Of Rats and Jen (Inactive)

Tales of a Perpetual
Work In Progress

How To Embroider a Rock

Filed under: How To,Stitchery — folkcat at 1:10 pm on Wednesday, May 16, 2007

I promised I’d give, not exactly a step-by-step how-to for the freeform embroidery I did to cover a rock, but at least some guidelines to help you get started.

Embroidered Rock - Side One


The things you’ll need are:

  • a small rock – I recommend something that fits easily in the palm of your hand. And believe it or not, an irregular shape is actually better than a very regular one – the curves and edges of the rock will help your stitching to stay in place in the early stages.
  • your choice of yarn, perle cotton, or embroidery floss. This doesn’t take much yarn – scraps will do the job! I suggest something with a smooth finish – that seems to stitch more easily – and with variegated colors to lend the maximum interest in the finished stitchery. Larger yarns will cover the rock more quickly, but may be harder to add beads to; smaller yarns will give a finer detail and allow more subdividing of the surface, but may fray more quickly and will take longer to cover.
  • a tapestry needle of appropriate size for the thread or yarn. Don’t use your best quality needles – they will get scratched as you work against the rock’s surface.
  • (optional) beads that will fit over the threaded tapestry needle. If you really want to use beads, test this out before finalizing what thread and needle you’ll use.

The technique is blindingly simple. Everything you see here is stitched using the blanket stitch. (I used to think I was using buttonhole stitch until I went looking for that link and learned the difference!) I use variegated threads and yarns to highlight the changes in direction of my stitching.

Getting Started

Take a length of about 2 yards of your chosen thread. This will be getting dragged regularly against the rock, and will wear and fray, so you don’t want to use a piece any longer than this. In fact, as you work you might find you want a shorter thread to avoid breakage of your yarn.

Click any picture for a bigger image if you want to see the details better. Also, please note the rock being stitched on is not the same one in the finished pictures, so the shape is quite different.

Embroidered Rock - Starting Line
The Starting Line

Find some point around which you can securely tie the beginning of your yarn or thread. Tie the yarn with a square knot. Leave one tail about 2 to 3 inches long. You want this starting line to be tight, but not so tight you can’t get your needle under it.

Embroidered Rock - First Stitch
Your First Stitch

Thread an appropriately sized tapestry needle on the long tail of your working yarn, and begin making blanket stitches to cover the line around the rock. Snug this first stitch up against the right hand side of your square knot.

Embroidered Rock - Several Stitches Done
Several Stitches Along

Continue working stitches down your starting line. Don’t snug them up tight against each other! Eventually, you’ll be stitching a row of blanket stitches along the other side of this line, and you need a little space between the stitches you’re making now to be able to fit those new stitches in. See the picture above; you want to leave about a yarn’s width of space between the upright legs of your blanket stitches.

Embroidered Rock - Covering the Tail
Begin Covering The Tail Yarn

About an inch before you get back around to your square knot, begin working your stitches over both the starting line and the short tail. Once you feel the tail is sufficiently anchored, cut off the excess close to your stitching.

Embroidered Rock - The Second Round
First Stitches of Second Round

When you’ve come back to the square knot, work your last stitch or two right over it. Then, simply continue around, only now you’re working each blanket stitch into a blanket stitch from the previous round. Your needle will pass under the horizontal, upper thread of the stitch, just as it passed under the starting line for your first round.

My camera batteries died at this point, so unfortunately I don’t have images of any subsequent steps.

Go Wild!

Once you’ve stabilized the starting line with a row or two of stitches, you can start to work intuitively. I frequently start to throw bridge lines across other parts of the rock. These bridge the openings in your stitch work, making a connection from one side of the gap to the other. Wherever you want to put a bridge, just carry your working thread over the gap to the stitches on the other side, and anchor it by working blanket stitches into the existing stitches there.

You can increase (work two stitches into one) and decrease (skip a stitch) as needed to conform to the shape of your rock. Most of the pattern in my rock is created by a combination of the variegated yarn, and by further subdividing the unstitched areas of the rock with bridges.

Most areas are filled by simply working around and around until there’s no more room. Some small sections might be filled by working back and forth (simply reverse the direction of your stitching). Sometimes I’ll do that to change the shape of a large opening, sometimes just to fill a very small one.

Embroidered Rock - Window Showing Detail of Stone
A Window

With an interesting rock like this piece of granite, you might not want to completely cover the stone. Openings can be left wherever you like – I try to find odd bits of patterning in the rock that I want to feature.

Embroidered Rock - Side Two
Ruffled, Beaded Frames

Add Dimension

The body of this rock is covered with a DK weight baby yarn. The beaded ruffles around some of the openings are also blanket stitch, but worked up from the rock’s surface. I stitched them with variegated DMC embroidery floss, in colors to complement the baby yarn.

I went with floss (and a smaller tapestry needle) partly for the visual contrast with the baby yarn (though the yarn is glossy, the floss is glossier), and partly because the size 8 beads I was using needed a thinner thread and needle.

The first round is stitched one blanket stitch into each stitch around the window. For subsequent rounds, I caused a ruffling effect by stitching two blanket stitches into each stitch of the previous round. After about two rounds, I started adding beads.

