Embroidery tips: Before you begin

1. Prewash

If your fabric has a strong colour then it’s really worth pre-washing to remove any excess dye. This is particularly important if your finished item will be laundered and the fabric colour could run into the threads. Washing your fabric before you stitch will mean that if it is going to shrink, it will shrink before you add your embroidery stitches.


2. Prepare your fabric

To prevent fraying or to stop your thread catching on the fabric edges as you work, you can use the quick and simple method of folding masking tape around the edges of the fabric. This is ideal for small projects that won’t take you long to finish. If you’re attempting a larger project, it’s worth spending a little time finishing the fabric edge with a machine zig zag or turning over the edges and hemming by hand with tacking stitches. For a quick option, trim the edges off your fabric with Pinking Shears. These will give it a zig zag edge which will stop it from fraying whilst you stitch.

3. Use interfacing

If your fabric is lightweight, press medium weight fusible interfacing on the wrong side of the fabric before embroidering. This make the fabric more stable and stops it stretching out of shape. It also prevents the stitches on the back from pulling on the front, giving you a better finish.

4. Pressing

Always press your fabric before you begin stitching as you’ll get a smoother finish and won’t stitch any creases into your work.

Embroidery tips: Choosing materials and tools

5. Print fabric

Try using a fabric with a pattern or print on in rather than just a plain fabric. Embroidery on floral fabrics is very effective as you can embellish or highlight certain areas to make them stand out for an effective three dimensional look. These fabrics can also provide a useful grid for your embroidery to follow. Gingham fabric has uniform checks which are particularly useful for cross stitch whilst spotted fabric is good for smocking or any embroidery stitch which benefits from dotted guidelines. Ticking or any stiped fabric is also extremely useful as the printed lines can be used horizontally or vertically to keep your stitching even.

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6. Stitching on linen

Try stitching on linen which has a slightly uneven surface due to the natural slubs which appear randomly across the fabric – which is part of its natural charm. Linen is made from the inner skin of the flax plant and is usually more expensive than cotton as it is costly to produce. It’s available in a variety of weaves, weights, thread counts and colours. It is very strong and absorbent but creases really easily so it’s best pressed when damp. As you stitch on linen it becomes softer and more fluid but once it’s washed and pressed, the crispiness is restored.

7. Buying scissors

Use the right scissors for your work. Embroidery scissors should be small and sharp for snipping off the ends of threads close to the fabric. They can also be used for unpicking or removing stitches if needs be. Dressmakers scissors are medium sized scissors used for cutting embroidery fabric to size. Make sure they’re sharp and only used for fabric.

Embroidery tips: Transferring designs

8. Test your pens

Whichever transfer method you choose, always test it first on a small scrap of fabric so that you know it can be removed easily.

9. Make your own transfers

Iron-on transfer pens allow you to make your own transfer pattern from any artwork. To use them, trace over the pattern in reverse onto regular paper or thick tracing paper. Place the design right side down onto the face of the fabric and press in place until the lines have transferred. These pens and pencils can be permanent so test this first.

10. Adding text

If you want to add words or lettering to your embroidery, write on the fabric in your own hand writing using a pencil or heat erasable pen. Then, simply stitch over it. If you want a particular typeface, you can print out the text you want and trace over it.

Embroidery tips: When embroidering

11. Protect fabric from hoop

If you want to protect your embroidery fabric from being marked by the hoop, which is especially important with fine fabrics, wrap cotton tape around the inner ring. Make sure that the tape overlaps as you wrap it round so that all the ring is covered, then fasten it securely at the end by stitching into place. This not only prevents ring marks on the fabric but will also gives a tighter fit and helps to keep the fabric taut.

12. Good lighting

Make sure you stitch in good lighting. If you’re not stitching during the day then invest in a daylight lamp so you can see your stitching more clearly and you don’t strain your eyes.

13. Displaying your work

Don’t hang your finished embroidery in direct sunlight as the fabric and stitches will probably fade over time. You can use UV-protective glass which will help to minimise this if necessary.

Embroidery tips: Threads

14. Folding the thread

Try folding one end of the thread over and pushing the fold through the eye of the needle when you are threading your needle. This works especially well when using wool or any thicker threads.

15. Use the right side of the eye

Some needles are easier to thread from one side of the needle than the other because of the way the hole of the needle has been stamped. It is not always obvious to see which side of the needle to thread through, as the eye can be quite small. If you’re struggling to thread your needle, try turning it over and threading from the other side.

16. Thread length

Aim to have your thread no longer than 50cm, as longer lengths can become knotted or separate. If you’re using a metallic thread then don’t cut your thread longer than 30cm, as it separates much more easily and then becomes difficult to work with.

17. Separating threads

Some threads have to be separated into the number of strands you wish to use. The best way to do this is to cut a length of thread, then hold it gently between your thumb and forefinger about 5cm from one end. Take one strand and pull it gently upwards. It will separate easily from the other strands.

18. Combining strands

If you want to stitch with more than one strand, you should always separate the strands individually then recombine them. This will make the strands lie flatter together when you stitch.

19. Try different numbers of strands

Vary the number of strands you use in your needle for different effects and experiment. One strand of Backstitch will give a fine delicate line which will create smoother curves whereas four strands will fill an area using Satin Stitch quite quickly and give a raised effect. Practise this on spare fabric to get the effect you want.


20. Using thread conditioner

Thread conditioner or beeswax is used for running a cut length of thread through before you stitch to help to keep it smooth, stop it getting tangles and to help it slip through the fabric more easily. This is particularly recommended when using metallic threads.


Rebecca ReidCrafter, designer and TV presenter

Rebecca is founder of Amber Makes and has previously worked as Senior Technical Editor of Love Embroidery and Simply Sewing magazines. She works with sewing TV channels including Sewing Street, Yarn Lane and Sewing Quarter. She been stitching since she was a child and has worked on many craft magazines as well as running her own curtain-making business. She is known by her colleagues as a sewing oracle – you name it, she can sew it. She’s hugely knowledgeable about sewing techniques, fabrics and tools and is full of helpful advice for her fellow sewists, from the best place to buy curtain-making materials to which books and websites are handy for that sewing problem you’re stuck on.

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