Introduction: Parabolic Curve Art Embroidery

About: I celebrate all things steampunk, metal working, wood working, sewing, and stained glass. I love to learn knew skills and I find joy in teaching those skills to others.

As of late I've been obsessed with this particular type of zentangle; it's all based on using lots of straight lines to visually make a curve. Though it's pretty satisfying to draw, I wanted to do something more. What lends it's self more to straight lines than embroidery!?

In this little step-by-step I'll walk you through drawing the pattern first so it's easier to plan out an embroidered curve design.



Embroidery Floss or Thread

Embroidery Hoop




Paper for Template (optional)

Step 1: The Basic Pattern

Not interested in embroidery? No problem! It's just as fun to draw.

First start with a shape, in this case a triangle. We want to draw wedges starting in one corner of our shape and march them around. I like to keep my wedges pretty uniform for most of it, and then make them smaller towards the middle. The density of the tighter lines really draws the eye in.

Be mindful of the size of your wedges starting off. A narrow pattern makes nice curves but, since there are more lines needed, it takes longer to draw (or sew). Wider wedges make for a clumsier curve.

This technique works for any shape, even weird ones. I think it's important to note that if the edges aren't the same length the curves might not spiral all the way to the middle, and that's okay. Some spirals can end sooner than others.

To make a big and impressive, swirly composition it takes multiple shapes tiled together. There is now a decision to be made. When two edges meet, it either looks arrow-like or tunnel-like, depending on what direction your wedges march around.

To see this in action check out Jon Harris's Daily Art Therapy videos.

Step 2: To Template, or Not to Template?

For this particular project I used a template. This step is just a long-winded explanation on how I over engineered the template transfer process. Feel free to skip along if you're more into a free form option. It is possible, and super satisfying, to start embroidering without a plan and I'll put some examples of that at the end of this Instructables.

I knew I wanted a big, impressive spiral in the middle of my needle work with some smaller swirls around the outskirts. With that in mind I printed myself a large hexagon with smaller squares coming off of each edge. I made sure it fit nicely into the inside ring of my embroidery hoop. After loading fabric into said hoop, I used pins to mark all the corners on my polygons. This problematically affixed the paper to my material.

I wanted to save myself the headache of tearing away the paper template and I needed to use it for the next step to map out my colors. I went through and painstakingly, one-at-a-time, matched the marker pins from the backside with different pins, thus relieving my template of it's fabric-y restraint.

Step 3: Planning Out Shapes and Colors

So, now that we've gotten a pattern crash-course, and have used half a day swapping pins around, it's time to get to the string theory.

How to plan multiple colors

Something I've discovered is that after the shapes have been blocked out, the number of colors that you want to spiral is how many needles you need to have threaded and going at the same time. This is because the wedges build on each other as they spin.

I chose to start off working with two colors, so I didn't have to juggle a bunch of needles. Using my coveted template, I marked which colors went with which edges for reference.

Get started sewing

Regular thread or embroidery floss can be used, personal preference. I had a stash of UV reactive neon floss left over from another project that I wanted to utilize, but it was a lot thicker than I wanted my lines to be. Fun Fact: Most floss is six thinner strands wrapped together. To separate, free a single thread with one hand while gently pinching the rest in the other hand. Slowly pull the loner and the others will gather up in a little ball. They usually untangle themselves.

Thread a needle, and tie a big, messy knot at the other end.

Carefully removing one pointy pin at a time, and using my template as a guide, I sewed all the edges of my polygons with one color, and then the other.

Step 4: Start Big....

Shapes are blocked, and both needles are now threaded and ready to go. It's time to start our march!

I wanted my wedges to really close to the same size, so I cut myself a little spacer out of paper to help.

Step 5: ...Then to the Outskirts

With the center complete, I chose to spiral my squares in the direction that made my curves look tunnel-like.

This is where I'd planned on ending my project. I took victory photos and everything... just felt so... boxy.

I wanted more.

Step 6: Mind the Gap

Connecting the gaps between my squares created triangles. To fill the new space I would need to choose a third color but I wanted to stick to my two tone pallet.

I decided to try an experiment- is it possible to remove a sacrificial color from a shape once the spirals are complete?

I started marching my wedges around in the direction that created an arrow-like pattern, adding a sacrificial floss. After my spiral was complete I removed all the unwanted color and stitched across the open gaps. This left behind a set of pleasing curves instead of aggressive angles.

I feel like these triangles took twice as long as the squares because I was constantly untangling three needles.

I was much happier with this result, I had tasted the sweet, sweet victory of a successful experiment- but still I wanted more...

Step 7: Down With the Flats!

Prior to my previous experiment I'd limited myself to flat edges at the borders of my needle point. This game-changing moment in my sewing career made me realize my full potential- no more flats. Ever.

So, this time using two sacrificial floss colors, I went about making more triangle spirals. I removed the two unwanted colors and stitched across the gaps.

And now, in all it's neon glory, I deem this embroidery done! I hit it with a black light and almost cried for joy.

Thanks for coming along on this curvaceous journey with me!

Step 8: As Promised...

Here's my first attempt of parabolic curve embroidery. I didn't use a template, instead I free-styled using triangles.

This one was without a template, using only triangles, and it was my first attempt and using more than one color.

This one I used a template. I ended up drawing six different spiral patterns before settling on this one. Having four needles going at the same time was a huge pain but totally worth it.

Thanks again for reading, and I hope you find a chance to draw or sew yourself some spirals!

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