learn hand embroidery

Want to learn hand embroidery, but aren't sure where to start? Feeling overwhelmed trying to teach yourself through Google searches and social media? Great news - I'm here to help, and I'd be honored to be one of your teachers!

How should you use this page?

This page is meant to be a one-stop shop for all of my best tips, tricks, and advice. Simply scroll to the topic you’d like to learn more about, and you’ll find links to blog posts where I’ve discussed the topic in detail, tutorials for specific techniques and stitches, and links to relevant products. My hope is that this page will serve as a well organized, easy to navigate, “living document” (meaning, I plan to continue to update it fairly frequently!). 

What if something’s missing?

 

If something that would be helpful to you is missing from this page, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me directly via email. I am always happy to help, and happy to add to my ongoing list of “things to cover” on this page and in the blog.

I'll be adding various topics to this page in the coming days; if you prefer not to wait on a specific topic, you'll find I've covered loads of things on the blog (you can use the search bar at the top of the page to find specific posts).

Embroidery Supplies + Essential Techniques

What supplies you do you need for hand embroidery, where can you find them, and how do you use them? The posts below will help you to get started, whether you're somewhat familiar with the craft, or a total a complete beginner. Whatever stage you're at, I'm here to help you figure things out!

  • Essential supplies for hand embroidery: What are the supplies that you absolutely need to get started in hand embroidery? In this post, I provide you with just the essentials (needle, fabric, hoop, floss, scissors), and where to find them. I believe focusing on gathering just the essential supplies makes hand embroidery a relatively financially accessible craft to get into, and can prevent you from feeling overwhelmed by the process.

  • Optional supplies for hand embroidery: Once you've gathered the essential supplies and stitched a few projects, you might be interested in gathering a few "optional" supplies for hand embroidery. Optional supplies aren't necessary, but can make the process a bit easier or fun! In this post, I discuss a few of the optional supplies I use the most frequently in my own work.​​

  • How to use an embroidery hoop: I do most of my hand embroidery work within circular embroidery hoops made of bamboo or wood; in this post, I show you how to use an embroidery hoop with written, photo, and video instruction.

  • What kind of fabric should you use for hand embroidery?: This is, by far, one of the most common questions I get! I understand the frustration, as this question absolutely held me up when I was first getting started in hand embroidery! In this post, I tell you all my best advice for choosing fabric for hand embroidery.

  • Tools for transferring your hand embroidery designs to fabric: This is a general introduction to different transfer methods in hand embroidery; the key thing to keep in mind as you transfer your designs to fabric is that your method may very well change from project to project. 

  • The "window method" for transferring designs to fabric: This method involves placing your pattern behind your fabric and tracing, using a light source such as a window on a sunny day (thus, the "window method"), or a lamp.

  • Transferring designs using white water-erasable pens: White water-erasable fabric pens are pens designed to be used on fabric, the marks of which can be erased with water. These are a great option for when you're working on a fabric that is fairly dark.

  • How to transfer an embroidery design to fabric using washable transfer paper: In this post, I tell you all about washable transfer paper, including what it is, where to get it, how to use it, and all my best tips and tricks for getting a great result.

  • How to separate strands of embroidery floss: If you look closely at a strand of embroidery floss, you'll see that it's actually made up of six separate strands. You can certainly stitch with all six strands (I do!), but what if you want a thinner line, or a pattern you're working from suggests using just one or two strands? In this post, I show you how to easily separate strands of embroidery floss with written, photo, and video instruction. 

  • How to finish an embroidery hoop with cardboard: This no-sew, no-glue method is my favorite way to back an embroidery hoop, and is so simple you'll wonder why you've never heard of it before!

  • How to back (or finish) an embroidery hoop with running stitch: This is another easy, beginner-friendly option for finishing your embroidery projects!  

  • How to choose an embroidery kit: A lot of people choose to get started in hand embroidery with the help of an embroidery kit, but how do you choose a kit that's a right fit for you? In this post, I take you through several considerations, as well as a few red flags to look out for as you shop.

