Storey project editor Michal Lumsden writes that this modern twist on a traditional embroidery sampler is pure free-form crafting fun and a good reminder that beauty doesn’t demand perfection.
To be an editor of craft books requires (at least) two traits: attention to detail and a love of crafts. I recently came across a photo of my 12-year-old self that suggests I’ve been on this path for some time. My mom taught me to cross-stitch a couple years before this picture was taken and I became fastidious, following patterns precisely and making sure my finished projects were perfect, containing no mistakes.
In the years since this photo was taken, I’ve learned new crafts and have spent countless hours creating decorative, practical, and wearable items with thread, yarn, and fabric. Truth be told, I still tend toward seeking perfection when I craft. But I also have come to enjoy the flexibility of free-form creativity. Especially now that I spend my days at work scrutinizing details and words, when I pick up crafts in my free time, I want to not think so hard. And still create beautiful objects.
That’s why I love this Mandala Sampler project so much. You can make something stunning — with tons of intricate details or just a few simple stitches — however big or small you want, with whatever colors you want. The design is all yours. No pattern necessary. Precisely. Perfect.
If you were learning embroidery 100 years ago, you’d likely practice your stitches on a traditional sampler, the kind that has the whole alphabet written out in thread, with a flowery border. This modern twist is less particular and more fun.
A mandala is a round design — mandala is the Sanskrit word for “circle” — that’s a symbol of the universe. You can use any stitches and colors to make up your mandala pattern. Treat the hoop like a frame, if you like, and hang the whole thing on your wall. Or turn the mandala into a pillow, or stitch it to the back of your jean jacket or the front of a T-shirt.
What You Need
- Disappearing-ink fabric marker, chalk, or pencil
- Fabric to embroider that is at least a little bigger all around than your hoop. (Ideally this will be woven fabric with a nice open weave, such as burlap or linen, but a piece of an old bedsheet will work just fine.)
- Embroidery hoop
- Sharp needle
- Embroidery floss
How You Make It
1. If you want to plan out your mandala, start by drawing your design onto the fabric with fabric marker, chalk, or pencil. Try tracing the inner ring of your embroidery hoop and then sketching out concentric (smaller and smaller) circles inside it. Or you can freehand the whole thing with your needle and thread if you prefer. Stretch the fabric across the smaller hoop, then fit the adjustable hoop on top and tighten the screw.
2. Decide how many strands of floss to use. To separate your strands to the number you want, cut the length of floss you wan to use (an arm’s length is a good basic measure). Now separate the floss at the top into two equal sections of three strands each — or into two sections of two strands and four strands — and start to pull the sections apart gently and patiently. The floss will spin as it unwinds, but to keep it from tangling, move your fingers down the sections as they separate until they are pulled apart completely. Then thread your needle with embroidery floss and knot the end. Starting in the middle of your fabric, bring your needle up from the underside so your knot doesn’t show.
3. Create each circle with a different stitch pattern or color. If you like repetition, you can also repeat the colors and stitches you like best — or make the whole mandala in one color. Whatever your design, begin and end your circles on the underside of the fabric, tying off and sniping the thread as you finish. When you are finished, remove the mandala from the hoop. (Or don’t, so that you can hang it on the wall.)