It seems like a lifetime ago I was sat in the London Embroidery School’s basement studio stabbing myself repeatedly with pins while doing some lace appliqué. Their in-person classes won’t be resuming until end of August but in the meantime the team have been working very hard to bring you some online offerings, including some Instagram stitch-alongs and a mixture of free and paid classes on their Youtube channel.
Recently, they advertised an online monogramming course that caught my eye which, at the price of £20 for three hour long videos I thought was worth taking a chance on.
You don’t get a video to download just access to the links for the videos which, given what happened to Bluprint recently, perhaps begs the question of longevity. It is not as if Youtube is not known for spontaneously removing innocuous content either.
Just to clarify, this class doesn’t currently come with a kit as some of the London Embroidery School’s courses do. I think the idea is that ‘you’ll use things you already have at home’ but I was somewhat confused about this myself. I think this is because the bottom of the page there’s some generic text about ‘your kit will be shipped to you’ but that doesn’t apply here!
To test out the instruction, I’ll be stitching along with one of the monogram templates from class 2 on some navy blue cotton with Au ver à Soie Soie D’alger colour 1811.
The first class in the series is available for free on Youtube and is a whole hour of embroidery goodness. The class is all about ‘getting started with the things you have’ and is designed as an introduction to monogramming and embroidery, starting with a description of what monogramming is. The class contains two project demonstrations, one worked in backstitch the other in chain stitch on a towel and a washcloth respectively.
If you pay for the classes, you also receive the font templates for lower and upper case and numbers (but the font name and size is listed) so you can create your own initials or words as you please. The same is true for the other two classes in the series.
The point of this class is to get your started with no frills and no fuss, and that is reflected in the kit suggestions that are designed to be flexible and interchangeable. There’s a full list in the Youtube video description but the first demo is done with perle cotton (I’m guessing 8 or maybe 12?) and recommended needles for working on the towel are a chenille 18-22 or crewel 4-6. The second is done with all 6 strands of DMC cotton. The pieces are about 3 cm high.
This is very much aimed at beginners but all the key elements of producing really beautiful designs are there – changing stitch length to get around the shape, choosing appropriate stitch lengths for the thickness of thread… there’s even some interesting design transfer techniques using tissue paper for the transfer and tearing it off – which I liked the idea of because it’s no fuss compared to say, prick and pounce.
In practice… I’m not so keen. I have a lightbox and a tablet at home, so sometimes when I’m feeling very lazy I just use them to trace designs directly onto the fabric. However, this seemingly beautiful blue cotton turned out to be the fabric from hell for a number of reasons and wasn’t having any of that. You can see how I butchered the transfer (this is supposed to be a J and I) with a blunt white pencil… I also managed to screw up the spacing between the letters. We’ll talk about what happened when I stitched that one later… but for attempt number two I did try the tracing paper trick. For small monograms – like the 9 mm tall set in class 2 – it is not great. My thread didn’t contrast enough with the paper to make anything easy to see, resulting in some rubbish stitch placement and if you don’t have a taught fabric because you switched to a rubbish plastic frame like I did, then everything will shift and make your life miserable. To top it off, if you use the woefully sheddy, fluffy, Au ver à Soie Soie D’alger, when you tear it off, you’ll leave some aggrieved silk with a halo of fibre rage.
Having said that, all of my mistakes are to blame for not following the really excellent guidance in the video (which also advises using good tension, suitable thread and needles and practice). For complete beginners, you’ll learn French knots, backstitching done with a sewing method, some troubleshooting skills like choosing an appropriate needle size so you don’t break your hands while working and be able to see three letters demonstrated.
The video is very well shot making it easy to follow the general stitch procedures, though it is not easy to see the detail on the stitching when there are a few rows of stitches in. There is a phrase I will absolutely have to remember from this ‘laying the thread cross the path’ for chain stitch – this is an excellent way of trying to remember which was you need to loop things, particularly when working on shapes that curve back on themselves! While the ‘certain naïve quality’ of these monograms does not appeal to me, I think this is a nice class particularly for beginners with just enough to keep more experienced embroiderers entertained.
Class 2 definitely have my favourite style of fonts for the monogram and is overall much finer embroidery than in class one. Recommended tools include a size 10 embroidery needle, hoops, stiletto, thread and fabric, with a board for pricking (and pounce).
