Monday, June 10, 2013

Tools of the Trade

When starting a hobby, the idea of having to spend money on new and unfamiliar equipment can be daunting--enough to scare people into delaying the start of an activity they really want to try.  While all embroidery books have a chapter describing the supplies you need, I recommend taking lessons.  They can be at your local craft store (though ones offering embroidery lessons are few and far between).  They can be from a family member or a friend.  I think crafting hobbies, in particular, need some hands-on instruction in the beginning.  You not only can see how to complete steps in a way that can be confusing on the printed page, but your instructor can provide valuable advice on what to buy after years of experience.  There are some things that just have to be gleaned from personal experience (example:  transferring designs with water- and air-soluble pens vs. plain #2 pencils).  Why not get a head start with someone else's personal experiences?

Top:  Plastic container with cotton embroidery floss
Middle (L to R):  Metal hoop, crewel needles, wood hoop, chenille needles
Bottom:  Embroidery scissors
My embroidery supplies are really the result of several lifetimes of experiences.  I have a plastic storage container filled with cotton embroidery floss from elementary and middle school, when I used to make friendship bracelets.  I would wrap the floss around cardboard bobbins and group them by color.  I used to take the container with me to sleepaway camp and make bracelets in exchange for candy bars and other small items from the camp store.  When I started taking embroidery, I found the container at home and was so happy to find a veritable treasure box of floss, enough for countless future projects.  Back then, I didn't care about keeping track of the specific floss colors, so I use this for projects that don't call for specific floss colors.

For embroidery scissors, I use the ones that belong to my Auntie.  I also have a metal hoop of hers, which is not exactly like the ones currently sold in stores.  It does not have a screw to tighten the hoop, like the wood hoop has.  I don't know if it came off somehow, or if it never had one.  The wood hoop can be bought at any big-box craft store.  I got mine from someone who came to Home Ec one Saturday for breakfast.  When she saw me embroider the first week she came in, she started bringing her embroidery in subsequent weeks.  One of these weeks, I realized I had forgotten my metal hoop, so she lent me her inexpensive wood one.  I haven't seen her at Home Ec in several months, but I always bring my wood hoop with me in case she returns.

Friends and relatives can be great resources for inexpensive or free supplies.  Once word gets out that you are taking up embroidery, people might even seek you out to give you supplies.  When a woman who does embroidery dies or becomes too ill to continue her craft, her relatives might be left with her entire lifetime floss, patterns, etc.  They don't like the idea of throwing out things that meant so much to that relative, but nobody else in the family does embroidery. It puts their minds at ease if they can find someone who shares that hobby, because they know that their dear relative's supplies won't go to waste.

That's how I received a large bag of cross-stitch supplies.  I met Carolyn through an embroidery embellishment class at Home Ec.  We've kept in touch through Facebook, and several weeks ago she asked if I would like some supplies that belonged to her late sister.  I told her what I liked from the list she gave me, and she left them in a bag for me at the store.  A LARGE blue bag that I could barely carry on the bus!  I am astounded by Carolyn's generosity, and I hope that she will be happy with the ways I use this wonderful gift.

For example, I found a large number of small plastic bags and metal rings.  When I started working on cross-stitch projects, I had to buy new floss and keep track of the number of each color.  I had no clue as to how to do this, but the bags gave me the idea to store the floss in number order, with about four or five bobbins in each bag, and the bags attached to the metal rings.  When I need a floss of a specific number, I can find it easily through my "floss rolodex."

I have not yet found an elegant solution to keeping my projects organized.  For now, I am keeping them in sealed plastic bags with the fabric and floss together.

I recommend having a stitch encyclopedia on hand.  They contain information on the history of embroidery, supplies, methods for transferring patterns, and directions on performing a large variety of stitches, organized by stitch family.  There really is no definitive guide--each book contains stitches that might not be found in other books.  For the great diagrams and overall comprehensiveness, I recommend anything published by Reader's Digest.  The above copy, given to me by Carolyn, was printed in 2000 (and is now out of print), but you can find the equally-useful 1970's edition at used book stores, garage sales, or even on Amazon for as little as $3.20.

A stitcher "on the go" wants to keep her supplies neat and safe while traveling.  A fancy bag is certainly not necessary.  I just had the great opportunity to get one when I won a silent auction to benefit the family planning clinic where I am on the board of directors.  This messenger bag comes from a local stationary store, RSVP.  Once I emptied it of pens, notecards, and other goodies, I saw that it would make the perfect bag for transporting my embroidery.  It isn't too large and it has multiple pockets of varying sizes, including one that is perfect for my scissors.  It also looks very snazzy.  I get a little sheepish when people ask me if I sewed it, and I have to admit that I didn't.  My sewing skills aren't there yet.

How do you keep your crafting supplies organized?


  1. One thing that I really liked about this posting was the networking, communal aspect that you have highlighted about the crafting. People helping each other in small ways to perfect skills, pass on supplies, etc., brings out the best in people.

  2. Hi Jorie - I missed this post you made on June 10 -- I was on vacation in Ohio visiting family. I am so glad you are enjoying all of the embroidery and cross-stitch supplies I left for you at Home Ec. (they came to me via a friend whose sister had passed, not my sister) I will let my friend Mary know that they are in good, creative hands. :-)