Embroidery From Up-cycled Materials

About: I'm doing my Masters Degree in Mechanical Engineering, and creative hobbies keep me sane.

Ever wondered how you can spice up your embroidery, but had no idea how? Or, have you never considered doing embroidery because you thought it looks boring? Using up-cycled materials can drastically change how you look at embroidery and can give you many new creative ideas!

Step 1: Collect Items That You Usually Throw Away

Collect items, made from plastic, that usually end up in the bin. I saved a take-away coffee cup's lid, a yogurt container lid, pill packaging, hairband packaging, plastic gift wrap ribbon, a water bottle, a drinking straw and shopping bags. I also used stuff that you don't necessarily throw away, but that just lie in your cupboards for years - extra buttons from clothes I don't even have anymore, and an old bracelet that I don't wear. I also tried to use off-cut embroidery thread from previous projects.

Step 2: Things You'll Need

Apart from the "trash", you'll need some embroidery basics, like a needle, embroidery hoop, fabric, scissors and a marker, if you want to plan your embroidery design beforehand.

Step 3: Prepare Your Up-cycled Materials

In order to get your creativity going, get your up-cycled materials in a form that is ready to use in embroidery.

Plastic bags can be used by cutting it into very fine strips (how fine depends on how tightly your embroidery fabric is woven and how thick the needle is that you are going to use). Some plastic bags are more difficult to cut into straight strips than others; I found that rolling up the plastic bag and then cutting it is the easiest way. Also, for an interesting effect, try to use the parts of the bag that has writing or many different colors.

Plastic gift wrap ribbon may also need to be cut into finer strips; I cut strips of about 2 mm, but it's fine if the thickness varies in the length of the strip - it just adds to the excitement and character of your project!

I also cut the straw into short tubes.

I transformed the plastic lids and pill packaging into "sequins" by using a hole punch and poking holes through the centers with a needle.

When transforming the water bottle, try to use the parts that have the least amount of curves - but if you are adventurous, you can try using the curved parts, they are just more difficult to cut. I cut diamond shapes from my water bottle, and poked three holes through each - but you'll see that in a next step (The Blue Flower)!

I embroidered three different flowers using up-cycled materials, and I'll describe each in it's own step. I initially planned only one flower, but as I got going, inspiration hit me, and I hope that seeing how I used the materials, that inspiration hits you as well!

After stretching your fabric over the hoop, you're ready to begin.

Step 4: The Red Flower

For this flower, you'll need:

- Straw pieces

- Beads from an old/broken bracelet

- Plastic lid and pill packaging "sequins"

- Plastic bag thread

- Plastic gift wrap ribbon

- Off-cut embroidery thread

Firstly, you can draw your design on the fabric using any marker, but if you're scared that you'll see the lines after you've finished the embroidery, you can rather use a water-erasable marker.

As the center of the flower, stitch a piece of straw to the fabric. The easiest way to do this is to, after the first stitch, placing the second one directly opposite, and the third one 90 degrees to the second or first one, and the fourth one directly opposite the third one. After this, cover the parts of the straw that has not been covered by stitches already. Then, fill in the fabric in the center of the straw with any type of stitch. I added a tiny bead in the center.

Create a background for your up-cycled materials by using satin stitches to fill up a number of petals surrounding the center of the flower. If you don't know what satin stitches are, they are just long, flat stitches that are used to fill up a space. You can use real embroidery thread for this, or you can use plastic bag thread. When using the plastic bag thread, be careful not to pull too hard, as it may tear quite easily. I added beads from an old bracelet to the petals.

Stitch plastic "sequins" in between the round petals that you've just made, fastening each with two or more stitches (otherwise, they may move a bit). Now stitch a second set of round petals surrounding these sequins - for these I used off-cut embroidery thread, and plastic bag and gift wrap ribbon threads, afterward adding another set of "sequins" in between the second set of round petals.

Step 5: The Purple Flower

For this flower, you'll need:

- Straw pieces

- An old button (or a large bead)

- Plastic bag thread

- Plastic gift wrap ribbon

- Off-cut embroidery thread

After drawing your design, use satin stitches to fill up the center of the flower.

Then, using the same procedure of fastening straw pieces, described in The Red Flower, stitch six straw pieces in a circle, around the center of the flower. Use any colors you want - the more, the better! I added tiny beads to the center of each straw. If the button you're using is quite large, like the one I used, only fasten it after you're done with the straws surrounding the center, so that they are not unnecessarily difficult to complete.

Use satin stitches to fill up the outer regions of the petals; I used up-cycled plastic thread to fill up the insides of the petals, while using embroidery thread for the outer parts. I made two different sets of petals, one set with plastic bag thread (red and white parts), and the other set with gift wrap ribbon thread (metallic purple parts).

Step 6: The Blue Flower

For this flower, you'll need:

- Plastic diamond shapes from a bottle

- Plastic lid "sequin"

- Plastic bag thread

- Plastic gift wrap ribbon

- Off-cut embroidery thread

For this flower, I planned thoroughly, as I wanted to have "normal" petals in between the diamond shapes, and the diamond shapes may make this tricky to achieve.

In the center of the flower, stitch a plastic "sequin" to the fabric, but in this one, make four holes if you want to add tiny beads like I did - you can also use a button instead of a "sequin".

As described in 'Prepare Your Up-Cycled Materials', the diamond shaped petals have to have three holes in them (you can do more, or less, depending on petal size). Fasten these petals by starting the stitches from the back of the fabric and at the edge of the petal, through the fabric, and then through a hole in the petal toward the back of the fabric. It's easier to do it this way, as trying to get the needle through the hole in the petal from the back of the fabric can be difficult. Afterwards, line the edges of the petal with thread (this is handy if you want to turn your project into a patch - described in the next step).

Between the diamond-shaped petals, fill in the "normal", round petals with a mixture of embroidery thread, plastic bag thread and gift wrap ribbon thread.

Step 7: Conclusion

There are endless possibilities as to what you can create with embroidery and up-cycled materials. You can do a large embroidery artwork to be framed, or you can create tiny pieces, like the flowers described in this Instructable, to be used as patches on sneakers, handbags or school bags, or, like I'm planning, on my camera strap (the photo is of patches that I made for my Converse, although no up-cycled materials were used). Making tiny pieces can be less daunting and you can do it anywhere, like on the subway, or on an airplane (most airlines allow sewing kits).

You can make a patch by cutting out your finished embroidery from the larger piece of fabric, leaving a small edge (approx. 5 mm, or more, to be safe). Then, you can loop embroidery thread around the edges, similar to the process described in covering the straws, making sure that no fabric shows. Use the same color thread when attaching your patch to the item you've chosen. If your fabric that you plan to embroider is quite thin, it may not be suitable for creating a patch without adding cheese cloth (available at most fabric shops) as a backing underneath the fabric.

I found that my third flower (The Blue Flower) was my favorite, which shows you that your first idea might not be your best idea, but you learn as you continue, and it just gets more fun! I hope this has inspired you to use up-cycled materials in your embroidery. Please comment pictures of your projects, and feel free to give me helpful hints that you pick up along the way.

Trash to Treasure

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Trash to Treasure

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    4 Discussions

    Threadhead Jude

    1 year ago

    I absolutely LOVE that you used recycled items to give your embroidery more depth or pizazz. Can't wait to try this!

    1 reply