Introduction: Embroidered Spice Bag

No matter where you stand on when Christmas decorations should appear, we cannot ignore the fact that the holiday gift-giving season is rapidly approaching. Many of us are beginning to contemplate the various ways we can wrap presents once we purchase or make those gifts. One of my favorite ways to wrap a small gift is with a decorative bag. Plus I can make the bag into its own gift if I personalize it in some way. All it takes is some time and a few dollars. Let me show you how!


spice bag

embroidery scissors

embroidery floss

embroidery needle

Step 1: Choose Your Design

Remember the part about personalizing the bag in some way? The general rule for choosing a design should be to pick something that is both meaningful to the recipient and something you are comfortable stitching. I find it is also important to consider how you plan to transfer the design to the bag. Some folks make it up as they go and free-hand it. I know a few people who make up a design but sketch in on the bag with a pencil. Some folks print a design and then trace it onto the bag using a fabric pen. One lady I know prints the design, pins it to the bag, stitches through the paper, pulls off the paper, and washes the bag to remove any paper stuck in her stitches.

Since I lack general artistic skill but don't want to put in the effort to do more than free-hand designs, I usually just add the recipient's initials to the bag. Sometimes I get a little creative by adding flowers or vines or a field of stars or something similar that can ramble without looking bad. Even though I give these at Christmas, I try to avoid holiday themes so the bag can be used all year long. A friend uses her bag to store her school earbuds so they don't get tangled up in her pencil pouch. I use mine for a potpourri sachet in my stored clothes.

For this project I have decided to get a little creative by placing the recipient's initials inside a laurel wreath. I want to stack and stagger the initials. I also want the first one to flow directly into the second one. This time I have sketched the design onto the bag. Just a word of advice: eraser doesn't work well on the bag. It leaves a nasty skid mark which I am hoping the stitches will cover - which leads me to my next point.

Step 2: Choose Your Stitch

Embroidery has its own set of stitches, each created to meet a specific need. A Google search will provide you with a wealth of knowledge and videos. I personally refer to or The Spruce Crafts when I need an embroidery stitch. Sometimes I am just feeling lazy so I make do with a series of regular straight stitches and hope for the best. I have also been known to do cross-stitching on my bags. Cross-stitching is a bit more elegant than simple straight stitches but since all I have to do is make Xs it requires less attention than the flashier embroidery stitches. Again, a Google search will provide plenty of instruction in the cross-stitch technique should you wish to learn the basics. However, there is nothing wrong with trying something to see how it works. Worst case? It is horrible. Just pull the stitches and start over.

I have chosen to use the fern embroidery stitch for the laurel wreath. It looks like it is a combination/modification of the back and running stitches which I can do easily. I may try to add a few lazy daisy stitch leaves if the urge strikes me while stitching. For the initials I have decided to use cross-stitch. It is my hope that the cross-stitch will take less work while emphasizing my color choices.

Step 3: Choose Your Colors

Don't forget that this project is about personalizing the bag in some way for the intended recipient. It just makes sense then that you choose colors that the receiver will enjoy. However, you will most likely want to use colors that are naturally associated with items in the design. It is also important to take into consideration any holiday/celebration going on when the gift is being given. If you are keeping close track of your budget, you may also wish to consider what colors you have on hand. Even though a regular single tube of embroidery floss usually costs less than $1, every penny counts sometimes.

I am going to use the dark green I have on hand for the laurel wreath. The person I am making this for loves pastels and the traditional feminine colors. I don't keep a lot of those on hand so I have chosen the lightest shades I have: pale yellow, rose pink, periwinkle blue, and lilac purple. All of them look fabulous next to the dark green! I am going to use two colors for each initial and hope the cross-stitch brings out the color contrasts.

Step 4: Choose Your Tools & Entertainment & Tools

All I need to do now is thread my needle and get to stitching! I have an embroidery needle (size 12 US) that I use for these projects. I have also used a regular sewing needle but it needs to have the extra large eye (called a "craft needle") if you are using embroidery floss which I strongly recommend. While you can use regular sewing thread, I feel it complicates this whole process. It is so thin that it takes several passes to get the same bold thickness as the embroidery floss. Plus mistakes are harder to disguise with the thinner sewing thread.

You need to cut the thread into manageable lengths. If it is too long, it tangles which is extremely frustrating. Threading the needle can also be frustrating if the needle's eye is too small and/or the thread hasn't been cut cleanly. The absolute best way to cut thread cleanly is with embroidery scissors. Until I received a set of embroidery scissors as a birthday gift I never understood why I would want a pair. I do now! If you have to use fabric shears or regular scissors, make sure they are especially sharp so they cut the 6-strand embroidery floss cleanly.

Once I am ready to start the actually stitching, I usually settle in with a movie or some music. If I am re-watching a movie, I can leisurely complete both the bag during the movie. I can also embroider a bag while re-watching a one-hour TV show. I must admit that if I am watching something new or chatting with friends, it takes longer and I make more mistakes. Today I am going to re-watch Guardians of the Galaxy as I finish this bag.

Step 5: Finally, Fill It & Give It Away!

Well, look at that! After some stitching I had to revise my plan and pull most of the stitches. I stuffed this bag with cotton balls and a dash of Chanel No. 5 powder.

Don't forget this is a gift bag, right? Naturally, the only restrictions to completing this step are that the gift must fit in the bag and you have to give it to the person for whom you made it.

This bag will head to its intended receiver tomorrow and I will be ready for my next project!

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