The Mendhika Chair – Going Big and Bold with Embroidery

I’m very excited today that I get to share with you our latest project from The Laba UT initiative to experiment, collaborate and innovate to see just what can be done with the art of embroidery. These projects are usually collaborative adventures we take to see what crazy thing we can do with embroidery next.

If you follow our facebook or twitter, you’ll have seen that we were very honored to have this featured on Design*Sponge yesterday as part of their before and after series, and already gotten a peek at the project.  Today we’re here to talk about all the fun details and techniques that went into this bold and beautiful piece of furniture, and to share our leap into the world of embroidered furniture.

This project was extra special because it was our first dive into the furniture and upholstery world. We’ve done art, clothing, and fashion, but never this. I had seen beautiful fabrics that brought pieces to life, and even furniture reupholstered using found needlework… but how cool would it be to custom embroider a chair using special designs? Very cool. We thought at least.

For that we needed a little help, so for this Lab project Urban Threads teamed up with local upholsterer Jessica from Nouvelle Vie Furniture. Jessica worked with us to help us along with the one thing we pretty much knew nothing about: upholstering. Embroidery, we got it covered. Upholstery? Not so much. That’s why collaborations are so great!

So, after scouring our local Craigslist, we found this big ol’ medieval throne…

Not bad bones on it, and beautiful woodwork, but it needed an update and a little bit of love. We wanted to take this dark and broody chair and completely reinvent it into something modern and bright. So Jessica got to stripping, stuffing and painting, and we got to work on the embroidery.

With our new Mendhika collection, we knew we had the chance with these designs to do something extra special on our big industrial machines. You see, this chair is pretty big. Like throne big, and if you used just regular thread and our 10 inch size designs, you wouldn’t cover a lot of real estate or make as much of an impact. Luckily, these designs were both light enough and ornate enough to pull of a neat little trick using special thread called Burmilana.

Burmilana is a very thick, almost yarn-like thread that offers beautiful raised textured effects that give the embroidery a wonderful, old world folk feel.

The catch is that Burmilana is so thick it usually has to be used with specially digitized designs to keep the density low. Luckily, by enlarging these designs to take up more room on the chair, it reduced the density enough to use this special thread to wonderful effect. We didn’t need to do anything to the design at all!

If we had enlarged it and stitched it with regular thread, the designs would have looked far too light and thin, but with this beautiful thread, it came out perfectly. OK, so it’s still a bit of a pain to work with. You would not believe the amount of fuzz this stuff produces while stitching! But it worked its magic in the end, so the beautiful Mendhika designs could flow thick and true over a large expanse of the chair. I spent about 7 hours embroidering all the pieces for the chair (there are 6 designs in all), and then handed it back off to Jessica, who carefully upholstered it onto the newly painted chair.

The result is our darkly and slightly worse for wear chair has brightened up into the new bold and modern piece. It keeps the old world bones of the ornately carved wood and the thick beautiful embroidery, but mixes it with bright and modern colors and contemporary embroidery techniques. It’s a throne fit for both worlds and one that I think was a very successful experiment combining large scale embroidery with the world of upholstery. Machine embroidery can be pretty darn neat!

Many many thanks to Jessica for her amazing work on this chair and her fantastic sense of style. She took extra time to make sure all the designs were laid out right and everything came out smooth and beautiful. Also many thanks to my friend and amazing photographer Patrick Kelley for the lovely after shots of the chair that he pulled together in a single afternoon.

Want to give your own piece of furniture a shot? You can grab the Mendhika designs right here. Unless you have a giant hoop and the ability to enlarge designs, I would probably leave the Burmilana thread by the wayside, but these designs still have more than enough punch to bring any piece to life. Don’t be afraid to experiment and think out of the box when you’re trying to decide what to put these on. A chair can be as much a canvas for your stitches as a wall hanging could be.  Stitch something different, ON something different, and see what kind of impact you can make!


