Learn how to embroider by hand

Have you ever wondered how to embroider?

Marveled at the intricate designs adorning traditional garments or have been captivated by the delicate beauty of textile artwork? If this is the case, then you're in for a treat. This ancient art form has been practiced for centuries, and it continues to delight and inspire people in the modern world.

Embroidery is the art of decorating fabric with needle and thread, creating stunning designs that can range from simple and elegant to complex and highly detailed.

It is a versatile craft that allows you to unleash your creativity and create unique pieces of art. Whether you want to embellish your clothing, personalize gifts, or simply enjoy the meditative process of stitching, embroidery offers endless possibilities.

In this section of the site, we will take you on a journey, from a novice to an expert embroiderer

We will explore different types of stitches, materials and tools you'll need, and tips and tricks to help you master this beautiful craft. By the end of this guide, you'll have the knowledge and skills to create your own masterpieces.

Essential Materials and Tools

To get started learning how to embroider by hand, you'll need a few essential materials and tools. I will go into more detail on these on separate linked pages but the list below will give you a general idea of what you'll need.


When it comes to choosing the right fabric for your needlework, there are a few things to consider. If you're into counted thread work, like cross-stitch, you'll want a fabric with the same number of threads both vertically and horizontally. Aida is the go-to fabric for this, but if you're feeling adventurous, there are plenty of other options out there.

If you're more into freestyle techniques, the world is your oyster! You can let your creativity run wild and experiment with different fabrics. However, some fabrics can be a bit tricky to work with. Translucent fabrics, like organza, can add a beautiful ethereal touch to your embroidery, but they require a delicate touch. Stretchy fabrics, like jersey, can be a bit challenging to keep taut and even. And slippery fabrics, like satin, can be frustrating to work with.

If you're just starting out or want to play it safe, there are some tried and true fabrics that are beginner-friendly. Cotton and poly cotton fabrics are great choices, as they're easy to work with and come in a wide range of colors and patterns. And if you're feeling cozy and want to add some texture to your embroidery, why not give woollen cloths a try?

Remember, the fabric you choose can greatly impact the final look and feel of your needlework. So think carefully before making a selection.

Embroidery hoop

A hoop is a circular frame that holds the fabric taut while you stitch. It comes in different sizes, so choose one that suits the size of your project.

Hoops are typically made of wood or plastic and consist of an inner and outer ring that can be tightened or loosened to secure the fabric.

I have written a whole page on these necessary tools so rather than repeat myself here, hop on over to the page by clicking the link.


Embroidery needles have been known to confuse needleworkers as there are so many options! These little tools are specially crafted with a sharp point and a larger eye, allowing them to effortlessly glide through fabric and accommodate embroidery floss like a dream.

You've got crewel needles, perfect for working with wool or other thicker threads, and then there's straw needles, ideal for creating beautiful bullion knots, along with many others

You want to make sure you're using a needle that's just right for both your fabric and thread. Using a needle that's too small can cause frustration when threading it, while using a needle that's too big might result in visible holes or uneven stitches.

So, take a moment to assess the options and find the perfect one. I've got a dedicated page full of information on needles just waiting for you to explore.

Embroidery Floss and Other Fibres

Embroidery floss is a thread made of six individual strands that can be separated and used according to the desired thickness.

It comes in a wide range of colours and can be made of cotton, silk, or synthetic materials.

If you are designing your own work you can choose whatever appeals.

Commercial patterns and kits will specify the threads that the designer used when creating them. Following their recommendations when you are learning is wise, but there is nothing to stop you from experimenting once you have a little more knowledge.

Embroidery Scissors

Embroidery scissors are an absolute must-have for any needleworker. They are specially designed with a fine, pointed tip that allows for precise and accurate cutting of threads. With these scissors, you have better control and maneuverability, making it easier to navigate tight spaces and make small, precise cuts with ease. This is especially important when working on intricate patterns or trimming threads in hard-to-reach areas.

Dull scissors can be a nightmare for any embroiderer. They can cause frayed edges or uneven cuts, which can detract from the neatness and professionalism of your finished piece.

Whether you're a seasoned embroiderer or just starting out, investing in a good pair of embroidery scissors is crucial. They will make your stitching experience more enjoyable and your finished pieces more polished. Your needlework will thank you for it!

Getting Started

If you're new to embroidery, don't worry! The basic steps to start embroidering are simple and easy to follow.

french knot embroidery

Choose a design or pattern

Select a design or pattern that you want to stitch. You can find countless patterns online, in books, or even create your own. Start with simple designs if you're a beginner, and gradually challenge yourself with more complex patterns as you gain confidence.

I have some free designs that you might like to try.

Prepare your fabric

Next, choose your fabric. Cut it larger than your design to allow for mounting or making up into your finished item.

Make sure to wash and iron it before starting, to remove any wrinkles or dirt that could detract from your stitching.


Transfer the design onto your fabric

There are a few different methods you can use to do this.

One popular method is using transfer paper. This is a simple and effective way to transfer your design onto fabric. Start by printing or drawing your design on a piece of transfer paper. Place this face down on your fabric, and the design on top, facing up. Secure the paper in place with tape or pins. Now, use a pencil or a stylus to trace over the design, applying firm pressure. When you remove the transfer paper, you'll find a faint outline of your design on the fabric. From there, you can start stitching!

