How to do Embroidery 101 | 5 Embroidery Stitches

How to do Embroidery

I hope everyone is excited to learn a little more about how to do embroidery today. Embroidery isn’t our bread and butter here at Peek-a-Boo but it can add something special to a lot of the different clothing and/or sewing projects that we make. For that reason, we have a few articles here on embroidery to help you get started and learn the basics on how to stitch and embroider clothing.

We also hope to have more articles on embroidery, machines, and patterns in the near future so keep checking back to see what we make. With that being said, we’ll turn the time over to Genie from Sew and Tell Project to share with us concerning embroidery. We’ve also added a few more things to help you have a comprehensive Embroidery 101 Review.

Embroidery 101

Hi all, it’s Genie from the Sew and Tell Project, and I’d like to talk with you about how to make embroidery. The world of embroidery (or needlepoint, or whatever you like to call it) is as vast as is the world of sewing. There are many, many stitches, and variations of stitches, and combinations of stitches…it’s nearly endless! In my next several posts, I’d like to give you a basic introduction on how to embroider and embroidery stitches. I’ll also make a couple of fun projects.

To start – let me tell you a little about the history of embroidery. Embroidery has been around in some form almost as long as people have been working with cloth. In fact, fossilized remains of hand stitched clothing have been found dating as far back as Cro-Magnon times (that’s tens of thousands of years ago)! A little more recently, highborn ladies spent much leisure time stitching tapestries that would become wall or bed hangings, or cushion covers in the Middle Ages.

People still embroider today, so let’s get into embroidery 101 and a few things you need to make sure you get straight with embroidery:

Needlepoint v. Embroidery

Many people use the terms needlepoint and embroidery interchangeably. Embroidery is defined as “the art of working raised and ornamental designs in threads of silk, cotton, gold, silver, or other material, upon any woven fabric, leather, paper, etc., with a needle,” whereas needlepoint is defined as “embroidery upon canvas, usually with uniform spacing of stitches in a pattern.” (both definitions from dictionary.com)

Needlepoint is a more specific type of embroidery. While the definition uses the term “canvas,” needlepoint can readily be done on any type of evenweave fabric, such as canvas, linen, and specialty fabrics like Aida and Lugana. Embroidery, while still done with needle and thread, can be added to any type of medium that you can punch a needle through.

Types of Embroidery to Make

There are many types of embroidery. Cross stitch (stitches that look like an x), candlewick (whitework), crewel (yarn), hardanger (whitework using drawn threads), and cut work (threads in between tightly worked stitches are removed) are just a few. One can embroider on many surfaces, and with many mediums. Cotton, silk, and rayon floss, silk ribbon, perle cotton, crewel yarn, and many other specialty threads. Here’s a few from my stash:

How to do Embroidery
These are all cotton flosses, and two of my organization methods. I wind all floss onto bobbins, to store in these boxes when not in use. They go into plastic bags on a ring for projects; they are easy to toss into a project bag this way. At the bottom, you see a variegated thread. Variegated threads produce a multi-colored, gradual effect as you stitch.

Tools, Supplies, Thread, and Fabric to Embroider

I’ve pictured a few important embroidery tools above but here’s a greater rundown:

