Tools of the Trade
26th June 2020
In recent issues of ‘All Stitched Up!’ we’ve been discussing some of the most important tools for embroidery – frames and hoops, scissors and needles. There are, however, a seemingly endless list of other tools of our trade available. Some are designed for specific techniques, while others are just handy to have nearby for those times you really need them. This week we take a look at just a few:
This unusually named tool appears to be little more than a smooth piece of metal with a not-particularly-sharp point at one end. However, if you’re a passionate lover of goldwork, there is a good chance you and your mellor are inseparable.
Designed specifically for laying metal threads, this tool can make the difference between good goldwork and great goldwork.
However, the mellor has many more uses than just a laying tool. The pointed end can be used to form sharp corners, not just with couched metal threads, but when you’re working mitred corners or turning small projects through.
Using a mellor’s flat edge to push laid threads together. Ref: A-Z Of Goldwork
The rounded, paddle-shaped end can help form smooth curves in metal thread, but it also rounds out seams – just try it next time you’re turning through a circular pincushion.
As a laying tool, the mellor helps control and straighten a stitch before you pull it tight, ensuring that the threads sit exactly where you want them. Most people use it for goldwork or Japanese embroidery, however it is ideal for getting canvas stitches to sit just right, or even ensuring your satin stitch lies perfectly.
Of course, you could achieve these tasks with other tools – the end of a pair of tweezers or a large darning needle. But the mellor is shaped precisely for ease of use and versatility and frankly, it allows you to lay threads with a level of consistent perfection difficult to achieve with a stand-in.
The word stiletto usually brings to mind a pair of shoes requiring unnatural agility to walk in, or if you’re a fan of historical crime fiction, you might know it as a thin, deadly weapon.
Luckily, the only thing the embroidery stiletto has in common with these is the shape – no contortion of the feet or crime scenes involved!
A stiletto is a tool with a sharp point at one end and a tapered body, ideal for creating holes in fabric.
It works by pushing aside the warp and weft threads without piercing them, so if you are making eyelets it is perfect. The tapering is designed so you can vary the size of the hole by adjusting how far you push the stiletto through the fabric.
But stilettos also have other uses. Many can double as a laying tool. They can also be used to create a hole into which you can plunge your gold thread with ease.
Piercing the fabric with a stiletto
Finally, the fine point of the stiletto is ideal as an extra ‘finger’ to hold down a stumpwork slip or move a stitch aside while you get your needle in just the right place.
The humble thimble is a somewhat divisive tool with some people swearing by it and others unable to get along with it.
Although traditionally made of metal or porcelain, nowadays thimbles can be made of leather, rubber, or you can even get adhesive dots which simply stick to your finger.
The purpose of the thimble is to help you push a needle through fabric without the eye end of the needle also going through your finger.
Which finger you wear the thimble on very much depends on your own sewing practice, but it is usually the middle or index finger of your sewing hand.
Thimbles may be more suited to heavier styles of embroidery, where more effort is required to pass the needle through the fabric. However, there are many embroiderers who wear thimbles all the time.
It does take a little while to get used to if you haven’t used one before, but once it becomes a habit, your finger feels a little naked without it.
Needle Threaders and Needle Minders
We all use needles, but they can be fickle friends. Those pesky eyes can be impossible to see. And that is only if you can find the jolly needle in the first place! Enter these two fabulous tools – the needle threader and the needle minder.
Examples of needle minders (source)
Needle minders are usually magnetic, often designed to ‘attach’ to your fabric with one magnet on top and the other underneath. Once you get in the habit of dropping your needle on to the magnet between threads, you will always know where to find it.
We can’t be the only ones who absently put the needle down when getting the next thread, only to completely forget where we’ve put it a few seconds later!
Needle minders nowadays come in myriad styles, from the simple and traditional to the whimsical and unusual.
Whether it is a cute button glued to a magnet or an ornate silver treasure, needle minders are a fabulous way to save your sanity.
Needle threaders, like thimbles, enjoy a mixed reception.
Some people simply cannot thread a needle without one, whereas others hate them.
Unfortunately, the reputation of the needle threader has been undermined by those cheap versions found in every complimentary hotel sewing kit.
One use and the wire comes out, rendering it useless. However, a well-made needle threader can also be a sanity saver.
Needle threaders come in various designs. The ones made with very fine wire for pulling the thread through the eye are notoriously fragile, even the well-made ones. The secret is to hold the threader at the point where the wire joins to the body. This takes the pressure off the join when you pull the thread through the eye.
The most common form of needle threader (source)
There are also more robust threaders of various styles, but it is difficult to find one thin or small enough for a fine embroidery needle. They are ideal for needles with larger eyes, however the finer needles are the ones which seem to defy threading!
Larger needle threaders (source)
What kind of tools do you use? Are there any tools which are indispensable to you that you can’t stitch without? Or have you found other, creative uses for the tools we all have?
Every embroiderer has their own approach to needlework and every tool offers something different for each of us. What we do know is that our tools are a fundamental part of helping us master our art and for that, we sure do love them!