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Embroidery: Winning Ways to Present your Work - Shelagh Amor

Here are some hints from respected embroidery expert Shelah Amor of the Embroiderers Guild, Victoria to help you put your best foot forward with your embroidery entry. If you have overlooked these in the past, it may be the reason why your piece wasn’t awarded a ribbon. Many of the points listed are common to all embroidery techniques, while others are more specific to one or several techniques.

What class are you entering?

Always read the schedule carefully and adhere strictly to the instructions. If the instructions quote a specific fabric such as Aida cloth or linen and you have chosen to use an alternative cloth, then your piece will simply not be considered. If a maximum size is specified and your piece is larger, then once again your piece of work will not be considered. This is only fair when you consider that other embroiderers may not have entered their work because it didn’t fulfil the criteria.


The materials used should suit the purpose for which the item is intended. For instance, table linen will need to be laundered so this should be taken into account when choosing the ground fabric and the threads.


Threads should not be started with a knot, unless it is a waste knot.


  • With every technique your stitches should be even in size and tension, and new threads should be joined in invisibly.
  • Tails of thread should not shadow through to the front of the work. Threads need to be finished securely and cut off close to the fabric.
  • When using two or more threads in the needle, the threads should lie parallel. This problem may be solved when using two threads, by passing the needle between the two threads as it enters the fabric. (This trick is sometimes called ‘railroading’).


If you share your home with a furry friend, be vigilant in checking for stray hairs before beginning a stitching session.

Hardanger or cutwork

When working these or similar techniques, take care not to leave small fringes after cutting the threads of the fabric. Scissors need to be small and sharp for this purpose. It is suggested that right-handed scissors be held with the stitching to the right of the scissors, while left-handed scissors be held with the stitching to the left of the scissors.

Cross-stitch or canvaswork

If you enjoy these techniques, take care that all of the stitches are completed. Judges frequently find missed stitches.

More on even-weave techniques

  • The stitches should all be worked in the same direction. It is worth going over a finished piece of work with a magnifying glass to pick up any faults, because the judge may well do just that.
  • Threads are frequently carried too far across the back of the work. Passing behind no more than two or three threads is a good standard. Even then, the thread should pass under the back of stitches already worked or be covered by the backs of subsequent stitches.
  • Dark threads should never pass behind light coloured stitches because there is a risk of the light threads taking on a greyed appearance.
  • If cross-stitches are worked in a dark thread on a light coloured fabric or a light thread on dark fabric, it may be that the stitches don’t adequately cover the fabric, resulting in the work taking on a greyed appearance. If this problem occurs, try working with an extra thread in the needle.
  • If the stitches are scooped rather than being stabbed, the threads of the fabric may become bunched together rather than lying flat. Stab stitching may sound tedious and time consuming but it will rectify this problem.

After completing

When all the stitching is completed, it is important to check over the work before embarking on the finishing process. Correct any errors or imperfections you notice, even if this means undoing and restitching part of the work.


The embroidery should be carried out well, but the finishing is important too. Poor finishing will certainly ruin a beautiful piece of work, while good finishing might lift a mediocre piece into something special. Here are some further points to consider:

  • An entry should be finished and ready for use.
  • Embroidery on linen, Aida, etc. should be placed face down on a towel and covered with a damp cloth before pressing.
  • Canvas work and crewel work are not suitable for pressing and should be blocked. Books covering these techniques will give instructions for blocking. It is not as hard at it may seem!
  • Metal thread work is not suitable for pressing or blocking, so care must be taken when carrying out the stitching. This is also true of embroidery worked in silk threads or overdyed threads, where the dyes may not be stable.
  • If a piece of embroidery is framed, the frame should complement the work. Any colour in the frame should pick up a colour in the embroidery.
  • Equally important is the colour of mat board, if used. This colour, too, should pick up a colour in the work.
  • In any framed piece of work the grain of the fabric should lie parallel with the sides of the frame. The borders on the top and sides of the work are usually equal and the bottom border is a little deeper.

While these comments are intended to assist Show competitors, they also apply to any piece of embroidery if it is to be worthy of our time.

Good luck to all competitors!

Click here to register your embroidery entry for your chance to win a blue ribbon at the Royal Melbourne Show Art, Craft & Cookery competition.

About this week’s author and coach, Shelagh Amor
Shelagh Amor has been a member of The Embroiderers Guild, Victoria for many years, serving in a variety of responsible positions. She is a respected Board member, tutor, author, guidance group leader and mentor, As well Shelagh has acted as a respected, conscientious, and meticulous judge for many embroidery competitions, including embroidery categories at The Royal Melbourne Show. This article is a summary of comments she offered to the RASV from a judge’s viewpoint, and is adapted from an article published in the EGV newsletter Threadlines in March 2014.