Embroidery 101

Find out all the basics to get started with hand embroidery

Embroidery is enjoying somewhat of a surge of popularity of late. This delicate handicraft produces beautiful pieces that populate our social media timelines. It’s an eminently portable and inexpensive craft that you can pick up easily and adapt it to your own expertise and artistic flair.

For this guide to embroidery we spoke with self-taught Angela Snape, who creates a wide range of nature-inspired embroidery pieces under the name Cover Story. We hope the guide will provide inspiration to those considering taking up embroidery and give an insight into what’s needed to get started.

What’s the basic hand embroidery kit?

The good news is that you don’t need a lot to get started. You will need fabric, embroidery thread, needles, an embroidery hoop and sharp scissors.

A pencil or water soluble pen is also useful for drawing out your design.

What’s the best fabric to use?

The best fabric to use can vary from project to project. For surface embroidery, though, a natural fabric such as linen or cotton is often best. Natural fibres are gentler on the embroidery thread. However, Angela says it’s also great to just experiment. When she first started to embroider she stitched on anything to hand. This is a good way to learn for yourself what works and what doesn’t.

What thread works best?

There are a variety of threads out there, but a straightforward, good quality embroidery floss (such as Anchor or DMC) will always give good results. In general, threads are inexpensive and readily available at craft stores and haberdasheries as well as online. They also come in a wonderful range of colours.

Can you use a regular sewing needle for hand embroidery?

It’s always better to use the proper needles for the job, but even now Angela says she will use a normal sewing needle if it suits what she’s doing. The key is to make sure whatever needle you use is sharp enough to easily pierce the fabric and that it will make a hole big enough for you to pull the embroidery thread through smoothly. Embroidery needles are easy to purchase at craft stores or in the craft departments of shops.

Are there any special tools used that make things easier?

There are items available (apart from the basics) that can make your embroidering experience easier and more enjoyable – but they’re not essential. For example, floss bobbins can help to organise your threads and keep them tidy and a needle threader can be really useful. A stitch unpicker is a great little tool to have too. Angela told us she simply wouldn’t be without her magnifying desk lamp, which helps her when she’s working on smaller designs and is essential for when the light isn’t very good.

Is a hoop necessary for embroidery?

There will be times when a hoop isn’t practical to use, but in general, using a hoop can make a big difference to how your work turns out. It keeps the fabric taut so that you don’t get any puckering and can make stitching a piece of work much more enjoyable. Embroidery hoops are relatively inexpensive and come in a wide range of sizes. They can also work as a frame for your final piece and look well in a group hanging on your wall.

How is a design transferred or drawn onto the fabric?

A simple design can just be drawn free-hand onto the fabric with an HB pencil or fabric marker (one that vanishes after a few hours). Angela traces her designs onto tracing paper (or greaseproof paper from the kitchen!), then tapes this to a window and tapes her fabric securely over it. The light from the window enables her to transfer the design in pencil onto my fabric. You can buy light boxes to do the same job. It’s also possible to buy pre-printed designs that can be transferred onto fabric with the heat of an iron.

What are the different types of embroidery stitches?

There are a huge variety of embroidery stitches that are used for different elements such as outlines and filling. Basic stitches include back stitch, French knots, stem stitch, feather stitch, chain stitch, lazy daisy and seed stitch. Sites like Pinterest and YouTube are great for learning the basics, and one of Angela’s favourite websites is Mary Corbet’s ‘Needle ‘n Thread‘.

We found this comprehensive video tutorial from HandiWorks on YouTube that gives you clear demonstrations of 10 basic embroidery stitches.