It’s truly amazing what can be created with just a thread and needle. Embroidery has been around for centuries, and it continues to be a popular hobby among folks of all ages across the globe.
If you’re looking for an engaging, portable hobby, embroidery just might be for you.
Excited to get started? Read on!
Embroidery: A Brief History
If you’re unfamiliar with embroidery, it’s essentially stitching a design onto fabric. This process may sound simple—and it can be! However, that art of embroidery can be quite intricate and the possibilities are virtually endless.
Embroidery dates back to the third century BCE in ancient China. At the time, clothing was ridiculously pricey, so the art of embroidery was born from necessity. Rather than splurging on new garments when old clothing wore out, embroidery was used to repair these well-loved garments.
It wasn’t just the Chinese who took advantage of a thread and needle. Embroidered items have been recovered in Sweden dating back to as early as 700 CE. These early works were far from elaborate; embroiderers used only basic stitches in the early days.
In Greek mythology, Athena is best-known as the goddess of war, but she has also been dubbed goddess of handicraft. Along with weaving, Athena perfected the art of embroidery. Unsurprisingly, the hobby became known as a craft for the wealthy.
Embroidery became popular around the world, and in the late 18th century, the Industrial Revolution transformed the ancient art form. A craft that had been possible only by hand for centuries was suddenly being produced by machine.
Although embroidery has been popular globally throughout history, the Great Recession of 2007 led to a boost in the craft’s popularity, as individuals began saving money by making items they would normally purchase. And while the economy has improved since those days, handicrafts remain popular. These pursuits give folks a sense of purpose while connecting them with other makers.
Embroidery may have ancient roots, but it will likely live on until the end of time.
The Benefits of Embroidery
The art of embroidery is so much more than a way to pass time and create beautiful projects. If your day job is stressful, or you suffer with anxiety or depression, you might be surprised to learn that embroidery can actually be therapeutic.
Rather than attempting to relax by scrolling through social media feeds or binge watching the hottest show on Netflix, why not unplug altogether by picking up a creative hobby? Creativity taps into a different part of the brain, allowing you to decompress and focus on the task at hand. Plus, completing a project is a serious confidence booster!
Confession time: I enjoy a variety of crafts, from knitting and crochet to sewing and cross-stitch. One thing I adore about all of these hobbies is the fact that you don’t have to make a big investment to get started.
Embroidery can be a relatively inexpensive pastime. With that being said, I have to admit that there are plenty of tempting products on the market to enhance the stitching experience. I’ve learned that having the right tools on hand makes the craft that much more enjoyable.
Below, I highlight some must-have materials for all new embroiderers, along with a few of my favorite splurges.
Embroidery floss: Although I referred to a needle and thread above, the material you’ll be using to embroider is actually called floss. You’ll find floss in a variety of beautiful colors. I am a massive fan of DMC Floss, which is made from 100-percent Egyptian cotton and comes in no less than 489 colors. Don’t worry! You won’t have to splurge on the entire collection. Most projects require only a handful of colors, and the majority of kits on the market come with the floss you’ll need.
Embroidery needles: Not just any sewing needle will do when it comes to embroidery. There are needles designed specifically for this particular craft. They include a bigger eye for embroidery floss to fit through easily.
Fabric: When choosing your fabric, be sure to pick a fabric with a looser weave. I usually opt for cotton or linen fabrics. Muslin and Aida cloth are also excellent options.
Scissors: You’ll need a small pair of sharp scissors to cut your floss. Don’t rely on your kitchen scissors to do the job. Treat yourself to a pair of nice embroidery scissors. I’ve owned a variety of crafting scissors over the years, and my favorite pair to date are the DMC Peacock Embroidery Scissors. They’re reasonably priced, easy to hold, and sharp enough to cut floss with ease. Plus, they’re quite pretty!
Embroidery Hoop: To hold your fabric taut, you’ll need to pick up an embroidery hoop that will fit your chosen fabric. These hoops are inexpensive and come with two rings that hold your fabric in place. Wooden hoops tend to be my favorite during the embroidery process, as well as for displaying purposes, though plastic versions are also widely available.
Water Soluble Pen or Pencil: You’ll want to pick up a water soluble marking tool to mark your chosen fabric. These tools are ingenious, as the marks rinse out with water after you’ve completed your project.
Storage: Organization is key when it comes to embroidery. Luckily, there are many storage options that won’t break the bank. One of my favorite storage solutions is this Floss and Needlework Organizer set from Darice. The kit is surprisingly inexpensive, and it comes with 100 paper bobbins to wind your floss, along with a handy floss winder. A pin cushion can also be helpful, as can a pouch or tin for extra supplies.
Magnetic chart holder: If there’s room in the budget, I recommend picking up a magnetic chart holder board. DMC has a large version available that will accommodate most patterns.
Magnifying Lamp: Many crafters utilize magnifiers to ease eye strain, and I’m certainly no exception. I recommend the Brightech LightView Pro Flex. It attaches to a table or desk with its sturdy built-in clamp, and it swivels and bends with ease, so you can adapt it to fit your needs.
