Brilliant Ideas for Recycling Embroidery

Embroidered flowers on a hook bookmark.

A bit of embroidery from a handkerchief stitched by my grandmother that I recycled into a bookmark for my father.

After the post about recycling family heirlooms, I received further Brilliant Ideas from fellow Nuts, Judy and Angi.

Judy’s Brilliant Idea

Judy has a collection of hankies from her great-grandmother, grandmother, mother, and great-aunt and a tie collection from her dad. We e-talked about a skirt made out of men’s ties and the possibilities for bags and purses. Judy’s heirloom-recycling brainstorm continued with these great ideas:

I’ve seen some crazy quilts that have used ties. Don’t know how well that would hold up under laundering, however. Another thought: the ties could be used for a pinwheel-type throw pillow.

As far as the hankies are concerned, there are any number of things that can be done with them. If they have crocheted lace edges, you could make a decorative flap on a pocket, or adorn the top flap of a purse, cut and sew them together to make a tissue box cover. I’ve seen them draped over a curtain rod to make a valance, which I wouldn’t do with just the hankies by themselves, but incorporate with other material and use as a decorative border of some sort. They could be used to make doll clothes; they would make a pretty dress. They could be incorporated into a quilt.

A friend of mine recently made a quilt of old T-shirts that she and her husband had collected from their travels. The front part of the T-shirt that had “Alaska” or wherever they had been was cut and made the center of the block, bordered by other material. They have it hanging on a stairwell wall. It’s a most beautiful display of their travels. I thought that was such a great idea. Much better than keeping the shirts tucked away in drawers or in the closet!

I’m also going nuts lately with recycling possibilities. Taffeta material used to line old jackets can be used for purse lining. The old jackets can be cut up to make the purse. Men’s shirts make a good purse lining, too. And, of course, never throw away the buttons!

Angi’s Brilliant Idea

Some years ago my friend and I sent cross stitched cards for Christmases and birthdays to our friends Bea and Pete in Florida. We got to visit them one year and found that Bea had been cutting down the cards and placing them into multi-section photo frames along with photos so that she could display them all year round. They looked great and made us feel our cards and wishes were very much appreciated. One day I plan to do something similar with some of the ones I’ve been sent.

Your Turn

If these don’t get your creative juices flowing, it’s time to sit down with a beverage; clearly, you’re low on fluids.

Have you recycled embroidery? Do you have ideas for doing so? Tell us, please. And if you have pictures, send them along, too. We want to see! Send them to mail AT funkandweber DOT com.

Becca’s Decoupaged Embroidery

Check it out! Long-time Nut, Becca, jumped on the decoupaged embroidery idea and crafted her own stitchy adventure. She embellished and re-purposed a glass jar, and now she uses the jar daily.

I adore the idea and execution of this project! The colors and embroidery are fabulous! It’s a great Off the Wall project, too: Becca got her needlework off the wall and into her life.

Here’s Becca’s story about the project:

Describe the project. I embroidered a design I purchased in Scotland, but wasn’t sure what to do with it. You came up with the idea of decoupaging embroidery. It seemed a bit far out to me, but what did I have to lose? I think I used the fabric Mod Podge. I covered a rice jar I had with pieces of fabric that matched the colors in the medallion. Then I placed the medallion and covered the whole project with more Mod Podge. I used Krenik gold braid to finish the edge of the medallion and some flat braid for the top and bottom of the fabric “panel”. I use it to store coffee beans.

Becca's completed bean jar. The medallion is gorgeous!

Becca’s Beans. Becca decoupaged a glass jar with fabric scraps and an embroidered medallion.

What made you want to do this project? You came up with trying the technique and I was game. Even your craziest ideas haven’t led me too far astray yet!

Hey, what’s with the “yet”?

How did it go, and what did you think of the process? It was surprisingly easy and I love the result. Other than the embroidery, the project was done in a day.

What did you learn, and what advice would you offer to others who want to undertake something similar? Don’t be timid. You will be scared to death when you first start slapping glue on your precious embroidery. Start with something easily lost or replaced in case you aren’t happy.

Side view showing patchwork of decopaged scraps.

