Ooh la la, we joined forces again with Mary Corbet from Needle N' Thread to show you how to expertly make statement pieces using mirrors and our thread.
“Shisha” are mirrors, and shisha embroidery is a decorative way of sewing small mirrors to the surface of fabrics using a series of stitches that are both useful (they hold the mirror on) and decorative (they’re pretty).
Shisha embroidery adds the flash and glimmer of mirrors to your embroidery; it opens up possibilities for all kinds of creative embellishment; and, best of all, it’s super easy! Today, I’ll show you how to work a basic shisha stitch, so that you can start adding little mirrors (or other flat objects) to your embroidery projects right away.
There are many shisha techniques out there, some more complicated than others. Once you get familiar with the basic techniques, try branching out and experimenting with other decorative stitches. Before you know it, you’ll be addicted to adding sparkly items to your embroidery with shisha stitches.
Supplies for Shisha Embroidery
- You don’t actually need real mirrors for shisha. Traditionally, in the early days of shisha embroidery (way back in the 17th century), mica was used instead of glass. Mica chips, which are reflective and a subtle gold color, added sparkle when they were affixed to textiles with a variety of stitches. Eventually, glass replaced mica, and today, small manufactured craft mirrors work well.
- But if you don’t have real mirrors, you can use plenty of substitutes from punched decorative paper circles to homemade disks made from heavy duty aluminum foil. Washers from the tool box work, and some folks even cut up old CDs to use as mirror substitutes, which is a terrific way to recycle. Flat beads, the insides of broken seashells, copper and silver disks - all kinds of found objects work well with shisha.
- You can also find small Mylar® disks that are commonly used for shisha. These look like large flat sequins with holes on the sides. When you work the shisha stitches, the holes are covered up, but the center of the gleaming Mylar® disk is left exposed. The nice thing about the Mylar® disks is that you can hole-punch or cut them into much smaller sizes and shapes. Glass craft mirrors and Mylar® or plastic disks and flat sequins are usually washable. Avoid using paper disks and disks made from metals that are prone to rust on anything that requires laundering.
- Besides whatever you want to use for your mirror - even if it isn’t a mirror - you’ll need embroidery thread of some sort.
- DMC embroidery floss and pearl cottons in any size work well, especially if it’s your first time working this stitch.
- DMC Diamant™ is a metallic thread that works well for shisha, too. I like to use it with tiny 1/4” mirrors punched from Mylar® disks.
- For needles, you’ll need embroidery (or crewel) needles that work with whatever size thread you decide to use.
Basic Shisha Embroidery Stitch
If you’re practicing shisha for the first time, it’s easier to work with a disk that is about 1/2” round and perfectly flat. Domed beads and the like create their own little difficulties, so start simple!
Before investing in mirrors or disks, you might just punch out some 1/2” holes in card stock and use the card stock disks to practice.
For this tutorial, I’m using a 1/2” disk punched from colored stock and DMC pearl cotton #5 in two colors, one color for the foundation stitches and another for the decorative stitches. Normally, you would use the same color for both, but you’ll be able to see the stitch sequences better with two colors.
Working the Foundation Stitches
Place the disk wherever you want it on your fabric. You can use the thumb of your non-stitching hand to hold the disk in place, or you can glue the disk in place with a tiny dab of craft glue. If you use glue, make sure it is completely dry before stitching. Once you get the hang of the stitch, you won’t need to use glue to hold the disk in place.
We’ll begin with the foundation stitches.
Take a long stitch from the top of the disk, just to the left of center (A), to the base of the disk, directly across from where the stitch began (B).
Repeat a second stitch (C - D), parallel to A - B, and just to the right of center.
Cross to the left side of the disk, just above center, and bring the needle and thread to the front of the fabric.
Pass the needle and thread from right to left under the first foundation stitch (A-B), “backstitching” around the thread.
Backstitch around the second foundation stitch (C-D) the same way, and then take the needle and thread down into the fabric on the right side of the disk, directly across from the beginning of the stitch.
Repeat this process just below center, to create a second horizontal foundation stitch, parallel to the previous stitch.
At this point, you have an adequate foundation to work on. The disk is securely attached to the fabric, and no more foundation stitches are really essential.
But with 1/2” disks and larger - and especially if you want a round center exposing the mirror - it’s a good idea to work another layer of the foundation stitches, worked exactly the same way, but off-set over the first layer.
To do this, stitch two parallel diagonal stitches, as shown above.
And finally, work the last two stitches diagonally in the opposite direction, remembering to “backstitch” over the two previous stitches.
Working the Decorative Edge around the Mirror
Now that you have a secure foundation over your mirror or disk, you can decorate it with the rest of the basic shisha stitch.
This part of the stitch will pull the center of the foundation stitches open, so that more of the mirror is exposed, and it will also cover the edge of the mirror completely.
Bring your needle and a new thread to the front of the fabric on the left side of the mirror, around the 9:00 o’clock position.
Pass your needle and thread under the foundation stitches, from the center of the mirror back out to the edge, and over the working thread, as shown above.
Keeping tension on the working thread, take the needle down into the fabric right in front of where you first emerged with your needle and thread.
Begin to pull the thread through to the back, but don’t pull it all the way.
Leave a small loop on the front of the fabric.
Moving forward a small stitch length around the circle, bring the needle up inside the loop of thread.
Pull the working thread through in a forward position, so that the loop catches around the working thread.
Congratulations! You’ve completed the first stitch!
To start the next stitch, pass the needle and thread back under the foundation stitches, from the center outwards, and out over the working thread, as shown in the photo above.
The only difference between the second stitch (and the rest of the stitches around the disk) and the first stitch is that, when you enter the fabric, you enter inside the loop of the previous stitch, as shown in the photo above.
As you enter the fabric, leave a small loop of your working thread on the front, just as you did with the previous stitch, and come up inside the loop, pulling forward, to make the chain stitch.
Repeat this process until you’ve surrounded the entire mirror with this buttonhole / chain stitch combination.
The last stitch around the mirror should be a chain stitch, which butts up right next to the first stitch. To end, take your needle and thread over this last chain stitch and down into the fabric, inside the first stitch, to anchor the last chain.
This is the completed shisha, with the disk completely sewn onto the fabric with a secure, decorative stitch
Taking Shisha Embroidery Further
Now that you know how to work the basic shisha stitch, it’s time to experiment. You can attach mirrors to anything - clothing, curtains, bags and backpacks, journal covers, even shoes!
Add decorative stitches around the attached mirrors for an elaborate frame. If you want more bling, add beads!
Once you start embellishing, it’ll be hard to stop!