7 Tips for Perfect Wool Embroidery by Machine

In my previous blog post I showed you the new crewelwork design I’ve been working on. I love wool threads for their texture, but they can be tricky to work with. I’ve created a list of 7 tips for perfect wool embroidery by machine. I hope these tips help you get perfect wool embroidery the next time you try a design created for thicker threads, such as our crewelwork pocket.

7 Tips for Perfect Wool Embroidery by Machine

  1. Use a design digitized for thicker threads. Most machine embroidery designs are simply too dense, and you risk breaking needles and thread if you use them. Thick thread designs allow more room between stitches. You may be able to use a simple, lightweight design like redwork if you scale up the design with your machine. For best results, use a setting that scales up the size while keeping the original number of stitches.
  2. Stabilizer is even more important than usual when working with these thick threads and large needles. It’s easy for the fabric to get pulled out of shape while stitching, creating a mess of tangled and broken thread, or worse. I stitched the holly design on sheer cotton voile, and I wanted the embroidery to be as sheer and lightweight as possible. I started with my usual formula of fabric stiffened with liquid stabilizer, plus one layer of wash-away stabilizer. This was not sufficient, and I couldn’t stitch out the design without the thread snarling up on the bottom of the work and stopping the machine, sometimes even tearing the fabric in the process. The winning combination was two layers of interfacing sandwiched to the fabric with temporary spray adhesive*.  I used one layer of wash-away stabilizer on the top of the fabric, and a layer of medium weight tear-away on the bottom. This proved to be a good trade-off between stability and lightness for my fabric with my machine. Your project may need 1-2 layers of tear-away, wash-away, or a combination of the two. If you are not working with sheer fabric, a medium weight cutaway may also be suitable.
  3. Use the smallest hoop that will hold the design. I was able to stitch the tip of the holly branch in a 5″ hoop with only one layer of tear-away stabilizer. However, when I switched to a larger hoop, I once again experienced snagged and breaking threads. Larger hoops may need more stabilizer to get the same results as a smaller hoop.
  4. Use a size 100 or 110 needle. It’s huge, but it helps prevent frayed and broken threads.
  5. Slow down your machine. Faster speeds put more stress on the thread and fabric. A slower speed will also help reduce broken threads.
  6. Use a thread stand, if you have one. This allows the thread a bit more room to unwind before going through the machine. If you’re using larger spools of thread, like the full cones of Madeira Lana, you’ll need one of these to feed the thread into your machine, as well.
  7. Always do a test run. Your project is a unique combination of your thread, fabric, stabilizer, and machine. What works for me may not work for you. Making a test swatch lets you figure out the right settings for your embroidery design without putting your project at risk.

Advantages of Using Wool Threads

Crewel work was popular during many historical time periods. It can be traced back as far as ancient Greece and Rome, though the height of its popularity was in the 1600s. You can find wool embroidery on accessories, gowns, and household goods. In particular, there are many examples of 18th c. pockets and delicate Regency gowns embroidered with wool threads.

Wool threads add texture and dimension to your historical machine embroidery projects. The thicker wool threads quickly and easily fill a design. It is also a historically accurate choice, and produces results that are similar to hand embroidery.

Wool is my favorite thread for historical machine embroidery designs. I don’t have time to embroider by hand, but I still want to create historically accurate pieces. Wool threads help my designs look hand-stitched while using period correct materials. The final product isn’t completely historical, of course, since it is made by machine. However, it is close enough to accurate for the groups I participate in. If you need 100% accuracy, my hand embroidery patterns stitched in crewel wool are a perfect choice.

Designs Created for Wool Threads

Here is a list of all of our thick thread designs. These designs are created especially for thicker threads like 12 weight wool and cotton. They come with suggestions about needle types and how to stabilize your fabric, to help you stitch perfect wool embroidery on your projects.

The holly branch is design RR113, and it will be in the shop before Christmas. It is based on an extant Regency dinner gown, with holly sprigs around the hem. If an entire gown is too much of a commitment, you could use a single holly branch on a reticule or small accessory. The design would look equally lovely on holiday decor, such as table runners or throw pillows.

If you try this or any other designs with wool thread, I would love to see them! Your work inspires me to create new designs. Please share blog links in the comments, or post to the Romantic Recollections Facebook page.

6 Responses to “7 Tips for Perfect Wool Embroidery by Machine

  • Where do you buy wool machine embroidery thread?

    • Hi, Bridget. I have a couple suppliers listed here –

      Madeira makes a much larger range of colors available on big cones, which are not available in retail stores. And they just launched a 12 weight cotton, as well. It’s a good deal, because the big cones have about 5 times the thread for twice the price of a small spool. If you try the thread and like it, I’m always happy to help with an order.

  • I’m loving your collection of designs and your very helpful list of tips!

  • Hi Denise, I found this an intersting article, thankyou. I am wondering what thread you used in the bobbin? Thanks Ruth

    • Hi Ruth, I use DMC machine embroidery thread in a similar shade, if I have it. “The Bottom Line” bobbin thread is my normal bobbin thread for projects, but I rarely have those on hand in multiple colors.

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