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. If you’ve never picked up a needle before, or simply want a refresher, read on to learn the ropes of embroidery for beginners.
Prepare your fabric to stop it from fraying. There are a few ways to do this. For a quick fix, seal the edges with masking tape, or you can simply trim around the edge with pinking shears. For the most secure finish, use a sewing machine to stitch a quick zigzag around the edges.
Transfer the design. Most embroidery projects use templates, which you’ll need to transfer onto your fabric. The simplest way 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. 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.
How to use an embroidery hoop
Embroidery hoops come with an outer and an inner ring. By securing your fabric between the two layers, you can keep it taunt which makes it easier to stitch on to. First you need to separate the two rings. With traditional wooden hoops, you’ll see a screw at the top which you loosen to release the inner hoop.
Some newer hoop designs have a metal inner layer which you squeeze to release from its plastic outer casing. Once you’ve got your inner hoop free, place your fabric over it with the area you want to stitch on to in the centre. Make sure you have excess fabric left around the outside of the hoop the whole outer boundary of the frame, otherwise your tension won’t work. If your fabric isn’t big enough to stretch over the hoop, you need a smaller hoop. Now carefully press the outer frame back on top. Tug the fabric gently around each edge to tighten it and tighten up the screw with a wooden frame.
The simplest way to get started is with a waste knot. 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. If you’re stitching with 2 strands of thread, you can also try a loop knot start for the neatest finish – we show you how below.
To secure the thread when you’ve finished stitching, weave it through the back of your stitches.
How to sew a loop knot start
When it comes to embroidery for beginners, if you’re working with two strands a loop knot is an easy and neat way to start your thread.
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. Pull to secure the thread. Now continue with your stitching as normal.
How to finish embroidery
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.
Use back stitch for a neat outline. Bring the needle up and take it back over the fabric, as shown. Push the needle back up in front of where you started, making sure you keep all the stiches neat and even.
To work satin stitch, bring the needle up at 1 on one side of the shape then take it back down at 2 on the other side. Continue stitching this way so all the stitches lie close together without any of the fabric showing through beneath.
Work from left to right in regular small stitches along the line of the design. For stem stitch, the thread should always emerge on the left side of the previous stitch. This stitch is used for flower stems, outlines and so on.
Lazy Daisy stitch
Bring the needle up at 1 and down at 2, without pulling the needle all the way through the fabric. Bring the needle up again at 3, with the thread under the needle, and pull gently to form a loop. Secure this loop by pushing the needle back in again just on the other side of the loop. See our full guide to lazy daisy stitch.
Bring the needle up at 1 and loop the thread over it. Next take the thread over and under the needle in a figure of eight. Follow the thread path on the diagram to see exactly how this is done. Push the needle back down at 2, close to where it first emerged. Before you pull it all the way through, tighten the loops around the needle and hold them in place. Pull the needle through to form a neat knot. How to sew Colonial Knots.
Woven wheel stitch
Work five straight stitches evenly spaced in a circle as shown. Now, bring the needle up at the centre where all the straight stitches meet.Weave it alternately under and over the straight stitches, making sure you don’t stitch through the fabric or stitches. Continue until you have woven the thread to the outer ends of the straight stitches then take the needle through to the back to finish.
Bring the needle up and down through the fabric to create regular length stitches. Make sure that all the stitches are the same length and the spaces left between them are that length too for a neat stitch. Keep the tension even so the stitches lie neatly on the fabric. More on how to do running stitch here.
Embroidery essentials for beginners
No embroidery guide is complete without a run through of the essential supplies you need to get going. Luckily you don’t need much to build out your embroidery starter kit…
Embroidery needles have a long eye which makes threading theme easy if you’re stitching with several thread strands. Opt for a size 7 and 9 for embroidery as they’re well-suited for hand sewing. Stock up on embroidery needles at Hobbycraft.
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. Love Crafts have a good range of fabrics for embroideryto get you started
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. We like these DMC Starter Packs from Lakeland.
If you haven’t used one before, hoops are inexpensive but essential for getting your fabric tension nice and taunt while you stitch. Without one it can be really tricky not to pull too hard as you stitch, which can cause the fabric to pucker. You can’t get more classic than these Stork Embroidery Scissors.
Embroidery scissors are smaller than your average scissor with sharp blades that snip easily through your threads. They come in some delightful and classic designs and will become one of the most used tools you have in your kit.
Hand embroidery patterns for beginners
We’ve listed a few free patterns if you’re looking for embroidery for beginners – or head to our embroidery patterns section to browse our full collection.