Updated: Mar 12
Embroidery is the art of applying designs to fabric with a needle and thread. I was first introduced to hand embroidery while attending summer camp when I was younger. Some of the arts and crafts we did involved embroidering, and I always loved the ones that did. It was wonderful to see the sketch I’d done on fabric go from a plain outline to a colorful, interesting finished product.
Since then, I’ve been doing embroidery on and off; it’s one of the many pastimes in what I’ve dubbed my “hobby cycle,” a list of hobbies that I go through over the course of a couple of months. During last summer’s quarantine, embroidery was popping up in my hobby cycle constantly, much more than it ever has before. I worked on a few different small projects over the summer, all of them being hand-embroidered patches.
Recently, embroidery has popped back into my hobby cycle. I’m grateful because it’s relaxing, a good use of my time, and it allows me to be creative. I’m very firm in my belief that hand embroidery is a fantastic hobby and a great skill to develop.
The Benefits of Hand Embroidery
The most obvious benefit of hand embroidery, and what I find to be the most important, is that it allows you to express and enhance your creativity. Embroidery is a versatile medium; you can embroider almost anything. Canvas, tote bags, tapestries, beanies, old t-shirts - the list goes on. Your designs can be abstract and spur-of-the-moment or blank and planned out to a T. As with any art, how you work with embroidery is up to you. And this is just one of the beautiful things about it.
Embroidering can also build patience. Despite its room for creativity, the embroidery process is a long and tedious one. It often involves a lot of backtracking, fixing, and careful stitches. Because of this, patience is a required trait for embroidery. Obviously, embroidery will not significantly change your character or your habits. If you’re horribly impatient now, taking up embroidery isn’t likely to change that. It will, however, increase patience to some extent for those who are willing to spend time and energy on the skill that will not be immediately rewarded.
Another benefit of embroidery is that it offers a much-needed break from technology, something especially relevant in the near-constant screen time of distance learning. While you might use YouTube to learn new stitches, a blog to find design patterns, or Google for reference photos, the actual embroidery process requires none of these things.
Along the same train of thought, embroidery is relaxing. It allows you to slow down and focus on something for yourself. If you’re relaxed by slow processes and low-effort, repetitive actions, then embroidery is definitely something you should try your hand at. (If you’re easily bored, especially by things that are slow and repetitive, you might want to think twice about starting with embroidery.)
The first step when starting hand embroidery is making sure that you have the right materials. Luckily, you can find the right materials at pretty much any crafting store. Michael’s and Jo-Ann Fabrics both have large selections of hand embroidery materials, but you can also find the same products for similar prices on Amazon or at local craft stores if you prefer.
The primary embroidery-specific materials needed to start hand embroidering include: a proper needle, embroidery floss, and an embroidery hoop. While there are many different types of embroidery needles that are used for a variety of embroidery styles, the most common one is the crewel needle. These needles are thicker and sturdier than a needle used for hand sewing, with larger eyes (the hole at the top of the needle where the thread goes through) to accommodate the thick embroidery floss. This is definitely the needle that you should purchase when just starting out with hand embroidery.
Embroidery floss, the thick thread that’s used in embroidery, is available in lots of different colors and shades. As an embroidery beginner, you don’t want your designs to be too complex and confusing, so you’ll probably want to start off with two to three colors per design. There are lots of different brands of embroidery floss, one of the most common being DMC (this is the brand that I use most frequently!). But at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what brand of thread you use, unless you have a personal preference.
Embroidery hoops are used to keep the fabric tight while embroidering, and while they’re certainly not as vital to the craft as a needle, thread, and fabric, they do make embroidering easier. They come in various sizes and are typically made out of wood. While it may appear awkward to use an embroidery hoop, the trick to avoiding it feeling awkward is to buy a small or medium-sized hoop. Smaller hoops are maneuverable and take up less space than larger ones, and therefore tend to be better for beginners.
The running (or straight) stitch is the most basic embroidery stitch. To accomplish this stitch, push your threaded needle up through the fabric and then back through a little ways away from where you started. Then repeat!
The backstitch is also fairly simple, and is great for outlines or text! For the backstitch, push your needle up through the fabric and follow through the way you would with the running stitch, but for one stitch only. Pull the needle up through the fabric again, and instead of doing another stitch forward, push the needle in through the hole at the end of the previous stitch.
The satin stitch is the most common fill stitch used in embroidery. For the satin stitch, push your needle up through the fabric on one side, then back down so that it comes out the other side, and repeat until your shape is filled. Make sure that your stitches are close together, and don’t be afraid to make them longer than stitches you would use for an outline. With the satin stitch (and any fill stitch, really) it is best to start from one side of your shape and work your way across, as shown above.
The chain stitch is very versatile. Common examples of its use include outlining and text. To complete the chain stitch, bring your needle up through the fabric and then back down through the same hole, leaving a loop of thread. Bring your needle up through the fabric a second time a little ways away and thread the needle through the loop you created to lay the loop flat. Repeat this for as many stitches as you’d like!
Hopefully, this article has encouraged you to take up embroidery and has been a helpful guide to the basics of the craft. There is so much to learn about embroidery - much more than I know! I highly recommend that you do your own research if embroidery is something you really would like to try!