Needle Minder: Although I’m listing this under optional items, I highly recommend picking up a needle minder. This magnetic tool will hold your needles and keep them from winding up in unwanted places, such as the floor. Ouch! Many needle minders (also known as needle nannies) are decorative and look beautiful attached to your project. You can also find brooch and bracelet needle minder options.
Note: Most basic embroidery items can be found at your local craft store. For specialty items and splurges, I recommend checking out Etsy. If you ever get the opportunity to visit a speciality needlework store, do it! You’re sure to leave with an extra dose of creative inspiration.
Embroidery Organization 101:
As I mentioned above, keeping your embroidery supplies organized is important. If your materials are in disarray, you’re less likely to pick up your projects.
Below, I’ve compiled my best organization tips to help you get organized and stay that way.
- Gather everything you need. I can’t stress how important it is to get organized before starting a project. If you’re starting with an embroidery kit, it will likely list all of the materials you’ll need. At a bare minimum, you’ll need the items mentioned above in the “Materials Needed” section, including floss, a needle, scissors, and fabric.
- Wind your floss. Some crafters find winding floss tedious, but it’s a necessary step in the organization process. I prefer to wind my floss onto plastic or cardboard bobbins for easy storage. Plastic bobbins tend to last longer, though the cardboard variety is easier to write on. It’s important to note that you’ll need to be able to identify your floss by its number.
- Some folks prefer to lace their floss through an embroidery thread holder project card. It may take some trial and error before you find the floss storage method that’s right for you.
- You don’t have to spend a lot of money on fancy storage solutions. For a budget-friendly option, store each color of embroidery floss in separate sealable sandwich bags.
- Prepare an on-the-go project. Whether you have an upcoming vacation, or you spend hours each week at sporting events or waiting at doctor’s appointments, embroidery is an excellent on-the-go activity. I always have a bag prepared with the essentials, and I take it everywhere I go. See-through mesh storage bags are an excellent way to organize embroidery materials, and best of all, you can see each item easily through the material. Once you’ve gathered everything you need, stow it all in a project bag or a tote for those grab-and-go occasions.
Before you venture into your first embroidery project, let’s cover the basics. Below are tips and resources to help you choose and thread your needle, mount your fabric, and form an away knot.
Choosing an embroidery needle: There are many types of embroidery needles on the market, and you’ll want to choose the right type and size for your current project. The following video explains how many strands of floss you should use depending on the project you choose. The video also highlights four popular types of needles: crewel, chenille, tapestry, and straw.
Mounting the fabric: Learning to use an embroidery hoop and mount your fabric is super simple. The following video gives easy to follow step-by-step instructions, including how to tighten the hoop and pull the fabric taut.
Threading an embroidery needle: To start, use your embroidery scissors to cut the end of your embroidery floss to ensure you have a clean edge. Pinch the floss with your thumb and forefinger, and thread the floss through the eye of the needle and pull the floss through.
Note: Some crafters opt to wrap the end of the floss with scotch tape. This technique, along with a tutorial on starting your project, is demonstrated in the following video. You’ll also learn how to finish a project, which is surprisingly simple!
Now that you know how to thread your needle and start your work, let’s go over the basic stitches. If you’re anything like me, you learn best with visual demonstration.
The following video covers the most popular stitches—10 to be exact. These include the running stitch, backstitch, split stitch, stem stitch, French knots, chain stitch, feather stitch, satin stitch, lazy daisy, and seed stitch. While you may not need to know all of these stitches right off the bat, this video is an invaluable resource I come back to time and again.
There are endless options when it comes to embroidery patterns. When you’re starting out, it’s important to choose a pattern that’s suitable for beginners. Complex patterns can be discouraging for embroidery newcomers, so stick with simple patterns to start.
The Spruce Crafts offers 10 beginner embroidery patterns that are completely free! Choose from an adorable sausage dog pattern, a stem stitch butterfly, a strawberry pincushion, or an embroidered pillow, among others.
The DIY & Crafts website also offers a wide variety of patterns suitable for beginners, including a heart sampler (perfect for learning multiple stitches), a vegetable garden sampler, a fun fall leaf pattern, and a gift-worthy personalized drink sleeve pattern.
Kits for Beginners
If you’re keen to start embroidering right away, I’d recommend picking up a kit. Included you’ll find fabric, floss, needles, a hoop, and pattern pieces, along with step-by-step instructions.
One of my all-time favorite pattern kits is from Purl Soho, a knitting and craft store based in New York City. Their Beginner Sampler Kit allows you to create a beautiful, modern wall hanging. It comes with absolutely everything you need to get started, from the basics listed above to bobbin cards, a water-soluble fabric marker, and a dowel for hanging.
I’m also a fan of the Spring Wreath Embroidery Kit with Video Tutorial from Namaste Embroidery. Choose from the traditional or double hoop versions, and use the informational video to learn everything you need to know to complete this gorgeous pattern!
Classes for Embroidery Beginners
If you want further instruction, check with your local craft or needlework store for upcoming classes, or ask an embroidery expert for one-on-one lessons.