  • Embroidery Scissors: Basically you need a pair of small, sharp scissors to embroider. They’ll be used to trim your threads quickly, cleanly, and accurately. Small scissors allow you get as close to the embroidery canvas as possible and make precision cuts. These are also essential when you need to remove stitches.
  • Tapestry Needles: The most commonly recommended size is 24. I personally like a longer needle, though. The needles come in various sizes and you can get large packs of them for cheap on Amazon or other retailers.
  • Beading Needle: Many projects call for the addition of glass seed beads, and you’ll need a beading needle for those. They make these needles very long and thin.
  • Embroidery Hoop: An hoop is used as the enclosure wherein you embroider and can also be used to display your finished product. It’s necessary because it stretches the fabric to make it “taut” for hand embroidery. Taut basically means that the fabric is stretched or pulled tight without slack. Basically it helps you embroider the fabric in the right place and lends structure to your project.
  • Embroidery Fabric: Several different fabrics can be used to embroider, including cotton, linen, canvas, etc. Whatever you use, you’ll need to make sure you have a LOWER thread count with embroidery so that the weave isn’t too tight and you can easily pull needle and thread through.
  • Thread Gloss: There are a few different products out there to help keep the thread from tangling and help it easily slide through the fabric. Some people like using these to embroider. You might try thread gloss. You might also try a product called Thread Magic which is a thread conditioner that help eliminate static and prevents tangling and fraying.
  • Embroidery Floss: Embroidery floss is the most common thread used to embroider. Floss is basically a number of threads (generally 6) that are loosely stranded together to make the embroidery.
  • Patterns: You can find a design or pattern for just about anything with embroidery. There’s also specific cross stitch patterns and cross stitch kits.
Embroidery 101
I have a few more thoughts and pictures on embroidery threads and fabrics:

At the top left are several types of blending thread (these can be difficult to work with). They are thin and sparkly, and are usually used with cotton floss to provide a bit of sparkle in the project. Next, is a handpainted silk floss; this particular brand is variegated and has a beautiful, soft shimmer. The spools are perle cotton in two thicknesses. These are often used for hardanger and cutwork. All the way to the right is a spool of very fine gold thread. Across the bottom are a few novelty threads. The first is a variegated yarn, second is two colors of “Ultra-Suede,” a flat, suede thread. Last is Wisper; it’s kind of difficult to work with, but gives a soft, fuzzy effect.

The two photos above use a natural 32 count linen as a background. That means that there are 32 threads per inch. Linen is soft and the threads aren’t quite even. The irregularities can really add to a design…and can really mess with your counting! All of my stitch illustration photos, below, are done on a 14 count white Aida cloth. Aida is a stiffer even weave fabric ideal for cross stitch. It’s very evenly woven and the holes are quite distinct. Canvas can be used for heavy duty projects such as tapestry, cushions, purses, or rugs. Fine linen, muslin, silk, or any fine, even woven fabric, can be used for décor items.

Using an Embroidery Hoop

We’ll just give a quick shout out here to using embroidery hoops before we get into different stitches used to embroider.

Embroidery hoops are pretty easy to use. They have an inner an outer hoop. To start, you remove the inner hoop from the outer section (while following any marked instructions as to which side is up).

Second, you place the fabric over the inner hoop. After that you place the outer hoop on top of the inner hoop and fabric, tighten the screw on the outer hoop, and then pull the fabric until it’s “taut”….or tight. I’m not going into this in great detail here today but if you’re having any trouble then make sure to watch this video on YouTube to show you how it’s done.

5 Basic Hand Embroidery Stitches | Running, Straight, Cross & Blanket Stitch | French Knot

Now, I’m going to go over a few different hand embroidery stitches with you:

Basic Embroidery Stitches

Running Embroidery Stitch: First, is the running stitch. It’s a very simple stitch, usually used to help make borders. The stitches are even, as are the spaces in between each stitch. Th running stitch produces a dashed line.

Back Stitch Embroidery Stitch: The back stitch is often used to outline areas within a design, or to add design elements such as letters or vines. The needle initially comes up at 1 and goes down at 2. You then bring the needle up at 3, and stitch down back at 2. Up at 4, stitch down at 3; up at 5, stitch down at 4, etc. This design gives you a solid line with complete stitches.

Cross Stitch Embroidery Stitch: A cross stitch, as its name implies, is actually two stitches in the shape of an X. This stitch is often used to fill in larger areas, and can be quite elaborate when combined with multiple thread colors and back stitches for definition. Your needle will come up at 4, stitch down at 2; up at 5, stitch down at 1. This is one completed cross stitch. Honestly, the order you do the stitches doesn’t matter as long as you are consistent for every single cross stitch in your piece.

