Foul-Mouthed Stitchery

Do you ever find yourself doing something that makes absolutely no sense out of context, and very little sense even on context? Isn’t it great?

I have a mint plant that got a case of whitefly before I brought it inside for winter. The pesticide I had on hand didn’t specify that it would work for whitefly, so I looked to the internet for information. Turns out, whiteflies breed so quickly that they readily develop resistance to pesticides, so other methods are preferred for controlling them. Insecticidal soap works well; it essentially drowns them by decreasing the surface tension of water. This only works while the soap is wet on the plant, though. The flies, larvae, and eggs also like to hide where the leaf petioles meet the stem and other tiny crevices where soap may not easily reach. For better success, it’s best to get rid of as many flies as possible first. Removing them by hand is tedious, so the internet recommended a tiny vacuum.

I don’t have a tiny vacuum; I have a regular floor vacuum. So I found myself the other day, vacuum wand in hand, vacuuming a mint plant on my living room floor.

I told my husband I vacuumed a plant and he responded, “Getting rid of bugs?” so at least someone gets me. The poor mint plant is pretty bruised now, but after vacuuming and soap it seems to be bug-free.

That little story has nothing to do with this project other than I finished both on the same day.

Quite a while back (over a year) I felt the need to get back into stitchery — needlepoint, cross stitch, embroidery, etc. This was also around the time that various snarky and sassy cross stitch patterns were starting to get popular. I love the contrast of using a classic art, one often considered outdated or stuffy, to convey something modern or sassy. Thus my project to embroider a swear started.

I found patterns for a simple embroidered alphabet in a book (unfortunately, I don’t remember which book. Blogger fail!), gathered fabric and floss, and chose my word. The stitches were simple; satin stitch, backstitch, bouillon knot flower, French knot (which I replaced with a colonial knot because I can only make the French knot when I’m not trying). While it wasn’t a difficult project, it was certainly time-consuming; trying to get the stitches to look even in size is easier in cross stitch, where you’re counting holes or threads. They’re more even by design. Embroidery is more freeform, with stitches anywhere on the fabric, and rather more difficult for someone with perfectionist tendencies.  

Unfortunately, life happened, and I set aside the project when it was almost done. There it sat until recently, when I thought to take it to the Saturday crafting group at the library.

The crafting group is pretty small; there are usually two or three people total working on whatever crafty thing they want to: one person sewing, one knitting, and whatever weird thing I bring being the standard assortment. The library provides hot water, tea, and instant coffee, along with mugs, and space to work. It’s a lovely little group. The crowd was surprisingly large that day, though; a group of parents and kids came to work on a kids club project. The other two of us who had come were, as usual, working quietly in a corner and chatting a bit. We’re pretty quiet folks.

One of the regulars, an older, rather proper lady, was playing a board game that day instead of crafting. She came over between games to see what we were working on. I proudly showed her my flowery embroidery of the word, “SHIT”.  She choked. It made my day.

The embroidery finally done, I wanted to embark on trying to properly frame and display my artwork. This certainly is not the fanciest or best embroidery piece; I won’t be entering it in the state fair. However, it is my first embroidery piece in years, and I want to show it off. It’s also good practice for learning how to frame similar projects, which will come in handy if I ever do make a quality piece.
Mounting and framing needlework is a little different from the process for a paper or photograph. The first step, though, is the same; find a frame you like. I got mine for seventy-five cents from the Humane Society Thrift Store. I opted to forgo matting the design, more out of laziness than preference. It would look nicer with matting; maybe next time.

The next step is to get some foam core board. I sprung for the acid-free variety. While that may not be important for this particular project, now I have it for future projects. A coupon made it about the same cost as the regular stuff anyway.

Hooray, acid-free board!

Wash the frame and glass, if necessary, and cut a piece of the foam core to fit in the frame. I found that the foam barely fit under the staples used to hold everything in the frame. I then proceeded to break one of said staples trying to open it just a tiny bit more. I don’t expect more from a thrift store frame. I did get some picture frame turn buttons to fix this and future frames in case I encounter the same issue.

With the frame ready, it is time to wash and iron the embroidery. The washing can be done in lukewarm water and dish detergent. Agitate the piece very little — the goal is to avoid felting your embroidery — and let it soak for a few minutes. Rinse and soak with clean water to make sure all the detergent is gone. Then take a dish towel, place it on the ironing board, and place the embroidery face-down on top of that. This lets us iron the piece without squashing the stitches. Iron until it’s dry, or close to it. Keep the piece flat until you can proceed to the next step — unlike me, who managed to re-wrinkle it minutes after the first ironing. Lessons learned.

Next is to attach the embroidery piece to the foam backing. While it’s quite popular to stick the fabric to foam core using a spray adhesive, most of those are not acid-free. As I wanted to learn how to preserve embroidery in a pseudo-archival way, I opted instead for the sewn method. This holds the fabric around the board instead of gluing it to the board.

To sew it to the foam core, the first step is pinning the embroidery to the board. Start by centering the design in around the foam core and pinning four points, one in the middle of each side. Add pins, making sure the piece remains centered and tight. Some guides suggest using short pins and pushing them into the board permanently. Others don’t. I opted not to this time and instead rely on the stitching.


Time to sew some more! It’s much simpler than the embroidery itself. Make a knot, start at one corner, folding the edge in if necessary to keep fabric from hanging off the side, and sew back and forth between the fabric on each end. Repeat for the opposite direction. Tighten the thread as you go and pull out any slack. It should look roughly like the next picture.

Note that I only used one strand. This worked, but I will probably use two of that particular type in the future. Whatever feels strong and reliable to you.


The hard part is done! Now remove the pins (or push them in) and place into your frame!

Fine art.

 The end result isn’t quite perfect — my stitching wasn’t even, I didn’t pull the fabric quite smooth, the letters aren’t centered, it could really use some matting or a different frame, etc. Still, I have framed my embroidery. May it be a godawful family heirloom that ends up in a thrift store and makes some old lady choke when she finds it. For now, it has a home in the most appropriate place I knew: sitting on the tank of a toilet. 



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