Embroidery Stitches

I like to think of embroidery stitches as falling within several different overall categories, such as stitches to follow a curve, stitches for vines and foliage, stitches to fill in a space, and isolated stitches and embellishments. That said, you can absolutely get creative with how you use these different techniques! For example, you could use an isolated stitch as a filler stitch by placing many stitches next to each other until your space is filled. As another example, you could use stitches typically reserved for vines and foliage to follow more complex curves, such as hand lettering. The point is to get creative, and have fun!

I hope you find these tutorials (and their categorizations) helpful; if you're not sure where to start, and aren't interested in starting with a kit or pattern, you can always get a feel for hand embroidery stitches by practicing a few at a time on a single hoop - often referred to as a "sampler" project!

Stitches to Follow Lines and Curves

These stitches are typically used to follow curves, such as the curves in a line drawing, the outline of a filled shape, or the delicate twists and turns in hand lettering and calligraphy. I like to tell people, "if you can draw it, you can stitch it," meaning, you can use any of the stitches in this category to turn your doodles and illustrations into hand embroidered art!

  • Back stitch: Back stitch is possibly the most important stitch for a beginner to learn. This simple stitch is easy, versatile, and incredibly beginner-friendly.  

  • Running stitch: Running stitch is similar to back stitch in terms of its simplicity, ease, and versatility; this stitch produces small gaps that gives the impression of your floss "jumping" (or running) across your fabric.

  • Stem stitch: This simple stitch follows curves easily and produces an interesting rope-like, twisted effect.

  • Stem stitch versus outline stitch: Stem and outline stitch are essentially the same, depending on how you're holding your hoop! In this post, I go through a few of the key differences between the two, just in case you need a bit of help understanding which one is which.

  • Whipped back stitch: Whipped back stitch is a great way to take your normal back stitch to the next level, as it essentially "smoothes" out your lines of back stitching, resulting in a super sleek look to your work.

  • Split back stitch: Split back stitch has very similar steps to back stitch, making it beginner-friendly and versatile, but results in a more interesting texture as you follow your curved lines. 

  • Chain stitch: Chain stitch can be worked in two ways, which I demonstrate in this post, and produces a neat "chain like" texture. 

  • Twisted chain stitch: Twisted chain stitch is worked in a similar way to chain stitch, and produces a super unique texture; if you use this, you're sure to give your pieces a bit of interest!

  • Pekinese stitch: Pekinese stitch is a bit like a fancy version of whipped back stitch, and can produce an almost lace-like texture to your lines.

  • Couching: Couching allows you to stitch curves by "couching" one strand of embroidery floss down with another. You can also use this technique to incorporate bulkier materials into your hand embroidery, such as yarn, roving, or macrame cord!

Stitches for Vines and Foliage

Although you can create vines and foliage using all sorts of hand embroidery stitches (and combinations of different stitches), the stitches below are especially easy go-to options! These stitches can also easily follow a curve, such as the curve of a hand embroidered wreath

  • Fern stitch: Fern stitch is a simple way to create a vine-like border. This stitch is super beginner-friendly, using just straight and back stitches to create a fun effect.

  • Fly stitch: Fly stitch does look quite similar to its cousin, fern stitch, but produces a slightly different effect (and is arguably more fun to do!).

  • Feather stitch: Feather stitch can be thought of as a modification of fly stitch, producing "leaves" that are placed at alternating points on your line of stitching.

  • Thorn stitch: Thorn stitch is basically a fancy way to couch, and is most commonly used to create straight lines of vine-line stitching. In this post, however, I show you how this stitch can also be used to follow a curve - and it is so much fun!

  • Wheatear stitch: Wheatear stitch is such a fun way to create an interesting line of stitching by combining chain and fly stitching techniques. 

Stitches to Fill in a Space

Your options for filling in a space using hand embroidery stitches is essentially limitless. Why? Because nearly every stitch imaginable can be modified to use as a filling stitch! For example, although stem stitch is most often used to outline a shape, you can also use it to fill in a space by placing multiple lines of stem stitch just next to each other. 

In the posts below, I show you how to fill in spaces using various techniques that are sometimes broken down into "closed filling" techniques and "open filling" techniques. A "closed" technique is one in which you will completely cover your fabric with your floss; in contrast, an "open" technique is one in which you will be able to see some fabric through your stitching. 

