitches: two or three satin stitches for the ‘leaves’ and French knots for accents but if you’re hungry for more, you might choose to add smaller flowers weaving into the larger ones. Simply mark dots again by eye and fill in as before.
Step Four: interfacing
I don’t have pictures for this step as my cardigan feels stable and I like to see the back of my embroidery but, if you want to hide it or you’re worried the neckline will stretch under the new weight, lay your interfacing on the rear of your cardigan and neatly trace out the neck band where your stitches lie. Cut and apply, following the manufacturer’s instructions.
Step Five: wear! And…become a slave to embroidery. Didn’t I warn you? This stuff is pretty addictive. Here are three of the others in my growing collection. They aren’t the only ones!