“Blocking Embroidery” to professional standards. A tutorial.

The process of “blocking” removes all the wrinkles, distortions, twists and unevenness’s making your stitching look amazing. This process is well worth the time and effort spent doing it. It is logical and easy. Especially when you follow the directions!!! I mean that. Omit all the shortcuts that you can think of.

A piece of wood, i.e. plywood that is at least 3” larger in all directions than your embroidery.
Heavy Duty Foil to cover one side of the board completely, plus the edges.
An old white sheet, towel, or flannelette. This should be larger than your embroidery but not as large as the board.
A tape measure, ruler, set square and a pencil.
A hammer.
Four short lengths of masking tape.
A clean spray bottle for cold water.
Another larger piece of old sheeting to lay over your embroidery while it is drying.
A horizontal place to lie your “blocked” piece of embroidery and leave it there for at least 2 days. It may take several days longer if it is a tapestry or crewel piece of embroidery.

If your embroidery has some dirty marks on it such as from a hoop, use a Tide pen on the marks. Or wipe them gently with a damp cloth with a minute amount of detergent on it. Hopefully, neither of these will be necessary.  Be very conservative with any spot cleaning you have to do.

Do not wash and iron it. This may be necessary for white work but is not advisable for crewel embroidery or for any other densely stitched piece of embroidery.

1. Cover the board with Heavy Duty Foil. This keeps any chemical or wood sap from oozing up into your embroidery and staining it.
2. Measure each of the four sides of the wood and place a piece of masking tape at that centre point.
3. Mark the exact centres of the sides of the board on the tape with a clearly visible pencil mark.
4.Mark the exact centre of each of the four sides of your embroidery using a short pencil mark on the edge of the fabric.
5. Lay two wrinkle free layers of cotton fabric or flannelette or, one layer of thin, old towel on top of the foil. The area that this covers should be larger than your embroidery but not cover the marks indicating the centres of the sides of the board.

The next point is variable and you have to use your judgement on which one is appropriate for your embroidery.
–Work with it dry. This is suitable for light weight fabrics with minimal distortion and puckering.
–Work with it slightly damp. Spray it all over, back and front, with clean, cold water. This piece needs some more major restoration. It is puckered, has hoop marks and looks messy.
–Work with it really wet. This is for tapestry work on canvas which is severely distorted.  Spray it thoroughly back and front, or put it in cold water and let the excess water drain off it.

Fix your Embroidery to the covered board.
It must be — right side of the embroidery facing you. The reverse side is the side goes next to the layers of fabric padding. After the stretching process is completed, your embroidery will appear to be embossed.
6. Position the embroidery so that the marked centre points of the board and the marked centre points of the embroidery are lined up.  The line of dash marks indicates the edge of the stitching design.

7. Place a temporary pin or nail in the centre of each of the four sides to fix the embroidery to the board. The pins or nails are close to the outside edge of the fabric and not near the embroidery. (Red dots).
Corners next. Stretch each corner of the fabric out towards the corner of the board and position these four pins or nails temporarily. You now have your embroidery centred and positioned so that the warp and weft fabric grain are positioned at right angles to each other. Check this with a ruler or set square8. Go back to those temporary mid points pins/nails again. Remove them replace them accurately on those mid line markers but stretch your embroidery in the same way as you did the corners.
Go to the half way point between a corner and a central mid-point on one side. Stretch the embroidery fabric outwards so that the edge of the fabric is straight. Hammer in a temporary pin .Repeat for the other half of that first side. Repeat for all four sides.
Continue in this manner placing pins or nails about ½” apart round all four edges of the fabric.  Only one edge has all the pins/nails in position in the diagram.
Check that —  That the fabric is taut and that the warp and weft threads are at exact right angles to each other. The edges of the fabric should be straight.
Make adjustments to the stretching and pin/nail positions as necessary.

9. When you are satisfied with the stretching part of this job. Go round and hammer in all the pins or nails more securely. Do not hammer them in so far that they will be hard to get out on completion.
10. Spray the entire piece of fabric with cold water so that it is uniformly and evenly damp or wet.
11. Place the board in a horizontal position on a table. Cover with a loose but clean white cloth especially if you have pets, children or anyone doing messy work on your house. Do not stand it against a wall as it will drain and not dry evenly
12. Check it every 6 – 8 hours and respray any areas that are drying faster than others. It needs to be kept uniformly damp so that when it is finally dry, it has all reached that state at the same time. (Do not even think of using a hair dryer on stubborn areas; or an iron).
Leave it to dry. this could take several days.
This procedure will remove all the wrinkles, distortions, twists and unevenness’s making your stitching look unbelievably amazing. It is well worth the time and effort to do this. It is also easy despite the long instructions.  If it is not perfect, repeat the process.

When it is completely dry – leave it a bit longer if you are not sure.  It will not hurt if it remains on the board until you have time for the next stage.

Remove the pins/nails carefully.
Your embroidery should now look fantastic.Do not fold it as the fold will not improve your embroidery. Rolling it with a towel for a short time will not damage it.

Mount it on Acid Foam Core board which is available at Art Stores and at Picture Framers. You can do this yourself. No framer will give your work the time and attention that you will give it. Having done an excellent job of stitching, give the same attention to finishing it by doing it yourself.

You could have avoided all this if you had worked your embroidery on a Slate Frame or on a square or rectangular frame. The puckering and distortion occurs when you stitch on a hoop. The hoop leaves marks, bends in the fabric, distorts the fibres in the fabric and your stitches get pulled out of alignment. To stitch on a frame with the fabric fixed into position and taut is the the way to produce stitching that exceeds your ability and expectations. The instructions for this are included in my books which are published in ebook format.

Stitching on a hoop is appropriate for a design that is within the area of the hoop.  It is moving the hoop around to different areas of the design that is not advisable.

Hand Stitch Recognizable Spring Flowers 2nd edition

Hand Stitch Recognizable Summer Flowers
Although both books contain the information, in Spring Flowers, it is more fully explained.

PS: I trained at The Royal School of Needlework and really do know what I am talking about. Using the instructions for preparation and finishing will express your stitching ability into the fast lane and improve your finished product by several hundred percentage points.

All good wishes for a life time of happy stitching.

Related Posts

Previous Post Next Post


    • Karen
    • November 18, 2018

    “Omit all the shortcuts that you can …” Ann, I love that!

    I really began to be interested in handwork in the 1970’s and looked in vain (in Canada) for instructions on the right way to do things that would give the results that I saw in my grandmothers’ work. Too often instructions were skimpy, needles and yarn were large (for speed) and the end result not at all what I was looking for.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *