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How to Sew Shisha Embroidery

Frame sparkling paillettes in hand stitches
Threads, Issue #209 June/July 2020
Accent modern garments with this centuries-old embellishment. Pattern: Simplicity 8384, modified. Fabric: cotton voile, VogueFabricsStore.com.

Shisha embroidery is the technique of stitching a border around small pieces of metal or glass to attach them to fabric. It originated in Southeast Asia, and examples of shisha embroidery can be found from as far back as the 17th century. The name “shisha” comes from the Persian word for glass. The mirrors in shisha embroidery were thought to ward off the evil eye.

Now, paillettes are an inexpensive and lightweight alternative to metal or glass mirrors, which makes creating shisha motifs easier. Following these simple instructions, you can add shisha embroidery to any garment or project you can stitch on. I’ll show you the basic attachment method, but you can build on the technique to create more complex motifs. The shisha stitch encloses the mirror or paillette behind a cage-like border that secures the mirror without needing to sew through it. As with many styles of embroidery, an embroidery hoop is used to hold the fabric during stitching. I find that, the smaller the hoop, the easier it is to produce neat stitches. A thicker thread, such as size 5 or 8 pearl cotton, is preferable. You can use six-strand embroidery floss, but I find that it tangles more than pearl cotton. Select an embroidery needle that matches the size thread you work with.

Prepare to stitch

Correct materials and preparation result in neater embroidery. Some of these supplies depend on personal taste. Experiment until you find a thread, needle, and fabric combination that works for you.

shisha embroidery supplies

Gather supplies

  • Acid-free double-sided tape
  • Embroidery hoop, 4-inch diameter
  • Embroidery needle, size 3/9
  • Paillettes, 20 mm or 30 mm with a small hole
  • Pearl cotton, size 5 or 8, or six-strand embroidery floss

Ready the materials

Select fabric. Shisha motifs can be successfully made on most fabric weights. Woven, nonstretch fabrics are best.

Prewash the material. If…

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