Bead It

The beads are added as you go – before inserting the needle into the stitch below to begin your new blanket stitch, simply thread a bead and slide it down to the work. I added beads in two ways – either I slid them down and left them laying on the top, horizontal thread in the stitch, or I passed the needle through them again in the opposite direction from the first pass, leaving them positioned vertically on a pair of threads to form the leg of the stitch. I always did at least one round of thread only stitches after a round of beads, to help frame the beads themselves and make them stand out a little better.

Adding Thread

When you need to add in new thread, first lay the starting tail of the new thread along the top of the stitches you’re working into, then stitch over it along with your base stitches for about half an inch. Then, thread your needle onto the new yarn, and draw it through your last made stitch from the back. Now, begin working over the end tail of your old yarn as you begin working with the new. After several stitches, you can clip the loose ends short.

Sometimes you’ll need to end a thread without adding a new one. In that case, I run my needle under the already stitched areas, coming up a half inch or so from where I went down. I then go down again exactly where I came up, and change directions before coming up again. I’ll do this about two or three times before trimming the yarn as close to the surface as I can.

If I want to add a new thread without also ending an old one, I’ll start the thread the same – by running under the work a little before coming up where I want to stitch.

Where From Here?

Claudia was delighted with her little rock – she said she has a pile of papers she keeps from blowing away by putting a watering can on them, and this will be so much better. As for me, I picked up a second rock in the parking lot on the way back to the car at the end of the Festival, and I’ll make myself one that coordinates with Claudia’s for my own souvenir of our meeting!

I’m also starting to get ideas for other objects to cover – a nicely dried tree branch with the bark stripped, for instance, or found objects from a flea market or yard sale. I find the process very satisfying, and the results are beautiful.

I hope this little guide inspires you to try the technique for yourself. It’s not that hard, requires very little in materials, and has no pattern to follow. Pick up a rock at the beach on vacation, or a piece of driftwood, or anything, and craft a nice memory piece to treasure!



Comment by margene

May 16, 2007 @ 3:41 pm

Oh I just love this!! I’m going to try it. What a wonderful gift idea!


Comment by Carrie K

May 16, 2007 @ 4:42 pm

I’m having such a judgmental reaction that I think I should crawl under that embroidered rock. It’s pretty, but not as pretty as your handspun wove up! That looks fabulous. I love the name of that book ‘aLoomaNation’. Clever.

Gryphon’s socks look good.


Comment by Jacqui simmons

May 16, 2007 @ 6:30 pm

Wow!!! I now want to become a ‘rocker’ and join rockamania. Thats terrific, Thankyou for showing.


Comment by Claudia

May 17, 2007 @ 9:43 am

COOL!!! Thank you for putting this up – I think a lot of people will love it. I am going to put a link to it on the blog too. And now that I can see how you’ve done it – I’ll totally have to try it. It woud be really neat with semi-precious stones for the freeform or even for jewelry!


Comment by Kathryn

May 17, 2007 @ 10:57 am

This is beautiful. I got to your site from the freeform crochet site and I confess I don’t see any real difference. You’re using a tapestry needle rather than knitting needles or crochet hook. In fact, the other day, I crocheted a rectangle in the usual way, part of it in open mesh, then turned it and ran the same yarns – with a tapestry needle – in the opposite direction, creating a kind of plaid. You’re using a device to weave threads together, just like knitting or crochet. Thanks so much for expanding my horizons!


Comment by Carinemarie

May 17, 2007 @ 11:59 am

In my country (I live in Belgium), we are calling these technique : needle lace. I am doing this for a long time and still enjoy it : freeform like you say, no rules to follow, and you have allways a surprise when your object is finished.
Let’s say: continue working like this.


Pingback by Chocolate and stitchmarkers « Mariyarn

May 18, 2007 @ 4:17 pm

[…] On the knitting front I am still working on the green jacket, even though I was much inspired by and just might have to try this kind of freeforming……….. […]


Comment by Pirk

May 27, 2007 @ 9:38 am

What a great invention. You have just created someting amazingly inspirational.
Thank you for the demonstration. I might even try this one.


Comment by carol

June 28, 2007 @ 11:02 am

To Claudia & Jen,
I have been doing free-form knitting and crocheting. I have had 2 rocks I was going to do, one as a doorstop and the other as a paperweight. Your embroidered rock is quite different. I may try it at a later time, thank you for sharing your design.

love creating,


Comment by arlee

July 9, 2007 @ 12:21 pm

I found you via Claudia–and how KEWL is this!!! I think i’ll do my garden rocks :}—perhaps in jutes and natural colours–NAH, brights—the neighbours already look askance at me!
FABulous work!


Comment by Lyn

July 9, 2007 @ 1:03 pm

LOVE the embroidered rocks. Since I have been known to bead rocks (and wine bottle corks) I will definitely be embroidering a rock!



Comment by Janina

August 17, 2007 @ 9:19 am


Also your camera is a beauty.

Glad I saw the rock,


Comment by Shally

September 17, 2007 @ 2:25 am

Thank you for sharing your site. I am a new member in FreeForm groups, living in Jakarta -Indonesia, it’s a real new experience for me to learn about FF and your design is a knock out. Hopefully I will create something as beautiful as yours.


Comment by queenofdreamsz

April 6, 2008 @ 1:11 pm

Super cool!! Thanks so much for sharing this idea. I’ve got some pieces of my Granny’s teapot that I think I could apply this idea to!


Comment by loopylou

January 1, 2009 @ 6:10 pm

This is stunning, a fantastic idea

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