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Blog > A Strelitzia in Stumpwork

Today I want to show you how to make a Strelitzia using a stumpwork technique. It's from my book "A Perfect World in Ribbon Embroidery and Stumpwork. Enjoy!

Perfect World

Strelitzia juncea, Family: Strelitziaceae. Common name: crane flower is indigenous to South Africa and grows wild in the Eastern Cape. This plant is a slow-growing, evergreen perennial plant, famous for its impressive flowers. The Strelitzia reginae species is the emblem flower of the city of Los Angeles. The Strelitzia juncea, also known as “crane flower”, is tropical in appearance with upright leaves that are long, thin, and pointed, reaching about 1 to 2 metres in height. At the tip of the leaves, growing from a hard, boat-shaped spathe or bract are several orange and yellow and three bright blue flowers (sepals). Two of the three blue petals are joined. When the birds sit on the flowers to sip nectar, the petals open and cover the bird’s feet in pollen. The Strelitzia has no perfume but makes a striking cut flower that will last several weeks in a vase.

Hint: This striking flower is ideal for embellishing wall quilts, handbags, trinket boxes or jerseys.  The striking, easy to make, detached orange and blue sepals will certainly be an interesting focal point on any project.


Chameleon threads

Pure silk: Green Apples no. 40, Rose no. 64, Emerald no. 101, Nasturtiums no. 56,

Flame lily no. 31, Peacock no. 103, Knysna Forest no. 3.

Stranded cotton: Mango no. 50, Moss no. 54, Pinotage no. 100, Baked Earth no. 7

Norbillie stranded cotton: Salmon no. 39

Rajmahal art silk Lagerfeld Ink no. 25 or 29 Charcoal

What else?

2 blocks of white fabric- soft cotton voile, 20 x 20 cm (8")

Sharp HB or 2B pencil.

Fray Stop or any clear anti-fray agent

6-inch (15 cm) embroidery hoop (for the stumpwork) plus a hoop that is big enough for your design

Note: use 1 strand of thread unless specified.

Stitches used: Straight/stab stitch, stem stitch, stem stitch filling, French knot, detached chain/lazy daisy and overcast stitch.

Needle guide:  Use a size 9 or 10 crewel/embroidery needle for one strand of thread and a size 8 or 9 for two strands of thread.


Trace the shapes as neatly as possible, tracing them in the centre of one of the white fabric blocks with the HB or 2B pencil. Add the number of each shape on the outside of the shape (from 1 to 9) and carefully trace the direction lines inside the shapes for easy reference later.

Centre the fabric with the tracings on top of the second fabric block (this is the backing fabric) and insert both layers in a 6-inch hoop. Pull the layers taut as a drum and tighten the hoop. Roll up the corners and pin or tack out of the way so they do not hinder you as you work.  The Barbola technique is used to make the Strelitzia.

Barbola is an ancient Tibetan form of stumpwork where layers of fabric are used to create embroidered shapes. Layers of pre-cut fabric shapes are pasted one on top of each other to create an embossed, three-dimensional sculpture. In this panel, the Strelitzia petals are made on two layers of fabric then cut out and used as a sculpture form. It uses no wiring along the edge and a fabric stiffener such as an anti-fray agent or glue paste is used to stiffen and strengthen the shapes before they are applied to the project. The shapes are made a tiny bit bigger than normal so the cut-out shapes can be moulded to form a convex, concave, or curved shape. This way the shape is elevated on the design — a form of raised embroidery or stumpwork. It is a surprisingly easy form of stumpwork and saves a great deal time as no wires need to be attached and covered.

Embroider shape 1 first.

Use 2 strands of Green Apples thread and work through both layers of fabric. Outline the edge of the shape in stem stitch. Fill in the shape with row after row of stem-stitch filling making them close together. Go back and fill in any gaps with straight /stab stitch.

Hint: It is best to start with the knots inside the shape and not along the edge of the shape (or use a waste knot) so they will not be in the way when the shape is cut out later.

Use two strands of the Moss stranded cotton and add darker shadows. Use a row of stem stitch between the previous rows stitching along the edge and in the centre of the shape. Change to one strand of the Rose pink thread and embroider the curved pink line in stem stitch. Make two or three rows close together.

