How to add Embroidery to Your English Paper Piecing

Hi Everybody! (long post alert!)

It’s been unusually hot here in Scotland, lately, hotter than I remember, and for so many days in a row! My arms haven’t seen this much sun in a long while. I recently started growing vegetables in pots so I am having to do lots of watering to stop them drying out, as well as nurture the crazy number of Hydrangea cuttings I took last year. They are just beginning to flower.

These are fewer than half of all the Hydrangea cuttings I took last year!

I am ridiculously excited to see my first runner bean, a tiny courgette forming and a pink flowering Hydrangea with petals larger than I have ever seen before.

A HUGE petalled lace cap Hydrangea

My ducks are dozing in the pond for hours at a time or seeking out the shade under large ferns. Here they are in the early evening, having found a spot that catches a slight breeze.

Duckies enjoying a shady spot

I have been lucky to have sold two of my quilts this month. It’s wonderful to think of them being enjoyed in another country, far away. I have some new, tiny business cards that I love, each one showing a detail of one of my creations. And I am almost ready to start listing my quilts for sale in various place online, so that’s all good.

My tiny business cards – Aren’t they fun!

I have not been sewing much but I have been thinking about what is next for me. I realise I am being drawn more and more towards collage and surface stitching, to stitched portraits, the addition of text and textiles with a narrative; all techniques that I have been learning in my textile course online and want to do more of. However, I have not yet figured out how I might use them in interesting ways with English Paper Piecing.

Embroidery, or what I like to think of as Surface Stitching is something that is easily added to English Paper Piecing. In my mind Sewing = dressmaking, Embroidery = a traditional set of fancy stitches but Stitching = a more intuitive type of embroidery that uses traditional stitches in looser and more expressive ways. This is what I am working towards, and so can you. No fancy embroidery police to pester you here.

Traditionally English Paper Piecing, indeed any patchwork, has been about putting shapes together to make patterns. This trend continues today, even more so in the Pasacaglia quilts that have become so popular recently. They are like kaleidoscopes with their huge rings of colour and fussy cut motifs, creating intricate patterns that take your breath away. The down side is they are expensive to make, rather wasteful of fabric and can take years to complete. However, if you want to make an amazing heirloom quilt to pass on down through the family, one of these could be the perfect choice.

An English Paper Pieced Passacaglia quilt in progress, by Karen Tripp

For those of us that are more time and penny poor, or who prefer to make something smaller, or enjoy something more pictorial, there is another way to achieve something a bit special. Patterns in quilt blocks can also be used as a backdrop to showcase some embroidery (or appliqué). The wonderful thing about embroidery is that just a small amount can transform a simple project without being difficult, time consuming, or expensive.

One plain DMC and one variegated Anchor skein of stranded cotton, a water soluble pen and aJohn James ‘Pebble’ holding different sized embroidery needles that are great for beginners.

If you have never embroidered before, buy an embroidery needle and some DMC or Anchor stranded cotton, grab a scrap of cotton fabric and give it a try. You don’t need a ‘how to’ book of stitches. There are free video’s on Youtube which are more useful because it’s easier to learn something you are being shown, than trying to work out a diagram in a book. Check out Mary Corbet’s site at She can show you pretty much anything you’ll ever need to know. Pinterest too, has photos and videos which help. My boards on Pinterest (Lesley J Jackson) are divided into different types of stitches as well as one called Embroidery- Beginners Basics.

And guess what? You don’t even have to learn many stitches. Start with three basic stitches and then add more if you enjoy working with those. I found outline stitches like running stitch, back stitch, and stem stitch to be the most useful to begin with.

From there you can progress to filling in the areas that you have outlined (you can use stem stitch as a filling stitch too) and then onto more decorative stitches like Chain stitch for borders or Lazy Daisy for flowers. Most stitches (and certainly all the basic ones) are very easy to learn. You can master them in minutes. If you are used to quilting stitches, then you already know running stitch and back stitch is just a variation of that. Straight stitches are great for little blades of grass around a cats feet or next to a house.

I started with a piece of printed fabric, one with the outlines of large flowers printed on it, and followed the printed lines. Then I started making simple drawings with a water soluble pen and followed the outlines of those, spritzing away the drawn lines with water when I had finished. You can draw straight onto your pieced background in this way, or you can transfer a traced image using tissue paper (let me know if you’d like me to show you how to do this).

I embroidered the printed hair on this fabric in stem stitch

Here is a very simple pieced background, a traditional block called Bonnie Scotsman. I decided to appliqué a stag onto it and call it ‘On A Winters Night’. If I had kept the appliqué I would have filled in the antlers with embroidery and the whole design would have jutted out slightly from the background.

‘On a Winter’s Night’

However, I changed my mind and decided to stitch the outline of the stag to match the antlers using a simple backstitch. I felt that an appliquéd stag would look quite heavy, whereas I wanted a more ethereal effect I wanted with a stag that was barely there. Which do you think you’d prefer?

‘On a Winter’s Night’ – Take Two

Outlines in back stitch are a very easy way to add a ‘barely there’ image if you are a beginner or a not very confident embroiderer, and can also be used for adding upper case text. Stem stitch takes curves well and can be used for circles or vines, for lower case text and is wonderful for tree trunks and branches.’On

Here are more ‘barely there’, back-stitched, images on a pieced background in the quilt below, I was afraid that the a trio of white geese would detract from the house so I didn’t fill them in. I want them to lead your eye to the main image, rather than being part of the main image. Does that work? Or would they be more like geese if they were filled in? (The quilt has basting stitches holding it together for now, because any embroidery has to be completed before it is quilted)

All Roads Lead Home’

And in the unfinished quilt below I wanted the fox to be a surprise, hiding on the periphery as foxes do, rather than part of the main picture in the centre. I think I will have to wait until the quilt is completed before I am sure that it works.

Tiptoe through the Snowdrops’

After a while you can begin to fill in a design rather than outline it. Keep your image fairly small to begin with, so that it isn’t daunting and won’t take ages to finish. Try embroidering over an image, one that is already printed onto your fabric, like I did with the one below. Once it is covered with embroidery no one would know that there was anything underneath. This is worth trying if you don’t have much confidence in your drawing skills.

A little embroidered scene in the centre of a mini quilt.

Later, when you are more experienced, you can do whole embroideries of your own designs that can be cut out and appliquéd onto a pieced background if you want. A little embroidery on a quilt label is a nice touch, too.

I like designing crazy hats

So, are you ready to give it a try? Go on, I know you’d like to…

Till next time….

A Rat’s Tail Cactus that hasn’t flowered once, in the eleven years we have lived here!

2 thoughts on “How to add Embroidery to Your English Paper Piecing

  1. Lesley…Your posts are so marvelously rich! I love everything about this one. I’m a hydrangea lady, too, and am just seeing buds on my plant I’ve had for months…This part of Oregon is great for hydrangeas…The hat is a treat, and I love wearing crazy hats. When I scrolled down and saw the bloomin’ cactus before I read the caption, I thought it was another hat! Embroidery is a beautiful craft and you make me want to get back to it. Was a time, oh what a time, when I did all kinds of things and tried a lot of stitches. But the rainbow of threads in the craft store is mighty inspiring. As are you!

    Love from across the pond,


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.