Improving my embroidery skills by doing an East African bird design and some sewing classes

A few months ago I joined the Kenya Embroiderers’ Guild in an attempt to develop and improve my creative sewing skills.

Although I have previously taught textiles, my specialisms were knitting and crochet, and when I instructed the students in sewing it was really just the basics in hand sewing, how to use a sewing machine and some simple stitches.

I am pretty adept at most crafts, but embroidery is something I haven’t done for ages and at one of my first meetings at the embroiderers’ guild, when a fellow group member asked me what kind of embroidery work I do, I have to admit, I was bit flummoxed.

To help me improve my stitching skills and learn more about embroidery in general, I decided to do two things, first to take part in the group’s annual embroidery challenge and second to sign up for some sewing master classes.

The challenge is to produce an embroidery on a specific theme, which this year is ‘birds’. Each participant is given a guild challenge kit and a deadline in which to complete the embroidery task by. Included in the kit was a piece of base material measuring 20″ x 20″,  assorted embroidery threads, assorted perle threads, a selection of sequins and beads and a needle. The only rules are that you should use as many of the materials as possible, a minimum of five different stitches and attach some lace or fabric in some way.

I put my thinking cap and came up with a bird design inspired by the flora and fauna of East Africa. The three birds in my design are all native to East Africa – the black and white pied kingfisher, the tiny but dramatically coloured sunbird, and my favourite, the stylishly coiffured grey crowned crane. The flowers I included in the design were orange tiger lilies and purple hibiscus.

My design, which measures 12″ x 12″, took me about 6 weeks to finish. I used most of the materials from the kit and managed to include nine different stitches – back stitch, stem stitch, split stitch, fly stitch, chain stitch, long and short stitch, satin stitch, seed stitch and straight stitch. For the embroidery experts reading this, I am sure you will spot that my work is really more applique than embroidery, it is also a little slap-dash in parts, but then so am I am and so is all my artwork. I didn’t win, but then sometimes I do genuinely believe that it is the taking part that counts.

Here is my finished design…

My East African bird inspired embroidery and appliqué design
My East African bird inspired embroidery and appliqué design

I have just finished a week long embroidery course, run by the hugely inspirational Elizabeth Almond of Blackwork journey in conjunction with the Kenya Embroiderers’ Guild. I have been truly humbled by the amazing work which was demonstrated, displayed and brought in throughout the week, not just by Elizabeth, but also by other members of the group.

I’ve learned so much about embroidery, not just about the different techniques you can do and advice on how to improve your own work, but also about the history of embroidery too.

And now if someone asks me what kind of embroidery I do, I can answer honestly, that I can do blackwork, whitework, kogin, pulled thread and cross stitch.

Sew it begins… I guess now I just need a little more time to practise!

Here are some of the inspirational embroidery designs by Elizabeth Almond of Blackwork Journey


  • Kenya Embroiderers’ Guild meetings are held every second Thursday of the month at Simba Union, Next to Premier Academy, Forest Road, Westlands, Nairobi. New members are always welcome. For more information visit the website Kenya Embroiderers’ Guild
  • If you would like to learn more about Elizabeth Almond and her many different embroidery projects please visit her website Blackwork journey


3 Comments Add yours

  1. How lovely to learn a new skill!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Wow the birds look incredible and this is a brilliant post well done you

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ali Dunnell says:

      Thanks so much – I’m hoping to turn it into a cushion now 🙂


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