Embroidery–Hand vs. Machine

I get a lot of calls, sometimes 1-2 a week, asking if I can help with an embroidery need. What they want is Machine Embroidery. It’s frustrating for me to know that Machine Embroidery is what most people think of when they are putting in keywords in “Google”.  I have to let them know that I’m all about preserving Hand Embroidery.  That’s when I hear an “OH”, but  I say I can refer them to a local business that might be able to help them out.

I am sure many of you have wonderful, Machine Embroidery machines and some of you have purchased a machine to strictly do the embroidery. But Hand Embroidery seems to have so many more possibilities than machine. I’ve never had the desire to proceed in the Machine Embroidery direction, but let’s talk about the differences.

hand-embroidered-rose            machine-embroidered-rose

The main difference between Hand and Machine Embroidery is the stitching process. Hand Embroidery allows for a variety of stitches, thread and fabrics. Every work is unique to the stitcher who preformed the embroidery. Machine embroidery is very uniform and each piece, if multiple items are stitched, are all identical.

Machine Embroidery is computer generated. Pre-made patterns are impute into a computer program that controls the stitching on the embroidery machine. All designs are uniform in their stitches and each project looks exactly the same. There is no variance for the stitcher’s passion of the art form. The design will be stitched just as the computer pattern dictates. Machine Embroidery cannot have it’s threads divided as the Hand Embroidery needle artist can do with the hand projects. Threads are typically made of rayon, polyester or metallic and give an artificial look. Very seldom can the design be given a more dimensional look and this is due to the type of stitching that has to occur with Machine Embroidery. And finally, Machine Embroidery for the most part has very little “collective value” due to the fact that it is mass produced.

Hand embroidery begins by stretching the fabric on a hoop of either wood or plastic. The hoop size depends on what the stitcher is comfortable with, but I like a small hoop so that I can work my hands underneath the area where I am stitching. The size of the hand embroidery needle and the thread choice are dependent on the type of Hand Embroidery chosen for the project. Along with needle and thread choice, the needle artist adds their own personal touch to their embroidery making the project “come alive”. Like anything that is a craft, it takes time and practice to perfect stitches, but if it is something one chooses to master, it brings great satisfaction to both the stitcher and recipient. Each piece of Hand Embroidery is unique. Even if it is duplicated with the same pattern, it is the needle artist’s discretion that makes each piece a one of a kind work of art. Part of Hand Embroidery’s uniqueness is due to the types of threads used. The most often used threads are cotton or silk. These threads have wonderful smoothness and sheen to them, lending to the beautiful shading that is possible with certain Hand Embroidery stitches. More detail can be achieved because of the various thickness of the threads. And lastly, Hand Embroidery is a keepsake. It has “collective value” because it is time consuming and requires workmanship and artistry.

I’ve included a couple pictures in the center of this post. The one on the left is an example of Hand Embroidery using the long and short stitch primarily on the roses as well as on the leaves. The shading of the thread in color and thickness gives a life like quality to the piece.  There is dimension to the piece. The picture on the right is also a rose, but stitched with a machine. There is sheen to the rose due to the rayon thread used, but it is not very dimensional. There is some gradation of the light green tones, but this is probably due to a variegated thread used for that part of the design. Each piece has it’s place. But someone must understand you don’t get the hand embroidered “look” from a machine.