Another method is tracing. This is a classic technique that has been used for centuries. To trace your design, you'll need a light source, such as a lightbox or a sunny window. Place your design on top of the light source, and secure your fabric on top of it. The light will shine through the design, allowing you to trace the lines onto the fabric with a pencil or a washable fabric marker. This method gives you more control over the final look of your design, as you can adjust and refine the lines as you trace.

If you're looking for a quick and easy option, iron-on transfers might be the way to go. These transfers are pre-printed designs that can be ironed onto fabric. Simply place the transfer face down on your fabric, and apply heat with an iron. The design will transfer. Keep in mind that the transfer lines may be permanent, so you will want to cover them all when stitching.

Select your embroidery hoop

Choose a hoop that is slightly larger than your design and make sure it's clean and free from any rough edges that could damage your fabric. 

Mount your fabric in the hoop

Place your fabric over the smaller hoop, making sure it's centered and taut. Then, press the larger hoop down over the fabric, securing it in place. Tighten the screw or fastening mechanism on the hoop to hold everything in place. Make sure the fabric is stretched evenly, without any wrinkles or folds.

Start with simple projects to gain confidence. Record your accomplishments. And never underestimate the pride you'll feel when you want to show off what you've accomplished.

Basic embroidery stitches

The most exciting aspect of this craft is the wide range of stitches that can be used to create stunning designs. From simple stitches like the running stitch, to more complex stitches like the French knot and feather stitch, there is a stitch for every design and every creative vision.

Check out my basic embroidery stitches page which links to instruction pages for many of them. 

If you're a beginner struggling to identify and name embroidery stitches, I have the perfect solution for you!

The links below will take you to pages filled with ideas on which stitches to use for different design elements. Not only will these pages inspire you, but they'll also help you learn and understand the names of various stitches. By exploring these resources, you'll expand your knowledge and vocabulary, making it a breeze to follow patterns and create your own unique designs.

Common problems and troubleshooting

Embroidery can be a fun and rewarding hobby, but it can also be frustrating when things don't go as planned. Here are some troubleshooting tips for common embroidery challenges.

Tangled threads

Thread tangling can be a real headache when you're in the middle of a stitching project. It's frustrating and time-consuming to have to stop and fix it. But fear not! There are ways to prevent thread tangling and make your embroidery experience much smoother.

One of the main reasons thread tangles is because of using the wrong type of thread. Different threads have different properties, such as thickness, texture, and strength. Choosing a thread that matches your fabric will help prevent tangling and give your work a neater look.

For example, rayon threads are notoriously slippery and tangling easily, so it's best to avoid them if you're a beginner.

Another factor that contributes to tangling is the length of the thread. Working with long lengths of thread increases the chances of it becoming twisted and knotted. Using shorter lengths will make it easier to handle and manage your thread. A length of 12 to 15 inches is ideal.

Using a thread conditioner can help prevent tangling and make your thread easier to work with. Thread conditioners are products that are applied to the thread before stitching to reduce friction and static electricity, which can cause tangling. They can also make the thread smoother and more pliable, making it easier to pass through the fabric.

But what if your thread still manages to tangle? Don't panic! There's a simple trick you can try. Drop the needle and let the thread hang freely. By doing this, the thread will have a chance to untwist on its own. This technique can make it much easier to work with the thread.

So, remember, choosing the right thread, using shorter lengths, and letting it hang when needed are all key strategies to prevent thread tangling.


Puckering is a common problem in hand embroidery where the fabric bunches up and distorts the design. Here are some tips and tricks to help prevent this from happening so you can achieve that professional finish you've been dreaming of.

First things first, let's talk about fabric. Choosing the right fabric for your embroidery project is absolutely crucial. You want to pick a fabric that is compatible with the technique you're using.

For detailed embroidery, like intricate floral motifs or delicate lettering, opt for tightly woven fabrics like linen or cotton. These fabrics provide a solid foundation for your stitches and minimize the risk of puckering.

On the other hand, if you're doing pulled work or other techniques that require a bit of manipulation and tension, loosely woven fabrics like muslin are your best bet. The looser weave allows for more flexibility and movement.

Using a hoop or frame can help prevent puckering by keeping the fabric taut while you're stitching. This can prevent the fabric from shifting or bunching up. Working in a hoop or frame can also help you maintain the correct tension while stitching.

Finding the perfect tension is an art that takes practice.

Think of it as a delicate balance. You want your stitches to be secure and neat, but not so tight that they distort the fabric. It's all about finding that sweet spot where your stitches lay flat and smooth, creating a beautiful, even surface.

But here's a little secret: even experienced embroiderers sometimes struggle with tension. It's a constant learning process, and that's okay! Embrace the journey of trial and error. Experiment with different thread weights, needle sizes, and fabric types to find what works best for you.

Remember, stitches that are too loose can cause their own set of problems. Imagine your carefully crafted embroidery catching on things and unraveling. Yikes! That's why finding that balance is important.

Embrace the challenge, learn from your mistakes, and celebrate your victories. With practice and determination, you'll soon master the art of achieving the perfect tension in your hand embroidery.

What Other Visitors Have Said

Click below to see contributions from other visitors to this page...

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