Brazilian Embroidery – What is it? How Can I Do it?

Brazilian embroidery is something that rides the perimeter of embroidery styles. People are familiar with stump work embroidery, which is a multidimensional style of embroidery that incorporates wire or thread to hold embroidered shapes away from the fabric, creating flowers with petals you can bend. Brazilian embroidery is similar to stump work, but there are some very specific differences, which create a completely different style. Let’s find out what Brazilian embroidery is, and how you can learn to do it!

Stitch Style – Stand Out From the Crowd!

Brazilian embroidery is set apart by the stitch types used within the piece. Many of the stitches are dimensional, meaning that they stick out from the fabric a little. Dimensional stitches include bullion knots, French knots, drizzle stitch, cast-on stitch, wagon wheel stitch, or any stitch that adds texture. Flat stitches like stem stitch, feather stitch, back stitch, or other less dimensional stitches are used as background foliage, leaves, or filling.

Another commonly used stitch is the couching stitch, which creates dimensions as large or small as the thread being laid down. Leaf stitches are commonly seen for background, and the detached buttonhole stitch creates patterns like the petals of carnations – lots of folds and many little crevices.

Thread Type – Not Your Average Twist!

Another difference in Brazilian embroidery is the thread type. Embroidery uses threads from wool to cotton to whatever is lying around – even metal threads! Brazilian embroidery uses exclusively rayon thread. Rayon thread has a sheen that makes the stitches pop, and can really snazzy up your piece. The technique gets its name due to the original production of the rayon threads in Brazil.

There are over 200 colors available for Rayon thread, and a commonly used brand is the EdMar Co, manufactured here in the US. The weights are named, and vary from very thin to a Boucle!  These are Z-twist threads, and you can read down below to learn about the difference from other embroidery thread.

The cloth used with the thread is often a poplin cloth, and any tightly woven cloth is preferred, although Brazilian embroidery can be done on anything from sweatshirts to batiste. It’s important to note that Brazilian embroidery uses Milliner needles, where the eye of the needle is the same size as the shaft. A bulging eye needle creates inconsistencies in stitches like the bullion stitch, or any stitch where the needle goes back through loops of threads.

Look, Ma, No Wires!

How do you get dimensions without wires? Magic! Except it’s not – just really skillfully applied stitches. Stump work stitches are crafted around wires or threads to create a multidimensional picture, but Brazilian embroidery layers stitches on top of other stitches to provide the depth and dimension. Cast on stitches are similar to knitting cast-ons, but done with needle and thread. Using a buttonhole stitch creates dimensions similar to the Armenian lace techniques, and layering these stitches over French knots can really make floral designs stand out.

S-twist vs Z twist

Why Rayon thread? There’s a very specific reason – and it’s called “thread twist”. Embroidery floss, and most other threads like cotton plies, are what is known as “S-twist” thread. If you lay a piece of thread down, the twist of the plies in the thread matches the direction of the middle portion of the S. Rayon thread, however, is what is called “Z-twist”, and its ply twist matches the middle line of the Z. It is twisted the opposite way of normal embroidery thread!

Why does this make a difference? When you’re creating bullion knots with a Z twist thread, it’s important to wrap the thread around the needle in a clockwise direction. If you wrap counterclockwise, the thread will tend to unwind (but if you’re trying for a specific look of a stitch, you can do this – read below). If you’re working with S twist thread, you need to wrap the needle in a counterclockwise direction.

Okay, fine – I hear you. WHY do I need to do this? Well, the difference is evident in the final stitches. If you prefer your stitches to look a specific way, you need to know which way to wrap the needle. Stitches like bullion will be smoother or bulkier based on your wrap direction. Stem/outline stitches will have either a very obvious diagonal step, or a smooth outline, depending on which side of the thread your needle comes up on. It is a matter of preference and design, but it’s important to know that some types of thread look more crisp in certain stitches, and some need some finagling. You can see the difference below – the Lola thread is a Z twist, and the other three are S twists. So pretty and shiny!

Primarily Flora – Rarely Fauna

One of the other identifying factors in Brazilian embroidery is its choice of subject. Although the techniques can be used for anything, traditionally, the primary subjects are flowers and floral designs. Most of the kits and techniques you find will have a floral base, although the technique lends itself beautifully to more modern interpretations. Check out this darling bee!!

There are occasionally birds integrated into the floral designs as accents, and thread painted insects feature frequently as well. More modern artists combine stump work and Brazilian styles to create a truly three-dimensional art piece. Sharon Shetley, a Brazilian embroidery artist and the heart behind the website Threads in Bloom, has beautifully shown how to combine embroidery styles from thread painting, stump work, and Brazilian embroidery into modern expressions of garden glory. You can visit her site here, and I highly recommend it!

One of the other beautiful additions to embroidery is the use of freshwater pearls or even seed beads to accent the floral designs. Never let yourself be limited by a specific technique – embroidery is all about creating new ways to represent the world, and the more techniques you learn, the better you can recreate your inspiration!

Awesome – Where Do I Start?!

If you want to get started with Brazilian techniques, start by learning a few basic stitches – the bullion stitch, the buttonhole stitch, and the French knot. Then, try laying them together, around each other, and in circles, just to see what it looks like. There are kits available online to help if you need it, but practicing these stitches until you’re comfortable with them will help with understanding what you’ll need to do within the kit patterns. You can find kits of varying difficulty by clicking on the picture of the grandiose mums below! Nordic Needle has such great teaching tools and patterns!

The other option is to get an inexpensive kit from Michaels, JoAnns, or Amazon, and instead of using the stitches recommended – get a little exciting and try recreating the pattern with only dimensional stitches! By the end of it, you will feel more confident in your stitching, and you’ll have a reference point for when you begin a more serious pattern.

Did you know about Brazilian embroidery? What about this technique draws you? Have you seen anything like this before? Let me know in the comments below – and if you already practice this technique, please let me know! I have so much to learn from you!


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