Review: Embroidered Animals: Wild and Woolly Creatures to Stitch and Sew

Disclaimer: I received a free, temporary e-book for this review through NetGalley.

I have two pet peeves that I’m bringing into this:

One: Reviews of embroidery or craft books that are really just gushing over the pretty pictures of finished projects, written by someone who may not even have the intention of ever making one, really irritate me. I’ve bought and tried to make projects from many craft project books where the math was off, the patterns were inaccurate, the instructions were unclear, didn’t make sense, or flat out wrong; and when I looked up the reviews they were all positive. When I read a craft book review, I want to know that the person writing it has at least tried to make a project from it, and has the experience necessary to evaluate whether the project instructions were accurate and helpful.

Two: Embroidery books often skimp on instructions for sewing them up or include instructions for very simple projects only, and sewing books often include no instructions for embellishment or embroider of finished projects. This means that, to my taste, the finished projects in either are typically a little lacking.

So my intention, when I downloaded the NetGalley of Yumiko Higuchi’s newest embroidery project book, was to fully make at least one project from it, from start to finish, scrupulously following the instructions, in order to evaluate whether or not a diligent reader could make up a project like the ones in the book by following the directions. However, my pet-peeve-#1 intention ran smack dab into pet-peeve-#2, and I failed somewhat.

Anyway, starting from the end, here is my finished version of Higuchi’s Wolves At Night bag:

The part where I followed the instructions:

The linen is a Robert Kaufman Essex yarn-dyed linen bought from Needlework and stagnating in the stash. The colour was a good match for the project, and the weave meant that figuring out grain was easy.

I traced the pattern, reversed it with a fine-tip transfer ink pen, ironed it on, gave it a 1/2″ hem per the instructions, and cut it out. All of the patterns are as given; I used the given thread colours in the given amount. I did end up needing almost two full skeins of the green thread as she said, so there’s a point for accuracy. I followed her directions for the stiches, and the technical instructions are well described and accurate.

Definitely for this pattern be very careful with the points on the trees. I worked from right to left across the bag for the evergreens, and the ones on the left are pointier and more closely resemble the book’s trees as I learned what worked and what didn’t. My NetGalley copy has expired, so I can’t be sure of this, but I think she says just to follow the outline when filling in for both the wolves and the trees. This worked well for the wolves, where following each part’s outline gave a lot of movement and definition to the shapes. For the evergreens, it made a bit of a messy, mushy shape, and instead I followed each branch down to the tip so that the stitching direction was more tree-like.

The part where I modified the instructions:

I underlined the bag front with a lightweight light blue feather ticking to give the fabric more stability. It also gave the hoop something to grab onto outside of the bag piece to minimize warping, and the feather ticking was densely woven enough to enable more finely detailed stitching than the more coarsely woven linen.

I also interfaced both front and back outer bag pieces with iron-on canvas interfacing. This is one of those parts that would never have been neglected in a sewing project book (at least, not a good one): linen on its own, particularly needlework linen but included standard sewing linen, is not strong enough to be a functional bag over time and needs interfacing. This should have been included in all Higuchi’s bag instructions, but isn’t.

The part where I flat-out ignored the instructions:

The book has the entire bag project made from the same light blue linen as the bag exterior. The closure was meant to be a drawstring through a casing added to the top of the bag, and the handles were meant to be linen straps. Clearly that is not this bag. Here’s why:

  • Linen straps, no matter how interfaced or assembled, would fray and degrade with use over time.
  • Once interfaced, the bag front will no longer want to be gathered with a drawstring; plus, it would obscure the embroidery

So once the embroidery was done, this project sat on my dining table for a good month while I tried to figure out what I wanted to do with it. I have no intention of putting twenty or thirty hours into embroidering something that is destined to fall apart if it’s ever used; interfacing was non-negotiable and linen handles were out.

So instead, I added tabs to the bag to give space to attach pre-made leather bag handles in a navy blue. There is no closure; I’ve given the finished bag to Echo to use to carry things around the house while using their crutches, so it doesn’t need one. If I were still making this bag for my own outdoor use, I would have modified the pattern to accommodate a zipper, or interfaced the lining and added a magnetic clasp or two. But then, if I were making a bag for myself, I would want some built-in dimension through gathers or pleats or a gusset or somesuch, none of which would have accommodated the embroidery–at least, not this pattern. I did try to find something that would work with the overall shape of the bag and pattern pieces, but it would have taken a lot of effort and reworking and I’m not sure the end result would have been usable.

Overall comments and review:

The embroidery instructions are fantastic, and it goes without saying that the patterns are beautiful (though I see a lot of people have gone ahead and said it anyway). The sewing and project instructions are fine, but keep in mind that the resulting projects will be simple and will not last with regular use.

Transfer instructions were tricky. Now, my NetGalley copy has expired, so I can’t go back and double-check, but getting a transfer copy to the fabric that is as finely detailed as the images in the book is difficult, and with any wider line you are bound to end up with fuzzier and larger embroidered images. Be careful, get as fine a line as you can, and be sure to go no farther over them than needed to fully cover the transfer.

If you’re drawn to the images and the embroidery, I’d recommend the book, but then suplement it with sewing references and a bag-making book so you can get some ideas of how to finish them that are more practical and will last longer.

8 thoughts on “Review: Embroidered Animals: Wild and Woolly Creatures to Stitch and Sew

  1. Perfectly detailed as usual with anything you do. If I were making that, though, I would modify the pattern to allow a fold-over, making it safe to use in a store, and put the two top wolves on the fold-over, dropping the rest of the pattern to compensate. I too reverse and draw with a fine pen unless it is crewel with wool.
    Damn you’re good. I have done stuff this elaborate, but not with such interfaced skill.

  2. This is beautiful work. It brings to mind a den of foxes that exists in my neighbourhood. I love to go watch the vixen feed the young ones mice, birds and squirrels. While that is going on one of the kits is usually has mom’s tail in it’s mouth and giving it a good shake.

      1. Is there somewhere on your page I can send you the address to the fox den where I don’t get your email address and the address is not made public?

  3. This is a great review! Your first points had me thinking what if fiction reviews went like some craft reviews (including patterns, fabric, whatever)

    “The book cover was pretty, the title really drew me in. I flipped thorugh it and the print looked excellent, I’m sure many people would like to read it and will enjoy it! I haven’t had time to, but until I do it will look so lovely on my shelf, it works as a decorating detail as well. 5 stars!”

    Jokes aside, I really like how the embroidery came out, good work!, and the look of the bag.

    1. lol! I love it.

      I mean, I get aspirational craft purchases. I have felting supplies I’ve never used. But I have learned over the years that reviews are premature if you haven’t yet tried to make the thing.

      And thank you!

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