Online classes are also available. Craftsy is a great resource, offering beginner hand embroidery classes, as well as classes for machine embroidery beginners.
Common Mistakes: Embroidery Blunders to Avoid
Wouldn’t it be nice if we could snap our fingers and become an instant embroidery pro? Unfortunately, most new embroiderers (and even seasoned experts) make mistakes, myself included.
I’d like to help you avoid some preventable embroidery mistakes, so I’ve compiled a list of five common errors many of us have made:
- Hooping too loosely or too tightly: When you place the fabric inside the hoop, make sure you pull it taut. Failing to do this can result in misplaced stitches and holes. Hooping too tightly can lead to unwanted puckering. (Refer to the tutorial on mounting a hoop highlighted above in “The Basics” section.)
- Not reading through a pattern: If you’re following instructions line by line, I urge you to read ahead. It might seem counterproductive, but reading through the entire pattern before beginning a project will save you lots of time (and your sanity!).
- Not checking the back of your work: Sure, the front of your work is most important, but completely ignoring the backside may lead to a less than impressive finished project, as mistakes can sometimes show through.
- Powering through poor lighting: A lot of crafters ignore the need for better light. If you’re straining to see each stitch, invest in a magnifying lamp. My lamp of choice is the Brightech LightView Pro Flex, which features a bendable neck that’s perfect for crafters.
- Ignoring tension: Although you’ll settle into a rhythm with time and practice, you’ll need to pay close attention to each and every stitch when you start embroidering. Be careful not to pull the stitches too tightly, but also avoid not pulling them taut enough. There’s a learning curve here, so don’t get discouraged. Trial and error is to be expected for embroidery newbies.
Beyond Hand Embroidery: The Basics of Embroidery Machines
Thanks to advances in technology, embroidering on a machine is now possible. If you’re looking to delve into the wonderful world of machine embroidery, let me give you a few pointers:
- Choose the right machine. Not all embroidery machines are created equal. You’ll need to consider your skill level and budget, along with available space and the products you wish to create. Some sewing machines can easily be converted into embroidery machines. Weigh your options carefully, read reviews, and ask seasoned stitchers for recommendations.
- Get acquainted with machine embroidery. Tutorials are your friend! I recommend the Absolute Beginner Machine Embroidery series by Quilt Videos on YouTube.
- Don’t stress. Beginning a new crafty pursuit can be nerve-wracking. View machine embroidery as an adventure rather than a craft to master. Enjoy the learning process, and don’t be too hard on yourself.
- Choose a beginner project. As you gain experience, you can move onto complex projects. In the beginning, I recommend choosing projects that are relatively easy and don’t take ages to complete.
- Test on scrap fabric. Before you begin embroidering on a machine, test the stitches you’ll be using on scrap fabric. Make sure the test fabric is similar to the fabric you’ll be stitching your project on.
The Finishing Touch: What to Do with Finished Embroidery Projects
You’ve finished your first embroidery project. Congratulations! But now what? There are countless ways to display your finished projects. Here are just a few:
- Display your project in an embroidery hoop or frame.
- Sew your finished piece onto a pillow, quilt, or tea towel.
- Add the finished work to a garment.
- Spruce up plain sheets or pillow cases.
- Transform your work into a gift. Any of the items mentioned above make excellent gifts. You can also create mug rugs and tote bags with your embroidery projects, all of which are gift-worthy.
Connect with Other Crafters
Now that you’ve officially taken a dive down the embroidery rabbit hole, it’s time to connect with fellow crafters! If there’s a needlework shop in your area, check to see if there are clubs, classes, or upcoming meet-ups.
If you don’t have a local needlework shop or meet-up, no worries! The online crafting community is booming. The vast majority of crafty folks with an online presence are warm and welcoming. Instagram is a wonderful place to connect with fellow needlework fans and to find endless inspiration. I recommend checking out the following hashtags on social media.
Warning: The following hashtags may lead to hours of scrolling and a trip to your local craft store!
In addition to Instagram, there are many groups on Facebook dedicated to hand and machine embroidery. Many friendships have been built thanks to these groups. You can connect with fellow crafters across the globe, ask for tips and advice, and share your projects.
If you need further inspiration, there are many excellent educational, inspiring, and downright fun needlework podcasts on YouTube. Arne and Carlos are a talented designer duo who enjoy multiple crafty pursuits and love sharing their crafts with viewers.
Sherry Iris, who hosts the Stitchy Podcast, creates beautiful embroidery projects. She also enjoys knitting, crochet, and sewing, so prepare to be seriously inspired!
A Final Note on Embroidery
I hope this beginner’s guide gives you the information, inspiration, and confidence you need to begin your embroidery journey. As you continue to learn, don’t be afraid to reach out for help. As you become acquainted with the craft, I encourage you to share your knowledge!
Embroidery is a versatile craft that people of all ages can learn and enjoy. Choose projects that you love, and strive for a fun experience instead of a perfectly stitched project.
From one embroidery lover to another, happy crafting!