Embroider shape 2.

Use the same pink thread and a row of stem stitch along the centre of the shape. Change to two strands of the Pinotage thread and fill in the wine-red sections as you did before. Hint: keep the stitches quite short, about 4 to 6 mm (1/8 to 1/4") in length as longer stitches can be untidy once the shape is cut out and attached to the fabric.

If the pink line has been covered with the wine-red stitches, make another row of stem stitch down the centre of the shape. Change to the Emerald green and add the rich green section in stem stitch, form tightly packed rows.

Embroider shapes 8 and 9.

Thread up with 1 strand of Peacock blue thread and fill in the blue shapes as before. Outline in stem stitch and fill in with tightly packed rows of stem stitch. Note that the shapes narrow before widening at the tip. Thread up with the black thread and embroider the curved black base of shape 8 with tiny stem stitches. Add a few black straight stitches beneath this curve to form the dark shadows on the narrow peduncle of this petal. Change to the pink thread and form one or two French knots in-between the black shadows on the peduncle. Add the pink vein higher up in detached chain/lazy daisy stitch. Use the same pink thread and stem stitch to add a centre vein on shape 9.

Make the orange sepals.

Use two strands of thread. Thread up with the Flame thread and outline each of the five shapes in stem stitch. Change to the Moss green thread and add two or three rows of green on the right edge of sepals 7 and 6 and the tip of sepal 5.  Alternate between the nasturtium, salmon and mango threads and fill in the petals with rows of stem stitch made close together. Go back and fill any gaps with a straight stitch.

Thread up again with one strand of the Flame thread and add the darker veins in stem and straight stitch. Finally, use the black thread and a few straight stitches along the base of the shape. Work stem stitch along the edge of petal 4 to add the black shadows.

Use an anti-fray agent.

Use an anti-fray agent that dries clear (test first) and wet all the shapes along the edge, also on the embroidered section. The entire shape needs to be covered with the liquid. Cut out each shape a distance away from the edge then neaten the edges by trimming the fabric as close to the stitches as possible. Once all nine shapes have been neatly cut out, use a black laundry marker along the white edge of shapes 1, 2 4, 7 8 and 9 to form a dark shadow.

First, attach shape 2.

Thread up with the  Emerald green or Pinotage thread and make a knot at the long end. Bring the thread up along the wine-coloured edge on the main design. Wet the shape again with the anti-fray agent and while still damp, pinch the shape between your thumb and forefinger, bending it downwards so a rounded dome shape is formed. Secure the shape to the fabric with tiny stab stitches about 4 mm ( a bit over 1/8") apart. Keep pinching the spathe with your free hand so it keeps its curved shape. Use the same thread to anchor the spathe along the green edge with the same stitch, aligning the shape with the edge on the design. At the sharp tip, use the Moss green thread and a few straight stitches to anchor the tip to the background.

Follow the numbered diagram

Wet shape 1 and form a curved spathe as you did before. Refer to the numbered diagram (above) and line up shape 1 on the design, overlapping shape 2 slightly. Use the Moss green thread to secure along the sides of the shape.

Attach blue sepal no. 9. Thread up with the blue thread and attach at the base of the shape in the centre of the Strelitzia. Use a few stab stitches along the edge but leave the tip unattached. Thread up with the pink thread and use an overcast stitch along the narrowed section to complete this step.

Thread up with the Knysna Forest green and insert the needle from the back in the centre of the Strelitzia. Wet the orange sepals a bit so they are easier to bend into shape. Place shape 4 on the design. The shapes are attached at the base and only one side (any side) with a few straight or stab stitch in the green thread. Use the following sequence and attach sepal 4 then 5, 6, 7 (overlapping no. 9) and lastly no. 3. Add a few more stab stitches in the green thread to form the shadows in the centre.

Finally, add the blue no 8 sepal on top.

Use the black thread and attach the number 8 shape in the centre and along the narrowed section at the tip of the shape.

Below are photos of the completed piece. I hope that you enjoyed this tutorial and would love to see your creation! Stay safe and have a lovely weekend

Perfect World

Love Di van Niekerk

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