Decoupaged fabric patchwork. Aren’t the colors great? Remember, decoupage darkens fabrics.

How has the final product held up to use? I made this whenever you first came up with the idea. It has been years. The jar has been in constant use. I rinse the inside now and then, the outside has remained beautiful, if I do say so myself!

I second that.

Is there something else you’d like to try with needlework decoupage? Or where would you like to go from here? I have a few small projects that might lend themselves to this.

We’ll look forward to seeing them!

What do you think? Are you game to try some decoupaged embroidery? Tell us . . . or, better yet, show us!

Recycling Embroidery

This Brilliant Idea comes straight from a garbage bag in our garage. How’s that for a strong smelling point—er, I mean selling point?

During a massive garage cleanup, I uncovered (for the umpteenth time) a large garbage bag filled with family heirloom linens that I’ve never known what to do with. (No comments on the storage method, please. I know it stinks.)

Old embroidered linen from my aunt and grandmother.

This piece is stained and has holes, but the embroidery is lovely.

My deceased grandmothers and aunt were needleworkers.

More old, family embroidery.

Another lovely bit of embroidery by my grandmother or aunt, but the linen is spotted with stains and holes.

They embroidered, crocheted, tatted, quilted, and knitted. As a result, I have a collection of hand-me-down tablecloths, hankies, doilies, pillowcases, napkins, towels, aprons, and so on. Most have been well-used already: the tablecloths and doilies are stained, crocheted edges are coming apart, and there are holes here and there. The hankies? Don’t get me started.

I can’t see using these things as the objects they are. For starters, I’m a crafter myself, so I want to make my own tablecloths and napkins, ones that suit my style, which is clearly different from theirs. But these are what remain of my relatives, and like my father, I can’t bring myself to take them to a thrift store, or (gasp!) throw them away. So they sit wrinkled in a garbage bag, being toted from storage space to shed to garage to closet, not to mention from PA to MD to AK.

Until now.

This ongoing venture into needlework decoupage and the increasing presence of bookmarks in my life altered the way I look at this bag of family heirlooms. If a doily has holes and stains, I don’t feel bad cutting out bits and pieces to decoupage onto a gift tag or card. The crocheted edge of a table runner makes a nice bookmark or napkin ring. Parts of a stained tablecloth can be salvaged and turned into coasters. Suddenly, I see a way to recycle this needlework, make it useful again, and keep memories of relatives alive and close at hand.

Old embroidery recycled into bookmarks.

The parallelogram and flower bookmarks on the bottom row are recycled embroidery bits from old linens embellished by my grandmother and aunt.

Is this a sort of sacrilege? Am I desecrating heirlooms? I don’t think so. All I have to base my opinion on is how I’d feel if I were on the other side, if I were the one who’d left these things behind. Frankly, I’d be honored to have someone—relative or stranger—appreciate my work enough to give it new life. And so I will take scissors and glue to the needlework of my grandmothers and aunt.

A bunch of my grandmother's and aunt's embroidered linens.

Just a few (a very few) of the embroidered pieces I have to work with.

I used to cringe at the idea of inheriting more of these family heirlooms—Dad says he’s got a basement full of them. Now, I’m asking for them.

If you are not so fortunate to have your own garbage bag full of holey and stained family linens, you might look for them at yard sales, thrift stores, flea markets, and antique malls. Ask friends and relatives, too.

Have you recycled needlework? If so, how? We’d love to know!

Decoupaged Embroidery, Part 2

So far, we’ve decoupaged embroidery on plastic cups and denim pockets. Let’s see what else we can do with decoupage medium and embroidery.

Embroidery Adventure 3


I got on an embroidered earring kick, and stitched up a number of tiny designs.

Embroidered Earrings by Funk & Weber Designs

Embroidered earrings by Funk & Weber Designs. These are the ones I wear most.

Stitched earrings are nice and light, and they’re a great way to put a little stitchiness into our everyday lives so that we can share it with the world.

A super-easy way to deal with fraying edges and messy backsides is to glue a piece of felt or Ultrasuede on the back.

For the I-Heart-You earrings, the stitching looks fine on the back, so I recommend gluing the ground fabric only, outside the embroidery. Unless, that is, you want to decoupage the earrings.

