Skeleton leaves are a scrapbooking/paper art supply that are very beautiful but also incredibly fragile. I wanted to make something that was pretty in the same way, but wasn’t going to crumble if I used on an apparel or accessory item. This needle lace skeleton leaves method is the perfect way to create the look in a way that would hold up to a lot. They’re delicate and airy but surprisingly durable. It’s also a neat project because if you prepared a bunch of leaf templates ahead of time you could definitely make a travel kit that would fit an empty altoids box.
– embroidery floss
– basic sewing thread (will not be part of the finished project)
– sharp scissors
– glue – rubber cement and E6000 are good choices
– paper (the ordinary stuff you use for your printer is perfect)
– printed pattern (or your own line art)
Stitch The Framework
Loosely cut out the leaf you want to stitch. The idea here is to glue together a few sheets of paper with the pattern on top so that it’s strong enough to stitch through but also flexible enough to bend and while stitching on it. I found that my printed pattern plus two other layers of paper was ideal, but your experience might vary if your paper is very thick or very thin. Try to keep the glue outside of the stitching area, and glue all of the layers together.
Pre-punch your stitching holes with your needle. Make sure you punch the tips of the leaf veins and where they attach to the center vein.
Fill in with extra holes so that they’re all about 1/4 inch/3mm apart.
Thread your needle with a couple of feet of sewing thread and tie a large knot at the end. I stacked a bunch of overhand knots. It’s not part of the finished project, do what you have to do to keep it from coming through the paper.
Stitch up through the paper at the bottom of the leaf as shown.
Lay your full strand of embroidery floss across the pattern, leaving about 1/2 inch/6mm of tail. Stitch back through the paper, making sure the sewing thread goes over the embroidery floss.
Continue stitching over the embroidery floss in this way following the pattern lines and keeping the floss smooth and straight.
When you get to the end of this vein, turn around.
Stitch back to the center line.
Work this way to the tip of the vein.
Then work back down the other side. Just keep stitching into the same holes.
Punch the outer edge, making sure to punch right at the tip of the leaf.
Now start stitching the floss around the edge of the leaf.
When you get around to the bottom be sure to catch the tail into the stitches.
Work around a second time. Every single line segment should have two strands of floss sewn to it.
End your thread on the back of the work and trim the floss. The ends should overlap a little as shown.
This is what the back should look like – only sewing thread, no embroidery floss.
Fill In The Framework
Thread the needle with a single strand of the embroidery floss. (Embroidery floss is made of 6 strands – divide it up so you’re only using 1 of those strands for the rest of the project.) Slide the needle through a bit of the frame floss.
Pull the thread through and leave the tail buried in the framework thread. You should be ready to start stitching at the base of the leaf.
Slide the needle under the frame. Try not to go through the floss, just under it. This is why the flexibility of the paper is helpful.
Put the needle back through the loop before pulling the stitch tight. This is usually called a “buttonhole stitch” and is the stitch you’ll use for the rest of the leaf.
What it should look like when tightened.
Make another buttonhole stitch by going around the vein.
It can be left a little loose.
Make another around this part of the vein.
Again, leave it a little loose.
Now make a buttonhole stitch by going through one of the loops left earlier.
When tightened it should look something like this.
Continue in this way, filling the space with randomly sized buttonhole stitches. You want to pull your stitches so that you have an overall even tension – tight, but not so tight that you warp the framework.
Your lace should look somewhat similar to this. It’s a good idea to make a stitch that goes through the folded point in the framework to help anchor it in place.
Make a few buttonhole stitches along this side of the vein.
Continue filling this area the same way, working around the veins and through other buttonhole stitches to fill in the space.
You will eventually run out of thread. When that happens just stitch the tail through the framework and trim it. Then do the same to start a new thread. Avoid using knots in the framework, these tails will be firmly secured later.
Keep filling the space with random buttonhole stitches until you reach the end.
Finishing the Framework
Either work your thread down to the base of the leaf or end it and start it again so you’re ready to work from there.
Start making buttonhole stitches around the framework of the veins.
Try to create a row of very neat stitches lined up side by side. It doesn’t matter what side the little edge from the stitches is on as long as it’s consistent. Keep these stitches tight, they’re meant to give the whole leaf structure.
Stitch until you reach the first vein branch. Be sure to work around the filling lace stitches – you’re locking them in place. Also try not to stitch through the sewing thread that is holding the frame in place.
Slide the needle along the vein to the end.
Make a buttonhole stitch through the folded part of the framework.
Then work back to the center line with more neatly aligned buttonhole stitches.
When you get to the end, make a couple larger stitches across the place where the lines join to prevent any gaps.
Slide the needle under the vein segment you just worked.
Now you’re in position to keep working up the center line.
Be sure to start each vein at the far end. It’s almost impossible to slide your needle through a row of tight buttonhole stitches so if you work from the center to the end you have to tie off your thread and start it again somewhere else.
When you get to the end of the vein make a few small knots around points in the filling lace and trim your thread very close to the knot. If you’re worried about it coming undone use a bit of fray check or fabric glue.
Now do that same stitching around the outer edge. I try to start my stitching in an unexpected place so you’re less likely to notice it.
When you’ve worked all the way around tie off your working thread as inconspicuously as possible around a few bars of the filling lace.
Finishing The Lace
Carefully clip a few threads on the back.
As much as possible, gently pull the threads free from the lace. If a thread is stuck, trim one end of it close to the paper and the pull the other thread. It’s probably been stitched through and that’s usually enough to loosen it.
Trim and remove threads until the lace comes free from the paper. Pull off any remaining threads – tweezers might expedite this process.
Once the threads are removed you’re done! The lace can be used any way you want. It’s remarkably firm and strong. If you wanted it to be “poseable” you could easily include some very thin wire in the framework.