Beginning Hand Embroidery Tips and Tricks

Below you can find my embroidery beginner guide which is included in all of my hand embroidery patterns and kits.

New! Follow along with this video tutorial to avoid having to read:




Welcome to hand embroidery! Embroidery can be a relaxing creative outlet to keep your hands busy at home or on the go. This guide is designed to help you get started with some beginner tips and a basic stitch guide. Ultimately, with time and patience you will find a style and solutions that work for you. But most importantly, have fun!

Another way to absorb most of this information is through my beginner sampler stitch-along here. You can download the free pattern and stitch along with me while learning the basics of how to get started plus a handful of really fun stitches.  


Embroidery Hoops
Hoops are available in many different sizes and materials.  I prefer working in wooden hoops, but plastic or metal options may work best for you. Your design may specify what size of hoop to work in, but sometimes a different sized hoop can be easier to hold and stitch into depending on the size of your hands. Smaller hoops can give you better tension but you can always bind your larger hoop to give it more grip on your fabric.  If your fabric is much larger than your hoop and you find it getting in your way please use pins or safety pins to tack back the excess and make your work more pleasant. If you will not be framing your work in a hoop, be sure to remove your work from the hoop after each stitching session to avoid permanent creases in the fabric. 

I enjoy stitching on 100% cotton (such as Kona brand cotton, available in many colors and very affordable) but please experiment with different weaves, blends and colors to see what you enjoy working with. Give yourself time to wander through a fabric store and see what you like. Avoid stretchy fabric as they will only lead to heartache and pattern warping unless paired with fabric stabilizer. You can double up thin or light colored fabrics.


Embroidery Floss 
Many patterns call for six-stranded cotton embroidery floss from DMC. There are lots of other floss brands (Lecien Cosmo, Ancher) and other fun floss materials (silk, wool, linen) to experiment with. Some people like to wind their floss on bobbins to help keep them organized and free of tangles. Be familiar with the colorfastness of your thread to avoid any bleeding of colors.


I recommend grabbing a variety pack of embroidery needles with a few different sizes. Your needle size will depend on your design, what stitches you are using, how thick your threads are and your own personal preference. Play and see what feels good in your hands
Any tiny scissors with sharp blades will do. Larger fabric scissors are great to have for less delicate tasks.


    Please see my new Directory of Methods here.

    Light Transfer
    Use the light from a bright window or light board to trace your design onto the fabric. Water soluble fabric markers are great for this purpose but remember that your embroidery will need to be rinsed upon completion to remove the guidelines.You can trace using any permanent marker (or pencil) assuming that your guidelines will be covered by stitches. This method works best for lighter fabrics that light can shine through. Trace onto darker fabrics with a chalk pencil or white gelly roll pen


    Heat and Carbon
    Iron on and carbon transfer methods are great for darker and thicker fabrics when light will not shine through. You’ll need to purchase specialty papers and pencils, so be sure to follow the instrucitons that come with your product.


    Printable and traceable stabilizers, such as Stick ‘n Stitch (Sulky brand) can be another great option. Simply print your design from your computer onto this paper and stick it on your fabric. This method saves time and sanity when transferring large, complicated patterns. Always test your fabric first as this method can leave behind a halo and difficult to remove goo.



      Take Care
      Care for your eyes and body. Stitch with plenty of light, appropriate glasses or other magnification, and a comfortable seat. Take regular breaks during marathon stitching sessions.


      Hoop Up
      If you plan to use your hoop as a frame just leave yourself an inch or two of excess fabric to cinch back upon completion. If you plan to stretch your embroidery on a wooden frame or canvas, make sure you leave yourself enough excess fabric for that purpose. To hoop up you will sandwich your fabric between the inner and outer embroidery hoops. Center the fabric over the inner hoop and then place the outer hoop on top. Tighten the screw and pull the edges of the fabric out evenly from the center, moving clockwise around the hoop. Repeat until you reach your desired tension. You will want your fabric drum tight to avoid puckering and warping of the design.


      Thread the Needle
      Cut a piece of floss no more than 2 feet long to avoid tangles. Your pattern will let you know how many strands to use, 1 to 6, depending on the design and style. If needed, separate the individual strands of floss by pulling them out individually. Use one hand to pull out a single ply and hold the remainder of the strands in your other hand. Sharpen the end of your floss with a lick and a snip of your embroidery scissors for easier threading and be sure to use a needle with a large enough eye.


      Anchor your Floss
      Preventing your embroidery from unraveling is super important, especially if your final piece is something that will get a lot of wear and tear like clothing. However, if your embroidery is just going to be sitting pretty on wall, then anchoring may not be as important. To start, I like to hold a tail (1-2 inches) of floss under the embroidery with my finger while I make my first few stitches. Then I maneuver that tail so that it is tacked down by the under side of the following stitches. When only a few inches of floss remain on your needle you should weave it into the underside of your stitches to secure it. Subsequent threads are easier to anchor by weaving into the back of the previous stitches. Keep the backside of your work as neat as possible and trim any excess tails.  Other popular options include the anchor knot and away waste knot.  

      Make Mistakes 
      Make mistakes. Don’t be afraid to start over or to remove your needle and pull up some stitches. You can use the eye of your needle to pull up stitches but a pair of tweezers and embroidery scissors can be handy, too, when things really go wrong. It’s okay. Embroidery is about the process. Just keep practicing and give yourself a break.


        The simplest way to finish your work is by framing it in your hoop and hanging it proudly on your walls. You can trim the excess fabric or glue it back to the inside of the hoop using craft or fabric glue. Or, use running stitch along the excess fabric and cinch it together to finish. The back can be left open, exposing the stitches, or it can be covered with fabric, felt or cardstock for a more finished look. Wooden hoops look nice natural, but it can be fun to stain or paint them and apply a varnish. You can also turn your completed work into a wearable patch, into jewelry or stretch it on a rectangular frame for your wall. See my free tutorials for more ideas.


        Ready to learn more? Check out the stitch guide here to learn loads of fun stitches!

        Ready to jump in and grab a beginner's kit or download an easy pattern? Find easy designs here.





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