In most of the projects I do that require heraldry or heraldic style decoration I use felt, because it cuts well, doesn’t fray and holds its colour. The only downside is that it sometimes bobbles during washing, but if that happens you can often just cut off the bobbled knot and the rest of the pattern is unaffected.
I use an embroidery hoop when adding felt decorations, and will talk you through how I decorated the Black Order heraldry on the shield cover featured in the shield cover tutorial.
Using an embroidery hoop
An embroidery hoop is not necessary for doing embroidery, though it does help keep the tension evenly across the piece as you work and allows you to put down a project and pick it up as necessary. I have two – one approximately 5″ across and the other approximately 9 1/2″. This larger one allows me to fit a pattern just smaller than the size of an A4 sheet of paper which is the scale I print many of my Fools and Heroes Order heraldry on. Rowan’s shield cover was pieced together from a couple of pieces of A4 as I wanted the knotwork to be a specific size.
You can do any decorations by hand, so long as you have patience and pin your pattern on when your material is as flat as possible. Your embroidery may pull a little when the whole piece is constructed regardless if you did it by hand or using the hoop, but I’ve found stretching the working area helps minimise this.
How to decorate a shield cover (or tabard or belt sash …)
This tutorial focuses on decorating a shield cover, but the principle is the same for decorating tabards, belt sashes, bags, tunics, arm bands … the list is endless! I find that decorating an item before it’s sewn together is best as you have less cloth to handle and it avoids having to awkwardly cradle oodles of cloth as your work. However, you can always add embroidery to your work using a blanket stitch or slip stitch and patience. If you’ve ever been a scout/guide it’s time to put your rusty badge sewing skills to work!
- Cloth (whatever you’re decorating)
- Decorating materials (in this example colored felt)
- Pattern (multiple copies)
- Needle and thread (embroidery thread or standard thread can be used here. Try and select colours that match your decorative material/felt or are close enough not to show up. Unless you want them to – then use whatever colour you want)
- Tailor’s chalk (optional)
- Thimble (optional)
- Embroidery hoop (optional)
The design I’m embroidering on the black cloth is the Black Order symbol for one of the Knightly groups in the Fools and Heroes LARP system as a piece of kit for an upcoming character.
Optional: Before I start doing anything I mark the centre of my workspace by folding the cloth once in half and marking the crease with chalk, then folding this again to make a quarter and marking the crease again. This gives me an L shape which marks the mid-lines upon which I can position my work.
Cut out your pattern pieces from your pieces of paper. This then gives you all the areas you need to cut out from your felt/decorative cloth. Cut your pieces out from your fabric and put somewhere safe. I joined the three points of the Black Order spears into one piece to make cutting easier and so I didn’t mix up which piece went where when I sewed it all together.
Optional: If you’re using your embroidery hoop, place your cloth over the centre of the inner ring and slip the outer ring on top. Tighten the screw until it firmly holds the cloth and tug the cloth until it is centred and tight across the hoop.
Pin your decorations in sections onto your workspace. Sew these on carefully, taking your time so that you don’t cause them to move or twist as you work. Having lots of pins in your work helps keep the pieces steady, but can prick unslightly holes in delicate cloth.
I try to work on only one colour at a time, or one layer, working upwards through my pieces. In this example it goes: white spears, red heart, black embroidery.
The final product is the Black Knight shield shown at the top of this post, fitted on its shield.
Other felt embroidery projects include: