Main image: Stitched by Mollie Johanson.
Join the slow stitching revolution with our free essential embroidery skills workshop. Embroidered details are hot stuff on the high street and an easy way to refashion plain garments in your wardrobe.
Embroidery has its roots firmly in the stitching of the generations before us, but it’s never been more popular, with thousands of new stitchers inspired by vintage finds or the swelling craftivist movement. With just a few basic skills you can add on-trend details to plain garments and accessories or create DIY hoop art for your home.
Hand embroidery is a wonderful skill to learn and master as it is so versatile. It’s as simple as drawing on a piece of fabric then stitching over it. Here we take you through the few tips, techniques and stitches to master before you start embroidering a design.
You will need
Fabric: It’s best to stitch on a closely woven fabric so your stitches don’t disappear between the fabric threads. Cottons and linens are ideal.
Threads: There are many different threads you can use but stranded cotton is the most common. Each length of thread has six strands so you can use different numbers of strands depending on how thick you want your stitches to be.
- Embroidery hoop
Get started: how to prep your fabric
Before you begin, it’s best to prepare your fabric to stop it from fraying. There are a few ways to do this.
Masking tape: For a quick fix, seal the edges with masking tape.
Pinking shears: Trim around the edge with pinking shears.
Zigzag stitch: For the most secure finish, use a sewing machine to stitch a quick zigzag around the edges. <FIG 1>
How to transfer a design
Most embroidery projects use templates, which you’ll need to transfer onto your fabric .
Press your fabric then decide where you would like to place the design.
The simplest way to transfer a design is to trace it. Place the fabric right side up over the template and secure with masking tape. Trace over all the lines using a pencil, water soluble pen or chalk in a colour that shows up on the fabric. <FIG 2>
If you struggle to see the design through the fabric then tape the design and fabric onto
a window. The light will shine through so you can see to trace the design as before.
Once you’ve traced your design, place the fabric into a hoop or frame. This will provide the correct tension and your stitches will be neater. <FIG 3>
How to start with a waste knot
This is the simplest way to get started. Here’s how it’s done…
Knot one end of your thread and take it down through the front of your fabric, about 2.5cm (1in) from your starting point. Bring it back up to make your first stitch.
Begin stitching your design, making sure you stitch over your starting thread. Once your starting thread is secure, simply snip off the knot.
To secure the thread when you’ve finished stitching, weave it through the back of your stitches.
How to sew a loop knot start
If you’re working with two strands you can use this neat starting method.
Cut a single length of thread that is double the length you want to stitch with and fold it in half to create a loop at one end.
Thread your needle with the two tail ends. Bring your needle up to the front of your fabric, leaving a small loop of thread on the reverse.
Make your first stitch and pass the needle through the loop on the reverse. <FIG 4>Pull to secure the thread. Now continue with your stitching as normal.
How to embroider a pattern
You will need:
- Cotton fabric: 30x30cm (12x12in)
- Stranded cotton: two shades
- Wooden embroidery hoop: 20cm (8in) diameter
- Basic sewing kit
- Use the embroidery technique and tips above to help with your stitching.
- Download our embroidery template from issue 25 to get started.
6 embroidery stitches for beginners to try
Transfer your design on to fabric in a hoop, as we’ve shown you above. Now use a mixture of these six different stitches to embroider the pattern. Use a mixture of these stitches (practise them first on some scrap fabric if you don’t want to mark your favourite fabric before you’re confident).
How to satin stitch
Bring the needle up at 1 on one side then take it back down at 2 on the other side. Continue working in this way, making sure the stitches are touching.
See our full guide to satin stitch here
How to straight stitch
This stitch can be worked to any length, but take care it doesn’t sag across the fabric. Bring the needle up at 1 at the start and then down again at 2 to finish. It’s as easy as that!
How to split stitch
Make a small straight stitch by bringing your needle up at 1 and down at 2. Bring the needle up again at 3 then pierce the first stitch you made.
See our full split stitch tutorial here
How to back stitch
Back stitch should be worked so that all the stitches are the same length with no gaps between them. Bring the needle up at 1, down at 2, up at 3, down at 4 and so on, always working back on yourself.
Read our full backstitch guide here
How to chain stitch
Bring your needle up at 1 then back in again at 2 just below. Bring the needle up again at 3, making sure that the thread is lying under the needle. Pull the needle through the fabric slowly to form a neat loop. Continue stitching from right to left in this way, making sure all the chains are the same size.
Read more about how to do chain stitch
How to sew a French Knot
Bring your thread up where you want your French knot to be. Holding the thread with your left hand, twist the needle around the thread twice (do not twist the thread around the needle). Insert just the point of the needle back into the fabric close to where it emerged and slide the knot down the needle to rest on the surface of the fabric. Pull the needle through to the back of the fabric, keeping the thread taut so the thread stays twisted around the needle to form a French knot.
How to do French Knots, step-by-step and video
How to finish your embroidery project
How to wash embroidery
Washing your fabric after stitching will really bring your embroidery to life and also restore the crispness to cottons or linens.
Soak your stitched fabric for about 15 minutes in a bowl of warm water with a little gentle detergent then gently agitate it.
To remove marks, sponge gently, taking care not to disturb the stitches if possible.
Rinse well and roll your stitching in a towel to squeeze out excess water. Leave flat to dry.
How to press embroidery
- If you have washed your fabric then it’s best to press your fabric whilst still slightly damp. First, pad your ironing board with a thick towel.
- Place your work right side down on top with a thin, clean cloth over it. Press carefully until the fabric is dry.
- The towel will stop the iron from flattening the stitches.
- Press gently, working the point of the iron into the stitches.