How to embroider: A complete guide to embroidery for beginners
Find top tricks and tips from the experts as we guide you through how to embroider.
Embroidery is such a rich and exciting craft to learn. Just like painting the creative possibilities are endless! But instead of using paint, you'll express your creativity using a needle and thread.
At a very basic level embroidery is as simple as drawing on a piece of fabric and then stitching over it. The form of the different stitches is how variation is created.
From our guide, you'll find out everything you need to know about embroidery even if you are a complete beginner. By the time you reach the end, you'll have completed your first stitches.
First up, we will explore how to embroider by hand step-by-step. We'll also show you how to create an even tension to keep your stitches looking neat and uniform.
At the end of our guide, you'll find a beautiful selection of free embroidery patterns for beginners to try out.
Let's get started on your embroidery adventure!
Main image: Learn fishbone stitch
Embroidery for beginners - start today
In this embroidery guide, you'll learn...
- Embroidery essentials for beginners
- How to embroider by hand: step by step
- Types of hand embroidery stitches
- How to use an embroidery hoop
- How to finish embroidery
- Hand embroidery patterns 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.
It’s best to stitch on a closely woven fabric so your stitches don’t disappear between the fabric threads. Cotton and linens are ideal. Love Crafts have a good range of fabrics for embroidery to 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. DMC thread is always a popular choice with embroidery, can is used in most commercial patterns.
Embroidery hoops are inexpensive but essential for getting your fabric tension 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.
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.
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 or lightbox.
Choose your hoop. 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 hoopEmbroidery 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.
Step 1Separate the two rings. With traditional wooden hoops, you'll see a screw at the top which you loosen to release the inner hoop.
Step 2Once 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.
Step 3Now carefully press the outer frame back on top.
Step 4Tug 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.
How to sew a loop knot startWhen 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.
Step 1Cut 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.
Step 2Thread 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.
Step 3Make 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.
Now work your way around the design you've traced making a series of small embroidery stitches - head to our embroidery stitches for beginners guide to see how to work the basics.
To secure the thread when you’ve finished stitching, weave it through the back of your stitches.
How to finish an embroidery
How to wash embroidery
Washing your fabric after stitching will really bring your embroidery to life and also restore the crispness to cotton or linen.
- 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.
Types of hand embroidery stitches
Learn the basics here or see our full guide to embroidery stitches for beginners.
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 stitches neat and even. For more, see our full guide on how to Backstitch.
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.
More like this
For more, see our full guide on how to do satin stitch.
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. For more, see our full guide on how to do stem stitch.
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 how to do 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 stitch 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.
Knowing where to start with embroidery
Any craft is doable, even if you think it looks tricky. Once it's broken down step-by-step, you'll find out how easy it is to pick up.
The key is to start simple, like our step-by-step, follow along and practice your stitches. Work out what equipment you need to get started (it is a low-cost hobby to start). For your first project choose something quick and easy, that way you'll avoid getting frustrated early on.
Before you know you'll be stitching more and more complex designs, that you can even gift to friends and family.
Practice makes perfect! The more you stitch, the quicker you'll become a pro. And once you've got into the swing of things you'll be able to create more complex embroidery designs.
Start your first full project today with our material girl embroidery pattern. This pattern is made up of mostly running stitch - one of the quickest and easiest stitches to pick up.
Katie Dolan edits our needlework sections, focusing on our embroidery and cross stitch articles, as well as making videos for our arts and crafts projects. Katie runs her jewellery business, Ophelia Jewellery Art, on Etsy, where she sells beautiful resin-pressed flower earrings. She has a wide range of craft interests including embroidery – she particularly loves all things pop culture and a less traditional approach – The Simpsons and Rick & Morty are among her favourites to embroider. She has recently completed a silversmith workshop and hopes to expand her jewellery business with these new skills. When she’s not crafting, she’s usually fuelling her Harry Potter addiction with a Sunday film marathon and a couple of butter beers!