Negative Space Embroidery




Introduction: Negative Space Embroidery

About: I currently live in Ghent, Belgium. I studied fashion, but love working with diverse materials.

So this is an encouraging lifestyle quote displayed through negative space embroidering, meaning you actually embroider AROUND the characters.

My housemate has cool inspiring quotes all around the house. My favorite one is 'fail your way to succes' which hangs on our fridge in half faded whiteboard marker.
I highly underestimated how true this quote would be while I stumbled through this project, I failed and failed again... until I didn't ;)

I wanted something simple, (I actually started a big piece with flowers a year ago that is still unfinished) so I chose to just use straight stitches.

I started freestyle embroidery after following the embroidery class here on Instructables.
If you are unsure about the stitches I use in this piece, Jessy explains them better than I ever could.

Step 1: Materials


  • fabric
  • floss (I used green)
  • 6 inch wooden embroidery hoop


  • embroidery needle
  • pinking shears
  • embroidery scissors
  • a water soluble pen
  • a ruler
  • a pen and paper to design your pattern

Step 2: Pattern

So I tried to pick a cool bold font, that embodies the word succes for me.

I couldn't really find one I liked so I made my own on graph paper and then transferred it onto the fabric with pencil/water dissolvable marker. It kind of ended up having a Star Wars-esque feel to it. I didn't get my pattern perfect by tracing. I cleaned it up on my fabric using a ruler.

Step 3: Outline

When you do negative space embroidery with the french knot stitch, having an outline is important to make sure you get crisp lines on your text (or image).
So that is what I did. You will see in the next steps it did not really work here, because of the use of different colors. I still like the result well enough.

If you do not want a full background filling, but a pattern that still shows fabric, an outline might not be the best choice for you.

The outline is a back stitch, in the color I will use to fill in the background next to my text.

Step 4: Filling

Now it is time to fill in the background. I drew a few options with water soluble marker I didn't like, so I rinsed the piece and returned to google, I found this piece. I like how playful some color go further in without messing up the image.

I wanted a more bulky look that leaves more room for error rather than a satin stitch one. I drew the radial lines with my water soluble marker and stitched them up to the letters and then came back up between the V shape to fill out the rest using 2 strands of floss.

On the second picture you can see my attempt at re-creating the piece I got inspired by, but I did not like it and undid this part

Step 5: Outer Filling

This look is actually the result of me trying to getting the direction of the stitches right by doing some radial lines, before filling it in completely (like I did the center).
It looked so much better than the other part, I adjusted my course and ran with it.

So I drew in some radial lines with my ruler, in varying length starting from the center point and stitched over them. On the second day my stitches where a bit closer together then on the first and I thought, well let's just have it uneven. Explosions are not symmetrical right?

My boyfriend commented that a true explosion is lighter in the center than towards the outside, however there was no way on earth I was going to undo all my work. I may try this next time.

Step 6: Add Second Color

First I thought I wanted to fill up all the white space that was left with light green, but even though I liked the color it was taking over too much.

So instead of continuing I decided to make spots with light green. When that also was not quite what I wanted I filled out the areas in between the spots with short stitches, bringing the piece together without having too much light green.

I washed my piece an dried it in the hoop that I use for framing.

Step 7: The Back

Now, the back of my embroidery is far from perfect so to hide my crimes I covered it with green felt.

While at it I added magnets on the back as well.

I chose to make the magnets visible, so if I ever choose to gift it to someone it is obvious it can be hung.

My embroidery may not be what I expected when I started, but it has the vibe I was going for. I think it's a succes.

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    3 years ago on Step 6

    It’s perfect! Don’t change a thing! Tell boyfriend that he could do his own! Lol! This is great,
    I can’t wait to try it! Thank you for sharing!


    Reply 3 years ago

    Haha, will do. Thank you.


    3 years ago

    This is very cool! I just finished the embroidery class and wasnt sure what I wanted to do and this is amazingly perfect! I might start off with an object vs words for my first shot. Im super crafty and love embroidery so thanks for the inspiration!


    Reply 3 years ago

    You are welcome. I prefer making simple but nice things rather than practicing over and over again before making the real piece. It is so much more motivating.
    Good luck with your project.


    3 years ago on Step 7

    Now I've seen it, the effect seems obvious, but this is a fresh new approach for me to try. Thank you.

    Penolopy Bulnick
    Penolopy Bulnick

    3 years ago

    I love the way negative space embroidery looks! I'll have to save this and try out a design sometime :)


    Reply 3 years ago

    I would love to see what you make :)