Isolated Moments – Slow Stitching

The final activity in our current Isolated Moments series, aiming to keep spirits buoyed and creativity alive during COVID-19 social distancing and quarantining measures, comes from Ruth Singer. Ruth is an explorer and investigator of objects, stories, places, materials and memories; collecting fragments of narratives, textures and feelings, turning them into precious things, bound, wrapped, adorned, stitched and embellished.

This project combines two of my favourite things – trees and stitching. It also uses negative space – or gaps – to create a design. This has both visual impact and meaning; at a time of restriction, the connection with place through trees and green spaces is very important to me. The negative space in the design also reflects the gaps that we now have, physically between us.

You will need:

  • Shape or motif such as a leaf
  • Embroidery or sewing thread
  • Needle – always use the smallest needle you which you can get the thread through, this helps you create neat stitches.
  • Scissors to trim threads
  • Pencils or chalk pencils
  • Fabric (see note below)

For this example I used a scrap piece of fabric from worn out trousers. You could also use a handkerchief or a tea towel or try this on your clothes that have woven fabric, like shirts or pillowcases. This will work better than stretchy t-shirt fabric.

Slow Stitching

Other outline shapes would work for this project, not just leaves. I have used household objects and tools too, as well as floral designs and other motifs. Choose a shape with a strong outline which makes sense without any of the details filled in.


I find it easier to transfer the design using a template cut out of paper. This works well with dark fabrics which are impossible to trace through. I used white tailors chalk pencils to mark the line on this fabric, but pencil will work fine on lighter fabrics. Tape the design and the fabric to a window, to see through and trace.

With this technique, all the stitching is on the outside of the outline, leaving an empty space. I have used Seed Stitch and have gradually spaced out the stitches to give a soft edge to the design. Seed Stitch is groups of small straight-line stitches in different directions, close together. The key is to make the stitches even and not pull them up too tight.

Use embroidery thread if you have it, separated into two strands. If you only have normal sewing thread, this will be fine, just choose a colour that contrasts well with the fabric so that the stitches show up. Cut a length about 30cm long and make a tiny knot in the end. Thread onto an embroidery needle, the smallest you have so the holes aren’t too big.

Bring the needle to the front then made a small stitch in any direction.

The needle should come out in the position you want the next stitch. Keep making small stitches, turning the work around to make it easier to change direction with each stitch.

Follow these next steps to work your design.

Begin by working the entire outline in small seed stitch, making sure each stitch goes at a different angle to the previous one; some will run along the outline edge, some are at angles to it, some touch the line, some are a tiny bit away from the line. This will make sure that the edge is quite soft, and not a solid line.

Continue to stitch around the motif, building up seed stitches in groups. It’s easiest to work all round the motif rather than trying to do one area at a time. This helps keep the stitches even.

When you come to the end of the thread, fasten it off by sewing three times into the back, using tiny stitches that will not show too much on the front. Be careful not to pull the stitches too tight at any time. If you have an embroidery hoop it will help keep the embroidery flat, but it’s not essential.

For this design I worked around the entire leaf shape four times. The last round of stitches should be well-spaced apart, blending in with the previous round but twice as far apart; with a few stitches dotted about to keep a soft edge.

When the final round is completed, consider the whole piece closely. Go back and fill in any gaps with single stitches to make sure the outline is clear, with the stitches evenly spaced without any obvious gaps.

When you have finished all the stitching, iron the embroidery gently which sets the thread into the cloth and makes it look neat and finished. If you have sewn in the ends properly, it will be fine to hand wash your garment (if that’s what you have used)

Slow stitching allows me to be still, to be in the moment and to let my mind wander; which is so helpful, especially in these times. I use stitching as a meditative process where I just – need – to – make – the – next – stitch. Freestyle designs like this are more useful to me than a fixed pattern, where I must follow the rules.

Relax and enjoy this process of mind wandering and stitching.

Ruth Singer

Slow Stitching

This was the last in our current series of Isolated Moments. All twenty activities will remain online here as a resource you can come back to again. Be sure to follow us on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook for news of our current programme and stay safe.