Decoupaging embroidered earrings by Funk & Weber Designs

Glue all over the beautiful thread and stitching. Gah!

Decoupaged I-Heart-You earring

It works! They’re cool, and they certainly won’t fray or come un-stitched.


Embroidery Adventure 4

Fiber Artist Trading Cards (or Bookmarks)

Remember Artist Trading Cards? Is anyone still doing those? I never got into the whole trading/collecting thing (I’m not a collector), but they sure looked fun to make, so I had a go. I decided to decoupage noodles (needlework doodles) to watercolor paper so that they’d be card-like and easy to sign.

  • Materials for Fiber Artist Trading Cards by Funk & Weber Designs


    I used watercolor paper for the backing so I could write on it. You need fabric scraps, noodles (needlework doodles), a foam brush, and the decoupage medium of your choice. I cover my work area with waxed paper for easy cleanup.

    To give the cards a random look, and to create a collectible series (cards that go together), I made large decoupaged pieces then cut them apart.

  • Spread Decoupage Medium on Paper

    Step 1

    Cover one side of the paper with decoupage medium, otherwise known as glue. The watercolor paper curls as it absorbs the glue, but it will flatten as it dries.

  • Add fabric scraps for first layer

    Step 2

    Cover the paper with scrap fabrics, and apply another layer of glue on top, smoothing out air bubbles and wrinkles. If you want. Wrinkles could be interesting. I overlap the fabrics and fringe some edges.

    Fabric is absorbent, so apply glue liberally.

  • Decoupage embroidered bits to paper

    Step 3

    While the base layer is wet, add noodles and cover with another layer of glue. You can also add trim, cord, pearl cotton, lace, etc.

    I’ve decided to add the rings and heart after I cut the large piece into smaller, individual-bookmark pieces. Other embellishments, like charms and beads, can be added in subsequent layers, too. Hard objects and pieces you don’t want cut should be held until the individual cards are separated.

    Apply as many layers of glue as you like, allowing each layer to dry before applying the next. More layers means more drying time. These can take several days to complete.

  • Cut decoupaged paper into cards

    Step 4

    When the final layer of glue is dry, cut the piece into whatever sizes and shapes you want. These were originally designed as Fiber Artist Trading Cards, so they are rectangular, but anything goes.

  • Large decoupage paper cut apart

    The Pieces, separated

    By cutting a larger piece down, we get a more random collection of bits. For tags or objects other than cards, I’d be inclined to make different shapes, maybe starbursts or random cloud shapes. Rectangles are kind of boring.

  • Sign the paper back

    Step 5

    Because we are decoupaging on paper, we can easily write messages and sign the back. This would be handy for gift tags or ornaments. We could write a poem on the back. What else?

  • Punch holes in cards to add ribbon for bookmarks

    Step 6

    Since I didn’t get into trading and collecting, I ultimately punched holes in the cards, added ribbons, turned them into bookmarks, and gave them away during the Stitching for Literacy program.

And those are my Decoupaged Embroidery adventures to date. What do you think? Have you tried this? Do you want to try it?

Decoupaged Embroidery, part 1

Ages ago, I hatched the idea of decoupaged embroidery. (I’m sure I’m not the first to have this idea, nor will I be the last.) Since then, I’ve done a little adventuring (not nearly enough), and here is a collection of those adventures.

For those of you who are not familiar with decoupage, it involves gluing objects (usually cut-out paper pictures) to a surface, then coating that surface and all its objects with layers of glue and, perhaps, varnish. The glue, or “decoupage medium,” is generally a white PVA glue that dries clear and hard.

Yeah, I know . . . glue + needlework = sacrilege. It’s bad enough that I endorse gluing the backs and edges of needlework; now I’m proposing we slather glue all over the front as well, layer upon layer.

Yep, that’s what I’m proposing. Deal with it.

Embroidery Adventure 1

Embellished Cups

In one of my first experiments, I decoupaged noodles (needlework doodles) to plastic cups. What I really want to do is make pretty labels for some refillable spice bottles, and I want to label and embellish some plastic containers I use for craft supplies.