Closed Filling Techniques

  • Satin stitch: Satin stitch might be the most popular modern technique for filling in a space in hand embroidery. It's relatively fast and beginner-friendly, though it does take some patience to get it "just right." Make sure you fabric is nice and tight when using satin stitch to fill in a space!

  • Split back stitch: Split back stitch is most often used to follow curves, but when multiple lines of stitching are combined to fill in a space, you'll find the resulting texture to be a unique addition to your projects!

  • Raised herringbone stitch: Raised herringbone stitch is most often used to fill in leaf and petal shapes, but could be easily modified to fill in all sorts of shapes in your projects. 

  • Fishbone stitch: Fishbone stitch, like raised herringbone stitch, is most often used to fill in leaf and petal shapes, but can be easily modified to fill in all sorts of other shapes as well. 

  • Turkey work: Turkey work is how we get soft, fuzzy fills in our hand embroidery. I love using this stitch for grass or moss, and many stitchers use this to create hair. 

  • Basket filling stitch: Basket filling stitch is a wonderful alternative to satin stitch, producing a texture that mimics woven-like techniques (but is arguably easier!).

  • Brick stitch (aka "long and short" stitch): Brick stitch also known as the "long and short" stitch, a great option for filling in a space; further, knowing how to execute this particular stitch is foundational to learning certain thread painting techniques. 

  • Ray stitch: Ray stitch is a technique most often used in crewel work that produces a beautiful, unique texture to your designs.

  • Crossed corners cushion stitch: Crossed corners cushion stitch, another technique most often used in crewel work, is unique in that it can be used as either a closed or open fill, depending on how you work the stitch.

Open Filling Techniques

  • Seed stitchSeed stitch (also known as rice stitch, confetti stitch, isolated back stitch, seed filling stitch, and speckling stitch, among many other names!) is an open fill technique in hand embroidery where you use simple back stitches to create a unique texture. You can easily modify this stitch, too!

  • Cloud filling stitch: Cloud filling stitch is a popular open fill technique in crewel work, produces a lattice-like design, and can be thought of as a combination of back stitch, cross stitch, and couching.

  • Sheaf stitch: Sheaf stitch is also a popular open fill technique in crewel work, and can also be worked as an isolated stitch.

  • Cross-stitch: Cross-stitch can be incorporated in hand embroidery as an open fill technique; in the second portion of this post, I show you how to work this stitch on non-cross-stitch fabric.

Isolated Stitches and Embellishments​

The hand embroidery stitches below are most often used on their own (i.e., as isolated stitches) to produce embellishments in your designs and projects. That said, much like the other categories of stitches, you can use these in all sorts of ways. French knots, for example, can be used to fill a space (for example, by creating easy French knot cluster flowers). Some of the stitches below, such as the pistil stitch and French knot, might be used as small embellishments, while others, such as woven wheel roses and thistle flowers, might take a more prominent role in your designs. 

  • Straight stitch: Straight stitch forms the foundation for so many other stitches (such as back, seed, and satin stitches), and can also be used alone, as an isolated embellishment.

  • Cross-stitch: Individual cross-stitches can be used in hand embroidery to create embellishments in your work; I show you how to do this stitch as an embellishment in the first portion of this post.

  • Double cross stitch: Double cross stitch, a simple variation on the classic single cross stitch, is a super easy way to create easily modifiable embellishments in your work! 

  • Woven wheel rosebuds: Woven wheel rosebuds combine straight stitch with simple weaving to create small, rosebud-like designs.

  • Woven wheel roses: Woven wheel roses, like woven wheel rosebuds, combine straight stitch with simple weaving; the "roses," however, use a few more base stitches to create a slightly different effect.

  • Thistle flowers: Thistle flowers are a fun, dimensional way to stitch a flower; there are so many ways to execute this particular flower, and in this post I show you how I go about creating them! 

  • Detached chain stitch: Detached chain stitches are created using a similar technique as chain and reverse chain stitches, though in this case you'll have isolated stitches (rather than a line of stitching). I love using this stitch for petals, leaves, and foliage. In this post, I show you how to do the detached chain stitch, along with different ways of modifying it to fit your aesthetic needs. 

  • French knots: Don't be scared of the French knot! In this post, I've provided eight steps for perfect French knots - no, nothing is perfect in embroidery, but this will get you pretty close!