What I really like about this class is that it starts with a to see the difference between backstitch and stem along a line and outline and outline running into satin. I really liked the little touch on how to finish the run of stem stitch so you don’t end up with half a stitch at the end and the different stitch lines are really helpful.
Class 2 also covers another design transfer approach, prick and pounce, which ‘hasn’t really changed over the years because it just works’. It’s an excellent tutorial to it and I appreciated the suggestions for what could be used as pounce, as well as the use of a gel pen instead of the traditional paint brush and paint for outlining the design! Possibly a bit too modern and exciting for the Royal School of Needlework but definitely a good workaround.
I think most embroiderers will agree that you can never see too many examples of satin stitch or approaches for maintaining stitch angles on different shapes and there is plenty to enjoy here. The HM example is quite a complex shape and seeing running between outline and satin stitch around some of the tight turns was very informative. You’ll also learnt how to change threads and account for natural twist of the thread.
I was somewhat arrogant in my approach to monogramming before trying this. The video makes it look very easy and I had assumed given I have a lot of experience with outlining stitches and satin stitch that it couldn’t be that bad. It turns out that monograms are tricky in a way nature could ever be. Mastering a smooth transition from outline to satin and back again with the changes in thickness of the shape is really, really hard. I wish I had taken a bit more time to plan before starting as while a ‘bottom left to top right’ angle is encouraged, you’ll repeatedly hear ‘these are the rules, but sometimes you have to break them!’ for certain shapes and keeping angles.
I thought when I’d watched the videos I had a good grasp of what I’d need to do, but it fell apart a little in practice. One thing I would advise if you are struggling is to make sure your thread and monogram size are a good match. I originally wanted something bigger than a 9 mm letter but using a single strand just isn’t enough and it ends up just looking a bit naff (I’ll spare you the photos of attempt 1). I almost wish they’d shown some stitch diagrams as well to better see stitch angles and variation. There is the LES embroidered as reference – although you don’t see the whole of that one being stitched but diagrams might be a bit easier to use as a reference.
For me, Class 3 was the most informative video of the three. It used a mounting method I’d not seen before and with the most complex serif lettering does a really great job of explaining her logic in approaching stitch angles and details for the monogram. Those decisions are never easy and making good ones is the result of a lot of experience and skill, which is why techniques like silk shading can be so frustrating.
Window mounting is an interesting fabric-saving concept where you cut a hole in the fabric and then pin the design on another fabric it and tack it in place. I almost wish I had used this and been able to use a decent frame capable of maintaining some tension than trying to find a small enough frame for my experiment!
It was interesting to hear the teacher say many people consider monogramming simple, after all we’re all familiar with lettering in our day to day lives, but that doesn’t capture all the small considerations you need to make for very high quality monograms. Having tried it myself, this is very, very true and why there are lots of good hints on deciding on ‘the elegant angle’ – where you prioritise the largest area of the shape to have the best angle – in this video, as well as considering balance between the letters. Experienced embroiderers will find plenty to learn here as this is more about ‘perfecting’ rather than just learning completely new skills.
These are very nicely done videos. They don’t come with many bells and whistles additional to the video content – it’s just one-hour long class so you’ll have to skip to different sections yourself – but I don’t think that matters much. Although the video time for the course itself is not so long, I can see myself coming back to these and reviewing them once I’ve had a bit more practice. There’s a deceptively large amount of content in there. While I’m not an expert, I don’t really consider myself a beginner embroiderer either and I found the monogramming deceptively challenging. I do recommend not trying to handicap yourself though with choosing dark fabrics, fluffy threads, doing a dreadful job of the transfer (and choosing a method not really appropriate for the design) and of the tensioning and well… just about everything!
The current price is £20 for the three videos, with the first one available online for free, and the corresponding class matierals. This is perhaps a little steep if you compare the price per minute to old Craftsy content (while it still had content), which also had flashy production value and the opportunity for class/instructor interaction. However, I still think this is a very reasonable price for very high quality content with an expert instructor. They’re well presented, easy to listen to and I think have incredibly high replay value as it is hard to take in all the bits of brilliant advice on the first listen. A strong recommendation from me, particularly if you’re looking to develop an eye for detail.
Keep an eye out on the London Embroidery School website for more courses. They’ve released a goldwork one and, more recently, a broderie anglaise course, with differently priced options for kits.