Hand embroidery decoupaged to plastic cups

Embroidery and fabrics decoupaged to plastic cups.

I covered one cup completely with fabric bits—think papier mache. (The cup on the right.) Then I glued a noodle on top of those fabric bits. I didn’t like the irregular raw edge of the noodle (I hadn’t cut it carefully), so I glued some Caron Watercolours thread and Kreinik petite facets around the edge to hide it. That worked well.

The end result is nothing to shout about, but I learned some things and got ideas for improvement:

  • I’d prefer smaller bits of fabric on the bottom (papier mache) layer.
  • The decoupage medium significantly darkens fabric and thread colors; I can’t tell the dark green from the black. In the future, I’ll stick with bright and light colors.
  • Early on, the glued fabric edges were rough and prickly, but this went away after the surface had been coated several times.
  • The noodle uses Dinky Dyes hand-dyed silk. I did not rinse the threads before stitching or wash the piece when it was finished. As I suspected, some of the dyes bled, but only the colors with red in them. Good ‘ol red, the troublesome diva of color. The bleeding doesn’t bother me, though. We can use the technique deliberately to create a watercolor effect.
  • This project makes me think “crazy quilt.” I’d like what I have to be busier, and I think beads, trims, glitter, etc. between the bits is the answer.

I painted the other cup and decoupaged a half-inch stitchband around it. Very simple. I’m not keen on the color of paint or the color of the stitchband or the color combo of the whole, but I was just playing with what I had on hand; colors we can fix. I think the overall project has potential.

I wonder if I could glue a strip of embroidered fabric around the cup, leaving a soft fringe free. It would require careful gluing, but it might be a cool effect.

On both cups, I glued and painted all the way to the top rim, not expecting to use them as drinking glasses. I’m thinking now, though, that I might stop the gluing below the rim and go ahead and use them as glasses. There’s a ridge on these cups that would make it easy to separate the work area from the top “drinking” edge. (I’ve got a bunch of these cups.) I’ve seen glass plates decoupaged on the bottom side (so the design shows through) and rumor has it that with hand-washing, those plates can be used to serve food.

Embroidery Adventure 2

Pocket Bookmark

For the cups, I used regular old Mod Podge. For my next adventure, I used Fabric Mod Podge. Did you even know there was such a thing? There are several Mod Podges. I love the Sparkle one.

I spoke with a chemist at Plaid (manufacturer of Mod Podge) to get a clue about the differences between Fabric and Regular Mod Podge. That conversation went over my head, for the most part, but the regular is a PVA (poly-vinyl acetate, which is what we know as white glue) while the Fabric Mod Podge is an acrylic. The chemist’s biggest concern about using regular Mod Podge with fabrics and threads was the potential for the dyes to bleed; that shouldn’t happen with Fabric Mod Podge.

Okay. Understood. We saw that with the cups, and decided that planned bleeding isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

According to Plaid, the Fabric Mod Podge is made to adhere paper to fabric or fabric to fabric. They suggest decoupaging a denim jacket, a tote bag, pillows, etc. Hmm . . . imagine decoupaging noodles to all of those things.

Embroidery decoupaged to denim pockets

Pocket bookarks embellished with decoupaged embroidery.

I decoupaged a couple of noodles to denim pockets from a pair of toddler overalls. I put a grommet on one pocket and sewed a buttonhole on the other to accommodate ribbons and turned them into pocket bookmarks.

The Fabrci Mod Podge stays flexible unlike regular Mod Podge. The medium creates a shiny, “plasticized” coating over the embroidery, which I just feathered out on the edges, rather than coating the whole pocket with medium.

I like to sew, and I like applique, but I also like this technique for attaching embroidery to a fabric surface.

Unfortunately, Fabric Mod Podge can be hard to find on store shelves. Your best bet might be purchasing it online. Just make sure it won’t freeze during shipping. Freezing can ruin glue.

You can order Fabric Mod Podge here.

Are You Ready for a Decoupaged-Embroidery Adventure?

I have two more decoupaged-embroidery adventures that I’ll share with you next time. Until then, what do you think? Would you be willing to slather your embroidery with decoupage medium? Is there a stitchy decoupage project you’d like to try? Leave a comment, and let me know.