Anatomical Embroidery with Robert Mahar

Well, hello again!  I’ve been trying to catch you all up on my crafty adventures.  Today, I share with you an embroidery class I took a few months ago with Robert Mahar at Handcraft Studio School.

Me and Robert!

Me and Robert!

Robert was a doll and his enthusiasm rubbed off on us.

This isn’t your mom’s embroidery, but a more hip take on it in terms of subject matter – the human anatomy.  The first thing we did was pick out our choice of anatomical drawing we wanted to embroider.  I picked out a hand and a head.

Vintage print of human hand

Human head

Robert had these images printed on cotton/linen blend canvas fabric, using the services of Spoonflower.  The images were originally from old anatomy manuals.

Before we started learning to stitch, Robert went over a list of rules, courtesy of the art department of Immaculate Heart College.

Immaculate Heart College Art Dept rules. Which one is your favorite?

My favorites are rules 1, 4, and 8 :0)

Each student was given a packet of supplies and instructions.  The supplies included an embroidery needle,

Embroidery needle

a threader to help us thread our needles with the multi-strand embroidery floss,

Threaderand a piece of fabric with a dotted pattern:

Dotted fabric for practicing embroidery stitches

We used this particular fabric because the dots were spaced an eighth of an inch apart, the perfect distance for creating stitches.

Fabric dots spaced eighth of an inch apart

We were also given a small embroidery hoop and different colored floss.  The floss has a total of 6 strands, which Robert had us split in half, so that we had two 3-strands to practice our first couple of stitches.

6-strand embroidery floss split in half

The threader sure came in handy when we had to thread our needle!

We placed our piece of fabric in the embroidery hoop, tightening the screw and stretching the fabric until the latter was taut.  Then it was time to learn our very first embroidery stitch, the running stitch, which looks like a broken line.

Running stitchThe dots on the fabric served as guides for where our needle came through the fabric.

We proceeded learning a bunch of other stitches, including the chain stitch:

Chain stitch 1 Chain stitch 2

Apparently the chain stitch is not the most fun to do, but Robert showed us an easier, less tedious way of creating it.  You can see the technique we learned here.

Here is the sampler I ended up creating of all the stitches I learned:

Sampler of embroidery stitches

From top to bottom, the stitches are running, back, stem/outline, chain stitch done with 6 strands, couching, cross, Pekinese, and chain stitch done with 3 strands of floss.

Here’s what the back of my sampler looked like:

Sampler of embroidery stitches_back

Experienced and advanced embroiderers take great care to ensure that the back of their work is just as beautiful as the front.  Obviously I am just a beginner!

After learning and practicing our embroidery stitches, we moved onto embroidering our pictures.  Here’s one of Robert’s class samples:

Robert Mahar's embroidered hand

I love how the stitching gives the picture dimension and highlights some of the arteries.

Here’s one he did of the human torso:

Embroidered human torso

I love how he outlined the head in ombre yellow back and Pekinese stitches, resulting in a halo effect.

Embroidered human torso detail 1

Here’s an up close look at the rays emanating from the chest, done in a couching stitch:

Embroidered human torso detail 2

I started out by outlining the fingers of my hand with back stitching:

Back stitched outline of fingers

I continued back-stitching the outline of the rest of my hand.

Back stitched outline of hand

Back stitched outline of hand.  Notice how the stitching on the top of the thumb is noticeably off.

I proceeded to try different stitches with different colored thread:

Stem-stitched red and pink arteries

Stem-stitched red and pink arteries

Chain stitched brown artery

Chain stitched brown artery

Here’s what my hand looked like when I was done:

Embroidered hand all finished 2

I’m thinking of ultimately displaying my hand inside the embroidery hoop:

Finished embroidered hand in hoop

Finished embroidered hand in hoop

I would need to cut out all the excess fabric, but that would mean cutting away some of my embroidered handwork, something I’m a bit hesitant to do, especially given all the time I spent creating it.

I haven’t gotten around to embroidering the other anatomical drawing I got of the human head yet, but I will definitely post when I get that done.

I rather enjoyed my first stab at embroidery.  It was quite meditative, like knitting (and crocheting).

What about you?  Have you ever tried embroidering?  What’s your favorite stitch?  Please share in the comments.

About Serena Y Lee

Serena worked in the biotech industry for 18 years before leaving to pursue her life purpose – to live in freedom with creativity and simplicity. Her love for baking, creativity, and story-telling compelled her to start blogging to share her ideas with a wider audience.


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