Using Specialty Fibers in Embroidery

Needlework Nutshell Reader Question
One of a kind fibers – how to use them? How to know if you’ll have enough of the fiber to work into a project and not end up with a tad left over. Or what can you do with those tads left over?

I love reader questions! And I mean loooooove. I encourage you to send them anytime. You can use the contact form here or send them to mail AT funkandweber DOT com.

This came in a newsletter survey, so I can’t give credit to the asker, but hi, Nut, and thanks!

How to Use Specialty Fibers

I’m interpreting “one-of-a-kind” as “specialty.” There are limited-edition fiber colors—often six-strand cotton and silk—as well as fuzzy, furry, nubbly, metallic, glow-in-the-dark, wired, etc. fibers made out of all sorts of strange and interesting materials.

Limited-edition colors can be used like any other fiber of its kind, but you want to make sure you have enough to complete your project because getting more might be difficult. (See the section on figuring quantity.)

Other kinds of specialty fibers—the wild, weird, wooly, wired, and what-not ones—are generally used in small projects (buttons, broaches, earrings, bows) or as accents in larger projects.

  • Turban shell - What in the World pattern by Funk & Weber Designs

    What in the World? Pattern

    For example, I used a Kreinik metallic in the turban shell in the center of the What in the World? pattern. It gives the shell that iridescent shimmer that real shells have. You can’t see it in the picture, but I love how this came out with the Kreinik fiber.

  • The Great Outdoors - Funk & Weber Designs

    The Great Outdoors Pattern

    I used other Kreinik metallics in the water flowing out of the canteen P and the fire W in The Great Outdoors pattern.

  • Twilight Treasures - Funk & Weber Designs

    Twilight Treasures

    We used Kreinik glow-in-the-dark fiber for the lighted cabin windows, moon, and fireflies in the Twilight Treasures pattern.

In these cases, the specialty fibers are used to represent something in particular: iridescence, the shimmer of water and fire, light. Fuzzy and furry fibers are often used to depict animal fur. They might be used to accent entire animals or just parts of animals (a lion’s mane). I can imagine a fuzzy fiber trimming a hood or coat. Rainbow Gallery has a white fuzzy fiber that’s actually called “Santa’s Beard.” Huh. Can you think of a good way to use that one?!

But specialty fibers don’t have to be used to depict realistic things; they can be used just as their cool selves in a doodle.

Paperclip bookmarks using specialty fibers - Funk & Weber Designs

Long-time Nuts may remember these paperclip bookmarks. Specialty fibers are used here just as their cool selves and just for fun. Metallic and rayon ribbon, Fuzzy Stuff, metallic braids, overdyed pearl, and more.

I consider bookmarks and bracelets small projects, and these are great places to use cool fibers simply for their coolness.

Determining Quantities for Specialty Fibers

Our Nut friend asks how we know if we have enough fiber for a particular use without having a tad left over.

Ha! If you can figure this one out, I know a lot of embroidery kit-makers who will pay you for the answer.

The best you can hope for is an estimate that doesn’t leave you short. Having a tad left over is a good thing if only because it beats 50% of the alternatives.

I’ve made kits for over ten years. Unlike most stitchy folks I know, I actually enjoy making kits. But I’ve struggled—and continue to struggle—with determining fiber quantities. Everyone does.

The reason is that different people use different quantities for the same number of stitches. I stitch fairly tightly; someone who doesn’t pull stitches as tightly will need more fiber than I do. I tend to leave teeny-tiny tails for running under threads on the back. It’s a pain in the tookus, but it’s what I do. Others leave longer tails. And then there are mistakes. Many fibers that have been ripped out to correct a mistake cannot be re-used.

All of this means that different people require different quantities of fiber to stitch any given element. As a result, I do a number of things to decide how much fiber to allow for a certain element in a design.

