Skull-A-Day 5.0 - Tutorial - Dia de la Abby: #65 Embroidered Skull Ornament

Since it's the season for holiday celebrations, this is the perfect time to make a skull ornament. I've wanted to do a hand embroidered skull for a while, but since I've been doing embroidery since I was a young child, I wanted a challenge. I choose to make this embroidered skull through layers of bridal tulle and stiffen it with a simple glue mixture. This was so the skull would be delicate looking, but sturdy. This is meant to be a holiday ornament, but could be framed or used as an applique. This thankfully wasn't too challenging, so I am able to provide you all with a tutorial. You just need the following supplies, patience and basic embroidery skills.

  • A small embroidery hoop - You want it to be a few inches larger in diameter than the size of the ornament you want to make
  • 4 square layers of white or cream bridal tulle - You want this to be a couple inches wider than your embroidery hoop, so you can keep your tension tight. Bridal tulle is soft and has a fine netting, vs regular tulle which is rough and has an open netting. I chose white because it was skull colored and would easily hide any excess glue. You can use a different color if wanted. You want 4 layers to give the piece additional strength. You can use more if wanted, but 4 is enough to be easy to sew, and sturdy and thin after stiffening
  • Various colors of thread - I used normal thread, because you only need 1 doubled strand. You can use a doubled single strand of embroidery floss if wanted. You need white for the skull and other colors for the decorations
  • A hand sewing needle - It just needs to be a regular sharp needle, so it will pass through the fine fabric easily
  • Paper - To draw your design on. In this case a skull, but any design will do
  • Pencil - To draw your design on the paper and trace it onto the fabric
  • White glue and water - 50/50 mix for the stiffener glue mix. You don't need much. I used Elmer's Glue because it dries clear
  • A small paper or plastic cup - To mix the small amount of stiffener glue mix. I have small cups for water...or jello shots
  • A foam brush - To apply the glue mixture to the finished piece
  • Small scissors - To cut out the skull from the surrounding fabric
  • Ribbon or an ornament hook - This depends on your preference for hanging ornaments. You can sew on a loop of thin ribbon, or slip an ornament hook through the top of the skull
  • A large heavy book or some other heavy flat object - For pressing your ornament after cutting it away from the excess fabric


1) Draw your design on a piece of paper. It doesn't need to look amazing, it just needs to show the basic lines of your design. The rest can be added later while stitching. You will choose the size of your embroidery hoop based on the size of your design. I have multiple sizes of embroidery hoops due to a lucky thrift store find. I chose one a couple inches wider in circumference than my design, so I had a lot of room to work with and could keep my tension tight. If you only have one embroidery hoop, make sure to draw your design at least a couple inches smaller than your hoop circumference.

2) Stack your 4 layers of bridal tulle on top of each other. Place the center hoop of the embroidery hoop set, on a table. Lay the tulle stack centered on top of that hoop. Place the outer larger hoop over top of the center one, sandwiching the tulle in between the two hoops. . Tighten the screw of the outer hoop. Pull the free edges of the tulle fabric stack to make sure the center secured fabric is taut. Tighten the screw more if needed. This is the same way you would secure embroidery fabric or other fabric in a hoop set. The only difference is that the fabric is fine and stacked.

3) With your fabric laying on your drawing, lightly trace it onto the fabric with your pencil.

4) Thread your needle with a long length of white thread. The length depends on what your are comfortable sewing with. You can use shorter lengths of that is better. Match the ends of the thread and tie them together.

5) Sew the skull design outline with a basic running stitch. I went back over some areas (the inner details) to define them better and make stitching easier. Smaller stitches make it easier to go around curves and keep the shape defined.

6) To tie off the thread when you are done with a section or it is getting too short to continue stitching, on the back of the piece slip the needle under the previous stitch. Do this again, but leave a loop of thread. Place your needle back through that loop to make a small knot. Clip off the excess thread leaving a small tail, so the knot doesn't untie before stiffening.

7) For the details, I made up my design as I stitched, but you can draw it out first if you prefer. I used the following stitches:

  • Red Stars - Star Eyelet Stitch. My stars connect together, to make stitching them easier
  • Dark Green Leaves - I outlined it with a double running stitch. Then, I used a Long Armed Feather Stitch to fill it in, because it creates the look of leaf veins
  • Purple Flower Petals - I outlined them with a double running stitch. Then, I used a variation on a Surface Satin Stitch, by filling in each petal by stitching at an angle from one side of the outline to the other. I brought my needle back up through the fabric close to where I went down along the outline. I kept doing this until each petal was filled in to my liking. The layers of stitches give the petals depth
  • Pink Flower Petal Outline - After the petals were filled in with purple, I used a Basic Button Hole Stitch to define the edges of the flowers
  • Green Swirl Vines - I used a double running stitch to create these
8) After you have finished stitching the design, mix your 50/50 ratio of white glue and water in a small cup with a foam brush.

9) With the embroidery hoop facing up so the taut fabric is suspended, apply the glue mixture gently to the embroidered piece. Make sure the fabric is filled in with the glue. Since this is a net fabric, it has many small holes. You want to make sure the holes are filled in with an even thin coating of glue mixture. Make sure about an inch of fabric around the design is also filled in with the mixture. You will need a stiff outer edge when you eventually cut the design out from the excess fabric.

10) While holding the hoop in your hand, flip to hoop over and smooth out any glue that has come through. This will help to make sure the holes are filled evenly. Flip the hoop back over, so the fabric is suspended while drying. Let dry over night, or at least for several hours.

11) Repeat steps 9 and 10 one time.

12) After the piece is completely dry, you will notice it is stiffened, but still pliable. Remove fabric from the embroidery hoops by loosening the screw and separating the hoops.

13) With the small scissors, cut the design away from the excess fabric. Leave a small boarder, so your outline stitching stays secure and long lasting.

14) Put your ornament inside the large book by the front or back page. Flip the book over, so that the ornament is at the bottom and can be pressed flat by the weight of the book. I used The Complete Works of William Shakespeare. It's a big book...and oddly, we have two copies...which is handy for pressing multiple things at once. Leave the ornament pressing over night, or at least for several hours.

15) Remove the ornament from under the large object.

16) For the hanger, you can either sew a loop of thin ribbon or slip a wire ornament hanger through the top of the skull. Alternatively, you can use frame it or sew it onto something as an applique. Remember though, Elmer's Glue (and most white glues) are water soluble, so if you stitch it to something, you can't wash it or the stiffener will be removed.

Happy makery and happy holidays!


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