Using a Wing Needle with Heirloom Machine Embroidery Designs: Church Dolls

Heirloom machine embroidery is beautiful and is a modern way to do French hand sewing. When my children were pre-teens, I spent many hours using my computerized machine to do French hand sewing using methods by Martha Pullen and Mildred Turner. That was before I had an embroidery machine. It is much easier to complete projects, like the one below, using an embroidery machine. There are some beautiful projects using heirloom techniques demonstrated in the Bluprint class Digitizing Machine Embroidery Designs taught by Cookie Gaynor.

Today, we’ll take a look at one of my favorite projects to give as a baby gift: a church doll made using heirloom embroidery techniques.

The reason this is called a church doll is that it makes no noise when it is dropped or laid on a hard bench. Traditional church dolls were made with faces and hair stitched in hand embroidery and dresses stitched with French hand sewn lace insets. The modern doll that I made was stitched on the computerized sewing machine and the embroidery machine.

  1. The entire doll is made using a square or rectangle of fabric that is 20 x 20” or 16 x 20”, and is traditionally 100% cotton batiste.
  2. The heirloom techniques are completed on the fabric before the doll is assembled.
  3. To assemble the doll, the fabric is gathered in the middle and stuffed to make the head.
  4. The fabric on either side is then folded and knotted to make the arms. The beautiful embroidery is on the front of the dress.

Embroidery using a wing needle to create an eyelet type fabric.

Recently I stitched some heirloom butterfly machine embroidery designs from Sew Inspired by Bonnie with three different fabrics: batiste, Kona cotton, and a quilting cotton. Each fabric stitched beautifully with the wing needle and produced the desired eyelet effect. A wing needle or hemstitch needle has a wide flange along the shaft of the needle and separates the fibers as it penetrates the fabric. When the stitch is made, it creates an eyelet appearance. Wing needles are traditionally used for stitching entredeaux insertion and for making hemstitched items such as table linens, as well as creating the eyelet fabric. When using a wing needle with machine embroidery, a water-soluble stabilizer is used rather than a traditional paper type stabilizer. The water-soluble stabilizer allows the eyelet effect to be maximized and easily dissolves in lukewarm water. I tried both a medium and a heavy water soluble stabilizer and felt that the medium stabilizer produced a better result.


Another technique that I tried with the butterfly set was to create a shadow embroidery with the eyelet.

After the eyelet stitching was complete, I added a layer of pink cotton fabric behind the water-soluble stabilizer and pinned it carefully just inside the edges of the embroidery hoop. With the pink fabric behind the white fabric, the remaining colors were stitched. The pink fabric was then trimmed away around the outside of the satin stitching. This created a beautiful shadow embroidery design. The photos below show the embroidery with the pink lining and without the pink lining. The difference is subtle but distinct.


Back to your doll…

This is a photo of the church doll before I stuffed the head and tied the arms. In general, my preference for a church doll is to use a rectangle rather than this square on point. For this design, the square seemed to be better.

Machine Embroidery Doll

With this doll an eyelet lace was used along the hem of the dress so that it would repeat the eyelet design in the machine embroidery. The doll face is one that I quickly digitized. You can also find machine embroidery doll faces from plain to fancy by doing an Internet search.

You can make a very special gift with this quick and easy project that uses heirloom machine embroidery and supplies that you likely already have on hand.

Have you used a wing needle with machine embroidery? What type of projects have you completed using a wing needle? What stabilizer did you use?

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