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Making embroidered boxes

I love boxes of all kinds. I love the possibility of finding treasures - a lost button, a forgotten brooch, the last chocolate. And I love the challenge of making my own.

Over the years, I've picked up a few tricks and things to think about during the design and construction but the list isn't exhaustive. It would be great to hear about your experiences so please add a comment below - I'm bound to have forgotten something!

Use glue with caution

Glue is almost magical stuff and works wonders with paper or simple fabric covered boxes, but I don't use it for my embroidered pieces. I prefer to lace the fabric pieces over the card and use a ladder stitch to sew each part together. This allows a little more 'wriggle-room' as you lace individual panels and build the box - essential when you want your stitched panels to be central and edges matched together.

Sewing and lacing also prevents your delicate stitching from being squashed or stained. Even the finest linen has a certain amount of bulk when it's been laced to card and the pressure required to glue panels together means that your work can easily be over-squashed. Glue also can have a tendency to ooze where it's not wanted and stain where it can be seen.

I'm not against glue or tape in the right places though. A small piece of judiciously placed double-sided tape or a tiny dab of glue will hold wadding in place on card while you lace your stitching around it, and hold ribbons or cords in place between two panels as you stitch them together.

Corner detail of Bobbin Box for Bees

Card and structural integrity

I prefer to use acid-free mount board for the majority of my boxes. It's strong enough to take a little wriggling when fitting panels together and can be easily cut with a sharp standard craft knife. I recommend investing in a metal edge or rule for crisp, clean lines.

I also use mount board for the flat base of curved boxes, but it's a little too thick to use to create curved sides. Instead I use the thinner acid-free card that's often used in scrapbooking or cardmaking. It seems too thin, and would be if there was only one panel. However, if used for both internal and external panels, when the panels are stitched together and stitched to the mount board base, the box will hold firmly together. 

Inner corner detail of Bobbin Box for Bees


For base plinths, such as on the Beehive Trinket Box and Bobbin Box for Bees, I often use a moleskin fabric. This has a more luxurious feel, yet is pretty tough so can cope with the occasional knock or general wear and tear better than velvet. I tend to avoid using moleskin where the other panel is linen because both are quite thick fabrics. Putting the two together can therefore be a little tricky, particularly in the bulky corners, and increases the thickness of each box side which reduces the interior space.

Quilting cotton works well for inner panels, particularly side panels. Unlike using moleskin, the thinner cotton reduces the overall thickness of the box once all the panels are sewn together.

I have a large collection of ditsy print cottons and the small, random floral designs complement my garden-inspired pieces. I generally avoid regular patterns such as stripes or evenly spaced spots - these are less forgiving so can be really tricky to line up. If you are using a regular pattern, allow plenty of time and think about where you want the main lines of the design to go. For example, if you have a striped interior, do you want the lines to be horizontal or vertical? What about the base/inner lid? It's a bit like hanging wallpaper - the lines need to line up and be straight!

The size of print is also worth bearing in mind. If you're making a small box, you might not see much of a large print's design. On the other hand, you might be able to use one repeat of a large print so each panel becomes a small picture. As with stripes, allow a little extra time to work out the best placement.

Inner lid detail of Beehive Trinket Box

To wad or not to wad?

I typically use a thin layer of quilt wadding under the stitched panels. It's not just because I like the look of padded panels, but it also evens out the stitching. My designs tend to use a few different types of stitches, and some of these can create bulk on the underside of the linen. These bulkier parts can then sink into the wadding so when laced, the stitched panels have a smoother finish.

Inner panels can normally be left without wadding but I often add wadding to the inner lid. This gives a little extra cushioning to any delicate items inside the box if it's suddenly upended - can you tell I have cats?!!

Timing is everything

Don't underestimate how long it might take to make a box. If you know you're going to be interrupted, keep a pen and paper to hand to make a note of measurements so when you go back, you know where you're up to and what you've already done. 

I like to start early in the morning, so I have the luxury of daylight as well as a decent LED lamp, and I'll put the whole day aside to work on a box. This includes making sure my husband can be on lunch and dinner duty or having easy meals ready prepared. Once I'm focussed and surrounded by fabric, card and thread, it's not easy to emerge!

The joy of the perfect curved needle

Years ago, my mother gave me a couple of curved needles and they've been invaluable. It takes a little practice to avoid stabbing yourself, but once you get the hang of them, there is nothing better for sewing box panels together.

It's not that easy to find curved needles in normal needlework shops in the UK. However the Forge Mill Needle Museum in Redditch has an amazing array of all kinds of needles to buy via mail order, including curved! I find their size 12 Extra Fine Curved needles are perfect for my boxes but they have many others. I have no affiliation, just a very happy customer: 

Now make your own...

If I've whetted your appetite and you'd like to have a go at making your own, the Beehive Trinket Box or Bobbin Box for Bees are a good places to start. Full construction instructions and lots of helpful diagrams are included in both and they're available now - just click the Store link at the top of the page. if you get stuck, drop me a line on!

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