Blanket Stitch Embroidery Stitch: A blanket stitch is most commonly used to reinforce the edge of thicker, unhemmed materials, like a flannel or fleece fabric blanket. I use them to close felt dolls, too. They do have a decorative aspect, too, and you may find them in some designs. Your needle will come up at 1, and stitch down at 2. Don’t pull the thread all the way through; leave a loop. You’ll next come up at 3, link the thread through the loop you left in the last step, and then stitch down at 4. Snug up the previous stitch, and leave a loop to link the next stitch through. See below for the loop.

French Knots Embroidery Stitch: I think French knots are the hardest stitch to master, and I’ve done a lot of embroidery over the years! I can’t tell you how many times my knot has disappeared because I’ve pulled too hard or too fast on the stitch. So, my best advice is to take it slow on the stitches, and practice, practice, practice.

I don’t like to take my needle back into the same hole I brought it up through, so I’ll try to catch a little of the fabric in between to help anchor the knot. So, bring your thread up through the fabric and wrap the thread around the end of your needle 3-5 times.

Stitch the needle back through very close to where it came up through the fabric. Smoosh your loops down close to the fabric, being careful that you don’t lose any of your wrapped loops. Pull the needle through to the wrong side of the fabric slowly, maintaining an even tension with your other hand on the right side of the fabric. When the tail begins to disappear, go very slowly. It’s so easy to pull the knot through at this point. Do not pull past the point where the thread disappears into the knot. Voila!

how to do embroidery

There you have our different embroidery stitches. Go find some hand embroidery patterns and get to work! Also take a look at a few different projects below:

Embroidery Projects


This is a portion of a sampler I stitched (I’m sorry, it really needs a good wash, block, and press!). It is primarily cross stitch, but uses several specialty stitches to make the design interesting. I chose this for my son’s birth sampler because I loved the soft colors and the whimsy that the specialty stitches and beads add. This is stitched on a gorgeous 32 count vintage smoky white linen. The hand dying is subtle, but adds a beautiful finish to this piece. The design is called Grace and Love Birth Sampler, by Stoney Creek.

Embroidery Projects

We’d sure like to thank Genie for her introduction there to embroidery and stitches used to embroider. Before we let you leave, I’d like to spotlight a couple embroidery projects we’ve featured here over the years:

  • Mini Embroidery Hoop Ornaments: This tutorial might be helpful for you to get you started with using an embroidery hoop and doing a little bit of embroidery too. The main part of these ornaments is made using a sewing machine (only takes about 15 minutes). Still, this tutorial will give you practice using an embroidery hoop, sewing the sewn design onto the fabric with embroidery floss, and using a french knot to stitch and tie it off at the back. The embroidery fabric used in this project is a left over piece of cotton woven. You’ll also see why having an erasable pen comes in handy.
  • Amy Embroidery Hoop Wall Art: If you just want to get started with practicing using embroidery hoops and not using the stitches then Amy has a tutorial from years ago where she makes some fun designs with embroidery hoops, canvas, and some freezer paper stenciling to get some fun new wall art for a child’s room.
  • Emroidered Tote Bag: This tutorial should come in handy if you’re looking to get some practice doing embroidery stitches. Stephanie takes a store bought canvas tote bag and customizes it for a teacher using embroidery floss. You’ll get practice using the running stitch above and tying them off. You can also use the other embroidery stitches above if you desire.

Finally, if you’re interested in moving on from hand embroidery and doing some embroidery with a sewing machine then take a look at our Top 10 Embroidery Sewing Machines. Some of these machines double for other purposes as well but they all have various embroidery features, various stitches, and different designs. We feature both beginner machines (like machines from Brother, Janome, and others) and also top of the line machines from manufactures like Baby Lock. Come take a look Here.

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