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Free Standing Butterflies - DIY Embroidery

Free Standing Butterflies - DIY Embroidery

I have been creating embroidered butterflies and using them throughout my work for over 20 years. Whether they are embroidered onto a quilt or shirt or simply added freestanding to a piece of art, butterflies have become a signature element seen in my work, and I can truly say that I have embroidered thousands of these beautiful creatures. I believe the butterfly’s popularity and allure are twofold: firstly, butterflies hold spiritual meaning, representing change, metamorphosis, growth, and even rebirth in cultures around the world. These earth-bound creatures can transform themselves, taking flight and bringing beauty into the world. Secondly, they prove to be one of nature’s most beautiful creatures, a kaleidoscope of colors and species that seem almost endless. Butterflies can be seen decorating everything from ballgowns and home decor to garden flags or t-shirts, and pretty much anything else imaginable. My first embroidered butterflies were designed and digitized for Anita Goodesign years ago, intended to get stitched onto garments and quilts alike. Since then, I have digitized nearly 50 different butterfly collections, large and small, both whimsical and realistic. Butterflies have always been a blank canvas to me, filling their wings with beautiful designs, metamorphosing them into magical creatures.
As my butterfly art pieces evolved, so have the species; there are now 100 different species of butterflies, each stitched in rich, realistic detail. Besides the sheer number of butterfly species, what makes this collection stand out from former butterfly releases is its diversity in sizing. Butterflies from past releases have been re-digitized to 3 new sizes, coming in 2.5”, 3.0”, and 3.5”. The variety in their sizing proves perfect for even more projects and exploring interesting and idiosyncratic ways to use them. Now, I wanted to share the beauty of these butterflies with you, along with instructions on exactly how to stitch them and trim them out, and even project inspiration to get you started. I spend each day using these magnificent creatures in my work, and I hope this release of Signature Series Vol. 2: Butterflies will inspire you for years to come.


To replicate the beautiful embroidery seen in Wilson’s butterflies, it is essential to take inventory of necessary materials and notions for the project’s completion. Each of the butterflies included in this series features entirely freestanding digitizing, so you will only need three key elements for their creation. Firstly, threads for the butterfly species you are stitching are vital, whether that be realistic or tonal options to create an entirely different look. Secondly, you will need a reliable stabilizer on which to stitch out your designs. Steven Wilson Studio recommends doubling up two pieces of wash-away stabilizer to hoop within your frame, providing enough durability for the embroidery to run while still having a softer, flexible finish. Thirdly, you will need a durable base material that will hold up to high stitch counts when acting as a hidden appliqué underneath the embroidery. For this specific purpose, Wilson prefers Stahls’ Poly-TWILL™ Fabric, a tightly woven, 100% polyester material that proves effective for his embroidered beauties. For finishing off the stitched butterflies, a sharp pair of embroidery scissors will aid in trimming and cleaning them up, such as the pair of Gingher double-curved embroidery scissors pictured right. Lastly, an embroidery-safe hot knife or even a candle-length lighter will help in singeing wing edges to leave a clean, uniform appearance.


With over 100 species of butterflies represented in this latest Signature Series release, choosing thread colors can become a daunting task. Wilson drew inspiration for his color palette based on research and imagery of the real-life counterparts to each of his embroidered renditions. Using images from online or even from first-hand observation or research, you can create colorways that will reflect the butterfly’s true colors. Use images printed off or pulled up nearby to help select your thread colorway, being sure to include variations of some shades for further dimension and depth. Since a wide variety of thread brands are often used in Wilson’s original works, such as Robison-Anton, Madeira, and Floriani, the steps for each butterfly will indicate a generic color name rather than a brand’s thread number, allowing you the creative freedom to embroider these butterflies in any variety of shades. For example, Monarchs will burst to life with vivid, orange hues, while Blue Morphos utilize a metallic look throughout their iridescent wings. Read through the design’s steps before beginning each butterfly, and plan your thread placements accordingly.


A simplistic combination of notions you can find in most creative spaces will have you on the way to these dimensional beauties in no time. Due to the stitch-intensive nature of each butterfly, it is best practice to run these designs on a double layer of tear away stabilizer. The start of the digitized file will run a placement stitch for the shape of the butterfly you selected. From there, Wilson’s studio suggests the use of a sturdy polyester fabric base featuring a diagonal weave, such as STAHL’s Poly-TWILL™ fabric, to place over the stitches and act as the base for the embroidery. Each design will then be ran through to the end in order to complete the butterfly’s coloring, with the various thread changes indicated in your design’s numbered machine steps
Once the embroidered butterfly has been stitched out on the twill, it can be removed from the embroidery hoop and torn out of the stabilizer. Using a pair of double curved appliqué scissors or snips, the butterfly will get trimmed out of the twill as close as possible without popping any of the stitches. Any stray threads or exposed twill remaining from trimming can be singed away carefully with the use of a small flame or hot tool, and your finished butterfly will be a freestanding beauty ready to add anywhere.


Once the butterflies are trimmed you can add them to anything, walls, picture frames, jewelry and accessories or anything else you can think of. The tutorial that is included with the Signature Series collection show dozens of options on how to finish and display the butterflies.
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