Embroidered Suffragist Sunflower

September 22, 2020

Jenny Bath, Education and Volunteer Coordinator

In honor of National Voter Registration Day on September 22nd and the recent Centennial of the 19th Amendment, create your own embroidery featuring the colors (purple and gold) and symbol of the Suffragist movement (sunflower).

Suggested Materials:

• Embroidery Floss: DMC 18, 3820, 801, 550 (optional colors: 742 and 310)
• Embroidery needle
• Fabric to stitch onto: linen, cotton, canvas, denim, etc.
• 4” embroidery hoop
• Pencil
• Scissors

Stitch Types:

• Straight/Satin
• Back stitch
• French knot

Step One:


The very first step is to gather all of your materials. Feel free to adjust to what you have on hand or are able to collect. I chose the color scheme and design to pay homage to the Suffrage Movement of the early 20th century. If you don’t happen to have any embroidery floss on hand and are unable to purchase any, regular sewing thread should work fine, as long as you combine the lengths of thread to match the number of embroidery floss strands. For example, instead of separating out 3 strands of floss for the petals, you would cut 3 equal lengths of thread. Furthermore, if you cannot find an embroidery needle, a regular needle should work, though it might be a little more cumbersome to thread and pull through your fabric. 
In terms of fabric, you can really stitch on anything! I used a scrap of an old cotton bed sheet. It is easier if your fabric has minimal stretch and a tighter weave, but feel free to get creative. You can even make the design wearable by stitching onto a ballcap, the back pocket of a pair of shorts, or even a denim jacket!

Step Two:
Next, you’ll want to sketch out your design. I’ve gone ahead and created a mock up here that you are welcome to trace, or you can use it as inspiration to create your own. I do recommend finalizing your design on paper first, and then tracing, especially if you are using a white fabric, as some pencil marks can be a touch tenacious to fully erase. When tracing, I prefer to draw on the back side of the hoop, so that the fabric can make direct contact with the drawing, making it easier to see the original, and so that I have a better understanding of my boundaries. Remember that the inner hoop is a little smaller than the outer hoop and isn’t super visible while stitching. 
I found the best tracing setup was to hold my paper design up to a white screen on my computer, then hold the hoop ever that and use the computer screen as a backlight while I gently traced the design. You could also use a window or flashlight and flat tupperware lid!
If your fabric is too dark or thick to see though, you can either sketch onto the fabric with chalk or a washable highlighter, use carbon transfer paper, or a water soluble stitch medium. 

Step Three:
Now that you have your outline, it’s time to start stitching! Begin by threading your needle with three strands of your lighter yellow thread (DMC 18). If you are using embroidery floss, this means you’ll need to separate the strand in half. To create a knot, wrap the end of the thread around your index finger twice, roll the thread loop between your finger and thumb a few times until it starts to slip off, then pinch it and pull with your other hand to tighten. This is much easier if your finger is slightly wet.
Start filling in the front petals with a basic straight or satin stitch. I prefer to stitch up from the base of the petal to the top and I suggest starting in the middle of a petal, with your longest stitch, working your way out first down one side and then the other. Make sure you are placing your stitches just below the previous one as you work out to the edges of each petal. The closer the distance, the fuller your petal will be and the more severe, the skinner your petal will look.
Keep working your way through all the front petals using this same method. Don’t worry if things start to look a little wonky at this stage, there is very little that finishing backstitching and detailing can’t fix later.

Step Four:

Once you finish working through the front petals, it’s time to switch to three strands of your darker yellow thread (DMC 3820) to fill in the back petals. Again, use a satin stitch, starting in the middle of a petal and working your way outwards, filling in the gaps between each pair of front petals. Make sure to keep all your stitches as close together as possible.

Step Five:

Using the same darker thread, again in 3 strands, start to outline your back petals. Start at the very top of the triangle, and bring the thread back down at the bottom corner, right up against the closest front petal. Repeat this same stitch on the other side, making sure to come up through the same hole you made at the top.

Step Six:

Following the same method of Step Five, take 3 strands of your lighter yellow and begin to outline your front petals. Start at the top of the triangle and come down at the bottom, where it meets the next petal. Some of your petals might have a bit more curve to them, which makes it difficult to neatly outline in one full stitch. If this happens, simply break your stitch into two parts, making sure to use a back stitch so that it looks as seamless as possible.


Step Seven:

Now it is time to start filling in the center of your sunflower, This is done with French knots, using four strands of your brown thread (DMC 801). To avoid excessive tangles and limit the amount of fabric stress, I recommend doubling 2 strands of floss, rather than actually using four strands. Thread 2 strands through your needle, and instead of knotting one end and leaving a tail by the top, knot both ends together so that your thread forms a continuous loop on the needle.

To form a French knot, come up through the fabric, wrap the thread twice around your needle, and go back down right next to where you first came up, keeping constant tension of the thread until your needle makes it all the way through the fabric. Then let go and finish pulling through the thread. (See image below).

Continue filling the center with knots, working in a circular pattern.

Optional: For added texture and dimension, use an even mix of black (DMC 310) and brown thread for the French knots by threading one strand of each onto your needle and tying all the ends together. This works well to fill the very middle of your sunflower center, as I did, or can be used for the whole center.

Step Eight:

Add some finishing details around the flower using either a more orange-yellow (DMC 742) or your darker yellow. Thread 3 strands and soften the transition from petals to center by creating a ring of French knots around the edge. These don’t have to be placed as close together as your brown knots, and in fact look better if they are a little more spaced.

Optional: Use that same color (DMC 742) to add 3 small straight stitches to the base of each front petal, going a little less than half way up the petal.

Step Nine:

The lettering is done with 6 strands of a vibrant purple thread (DMC 550). Again, I recommend threading your needle with 3 strands and knotting both ends together. Using a backstitch (making sure your thread goes back through a previous hole to create a conscious effect) begin each word, working out from the middle. With "O"s and "M"s, I find it easier to start in the middle of each letter. The smaller you make your stitches, the curvier you can make your lines. For example, I used 8 stitches to create each "O" and the "S."

Step Ten:

To finish, erase any left over pencil markings, remove the fabric from the hoop, and wash your design using cold water and the gentlest cycle. Dry flat, or tumble dry on low, and cool iron as needed. If you are using the hoop to frame and display, stretch out any wrinkles by returning to the hoop with the fabric is still slightly damp. Trim the excess fabric so that it is just long enough to tuck and wither tape or glue to the hoop.

And you're done! 

We'd love to see your final creations! Share them with us on social media by tagging the Museum of Sonoma County.

Facebook: @museumofsonomacounty
Instagram: @museumsoco
Twitter: @museumsoco


Learn more about the Women's Suffrage Movement and the stories of incredible women by exploring the exhibition "From Suffrage to #MeToo: Groundbreaking Women in Sonoma County."

Museum of Sonoma County
475 Seventh Street
Santa Rosa, CA 95401
(707) 579-1500

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The mission of the Museum of Sonoma County is to engage and inspire our diverse community with art and history exhibitions, collections, and public programs that are inclusive, educational, and relevant.