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Weekend Craft: Learn How to Embroider

Why embroidery?

I love embroidery, and could talk about it all day long. Sometimes I see embroidery in the clouds and plants, and even in people's faces. But in 2011, when I first started embroidering, I did not know that I would fall in love with it, nor did I know it would turn into a business. 

I've always been a dabbler of many crafts. When I first learn a new craft, I get really into it, and then put it down, vowing to pick it up again. This type of crafting can gets very expensive, and can also take up a lot of valuable closet space. This is not true of embroidery. It is cheap. You can probably find everything you'll need to start at a garage sale or thrift shop for under $20. You can start and abandon projects at will. You can also travel with an embroidery project, just remember to keep a close eye on those needles. A misplaced needle tends to make people nervous, and angry when sat on. 

Back to the beginning of my embroidery education. I went to my local craft boutique in search of a new craft project, and ended up in the book section. I bought a couple of books for beginners, and a few supplies. These books were my favorite by Jenny Hart and Lisa Solomon, 2 very inspiring embroideresses. 

my favorite beginner embroidery books

What to buy-bare bones.

embroidery materials

-Plastic embroidery hoop. You need a plastic embroidery hoop for all embroidery projects. Plastic hoops will grip and keep your fabric tight, which is always a must. Not pulled, but tight. Loose fabric makes sad, baggy stitches. The wooden hoops are just for displaying embroidery art, and are transferred into those hoops after the embroidery is finished. 

-Thread. Use 6 stranded cotton embroidery floss. They come in these cute little skeins, in every color. Pick out some staples (black, brown, red, grey), and also some colors that you just love. Or raid your local thrift store of embroidery thread, there is always a baggie with a bunch of skeins of embroidery, and let fate decide which colors you'll use. Also, floss and thread are used interchangeably. 

-Embroidery needle. The needle should be sharp, and have a large enough eye for the thread to pass through easily. 

-Scissors. Really, you can use any old scissors when you are just getting started. I've had this pair of embroidery scissors that I bought from Joann Fabric years ago, but when I first started, I used regular kitchen scissors. 

Common Questions

What's with the 6 strands? With any embroidery project, you will almost always cut your length of thread, and then separate so that each length has 3 strands. Then thread your needle, knotting the 2 ends together. Why they don't make 3-stranded skeins of embroidery, I'll never know. 

Let's talk about fabric. You can use anything that isn't too flimsy or stretchy. I started with pillow cases and dishtowels. Tote bags are a fun option. Or, if you want to make hoop art, use a mid-weight cotton. Save your t-shirts and any gauzy fabrics for stitching projects after you're comfortable with the embroidery basics. The goal here is to keep it simple. 

household embroidery victims

What should I embroider?

There are tons of embroidery patterns out there. Iron on patterns, patterns that you trace on the fabric yourself, or patterns printed on fabric. Or you can create a simple pattern yourself, drawing directly on the fabric. It'll be a one of a kind original. I have a few patterns in my shop that come with instructions for embroidery.

I would suggest watching some youtube embroidery videos or check out some stitch diagrams, depending upon what kind of a learner you are. Then, follow a simple pattern. It'll help you to pull all of your new-found tips together to create a piece of art. 

what to embroider

Embroidery is basically coloring or sketching with thread. It can be incredible detailed, or it can have simple embroidered lines or words. And if you hate some of the stitching, you can undo it, or simply cut out an entire section and re-do it. 

Do I have to remember a million stitches?


There are hundreds (maybe thousands) of embroidery stitches, though there are less than 10 that I use and have committed to memory. 

Some stitches are great for outlining, some for filling, some for adding texture, some for making borders. There are no rules of which stitches go where. Experiment with color and thread. Let your imagination roam through your needle. 

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Oh, and if you are looking for a place to hang out and talk about embroidery, join my free Facebook group "after work embroidery club". Ask questions, share your work, see what other people are embroidering from very beginners to seasoned stitchers. 

Do you already know the basics, but want to know more about choosing the right stitches to use?

Click here for a blog post on embroidery composition and stitches



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  • Erin on

    Thanks for sharing, Lora. I love how there is so much history in needlecraft, and even more so how it still goes on today. When I was little, my mom and I used to work on cross stitch pillow cases together. Good luck with your packets!

  • Lora Marcum on

    I am making embroidery packets with a stamped pillowcase, instructions, floss for the design, needles, hoop, and scissors for Operation Christmas Child boxes. I thought I had everything in the packets, but am now wondering if I also need to include some “how to’s” in picture form as I am not sure where these packets will go and in what language the girls will be able to read. I did embroidery projects some time back and enjoyed it when I worked on them. One project was a cross stitch quilt top which ended up has 3 generations working on it. My grandmother did some of the cross stitching and my mother (her daughter) did most of the quilting. Hopefully the pillowcases may have that generation link too.

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