How to pick out a hoop

When you buy a hoop you’re going to want to make sure there are no gaps in the space between the inner and outer hoop (i.e. the hoop on the left). When there is a gap, your fabric will slip and slide all over the place and will be a pain in general to work with. When you have to buy hoops online (as most of us do right now) try and order a few at a time. When I order in batches I usually have one or two hoops that I can’t use (and I’ll return) but most are going to work fine.

How to keep my fabric tight in the hoop

There is no easy answer to this one. Some people say that they never have issues with this. That person is not me. The best solution I’ve found is to pull your fabric as tight as humanly possible before you start stitching and then tighten your hoop hardware as tight as possible too. From there I constantly re-pull my fabric as I’m stitching to make sure I don’t end up with wrinkles and folds. Once I’m done I have a magic trick that I explained in this post that really helps get that fabric tight and beautiful once you’re totally done stitching.

How to get the pesky water soluble marker out of my fabric

THIS was my biggest problem the year I started stitching. I could not for the life of me wash out the blue marker with a washcloth. Even when I did, it would mysteriously reappear. I dreaded the moment I’d hear from someone who had bought a hoop from me saying “umm, why is there suddenly blue all over my hoop!?” Thankfully that moment never came. Now I have a really unbelievably easy way to get rid of it (it’s the same magic trick I just talked about) and you can read about it HERE (it's tip #3).

How many strands I was “supposed” to use

When I first started embroidering I had no idea how many strands of embroidery floss to use at once. The answer: well… it depends on what you're stitching! For general stitching I use two strands. When I need really fine details I’ll go down to a single strand and when I’m doing a satin stitch that covers a large area I’ll use 4 strands.

How to back my hoop

I finished the first few hoops I made by just cutting off the fabric right next to the hoop. This was a bad idea because over time those hoops loosened and the fabric started to wrinkle. In fact, one of my first hoops still hangs in my sister’s house, and I cringe every time I walk by it! Now what I do is leave several inches of fabric on the outside of the hoop, cinch it together and use a whip stitch to hand sew on a circular piece of felt. This ensures that my fabric stays nice and taut.

How to transfer my pattern to my hoop

It can be daunting to transfer patterns from paper to a hoop, but all you have to do is put your fabric in your hoop, hold it up to a window or lightbox (if you’re lucky enough to have one) and then trace it. Now your pattern is on the inside of your hoop (backwards) so all you have to do is take the fabric out of the hoop and turn it around. Voila! You’re ready to go.

What stitches to learn first

This is one of the most common questions I get, and it was my first question when I began embroidering too! I would start with a backstitch. This is by far the stitch I use most often. From there I would move onto the satin stitch. This one is a little more challenging, but once you get the hang of it your embroidery is going to look amazing. The last essential stitch is the french knot. This one was by far the most challenging for me to learn, but once you get it, it’s like riding a bike and you’ll nail it most every time.

One of the biggest things that separates amateur stitchers from experienced stitchers is whether your finished product is warped and wrinkled or flat and smooth. For my first year or so of stitching I worked diligently to try my absolute best to keep my fabric smooth, but still somehow ended up with occasional wrinkles in my hoops. After much trial and error, I am happily sharing with you three incredibly simple and (somewhat) fail-proof methods to keep that fabric smooth (and they involve absotutely no ironing).

Tip #1: The "No-brainer"

Keep the fabric inside your hoop as tight as humanly possible while you stitch. Do this by pulling it tight and then tighten your brass hardware to keep it in place. Make sure to keep a close eye on your fabric and readjust by pulling it tight as it (inevitably) loosens and bunches on you as you stitch. I typically pull my fabric tight every time I switch threads or stitches.

Tip #2: The "Keep it Loose"

Don’t over tighten your stitches!! I used to think that I wanted my stitches to be pulled as tight as possible; well I was WRONG. You want them to be taut not tight. When you over tighten them it bunches the fabric and even the best of stitchers can’t make that go away. Be especially mindful with long stitches as even the slightest tightness makes this happen.

