It’s no secret we’re smitten with embroidery artist Robert Mahar. From his Bob Ross meets Mr. Rogers personality to the magic Robert creates when he gets his hands on embroidery thread and a yard of Linen Cotton Canvas, Robert continues to inspire us to think outside of the embroidery hoop. And today’s DIY embroidery project is no different! Inspired by his childhood summer camp adventures and a recent workshop taught at Camp Thundercraft, Robert is sharing how to turn your embroidery art into a patch, perfect for a denim jacket or back-to-school project.
Robert: I was a full-on camp kid. Every summer my friends and I would pack our bags and head to rural Michigan where our days were filled with canoeing, hiking, spooky fireside stories, mosquito battles and requisite bouts of homesickness. On most afternoons though, you were likely to find me signed up for whatever the arts and crafts counselor had prepared for the day’s DIY adventure. Leatherwork, lanyards and papier-mâché were all on heavy rotation. While all of those handicrafts have followed me into adulthood, it’s been years since I’ve been an official camper.
All the more reason, I was delighted to deliver the keynote and teach at this year’s Camp Thundercraft, an annual small business retreat for crafty and creative entrepreneurs run by the brilliant team at Urban Craft Uprising. The weekend event was held at an honest to goodness camp, complete with cabins tucked into the woods of Vashon Island and a lodge overlooking the Puget Sound, just across the water from Seattle. There were classes to sharpen your entrepreneurial skills, hands-on workshops, bonfires, great food and excellent crafty camaraderie. I loved the experience and have already made plans to go back in 2020!
Ten-year-old me remembers hot afternoons when we were herded into the coolness of our cabins to rest. We laid in our bunks and wrote postcards home, read books left behind by last year’s campers or passed the time making string figures. Remember cat’s cradle? Taking a loop of yarn and stringing it between your fingers, you could create all sorts of shapes and configurations.* I drew inspiration from this classic kid activity to create custom embroidery samplers for the grown-up kids at my Camp Thundercraft workshop. I utilized hand and string imagery, laid out a pattern roughly the scale of a classic camp bandana (22″ x 22″) and my friends at Spoonflower expertly printed them on my favorite Linen Cotton Canvas. The resulting design was one that allowed the user to practice any number of embroidery stitches along the lines of the printed string figures.
*If you’re interested in learning more, I highly recommend this free digital transcription
of the 1906 book entitled String Figures and How to Make Them by Caroline Furness Jayne.
I’ve reworked my String Figures pattern in a variety of colorways and made them available in my Spoonflower shop, allowing you to print yardage on your choice of fabric for any number of projects. And as we transition from a summer camp state of mind to a back to school focus, I want to show you how to use the fabric to create a series of hand-embroidered patches – perfect for stitching onto jackets, fabric text book covers and backpacks.
1. Starting with a fat quarter of Linen Cotton Canvas, select the String Figure fabric you’d like to transform into a patch and load the fabric into your embroidery hoop. If you’re new to embroidery and not certain where to begin, check out this quick introduction video I created with my friend Jenny Hart of Sublime Stitching to get started!
2. I selected a standard six-strand embroidery floss to embroider a simple stem stitch along the printed string lines. Using all six strands of the floss creates a bold line that will cover the printed lines and a variegated floss, as shown here, will add interest to your stitched lines with its color changes.
Other embroidery stitches that will work beautifully for this project are the backstitch, the split stitch and the chain stitch. I’ve include a helpful video featuring the five most common embroidery stitches to help get you started. A personal favorite is the whipped backstitch – scroll to the bottom of this post to see a patch I created using this unique candy cane striped stitch.
3. Once you’ve completed your stitching, remove the fabric from your hoop and use sharp fabric scissors to cut around your string figure design leaving at least a one inch border. The magical key to transforming your embroidered fabric into a patch is fusible interfacing – a product that will give some structure and stability to your fabric and allow you to adhere it to another piece of fabric. There are many types of interfacing available – look for a paper-backed fusible web that has adhesive on both sides to create a strong bond between two pieces of fabric.
4. Cut a piece of the fusible interfacing that is slightly smaller than your embroidered fabric and then following the manufacturer’s instructions, adhere it to the backside of your fabric using a hot, dry iron for about five – eight seconds.
5. Next trim around your String Figure design, cutting through your fabric and the attached interfacing, leaving an approximately half inch border. Complete your patch by backing it with a piece of thin wool felt in a complimentary or contrasting color. Peel away the paper backing of your interfacing and position it, interfacing side down on your wool felt. Cover with a damp press cloth and, with your iron at the wool setting, press for 10-15 seconds or according to the interfacing manufacturer’s directions. I recommend pressing firmly on the areas of your fabric that are not embroidered, but using a lighter hand when pressing over your embroidery stitches so as not to completely flatten them. Finally trim the felt around your fabric leaving a border that is roughly a quarter to one half inch.
6. Congrats on that smart looking patch! You have a few easy options for adhering your handiwork to the fabric surface of your choice: whip stitch by hand with a needle and sewing thread, machine sewing or use fusible web – repeating the process you’ve just completed.
The String Figures pattern offers a variety of images and colorways for you to play with and your choice of felt color, floss color and embroidery stitch allow you to create a patch uniquely your own!
Don’t stop at just a mini patch! Turn any Marketplace design into an embroidery patch following Robert’s tutorial and get ready to make that statement jacket you’ve always dreamed of.
About the Guest Author
Robert Mahar is an artist, designer and maker who develops and teaches imaginative crafts and clever do-it-yourself projects through high-quality video tutorials on CreativeLive and YouTube and in-person workshops. He’s also a proud alumni of the inaugural season of NBC’s creative competition show Making It with Amy Poehler and Nick Offerman. The crafty content Robert develops and presents to his online audience and workshop attendees is often rooted in nostalgia. His talent for reinventing old-school crafts with a decidedly modern twist is evident in the gift line he developed with Knock Knock and has gained him a loyal following. With an education in studio arts and art history, he has worked in a variety of creative fields including 13 years as an appraiser of modern and contemporary art. When he’s not working in his studio, Robert obsesses over vintage craft books and schemes ways to make it big as a doughnut connoisseur.