  • I keep track of how much fiber I use in my model. I cut lengths of fiber (usually 18 inches) and make a mark on a sheet of paper every time I load my needle. I find this incredibly difficult to do—it’s easy to forget to make a mark when I’m stitching, stitching, stitching away—so I cut several lengths and also note how many of those I’ve used to double check my marks. Frogging and changing my mind about a color doesn’t make keeping track any easier, I assure you.
  • Over the years, I’ve come up with a formula that seems to work fairly well for figuring how much fiber is required for cross stitches using six-strand floss. I can tweak it for specialty fibers and other kinds of stitches, but I have less confidence in those results. Still, I always do the math to see how it compares with my own usage.

    My super-secret, incredibly helpful formula is as follows:

    1.2 x Number of Stitches / 200 = yards needed for 2 strands of floss.
    1.8 x Number of Stitches / 200 = yards needed for 3 strands of floss.

    Remember, that’s for cross stitches using 6-strand floss. Other kinds of stitches will use different quantities. I add a little extra for cross stitches in specialty fibers because metallic ends fray; I work with shorter lengths; I tend to stitch more loosely with ribbons; etc.

  • When measuring fiber for kits, I am always generous in my measurement: eighteen inches becomes nineteen.

What To Do With Fiber Leftovers

The words “What do you do with…” are like chocolate, B vitamins, Christmas Eve, and a good night’s sleep rolled into one. They egg me on as much as “Betcha can’t…” and “On your mark, get set….” And they warm the cockles of my heart like soft puppy noses and standing on mountain tops overlooking wide open spaces.

Those words are poetry and music.

This unidentified stitching Nut is not the only one who wants to know what to do with leftover fiber bits. Harriet has also posed the question; although, she specifically asks about those itty-bitty tail cut-offs, those things many of us call “orts” and collect in collapsible origami boxes, hollow acrylic balls, and bags.

Aside: Originally, orts referred to food bits left over from a meal.

I gladly embrace those words as a challenge, and I will make it my business to explore what I’m calling Ort Art. (Yep, I just like saying that—like a seal.) My hope is to come up with enough ideas to warrant an e-book, but you’re looking for an answer now, so here are a couple of thoughts that I hope will tide you over.

I know some people put their orts out for birds to use in their nests. I don’t do this. I’m a little concerned about the chemicals used in fiber dyeing and the different unnatural fibers being harmful in some way. I prefer to err on the side of caution and let the birds fend for themselves.

  • Garbage Ornament - decoupaged fiber orts

    Garbage Ornaments

    I’ve played with Garbage Ornaments, using decoupage to adhere orts to cardboard cookie-cutter shapes and Styrofoam balls.

  • Multi-fiber bookmark tails - Funk & Weber Designs

    Bookmark Tails

    I like to use longer lengths—those tads left over—for bookmark tails.

    Gather fiber odds and ends.
    Ever so slightly braid them together.
    Pull a couple so they’re a bit longer than others.
    Tie them between two bits of embroidery.

    Voila! You’ve got yourself a book thong or a bookmark with a dangling charm.

There. Will that hold you until I can play with some more ideas? Stay tuned for more on Ort Art along with answers to other questions and the usual Funk & Weber who-knows-what else.

In the meantime, how do you use specialty fibers, and what do you do with your leftover fiber and orts? We really want to know. You can leave your answers in the Comments or send them to me at mail AT funkandweber DOT com.

2 Responses to “Using Specialty Fibers in Embroidery”

  1. Bev

    There is a product out there – I found it at a quilting store.. called “Hot Fix”.
    Sold by Embellishment Village.
    The package I have in front of me is called Angelina “Hot Fix” Straight cut fibers .. Gold Iris. I will use it in a quilt block and the ORTS can be mixed in,, Way Cool!. PS Made in America

    January 22, 2012 @ 4:33 am
  2. Jen

    Hey, thanks for the tip, Bev! I look forward to checking this out. (I’m waiting for the demo to load.)

    Kreinik sells bags of orts. I’m actually thinking of getting some for my experiments. From a stitcher’s perspective, it seems like a funny thing to buy, but I can see all kinds of uses for them.

    January 22, 2012 @ 8:26 am

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