  • French knots for left-handed stitchers: For this post, I've "translated" the original French knot tutorial into easier-to-understand instructions for left-handed stitchers by flipping my camera for the photo and video portions of the instructions; I hope it's helpful to you if you're left-handed and struggling with this stitch!

  • Pistil stitch: Pistil stitch is essentially a modified version of the French knot that produces a knot with a "tail," of sorts. Some new stitchers find this a bit easier to learn than the French knot itself, so definitely give it a try!

  • Picot stitch: Picot stitch is a three-dimensional stitch that can be used to create all sorts of shapes and designs. You'll use a sewing pin (pins with the small round "heads" at the top) to help you weave your embroidery floss into a fun shape that can be incorporated in all sorts of designs.

Specific Hand Embroidery Techniques and Projects

Below are a few more specific hand embroidery techniques and projects for you to consider trying as you learn hand embroidery. These are the sorts of tutorials I looked for when I was starting out, and I hope they're helpful to you! You could also give one of my hand embroidery kits a try, or a pattern (if you already have plenty of your own supplies). 

  • Using brick stitch to blend different colors of floss: Brick stitch, also known as the long and short stitch, can be used to blend different colors of floss when filling in a space. I'm no thread painter, but this basic introduction to go from one color to another using the long and short stitch will hopefully be helpful to you (even if your eventual goal is to get much, much better than me!).

  • Gentle blending for hand embroidery: The gentle blending technique is meant to be an easy, beginner-friendly way to blend different shades of the same color. Again, I'm no thread painter, but I often find that using this technique helps me to gently blend colors of embroidery floss, leaving me with a softer, more interesting color story. 

  • How to turn hand lettering into hand embroidery: If you're a hand letterer or calligrapher, you already have the design skills necessary to create beautiful embroidered work. In this post, I go over a few basic tips and tricks doing it effectively. 

  • How to stitch a simple hand embroidered wreath: Simple hand embroidered wreaths make for quick projects, requiring just five easy steps. In this "choose your own adventure" inspired tutorial, I take you through how I create and stitch up simple wreaths for all sorts of occasions and in all sorts of colors.

  • Detached chain stitch flowers: If you can do the detached chain stitch, you can stitch these simple detached chain stitch flowers! This quick, beginner-friendly project will leave you feeling more confident in your ability to create something beautiful!

  • French knot cluster flowers: French knots can be used to fill in spaces, like the simple circles used to create the French knot cluster flowers in this tutorial. This project is great for building the skills you might encounter in loads of different patterns and designs. 

  • Three-step embroidered flowers: These simple embroidered flowers use just three stitches (satin stitch, straight stitch, and French knots). And when you see the "design" used to create them, you'll see that you really do not have to be good at "drawing" per se to create hand embroidered art!

  • How to stitch a French knot burst hoop: French knot burst hoops were one of my favorite things to make when I was first learning embroidery; they're such a fun way to play with color, make for easy gifts, and are a great chance to perfect your French knots!

  • How to hand embroider a rainbow using scrap materials: If you're anything like me, you accumulate a lot of scrap materials from craft projects. In this tutorial, I show you how to turn those scraps into hand embroidered rainbows!

  • How to hand embroider simple butterflies using detached chain and straight stitches: In this post, I show you how to create a simple hand embroidered butterfly using just two simple stitches. You could fill an entire hoop with these butterflies, or use them as simple embellishments in other projects!

Troubleshooting

Many of the posts above include troubleshooting tips here and there, but in the posts below I specifically tackle issues around what to do if you mess up, and how to know if you're on the right track with your projects.

  • Can you remove your embroidery stitches and start over?: The quick answer to this question is YES, absolutely! In this post, I take you through how to remove your stitches, should it come to that!

  • Why does your hand embroidery look bad?: This is one of my most visited blog posts, where I take you through five questions to consider when your hand embroidery just doesn't look "right."

  • What to do with leftover bits of embroidery floss: What do you do with the little bits of embroidery floss you snip off as you stitch? In this post, I provide you with a few different ideas for what to do with your "ORTs" ("old ratty threads") that don't involve contributing to textile waste or hurting your neighborhood birds.