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Learn How to do Crewelwork on Net

Try bold stitchery on a delicate foundation
Threads #189, Feb./March 2017
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Substantial wool embroidery is lighter than it looks, and it pairs surprisingly well with English netting.

It’s an unusual pairing: a sheer ground fabric adorned with lofty wool embroidery. This technique’s charm resides in the unexpected contrast. The filmy foundation makes the heavy embroidery wearable, and the embroidery gives the black net a playful, buoyant effect.

The meshlike ground fabric shown is called English netting, and it is made of cotton. Because of its relatively robust body, it is best for dress designs that don’t involve yards and yards of gathered, layered tulle.

The crewel embroidery can be stitched with scraps of lightweight knitting yarn. If you knit, your yarn stash may provide a palette that echoes your wardrobe and adds a variety of textures. Alternatively, you can purchase crewel embroidery yarns in hundreds of colors. We shopped online. Note that wool threads are thick, but they’re relatively lightweight for their bulk, so you can make densely stitched designs.

This project’s challenge is to add the bulky embroidery without overpowering the net. I’ll show you how.

embroidery pattern on waste canvas
Trace the pattern onto waste canvas.

Support with waste canvas

With a marker, copy your embroidery pattern onto a piece of waste canvas cut larger than the motif. Waste canvas is designed to add support while you’re stitching; you will remove it once the embroidery is complete. This stiff, open-weave material looks somewhat like needlepoint canvas and is designed to provide temporary body to a foundation fabric. I used 8.5-count tear-away waste canvas.

Fill the outlines

Start with English netting, a cotton net that’s stronger than standard tulle and has some structure. It’s usually sold as bridal fabric and is more costly than other tulles, at about $30 per yard. The black netting, shown at left, was purchased from Michael Levine (

Baste the canvas into position on the netting’s wrong side so you can see the tracing through the netting. The waste canvas keeps the embroidery flat so the netting doesn’t pucker. Embroider through the two layers of netting and canvas. Hide any knots on the back.

embroidery in progress
Embroider through the netting and waste canvas.

A wide variety of embroidery stitches can be used. Experiment on netting to find the effects you like best. Don’t be afraid to make the stitching dense and dimensional. Embroider through the waste canvas’s large holes; this makes it easier to remove later.

Remove the backing

When you’ve finished the embroidery, pull all the threads from the waste canvas , one at a time. The waste canvas has an open weave, and the threads are easy to pull. Now your netting is ready to sew into a garment.

pulling out waste canvas from embroidery
Pull out the waste canvas threads one at a time.

Judith Neukam recently recorded new how-to videos for and Threads Insider members.

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