Welcome to my hand embroidery starter guide, where I attempt to introduce you to everything you need to know to start learning how to stitch. I'll take you through essential and optional supplies, guides and sources of inspiration, taking photos of your work, and more! Should you have any questions or suggestions for future edits to this page, please don't hesitate to reach out to me via my contact page!
P.S. None of the links on this page are affiliate links. If I link to a supplier that isn't me, I'm linking to them because I've used and love their products.
I'll be starting by describing a few essential supplies, including embroidery hoops, needles, fabric, floss, and scissors. This is where you'll want to start if you are totally new because I'll be covering the absolute essentials - you don't need to worry about the optional supplies just yet, trust me! Each section will describe a few decisions you'll need to make along the way, along with suggestions on where to find everything.
The most common types of embroidery hoops you'll be able to find these days are made of wood, bamboo, or plastic. Metal hoops are also a thing, but harder to come by - if you see a vintage metal embroidery hoop at a garage sale, grab it!
Every stitcher has their own preference on what type of hoop they like to use. My first hoop was plastic and I was not a fan, but many of my friends absolutely love stitching in them. If you're brand new and able to try all three types of hoops, I definitely recommend doing so! This way, you can make a decision for yourself regarding what works best for you!
What size should you start out with? If you're working with a particular pattern and the pattern maker recommends a certain size, you can certainly start there! If you're not working with a particular pattern and you're not sure where to start, I recommend starting small (3 and 4 inch hoops are great to start with!). I wrote about the magic of starting small on my blog.
To find embroidery hoops, you'll want to Google for "(the type of hoop you're looking for, i.e., 'wooden,' 'bamboo,' or 'plastic') + (the size you're looking for, e.g., 3 or 4 inch) + embroidery hoop." Here's a tip: if you're purchasing wooden or bamboo hoops, you'll save a lot of money if you go ahead and admit to yourself that you're going to end up making more than one project. Adding search terms such as "bulk" or "wholesale," versus searching for just one hoop, will typically save you some money.
*For many craft sites, just 6-12 hoops is considered "bulk" or "wholesale."
Determining which type of needle you should use is confusing and, I think, holds up a lot of potentially amazing stitchers. It absolutely held me up, at first! Are there needle guides on other websites for which size and type you should use for a particular stitch? Yes. Do I find those guides to be incredibly confusing, even though this is literally my job now? Also, yes.
This is why I hold onto an incredibly unpopular opinion that, in general, it really doesn't matter what type of embroidery needle you use! The key thing to remember about this work is that you're going to develop your own preferences over time.
Because every stitcher I know has a different preference, I recommend that you look for an embroidery needle multi-pack. These come with needles in a variety of sizes, and you'll get a good feel for what type of needle you like best. If you're unable to go to your local craft store, click here for a nice assortment in one handy pack.
Once upon a time, some troll on Instagram went around to all of our accounts to let us know that we were using the wrong fabric for embroidery, that only "proper" fabric used by the "masters" was permissible, and that all our work would end up in garage sales* because we had no idea what we were doing. Oh, and the best place to buy that fabric? Was her website. Obviously, she was wrong - and just like I've said about hoops and needles, just like I'll say about all sorts of things in embroidery, there really isn't a right or wrong option when it comes to fabric.
For embroidery, I do recommend that beginners start by finding a non-stretchy fabric to start stitching. You can absolutely stitch on stretchy materials, such as t-shirts or sweatpants, but it's a bit harder and I don't want you to get too discouraged when you're first starting out. A non-stretch fabric is going to be easier to get into your hoop and to work with versus a stretch fabric.
Examples of non-stretch fabric to try include tightly woven cotton, linen and linen blends (e.g., some linen is blended with cotton or other materials), and even non-stretch denim. You can find these sorts of fabrics online by Googling for them, or you can take a look around your house and see what you might have available for deconstructing and turning into embroidery projects. For example, my first embroidery projects were stitched with fabric I salvaged from an old cloth shower curtain.
Please don't wait until you've found the "perfect" fabric to stitch - you won't know if that fabric is perfect for you until you try it out.
*P.S. Who cares if your work ends up in a garage sale, anyway? Who wouldn't absolutely LOVE to find a beautiful piece of embroidery at a garage sale and give it a new home? A craftsplaining snob, that's who. Don't worry about your work ending up in a garage sale, at least that would mean it wasn't thrown in the garbage!
I recommend starting out with standard, six-stranded embroidery floss. If you're able to get to a store, the most common brand you'll find is DMC. Other brands to consider purchasing, though they are harder to find in U.S. craft stores, include Sublime Stitching, Cosmo, and Anchor brands. For Googling purposes, you'll want to search for "(brand name here) + six stranded cotton embroidery floss." If you're super not sure this is going to be your new favorite hobby, you can also search for "friendship bracelet floss," which will show you results for a few super cheap options. I stitch with all sorts of brands, and have been known to break out the "friendship bracelet" floss from time to time.
Every stitcher is different. Some stitchers prefer a certain feel to their floss (e.g., some prefer a silkier feel to their floss), others are more interested in colors (e.g., I'll use cheap floss if it's just the right color and I'm having a hard time finding a match with a nicer brand). Just like there's no right or wrong answer to which hoops, needles, or fabric you use, there's no right or wrong answer to which floss you should use, either.
Use the scissors you've already got at your house until you're ready to move onto fancier things, like fabric scissors (very sharp! do NOT use on paper!), embroidery scissors (petite and sharp enough to cut your hair but do NOT cut your hair with them - unless you're desperate!), or pinking shears (which leave a scalloped edge to your fabric to theoretically prevent the fabric from fraying). I waited quite a while before ever getting fabric or embroidery scissors, let alone pinking shears, so trust me: fancy scissors are NOT necessary. They make things easier and they're cute, but don't let it hold you back if all you've got are the scissors in your junk drawer.