What is stumpwork embroidery? An introduction for beginners & beyond

03 February 2021
Georgina Bellamy panda stumpwork embroidery 'Panda' stumpwork embroidery by Georgina Bellamy.
Learn more about the wonderful technique, stumpwork embroidery, that allows you to really raise your game in this introductory guide for beginners and beyond!

Stumpwork is a complex form of embroidery that can be created using a variety of stitches. Start with our quick guide followed by a chat with the award-winning textile artist and expert stumpwork embroiderer, Georgina Bellamy who shares her inspiration, funny stories and top tips for beginners.

A quick guide to stumpwork

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What is stumpwork?

Stumpwork, or raised embroidery, is a style in which figures are stitched in a way that raises them from the surface of the embroidery, giving a 3D effect. There are numerous ways of creating the raised element, including:

1. Padding with thread – One or more layers of stitch, worked in alternate directions, act as a padded base (image 1). You can do this in any colour, as you’ll be covering it with the stitches in the chosen colour for your work. A satin stitch is a good choice for this topper (image 2).

2. Padding with felt – To pad with felt, trace the shape you want to be raised onto felt and cut it out. Match the felt colour to the colour of your embroidery thread in case it shows through your stitching. Make tiny stitches around the edge of your felt to attach it to your project, starting at the edge so that it will appear more raised in the centre. Then work your embroidery over the top, keeping it tight to best cover the felt (image 3).

stumpwork padding with thread

Left to right, images 1, 2 & 3.

3. Raised stitches – You can do several types of raised stitch, including woven, detached and couched stitches. One example is a raised stem band, a great one to learn because of its applications to floral embroidery. To start, place regularly spaced, straight stitches across the width of your planned shape, and then work rows of stem stitch by slipping the needle under each ‘bar’ in turn, without going through the fabric (images 4 & 5). There are several other techniques you can use, such as French knots (image 6) and wiring (image 7).

Stumpwork padding with felt

Left to right, images 4 & 5.

Stumpwork raised stitches

Left to right, images 6 & 7.

Thanks to Carol Leather for the great tips and images! See more at needleworktips- and-techniques.com.

An interview with Georgina Bellamy 

Owner of ‘That Embroidery Girl’, Georgina focuses mainly on stumpwork and goldwork. Let’s get to know Georgina better, while enjoying some of her beautiful creations…

Georgina Bellamy, That Embroidery Girl, headshot

How did you get into embroidery? 

I began making my son’s clothes in my early 20s, which led to me attending a City and Guilds (C&G) fashion and embroidery course at my local adult education facility. I decided to spend one more year studying embroidery at C&G level before applying to university, which gave me a great practical knowledge of hand embroidery that I was then able to use in my university degree. Everybody has to start somewhere! 

Where do you get your inspiration? 

I became fascinated with 3D embroidery many years ago when I studied stumpwork. Sadly, once in university my beloved stumpwork didn’t readily fit in with the fashion ethos of my course… but I couldn’t give it up! So, I began experimenting with ways in which I could create pieces that married both fashion and stumpwork together.

Around this time I also became a goldwork enthusiast, particularly with purls, and I began a journey of finding my own ‘style’ of embroidery, inspired by all of the shape possibilities I could create, and how to marry them with the idea of what's fashionable. It’s very important to me that the craft of hand embroidery doesn’t die out, and so much of my motivation comes with the end aim of always making the work relevant, modern and desirable. I’m also heavily influenced by high fashion embroidery, and I particularly love the houses of Givenchy, McQueen and Dolce & Gabbana for their amazing goldwork and beading mixes, as well as 3D experts like Iris Van Harpen. I really respect your passion to keep the craft going! 

'Frog' stumpwork by Georgina Bellamy

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Are there any particular embroiderers you admire?

So many… too many to count! When I first began embroidery, I fell in love with the work of Valerie Campbell Harding and Maggie Grey, then discovered Margaret Nicholson and loved her ‘Or Nue’ style. I found Karen Nicol and her work really informed a lot of mine, particularly her ability to create animal figures so animated and lifelike.

