Maybe we’re a bit eager, but a few early-flowering plum trees in our neighborhood have us daydreaming about springtime. The blooming trees seem to offer the promise of renewal. It’s exactly what we need to get through the last stretch of winter. In Japan, Hanami (the cherry blossom festival) is the long-standing tradition of welcoming spring in celebration by gathering under blooming trees with friends to share food, drink and companionship. While many parts of our country are still covered with a veil of frost, we were inspired to create this beginner embroidery project of stitched blossoms to bring some springtime optimism inside.
Just as Hanami celebrates the temporal beauty of nature, stitching captures this wonderful moment in time when tree buds blossom and we are surrounded by that oh-so-spring color, pink. Since it is very portable, this is a great little project for a long car ride or flight. We started off making a large embroidered patch, then turned it into a simple little bag. You might decide to sew the patch onto a tote or use it to make a cuff bracelet. In the end, whatever you decide on would make a great springtime gift for a someone special or for your special self.
Starting with a washed rectangle of bright pink linen fabric, we sketched out a design, chose some natural colored threads that would feel a little "vintage" and started stitching. We did a bit of botanical sleuthing to learn that the blooming trees in our neighborhood are formally named Prunus mume (Chinese plum or Japanese apricot). Originating from China, many cultivars are popular and iconic in Japan, often planted outside Japanese temples. The blossoms have five round petals and the flower colors can range from white to dark pink to red.
To start our embroidery, we sketched out some horizontal branches (with a water soluble fabric pen) to anchor our design. Using chain stitches (click images below for close-up), we stitched those branches and then added a few contrasting leaves, first with an outline and then filling in. To make the point of a leaf, click on For a sharp turn below. While these trees don't actually have green leaves, we took some creative license to add a complementary pop of color.
The real fun starts when you add the blossoms. We chose to use 3 different colors of straw silk (using Silk Road Fibers) to add highlights and lowlights. The variations in the dyed silks give each flower unique shading, and the flatness of the straw silk provides a petal width. Using a straight stitch to add each of the five petals is simple and pleasing. Bring the needle up in the flower center and stitch a petal, then bring the needle up back in the center, continuing until you have 5 petals. Sometimes stitching over the branch and sometimes near it, we started with a peachy color, then added some darker plum and then a few light pink flowers, again overlapping sometimes for depth. Our design grew organically, just like the branches and buds of the tree.
Neither of these stitches is difficult, and you can add as many flowers as you want until it feels done. If you aren’t pleased by how a flower takes shape, don't stress. Just pull the needle off the thread, pick your stitches out and start that flower again. Embroidering can be like painting with thread where layering is OK. Focusing on those humble little stitches can be very zen. This stitching style is somewhere between Japanese boro and classic embroidery, allowing relaxed, imperfect stitches and surfaces where possible.
As mentioned, after our branches had blossomed sufficiently, we decided to give another nod to Japan textile craft by stitching up a simple little bag that can be hung from a purse strap, or from a wrist. All simply sewn by hand, the bag is lined and has a scrap leather handle that unbuttons so that you can attach the bag to another one. We like to imagine this as a perfect passport pouch for when we someday take that trip to Japan to soak up the early Spring blossoms in person.
Click here for an embroidery template, simple bag pattern and printable instructions.