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Klosterstich hands on tutorial – part 1 – how to start your Klosterstich embroidery :)

Before we get to the next steps of how to sew a perfect fitting medieval 14th century stocking based on my most recent stocking pattern tutorial, I have the very first part of my Klosterstich hands on tutorial about “how to start Klosterstich embroidery” for you.Racaire - Klosterstich - medieval embroidery

Already some time ago I promised to put together this Klosterstich hands on tutorial as an addition to my Klosterstich technique handout. It is a summery of my experience based on several Klosterstich classes which I hold throughout the last years.

My Klosterstich hands on tutorial is especially dedicated to all to you who are new to this kind of embroidery. And like always, I couldn’t resist to add some extra in-depth information as well as a book recommendation you might find interesting. 🙂

Klosterstich hands on tutorial – part 1
How to start your Klosterstich embroidery

During the last years I was often asked about the best way of how to start this kind of surface filling embroidery. Therefore I decided for this Klosterstich hands on tutorial to first show you a great way how to start and secure your very first thread before we actually start with the Klosterstich embroidery technique.

I think that a good and neat start makes it much easier to continue with your embroidery. It furthermore also keeps the backside of your embroidery nice and clean. As some of you already know, I am very eager to keep the backside of my embroidery always as clean as possible. This not only looks good but also enables very fast embroidery work.

Ok, let’s start with the very first step to your lovely Klosterstich embroidery: [emember_protected not_for=3-4 do_not_show_restricted_msg=1]

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2014-10-30_04_31_14_RacaireFirst we start with mounting the fabric into the embroidery frame and transferring the pattern to the fabric. The pattern you can see above is based on the same medieval 14th century inspired rose pattern which I recently posted. If you would like to use the same pattern, you can find the pattern pdf for download here:

Klosterstich pattern #2 – “14th century Rose”

You can access all my medieval inspired embroidery patterns via the “Premium” menu point in my header menue. Just place your curser on top of the “Premium” menu point and the corresponding menu links of the header menu will unfold. You can find the link to my medieval inspired embroidery patterns among other menu points here.

I used a simple pencil for transferring the pattern to the fabric. Special fabric markers, which fade away after time or on contact with water, are available at crafting stores but I think that they are much too nondurable and unreliable to really justify the high cost of this markers. In my opinion a simple pencil is the best and most inexpensive tool for transferring a pattern to fabric which will be completely covered with threads. Actually you can use everything that won’t bleed or rub off to the surrounding fabric or the used threads.

You might ask what was used in the medieval times to transfer patterns to fabric in a case like for this Klosterstich embroidery. The answer is rather easy – one of the medieval tools was ink applied with a quill or another medieval writing tool. If you want to try this yourself, just get yourself a waterproof ink and some nibs. Waterproof inks and calligraphy nibs are available in the calligraphy section of the well-assorted crafting stores. But please be carefully – waterproof inks are only waterproof once they dried completely.

Though I normally regret seeing a damaged medieval embroidery or tapestry, sometimes damaged threads can also reveal the secrets that lie underneath and which are normally hidden to the observer. There is a great example of a damaged embroidery part which exposes the pre-drawn ink lines of the pattern underneath. A good picture of this can be found in Dr. Kohwagner-Nikolaj’s book “per manus sororum – Niedersächsische Bildstickereien im Klosterstich (1300-1583)“.

It not only shows the original face pattern underneath the Klosterstich embroidery, it also reveals that the nun who embroidered the face took the freedom to embroider the face slightly different to the pre-drawn lines. Yes, already in the medieval times embroiderers had a certain artistic license in interpreting pre-drawn patterns… 🙂

I haven’t unpacked Dr. Kohwagner-Nikolaj’s book “per manus sororum – Niedersächsische Bildstickereien im Klosterstich (1300-1583)” yet, therefore I can’t give you the page number where you can find this picture. Anyway, if you are really interested to learn more about Klosterstich and its makers, this is the best in-depth book about it. Unfortunately it is only available in German till now. You can find it here: Per manus sororum…: Niedersächsische Bildstickereien im Klosterstich (1300-1583) Per manus sororum…: Niedersächsische Bildstickereien im Klosterstich (1300-1583)

As soon as I get my sweetheart to bring me the last book boxes which are still stored in the garage, I will put together a selection of the best Klosterstich books for you and post more about them. I recently read in a German re-enactor forum that there are no books about this technique available but I have to highly disagree with this opinion. It just depends how desperate and deep you “dig” to get hold of them and well, I spent a lot of time and “dug” very very deep… 😉

…and now, after the short excursion into medieval pre-drawn patterns and books about Klosterstich, back to our embroidery frame, the fabric and the pattern. 🙂

The first “holding stitches” to secure the end of your thread or
how to start your Klosterstich embroidery

Take your embroidery thread and cut off a piece that is about your arm’s length or longer and thread it into a needle. Speaking about needles – for this kind of embroidery I always recommend embroidery needles without a tip.

