Badass Embroidery 101 – a newbie’s guide to thrifty badassery

I think hand embroidery has a bad rep. Largely because it’s…not naff…but incredibly freaking naff on the whole. There’s nothing wrong with florally adorned table cloths and handkerchiefs trimmed in lace if you’re into that sort of thing, but I’m just not that kinda girl.
As my brother so kindly pointed out to me on our most recent shopping trip: ‘all these other people look normal, but you? You look like a Tim Burton character. Seriously, you’re dressed like something from The Nightmare Before Christmas.’
With that in mind I give you my guide to freaky frugal fashion.

  1. Rummage the men’s sections of charity shops. Get your bargain hunt on! Go forth and forage!
  2. Acquire a men’s denim jacket for a ridiculously cheap price. Enjoy a self-esteem boost, ladies, when you discover that your ‘women’s large’ Amazonian-she-hulk-gladiator stature fits into a ‘men’s extra-small’.
  3. Bring your purchase home and hang it outside in the wind; because it may looketh barely worn, and it may have beeneth a steal, but it does smelleth most pungently of dudes.img_4779-copy
  4. Once you’ve aired the stench of random men-folk out of your new-second-hand garment the design phase begins. The design makes the product, my thrifty brethren, so take your time on this one and make it unique to you. You want the images to fit the shape of the jacket; think about it like the placement of tattoos – you want long shapes on long parts, broad shapes on broad parts, either deliberately centred or off-centred and facing the right direction. I think back-pieces look groovy and come with the added bonus of making you appear to be part of some exclusive motorcycle gang.
  5. Still stuck for a design? How about something from a dream, or your not-so-imaginary monster friend who happens to frequent the woods like a skeletal angel of death? Think about the freaky styley you want to achieve. Remember, this is Badass Embroidery 101, go hardcore or go home.

    In another anecdote from my most recent shopping trip –
    The jovial haberdashery owner asks: ‘Have you got any projects on the go right now?’

    ‘Oh yes, I’m making a dress and embroidering a denim jacket,’ I reply.
    My brother grins wickedly behind his moustache.
    ‘Right, but what are you embroidering on the back of that denim jacket?’ he questions, even though he already knows full well. He’s stitched me up right in front of this kindly stranger.
    I shrug, and with the assumed reticence of my Tim Burton worthy attire I utter simply:
    ‘A 30ft skull-faced antlered zombie deer guy.’

  6. Once you have some idea what you’re stitching hit up the nearest craft store and get yourself some embroidery threads. Colour-wise the choice is yours. I went for the ‘realistic’ tones of decay for my zombie deer guy, but you could just as easily go for the most psychedelic hues on offer.
  7. Trace your design onto a piece of grease proof paper, then pin the paper template where you want it on the jacket. Keep the material as flat as possible and use the natural weight of the denim to your advantage.
  8. In a light coloured cotton running stitch the outline over the paper through the jacket. This will give you a guide to embroider without having to make any marks in pen/pencil on the fabric itself. When you’ve stitched the outline of the design very CAREFULLY tear the paper off.
  9. Place an embroidery ring around your outline. This is essential as it keeps the fabric taut while you sew. Embroider without one and you’re liable to get puckers in your fabric. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. You learn this the hard way.
  10. When you’re all set up pick a colour and start stitching! Stitching in contrasting directions will give the illusion of shape and depth. Don’t know what you’re doing? Anything goes. Here at Badass Embroidery we don’t play by the rules; get some thread on the fabric and see what you think.img_4637-copy
  11. Repeat the mantra: I am the Henri Matisse of embroidery floss, the thread is an extension of my own being. I am one with the zombie deer guy needlework. Bonus points if you’re muttering out loud in the garden when the postman comes down the path.
  12. Stitch. And stitch. And stitch some more. Embroidery is time consuming – you’re making every single mark to form the picture. Colour by colour the design will come to life (or death, if you’re sewing the antlered guardian of the Otherworld). If you’re a bit obsessive about getting it finished you may develop ’embroiderer’s arm’, an embroidery specific form of repetitive strain. This might manifest as aching, tingling or unpleasant weakness in your sewing arm which leads you to drop a bag of cat litter on your toe in Tesco and swear loudly in the crowded aisle. It should clear up when the embroidery is finished, unlike the mental scars which will last forever.img_4641-copy
  13. Admire your handiwork and wear it with pride. When people compliment you and ask where you bought it gleefully tell them you made that badass sucker yourself and it’s as bespoke as you are.
  14. Keep adding to it. Why not turn it into a long-term project and allow it to organically grow like the antlers of your zombie deer guy? The opportunities are endless.
    (Author’s note: if you’re really insufferable you could even document the whole process to post on your blog)

My jacket is nothing like finished; it’s going to take many more hours of sewing to complete the first (of many planned) designs. But I’m still wearing it as I develop it, and I love each and every stitch. 


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