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How to Embroider Garments Like Penn & Fletcher

Mar 02, 2016
Article Image

Andrew creates a design on heavy tracing paper.

Readers learned about Penn & Fletcher in Threads #167. Here’s more of the story behind this embroidery house.

On a rainy day in December, contributing editor Kenneth D. King and Senior Technical Editor Judith Neukam paid a visit to Penn & Fletcher with photographer Rob Berezowski. Art Department chief Andrew Marlay demonstrated the various ways of marking fabric for embroidery. Some of the images we didn’t have room to include in the published article are s­­­­­­­hown below.

Create designFirst, Andrew creates a design on heavy tracing paper. He starts with pencil so he can erase if needed. When he’s satisfied with the design, he traces over it with permanent ink. Mechanical pencilSometimes he loads a mechanical pencil with a sewing machine needle to hand-perforate. This is also done on a padded felt surface, and again, weights hold the paper in place. Weighted paper

The paper is weighted down on a padded felt surface and the design is perforated, as shown here, with a hand-held mechanical perforator.

Penn & Fletcher satisfies clients’ needs with custom designs, masterpieces from the archives, and from the company’s extensive collection of vintage designs. Many of the designs in this collection are already perforated and ready to transfer or “stamp”, decades after their origin.

Dress frontThis is a dress front.

Punched-sleeve designs

Anchor fabric with heavy weightsAfter the design is perforated, Andrew anchors it to the fabric with heavy weights, keeping the fabric and paper taut.

He uses an ultraviolet (UV) wax product to mark the fabric.

Use ultraviolet wax to mark fabricIt must be dissolved from the solid form to a liquid with a cleaning solvent that is compatible with the perforated vellum used for the design. Spread over paper and wipe offWhen he has liquefied the wax, it is spread over the paper, wiped off, the paper pattern is removed and the “stamping” is left to dry.

After the fabric is stamped, it is stabilized on the wrong side with a removable backing such as “burnable buckram”, and is now ready to embroider. On the machine, embroidery artisan Matilda Morillo works under a black light to see the markings while she guides the embroidery machine with one hand from under the table on a two-thread version of a Bonnaz feed machine.

Fabric is stabilized and ready to embroiderIn this case, the piece is a large, round table cover with an embroidered border.

Here is the finished border.

Finished borderFinished border

Penn & Fletcher has enough specialty antique and vintage machines to start a museum. 

Vintage Machines

This is a comparison of the original and the re-created embroidery for a suite of embroidered furniture at Marble House, the Newport summer home of Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt II. 

Original embroideryRe-created embroidery Snake DressThis is a motif from the snake dress worn in Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
Straight stichingAn artful example of straight stitching combined with couching. Open studioThe studio is a large, open space flooded with natural light. Space for embroidery machine It takes room to house a 12-head embroidery machine.

The whole company has a family feeling and that might be because there are three permanent feline residents-all siblings-and each has an extra toe on each paw. The cats make themselves at home and are honored on each year’s Christmas card.

CatsThis one watched as Andrew demonstrated.  Ernie SmithPassing along the knowledge.

Founder Ernie Smith plans to share his craft by offering a series of classes in different types of embroidery. These classes will be taught on-site in the Penn & Fletcher atelier in Long Island City, New York. For more information on the classes, call Penn & Fletcher at (212)-239-6868. 

Do you plan on taking a class at Penn & Fletcher?

photos: Rob Berezowski

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  1. User avater KennethDKing April 27th

    This company is the Lesage of the United States. They do such extraordinary work! The possibility of learning from them is really exciting, and I'm going to keep looking in on them to see how this is all progressing. Stay tuned!

  2. EGJ April 30th

    Wow this is exciting! I used to work for an embroidery company that did all their work by hand in India. I would love to take this class here in NYC!

  3. 60_plus_learner April 30th

    This article and mini-tour of Penn & Fletcher has been a revelation, such artistry needs preserving for posterity. Many thanks Threads for such an experience. Joan, Australia.

  4. User avater DebraMartin May 1st

    Thank you for this article. I loved seeing the detailed photographs.

  5. NinaLBoston May 1st

    I appreciate these articles that illustrate the many fine crafts that go into modern and antique home dec and clothing. It's always a revelation. I hope that such work continues. I wish I could afford something graced with this beautiful embroidery!

  6. cxissy May 2nd

    wonderful article . wish I lived in the states so I could go . it would be amazing . love the wax technique so much neater than French chalk.

  7. LindaG7 May 4th

    It is nice to get a closer look at how the best work is done.
    Wish I could take the class to learn more, but I'm extremely allergic to cats!
    Oh well.

  8. Carly_Sue May 4th

    I enjoyed this article so very much. I always really appreciate what others are doing and I love the vintage past. This embroidery is just exquisite. I wish I could attend their classes. I appreciate you too, Threads, for such a wonderful magazine and website.

  9. user-313021 May 22nd

    To be able to take a class with this Masters would be a dream come true!

  10. Ode to rainy days in December, curious cats, and learning new skills.

  11. ASiverson November 13th

    Love the article and the beautiful embroidery. Fantastic. Thank you so much for this article. And, DH and I are cat lovers too! Meow!

  12. User avater Robzikshi May 22nd

    This is great work done

  13. User avater seanbell3 October 30th

    BRAVOOOO... Very Well...

  14. Ashtonjames May 12th

    keep it up

  15. User avater Kavinjose June 30th

    great article good job

  16. Ashtonjames January 27th

    i appreciate this article.

  17. User avater josephfain July 16th

    Thanks for sharing this.

  18. User avater MarisolHackett October 28th


  19. User avater devinkoblas November 28th

    working hard!!! its nice

  20. User avater DorisNorris December 1st

    its amazing!! very nice

  21. User avater KeithSmith January 29th

    wonderful work

  22. User avater WesleyParks April 5th


  23. User avater ArmandLewis April 19th


  24. User avater RonaldTague July 6th


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