Make your first stitch inside the borders of the section you want to work next and turn the embroidery frame with the fabric and the pattern to the backside. Pull the thread until you just can see about 1inch / 2,5cm of your thread, like you can see on the picture underneath:


Place your thumb on the end of your thread and another one of your fingers at the other side to hold the threads end in place. If this is not possible because the frame with which you are working is too big, you can also hold the threads end with two fingers. If it is easier for you, you can also make a small knot about 1inch / 2,5cm away from the end of your thread – it will prevent the thread from slipping through the fabric if you don’t pull too much.

Now take your needle and place your next stitch next to your first stitch which went through the fabric. Be sure to leave a little bit of fabric between your two stitches, otherwise you will just pull your complete thread out of the fabric again. Now you should have something similar to what you can see on my next picture:


For the next step we need to make a stitch over this short thread. This stitch doesn’t need to be long – just about 5 Millimeters (about 0.19 inch). Please take care to place this second stitch also inside the borders of the embroidery section you want to work in.


…and we place the next stitch next to this stitch again. I find it always very helpful to turn the embroidery frame around again for this stitch to get a better look at the section I am working at. I took a picture for you to give you a better idea of this step:


Again be sure to leave at least one or two threads of the fabric weave between both stitches. Now turn your embroidery again to the backside and repeat the last steps.
If you followed the previous instructions you should see something that looks similar to the photo underneath:


I know, this doesn’t look very special or breathtaking but it works! 🙂

Two of this “holding stitches” – as I call them – are normally more than enough to secure your starting thread but you can make one more “holding stitch” if you like. For another “holding stitch” just repeat the steps described before.

To check your “holding stitches”, you take your thread some inches / Centimeters above the fabric and just let your embroidery frame hang down. The “holding stitches” are normally strong enough to hold the thread in place and to carry the weight of your embroidery frame. If you see that your thread is still moving a little, just add another “holding stitch”. Now you can cut off any surplus thread of your thread end – just leave a little bit (about 2mm / ca. 0.7 inch) of the thread next to the last holding stitch.
(Btw. don’t cut the long thread! 😉 )

When you now turn your embroidery frame back again to the front, where you can see the pattern, all you should be able to see at the front are just some “points” of your thread:


Voila! You have just secured your thread properly. And not only that, you also have a neat and proper backside – a very good beginning for a new Klosterstich embroidery.

And now a sneak preview at the next posting, the actual Klosterstich hands on tutorial:


Last but not least I would like to share some thoughts about a very special topic with you:

Why it is so important to stay inside your section borders

Based on my long lasting embroidery experience with this technique I can tell that it is much easier if you always stay with your thread inside the borders of your embroidery section.This is especially important for the first holding stitches when you secure your embroidery thread to the fabric.

Because if you secure your thread in another section which you are later covering with another color, it can happen that you pull thin threads of this other colored thread from the back to the surface. This is especially annoying if you are working at a white section and are constantly pulling some red threads to the surface – or a black section where you are pulling white thin threads to the surface. If you don’t want to waste your time with a pair of tweezers, trying your best to get rid of this “extra” but unwanted color, it really pays off to stay inside the self-set section borders.

But as soon as you finished filling a section with Klosterstich embroidery, you can use this section backside to secure threads-ends or to start new threads of other colors here. I will write more about how to properly end and start this threads in one of the next parts of this Klosterstich hands on tutorial. 🙂

Btw. this technique to start a new threat is not only useful for Klosterstich embroidery. You can also use it for the Bayeux Tapestry / Refilsaum technique. I am very looking forward to discuss this technique with you in the following weeks. 🙂

klosterstich_1_thumbnailI hope you enjoyed my first posting about “how to start your Klosterstich embroidery” for my new hands on Klosterstich tutorial.

In the next posting I will show you – step by step – how I actually work the Klosterstich technique. Until then you can enjoy my technical Klosterstich handout which you can download here:

Craft with Racaire – Medieval Embroidery Technique Handouts

Please feel free to download it and to store it in your binder for future reference. Enjoy! 😀

Best regards Racaire