This project is part of The Lab, a UT initiative to experiment, collaborate and innovate to see just what can be done with the art of embroidery.
Check out our other projects by searching for the UT Lab tag.
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20 Responses to “The Mendhika Chair – Going Big and Bold with Embroidery”

  1. 1

    I love the way you utilized this design. Especially the way that you offset the design and didn’t center it on the chair. Very unique!

    Keep it up, you inspire me!

  2. 2

    Wow, so fab! I love reworking upholstery and I never thought to incorporate embroidery!

  3. 3
    Michele N says:

    Very cool chair. Love this project, it looks wonderful! And so much fun. Congrats on a well done collaboration.

  4. 4
    Paula says:

    Absolutely breathtaking! What size needle did you use with this particular thread???

    • Niamh says:

      You actually need a special Burmilana needle in order to stitch with this thread. It has a much wider opening to accommodate the thick thread.

  5. 5
    Karen Wilson (Timewrinkler) says:

    GORGEOUS! And, I’m so jealous that you can embroider so BIG!

  6. 6
    kris kopsell says:

    BEAUTIFUL Just beautiful wish I had that big of hoop area. I have a chair that needs to be reupholstered. will have to keep this in mind

  7. 7
    MSJEN says:

    I am completely speechless, I haven’t seen anything more beautiful!!!!! This is just amazing!!!!!!!! Makes me wanna take apart the ottoman I just reupholstered and add some embroidery work to it.

  8. 8

    What a wonderful combination of old world energy and modern aesthetics! The embroidery design and scale is an inspired choice for this chair. I, personally, would have preferred leaving the wood unpainted – but personal taste is what keeps the world interesting, eh? 🙂

    Great, gorgeous work!

    🙂 Linda

  9. 9
    bubbieone says:

    GOR-GE-OUS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Elegant and beautiful

  10. 10
    Teresa says:

    My mother purchased 3 wing back chairs years ago, all done in crewel embroidery. Then after they were damaged she reupholstered the beautiful chairs and as I recently acquired them, I have been hoping to do machine embroidery on them. Your fabulous “experiment” gives me the courage to give it a try. Just creating fabric, right? There are so many way that our machine embroidery can be used and it is awesome that you are inspiring people to go for it. The more applications we find, the more designs there are, the more threads…..etc. It all just gets better!

  11. 11

    WOW…that is one awesome seat! Love it

  12. 12
    Aline says:

    Oh, that’s is really cool. I love it.

  13. 13
    celestitches says:

    Can you do an article about splitting designs so we can recreate this look on a household machine in this size? Alternatively, one could transfer the design and couch the yarn but the design is so ORNATE that it would take an insane amount of time.

  14. 14
    Cd says:

    So inspiring!!! Bought this design and will embroider curtain sheers with it.

  15. 15
    Elfie B. says:

    Beautiful project! Who gets to keep these project pieces once they’re done and blogged? 🙂

    I have MAJOR hoop envy with this project. Do you have any suggestions for the software-positive people who are attempting to break up the designs for multi-positioning? (Besides: “You like punishment that much, huh?”)

    I’m also looking at recaning a bunch of dining room chair backs, but now I’m wondering if there’s a way to simply “board up” the backs and add embroidered cushions, in this flavour.

    How slowly did you set your stitch speed for the Burmilana thread? I very much want to try this, even if I can’t stitch such a large design.

  16. 16
    Pam says:

    Oh you clever things! This chair is just wonderful. Well done everyone involved.

  17. 17
    Ina says:


    This kind of project pushes my wish for a bigger embroidery maschine

  18. 18
    Linda Holt-Hanlon says:

    Love,Love,Love the upholstery and the way it all came together. I really appreciate your showing us ideas outside of the usual box. Thanks, I really enjoy your work and creativity in general.

  19. 19

    […] found this project on Urban Thread’s website. I *need* to do this! I’ll be keeping a lookout for an acceptable chair for this. And […]

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