Tip #3: The "Best Kept Secret"

This is my all time favorite embroidery tip I'll ever share with you. After about 2 years of embroidering I discovered this and now I do it to every single hoop I make. Once you are done stitching and you’ve cinched your hoop fabric in the back (but before you back with felt, if you’re doing that), run your water and get it as hot as possible. Then run your hoop under the water for about 5 seconds making sure to get all of the fabric equally wet. Set it to dry sitting upright on top of a clean towel. This not only removes that pesky water soluble marker (goodbye random blue stains) but it sort of shrinks your fabric making it tight, smooth and beautiful inside your hoop.

Updated: Jan 24

Can you briefly describe what your studio practice looks like? Walk us through what goes into making a single piece.

I'm a fiber artist, and I create embroidered pieces that simulate woven and textured creations. I started my journey as a fiber artist some years ago exploring loom weaving and then ventured into embroidery. I loved the volume and organic textures you can achieve through weaving on a loom, but felt a little creatively staggered, just because when you weave you usually have to go row by row, so you have to plan ahead. I then tried embroidery but felt textures were too flat. So I decided to mix the two techniques together and try to recreate a woven piece's volume by the way of embroidering, and that's how I came about my style and craft.

When I make a new piece, I usually start with an idea in mind, sometimes it’s a texture that inspired me or a color scheme that I imagined. I do a very light sketch, just to figure out proportions and the general movement of the piece. After I’ve selected the materials (usually more than I’ll use) I start playing with them over the canvas to see how they mix and blend. Once I like the combination, I’ll start on one side of the canvas, with the most dominant feature of my design or the texture that I’m most certain about. Then I jump from side to side embroidering different parts, and trying to figure out the composition. That’s just how ideas come to my mind, the freedom of the technique is what makes me more creative. The fact that I don’t have a set of steps I have to follow, is what makes my process very flexible, changing and modifying things as I go. Then I’ll keep on working and embroidering using different stitches to create interesting textures. I usually stop several times in the process to look at the piece from afar to check proportions and overall design.

Can you tell us about a piece that didn’t go according to plan and how you handled it?

I’ve had a couple of pieces that didn’t go according to plan. I always start with an idea, a sketch or concept in my mind, but they don't always translate to reality the way I envisioned them. Especially when you are working with fibers and textiles, you are not only creating composition and color, but you have to have in mind texture and volume as well. Sometimes a texture overpowers the whole composition, so you have to take out.

In those situations I just take everything down and start over with the parts of the piece that I liked. The good thing about my craft, is that if you make a mistake or want to change something you can do it at any time in the process without having to through everything away. I’ve even had several pieces that I’ve completely finished and then redone entirely.

What is your favorite part of your artistic process?

I think my favorite part of the whole process would be when I’m imagining a new piece. I daydream of creating textures and forms and start building a concept in my mind, where everything is possible. Also selecting the materials I’ll use in the piece, I love touching and feeling the materials and let them talk to me. And of course, I love the manual process of making the piece. Working the materials on the canvas is so soothing and relaxing. I tend to favor the artistic process over the administration side of my trade, to the point that I have to make myself to set a piece aside and concentrate on some computer work.

What is your least favorite part of your artistic process?

I would say the least favorite part of my artistic process is sketching. I usually only do a very vague sketch, with a black pen and no color. I try to sketch general feel and movement of the piece, they work almost like a guide. I usually get too excited to start working on the actual piece that I never completely finish a sketch

What do you consider your most successful work and why?

I think success is very subjective, it can mean a lot of things, the meaning changes depending on the perspective. To me, the most successful work that I create, are the pieces that I think look the best, the ones that I want to keep on staring at. I prefer to think of the pieces that made me the proudest, the pieces that entailed more dedication, the work that made me get out of my comfort zone. That to me is a success, because you not only create something new, but you learned in the process.

Lately, the piece that I've felt the proudest about is a hand-tufted rug I created for an interior design exhibition. It was the first time using a hand tufting gun and creating a piece with it. I learned a lot about the technique and the rug came out beautiful!

Find more of Mariana's work here:

IG/Facebook: @LivingFibers


© 2017 Anna Hultin