BEGINNING EMBROIDERY TIPS AND TRICKS
Welcome to hand embroidery! Embroidery can be a relaxing creative outlet to keep your hands busy at home or on the go. Below are some tips based on my personal experience (I am not a formally trained embroidery artist) but I encourage you to do more research online or at your local library to further your education. Find a style and solutions that work for you. Much of this information can also be found in my beginners embroidery video tutorial.
Materials: All items can be purchased online or at your local craft store. Thrift stores can also be a great place to grab some hand me down hoops and tools at a great price.
- Embroidery Hoops: Hoops are available in wood, metal and plastic, although I prefer the former. Your design should specify what size of hoop to work in, but sometimes a different sized hoop can be easier to hold and stitch into. Smaller hoops can give you better tension but you can always bind your larger hoop to give it more grip on your fabric.
- Fabric: Generally I stitch on 100% cotton but please experiment with different weaves, types and colors to see what you enjoy embroidering on. Remember that light and thin fabrics may allow the back your stitches to show through. Large fabric stores can be intimidating but the employees are always very helpful and a great resource so ask them for help!
- Embroidery Floss: Most patterns list color suggestions using standard 6-stranded DMC cotton embroidery floss. There are other brands (Lecien Cosmo, Archer) and other floss materials (silk, wool, etc) to experiment with. Your design will let you know how many threads to use, 1 to 6, depending on how thick of a line the design calls for. You can separate your floss easily by pulling out one strand of a time with one hand and holding the remainder of the threads with your other hand. Some people like to wind their floss on bobbins to help keep them organized and free of tangles. DMC recommends prewashing red floss to prevent any bleeding.
- Needles: 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.
- Scissors: Any tiny scissors with sharp blades will do. Larger fabric scissors are great to have for less delicate tasks.
Pattern Transfer Methods:
- 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. Depending on your design you can trace using any marker (or pencil) assuming that your guidelines will be covered by stitches.
- Iron on methods. I do not have personal experience with iron on methods but I encourage you to look at the available options at your local craft store to see if they are right for you.
- Sulky Printable Sticky Fabri-Solvi. Test your fabric with this sticky stuff before starting your project as it can leave a halo and residue behind on some fabric blends. To use, just print your design from your computer onto this paper and stick it on your fabric. This method really saves time and sanity when using complicated patterns.
- Mounting your fabric and how much fabric do you need? If you plan to use your hoop as a frame just leave yourself an inch or two of excess fabric. If you plan to mount/stretch your embroidery on a wooden frame or canvas, make sure you give yourself excess fabric for that purpose. Your embroidery hoop is made of an outer hoop and a smaller inner hoop and the fabric will get sandwiched between the two. Center the fabric over the inner hoop and then place the outer hoop (loosened) on top. Tighten the screw and pinch the edges of the fabric out evenly from behind. Repeat until you reach your desired tension. You will want your fabric drum tight when using lots of satin stitch to avoid puckering of the fabric.
- Threading the needle. Cut a piece of floss no more than 2 feet long to avoid tangles. If needed, separate the individual threads of floss by pulling them out individually from a cut piece of floss. “Sharpen” the end of your floss with a snip of your embroidery scissors for easier threading and be sure to use a needle with a large enough eye.
- Anchoring 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.
- What to do if you mess up. Don’t be afraid to start over! And don’t be afraid to remove your needle and pull up some stitches. You can use your needle but a pair of tweezers can be handy, too. Sometimes I pull out the embroidery scissors and actually cut out stitches (be carefully to not cut the fabric!) when things go really wrong.
- If you want to frame your finished piece in an embroidery hoop you have a few options for backing. You can trim the excess fabric or glue it back to the inside of the hoop using craft or fabric glue (test on fabric first!) The back can be left open, exposing the stitches, or can be covered with fabric, felt, cardstock, whatever! Some people like to leave lots of excess fabric and sew/cinch it together.
I encourage you to use additional resources if you need more instruction than this simple guide. I have found YouTube videos to be very helpful, they can give you so much more information than a static drawing! I have a few videos on my channel (Namaste Embroidery) you may find useful.
1. Back Stitch is worked from right to left and is great for creating solid lines. It helps to shorten the stitch length when using this stitch (and other linear stitches) to outline curved lines.
2a. Stem Stitch creates a rope or vine-like line and is stitched left to right. Hold the thread of the previous stitch loose and above your row as you bring the needle up through the hole made by the stitch prior. This allows you to needle through the correct location and enhances the twisted look of the threads. Diagrams and videos are very useful in understanding this stitch.
2b. Fake Stem Stitch is how I used to do Stem Stitch until I watched a video demonstrating the correct way! It is stitched similar to back stitch (right to left) but the needle goes down next to the previous stitch rather than in line with it. A good stitch for curvy lines, like vines or stems, and lettering.
3. Split Stitch is worked left to right and the needle actually pierces (or “splits”) the previous stitch. It makes a nicely textured line or can be used to fill.
4. Fern Stitch makes a nice addition to any florals.
Think of it as a series of back stitches.
5a. Chain Stitch creates a lovely textured line and has many variations to play with. Come up and down with the needle at the arrow, leaving a loop. Come back up within the loop and tighten the thread to desired tautness. End the chain with a small stitch tacking the loop down.
5b. Reversed Chain Stitch starts at the “end” of chain stitch with the small tacking stitch. Come up through the fabric and slip your needle through the tacking stitch before coming back down through the same hole. Continue in a chain.
6. Detatched Chain Stitch AKA Lazy Daisy is great for leaves and flowers. You can experiment with tension here, giving a thin or more rounded leaf/petal shape.
7. Satin Stitch. A smooth fill stitch requiring patience. Go slow and experiment with tension to keep the stitches smooth. Using fewer strands of floss will result in a more satin look but will obviously take more time. You can outline your shape beforehand to give a more three dimensional look.
8. French knots. A textured filler and accent stitch. You can wrap the thread around the needle one to three times to change the size of your knot. The key is to keep the floss taut as you pull the needle through.
9. Fishbone Stitch is my favorite way to fill leaves! You can use an angle more parallel or perpendicular to the vein of the leaf to give different looks. Go back and forth from starting stitches at the top of the leaf and working down the sides of the outline. The stitches come up at the top and cross each other mid-leaf. See the diagram to see how the stitches finish the leaf shape. I encourage you to watch a YouTube video for more information!