Doodle Embroidery: Only as Inappropriate as You Make It

My grandma taught me to cross stitch right around 1980, and I was a rainbow-producing machine. Sometimes I even made my rainbows fancy with clouds at either end because, what can I say? I was a sewing prodigy.

Well, I have a new favorite pastime these days, inspired by Dame Judy Dench because that lady is classy and accomplished, and, also, she embroiders profane pillows.

I cannot adequately describe the timbre of my laughter or the depth of camaraderie I felt with Dame Dench upon discovering that delicious bit of news, because, of course, there is something both delightfully ridiculous and intensely freeing about using the art medium that is synonymous with docile femininity to be subversive. 


Right after I read the article about Dame Dench’s on-set art projects, I came across the book Doodle Stitching by Aimee Ray. As a former avid cross stitcher, pattern-follower, and occasional pattern off-roader, I was immediately enamored with Aimee’s free-form doodles. Now, they’re not totally my style – a tiny bit cutesy for my taste, although certainly in keeping with traditional embroidery – but this idea that you can doodle and sew anything? Anything at all? Big fan! Huge! So I splurged on Aimee’s book, and I’ve been creating my own, socially awkward dish towels ever since.

Here are three of my favorites:


1. For the home that’s welcoming to children,


Children Welcome Here
(the rest will be made into pies)


2. For my brother and sister-in-law for Christmas, a quote from the totally awesome kid with autism with whom my brother used to work. He’s known in our family for classics like, “I’d like to take this opportunity to thank my brain,” and the always popular phrase for a kid proactively working on learning social cues,


“May I sniff you?”


3. And , for my parents for Christmas, a favorite and extremely frequently used phrase of my grandfather‘s,


“Oh shit, oh dear.”


Simple. Creative. Expressive. Individualized. I’m in love with doodle embroidery.

If you’d like to doodle embroider, I do highly recommend Doodle Stitching.* It’s a comprehensive guide with complete instructions for different types of stitches, lists of materials and hundreds of design ideas. 

Briefly, though, here’s what I use:


  • Material of your choice – I prefer dish towels because they’re both useful and temporary. I don’t want someone sitting around with an Oh Shit, Oh Dear pillow 10 years from now wishing they could throw it out but afraid of hurting my feelings. With a dish towel you get to use it to death and then toss it, guilt free!
  • Embroidery floss – I picked colors from my cross stitch stash, and I LOVED picking whatever colors I liked instead of matching up numbers and realizing I don’t have enough 3371 to finish a project.
  • 6″ embroidery hoop
  • Needles
  • Scissors
  • Embroidery transfer pen – use to doodle directly on the fabric, freehand or tracing, and erase with a damp cloth.

Here’s what a project looks like when I’ve drawn but not finished sewing it:


And here’s a preview of my current project, barely started:


P.S. I make these while sitting in church. 😀 You can pray for my people.

*P.P.S. Aimee Ray is not affiliated with this site. She doesn’t know I’m promoting her book. Let’s give her the benefit of the doubt and assume she’d be horrified to see what I’ve done with it. I think that’s only fair.


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16 responses to “Doodle Embroidery: Only as Inappropriate as You Make It”

  1. This is the best thing ever! And I’m so going to do it in church. And use thread from my cross stitch stash that never has to be matched. Yay!
    PS. I also love to doodle and now will have an outlet, but I’m afraid I will not be as creative in the phrasing as you! 😉
    Where do you get those useful looking dish towels? I’ve never seen them, but they look like they would actually dry stuff as opposed to smearing the water around and not soaking any of it up.

    • Beth, I hope you see this. My mother tells me that my long departed grandfather used to tell his 8 children to “Be useful as well as ornamental”… worked, sometimes. And today, on Halloween, I often see a witch on a broom and the words, “I drive a stick!”.

      Happy needling!

  2. LOVE THIS. Putting the book on my Amazon wishlist right now.

    For Christmas last year, I made my sister a beautiful cross-stitch, with a lovely border of flowers and cherries, surrounding these words (in a most elegant script):

    “I still maintain that he kicked himself in the balls.”

    From the classic movie, 10 Things I Hate About You.

    It’s framed on her mantle now.

  3. I had to go buy the book. I love this idea! Are you going to a make one for your guest bath that says “put down the urinal cake”? I’ll make you one if you don’t.

  4. Wow this is really cool. I learned to embroider when I was a kid & did a set of dish towels with Donkeys on them- one for every day of,the week of course ! Heh heh I think they are in some box somewhere. I love to draw & I had no idea you could DOODLE then embroider on it!!!! So awesome thanks for the post!

  5. Just when I was about to give up on finding a hobby… You come along and AGAIN blow me away. No rules, not formats, I can just pop it in the hoop and poke away at it willy nilly?! I’m sold! In fact, your grandfather’s quote pales in comparison to my grandpas sailor slew of profanities, but I think it will look so sweet on a dish towel. =D

  6. Love this. Right up my alley. I’ve wanted to learn embroidery for a while but hate the idea of patterns, instructions and like you said running out of a certain color. Definitely going to pick this up!

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