The God of Crabs*

God of Crabs hand embroidered art

Hello! Well, settle in, this is an EPIC  post – nearly 60 photos! All about the new piece I’ve just completed, The God of Crabs, or maybe, The Crab God. Not sure yet.

So it all started back in June. I’d kinda had enough of doing the mini things and felt like striking out in a new direction. I also wanted to stretch my designer legs and make something come alive from a drawing.

crab drawing

Although I have no particular fondness for crabs in particular, I was totally into creating one in embroidery. This actually came after some musings as to what subject matter would best be a foil for textural experimentation. Long time readers (and if you identify as one then, wow, thanks for sticking with me through my erratic postings!) might remember that all of my branchings out into new directions with my embroidery have started with an ‘experimentation piece’ as a way for me to practice new techniques. So, after cross stitch came the Fly Agaric piece to learn free embroidery, after that came the Death Cap to learn stumpwork, and so on. So I had been itching to repeat this in something bold and highly textured. It all focused too on incorporating shisha embroidery and I guess a crab seemed to be the perfect gnarly knobbly guy.

crab drawing

This is the final colour pencil sketch that I based the embroidery on.

crab pattern

To begin with, I messed about on a scrap bit of cotton after raiding my stores of beads and semi precious stones, so I could see what it would be like to attach big round chunks of things with shisha embroidery. It didn’t work the same way as with traditional flat mirrors as these are very polished and thick, so the cotton slipped about a bit. The fact that they were drilled helped anchor them to the fabric, and I could quickly see it was going to look great and exactly like the barnacles I had in mind.

shisha embroidery with gemstones

Ground fabric: I gave a lot of thought to every stage of this piece, starting with the ground fabric. Up to now as you know I haven’t needed anything more substantial than the old soft cotton pillowcases I’ve used for all the miniatures. But I knew this really needed to be stable enough to take the heavy stitching I was planning, so with my mum’s advice I bought a few metres of heavy-duty cotton curtain lining fabric, and some plain bleached calico, so I could double them up. The curtain lining has a lovely diagonal weave and slight sheen and doesn’t snag the needle or anything. Nice.

Picking my colours was fun because I HAVE ALL THE COLOURS. Yep, I splashed out and invested in every single DMC stranded cotton AND variegated too. Sigh. Look:



So, I transferred my design to the fabric with air erasable pen then went over in pencil, then began the legs. My overall plan for construction of the piece was to do the shell and large claws as separate pieces and the pad and attach them to the main piece as slips.  I am using my largest tambour frame.

pattern transfer

embroidered crab legs

embroidered crab legs



The legs are done in my old fave split stitch with 2 strands of cotton. I then embellished them with iridescent pearl Madeira, and green metallic thread.


Got boring by the end. The big arms I also introduced a chartreuse variegated thread and some glass beads too.



Here you can see I have used the felt method to pad out the body and claws.

felt padding


Then I started on the shell. This was the fun bit!

shisha embroidery

This was in a separate hoop and on my usual cotton pillowcase ground fabric. Despite the heavy stitches this fabric was adequate as it would be ultimately supported by the padding and stronger main fabric. I started with the ‘barnacles’. Here you can see the different stages of this technique – I have attached the African turquoise cabochons to the fabric and then worked the lattice of holding stitches in contrasting thread which will become the base for the button-hole stitch around it.


Once they were all down I started building up the design around them. I added some silver jumprings and attached them with button-hole stitch.



I then surrounded each barnacle with chain stitch and filled the jumprings with tight French knots. Then I went to town a bit, laying down the bones of the design, with colours and threads. I started blocking in the edge of the shell in split stitch and couched down some sparkly gold and green thread.






I then filled in that shape with the variegated green thread, then began to surround the barnacles with French knots, filling half the shell.



I struggled a bit to figure out how to finish the bottom third and how to knit the two together, but the answer ended up being in heavy beading at the base and…more French knots!



Finished! Now I started the job of attaching the shell over the padding to the legs.



After trimming the shell from the fabric, I pinned it all around the shape, turning the excess under. I then used stabbing stitches in a strong machine thread to sew it down all the way round.



A bit fiddley. When it was stitched down it was clear it needed more stuffing so I filled it with cotton wadding then stitched up the gap.



A nice and unforeseen outcome was the little impression at the base of the shell which was actually quite realistic. I think the shape of the shell with lots of points is actually one of the worst for doing padded slips but once I had it down I went round the outline again in matching thread and finally outlined the whole thing, making a seamless join.


And he has eyes!



 So next it was back to a separate hoop and embroidering the 2 big claws. Very similar method to the legs really:



The spots are silver jumprings again, buttonhole stitched down with glass beads in the centre.






Claw number one done, rinse and repeat:




Now it’s just a case of attaching the claws in exactly the same way as the shell:



Oh, and here’s my hand for scale (I know you love that).



And here it is finished.





I couldn’t resist putting the photo through a sepia filter. It looks like an old botanical illustration! This pleases me.


I am really proud of this. Although not necessarily the largest piece I have done (Moths) it is the most artistically creative and intensely heavy piece of work I have done, and unique also that it represents my vision as an artist and not a client’s (as  a commission).

Some stats:

Approx 200 hours of embroidery.

12 needles were used in the completion of this project.

Around 140 metres of thread.

I didn’t count the beads.

The God of Crabs will now be professionally stretched, blocked and framed and will be available for sale. Contact me for info.

This is definitely a new direction for me as an artist, and the start of what will be a series of large, animal themed pieces.

If you follow me on Facebook then you will have already seen this project develop over the last 4 months – please like (if you do!) and share my work.

P.S I love your comments.

6 thoughts on “The God of Crabs*

  1. Pingback: The Alchemist
  2. I’m so gobsmacked by this, I don’t know what to say…just wanted to let you know I have just looked at this. Now off to think about what I have seen, to digest the tremendous amounts of time, skill, material and VISION, woman, VISION, you have invested in this piece, and to find the appropriate superlatives and adjectives to come back and lay at your feet.

    1. oh Nat! Thank you so much! No more superlatives needed, only may I invite you to have a wonder around the virtual gallery of work since this debut on a large scale …. there are 20 more now, and I’d love your thoughts.

      1. I would happily gorge myself on images of your work! But I will do so cautiously, because I am working on a bunch of embroideries, myself, these days, and seeing too much of your gorgeous work could convince me to abandon everything and take up scrapbooking ;)

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