Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Guerilla Embroidery

So, my shoppe may have no sales, but my lovely mother-in-law has bought 4 of my Christmas ornaments and commissioned 5 more from me.

One of the 5 is a special request custom ball with a University of Texas theme. This was interesting for me, as I would have never chosen to do this theme on my own, but it was a fun challenge. It also necessitated some guerrilla style embroidery. I graduated from UT Austin in 2001 with a BA in Theatre/Dance and a concentration in costume design, so I dusted off the old school spirit and gave it a go.

Everyone is mystified by these balls I make, but the actual stitching technique is quite basic. Admittedly, you will have a better finished product with some needlework experience under your belt, but I really do think this craft is something anyone could learn. I taught myself from a book, after all. (There are temari artists out there who put me to shame, mind you, but I'm fairly proud of what I've been able to master in the short time I've been doing them - I made my first one for my daughter just before she was born, 9 months ago).

Cloth provides normal hand embroidery with a very regular and predictable "grid" to place your stitches in. Think warp and weft; you can place your stitch on one side of the thread or the other, giving you precise control over where your stitch appears in your design. This enables you to embroider anything, pretty much anywhere on the fabric and make it exactly the shape you want.

Temari embroidery is different.

After you wrap the ball with your base color thread (I use styrofoam balls, not the traditional and eco-friendly cloth scrap wad, I know I'm terrible!) you have an irregular, randomized network of thread going in all directions to cover a spherical surface. You are officially off the "grid" (*dork!*).

Typical temari designs are not affected much by these irregularities. You tuck your needle basically where you want it, but can push, pull or cover any error you make in stitch placement. It's a bit more of a nebulous process, more forgiving in many ways. In temari, you can pull stitches much tighter than you can with cloth, because you have a solid base, not a flexible piece of fabric. Your stitches are also more unpredictable though. You may put a stitch in and think it's going to show it's end point or origin point in a specific place, but when you pull through your next stitch, the nexus of thread may have mislead you, or have a gap, leaving your stitch shorter or longer than you intended. With regular temari embroidery, this is no big deal, you can make up for it on your next round of stitching more often than not.

Also, temari designs are just that; designs. They are not letters or numbers or curliques. They are flat sided shapes. When you put a stitch in, lay the thread across the ball and secure it with another stitch, you are creating a flat side to a shape. There are no circles, or curves. When you attempt to put such things into the design, this is when you need to employ guerilla embroidery tactics. On cloth (a grid) it's easy to be precise and make little stitches all in a row to create a curve. In a random nexus base, you lose that control, so you have to be more persistent and determined in order to get your design to look the way you intend it to.

I try to not do too many of these designs, but they are an interesting challenge, nonetheless!

I'm also including a little experimental ball design where I free handed some temari style presents. This was fun to do, don't know if I'll make any more though.


  1. um....aMAZing! shuh!

    you better start putting some of these in your etsy shop now. the holidays will be here before we know it!

  2. Thanky! Oh I know, thanks for the reminder!

  3. Very cool. I have some Temari books too and tried my hand at it. My hats off to people who keep at it and improve their skill. Have fun with your designs and I hope you get all of your christmas projects completed!

  4. Yeah, Selah, you can talk about how anyone can do it all you want- no one's buying it! There are certain magical little needlecrafty people out there with the specific mindset/abilities/patience to do this, and then there's the rest of us. :)