As I studied fashion more I discovered couture embroidery and the art of the ateliers, particularly the houses of Givenchy, McQueen and Iris Van Harpen. Having found Instagram, I now find myself quite obsessed with many embroidery artisans, including Janine Heschl – an amazing free motion embroidery artist, Humayrah Poppins – a brilliant goldwork artist and He Xinyi – an inspired stumpwork artist from China. 

Any funny stories from your own embroidery experiences?

Almost every embroidery I do goes through what I term a ‘disaster’ moment – the moment when you can’t quite see if your idea is actually going to be viable. This is particularly true when creating sculptural embroidery where you have layers of pad work to stitch through! Plenty of my animals started off with the intent of being a whole other species, especially when I first started doing them some years ago. 

I think the biggest learning curve I had in terms of ‘disasters’ really came in the first few years out of university. Doing a degree and being around so many creatives each and every day led to me getting very lost in my own crazy work and ideas… I was embroidering with shells, bird’s feet, teeth – the crazier the better! It was a great experience in many ways as I learnt a lot from it technically, however, the basic lesson of what will actually sell completely alluded me! I didn’t get that memo until several years later. I really had to work hard to reign in my creative embroidery ideas and strip them back so that they could become sellable products.

'Big Cat' stumpwork embroidery by Georgina Bellamy

What drives your passion for textile art?

So many things! I think the love of creating first and foremost, along with the withdrawal symptoms I seem to get when I’m not creating. Embroidery has slowly taken over my life in the past 10 years – I have the textile ‘bug’ you might say! I love the fact that I’m never bored when I have my embroidery on hand. The only limit to my creation is my imagination, and I wake up every day with a new idea or shape I want to achieve. I’m also driven by the need to keep my craft alive and to ensure the younger generation want to take it up, which can be a very hard task indeed!

“Most of all, I just genuinely love what I do and cannot imagine doing anything else.”

What is it about stumpwork you specifically enjoy?

The techniques intrigue me constantly and I am always learning. Stumpwork is always a challenge, as you have to think about the work from all angles and directions, particularly in a fully 3D piece. Crossing those techniques over with goldwork just increased my enjoyment as I could blend both embroidery styles and begin to create structures not possible in traditional thread-based stumpwork. I also love the history and tradition of both goldwork and stumpwork, and like the idea that I’m carrying that on somehow in my own little way.

Of the pieces you’ve created, which is your favourite? 

I have several! I think every new one becomes my ‘baby’ until the next one is created. Right now, I am in love with my Panda, a fully 3D goldwork and purl piece, and my Sloth, which is a much flatter embroidery piece I have placed on a bag. Both animals were quite challenging to capture accurately, and when I finally got there it was a real ‘hallelujah’ moment, and also informed much of my work from that point on.

'Sloth' stumpwork embroidery by Georgina Bellamy

How would you recommend a total beginner get into stumpwork?

Books are a great source of information on both stumpwork and goldwork, and are always a great starting point for beginners. I have a book out all about goldwork and raising the surface of your work, but you can also find a myriad of titles from various authors who are masters in their field. I also think finding a regular embroidery lesson or joining your local Embroiderers’ Guild is a great way to learn how to embroider proficiently, and to find people with the same interests. These days, there are a plethora of embroidery tutorials and artists sharing knowledge and offering workshops, aimed at beginners, on social media.

Finally, magazines like ‘Stitch’ and ‘Embroidery’ are must-haves, and often impart valuable knowledge on the reader, making them perfect for beginners and advanced readers alike.

Dimensional metalwork flower by Georgina Bellamy

'Forget-me-not' by Georgina Bellamy as featured in Stitch issue 126.  Enjoy her take on dimensional metalwork and try the project for yourself!

What are your top tips for those who want to give stumpwork a go? 

Always make sure your base pad work and base stitching is as close to perfect as can be before beginning your goldwork or thread layer. I often find people skip this fundamental step as pad work can be dull, but efforts made in this area will hugely improve your overall shape and realism when finished!

Find out more

Website: thatembroiderygirl.com 
Instagram: @thatembroiderygirl

Enjoyed learning about stumpwork embroidery? Next, delve further into the world of goldwork embroidery.

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