Hey everyone! Welcome back to my quick and dirty beginner’s guide to hand embroidery! Lots of folks asked me about the embroidery on my Easter dress and how I learned to embroider. Like I said yesterday, I’m basically just self-taught. If I can learn it, so can you! Yesterday, we talked about the supplies you’ll need to embroider. Today, I’ll show you how to do six basic stitches and finish off a hoop if you’re using it for display. Let’s chat about beginner embroidery stitches!
Also, I apologize in advance for poorly shot photos. Who knew it’d be so hard to take pictures of yourself embroidering while there’s a toddler on your lap…
Beginner Embroidery Stitches
I usually cut a length of thread that is about 18″. I don’t measure this out. Just keep pulling, and when it looks like it might be annoying to pull through all the time, cut it. The longer your thread, the more likely it is to get knotted up, so keep that in mind.
I’ve seen in the past that many traditional embroiderers do not use knots in their embroidery. To that, I say — wonderful for you, I’m sure your backs are beautiful! I will continue to knot my threads because I am The Laziest Person Alive. I knot my threads around each other 1-3 times, depending on how many I am using. If you want to know how to not use knots, I love you but ask someone else because I doubt I will ever unbecome said Laziest Person Alive.
This is the most basic of beginner embroidery stitches. It’s kind of like a doubled-up running stitch, so there are no gaps between the stitches. You end up doing a backwards stitch as you go. To backstitch, start with a normal running stitch (up through hole one, down through hole two). Come up again a short distance away (hole three). Instead of continuing along your stitching line, move back and put the needle into hole two. Come up again a short distance down from hole three (creating hole four), and put the needle into hole three.
If you can do a backstitch, you can do a split stitch! They’re basically the same thing, with one change. Instead of putting your second stitch into hole two, place it slightly behind that hole. Put it right in the middle so that you are literally splitting the threads you’re using apart. It should look kind of like a knobbly braid.
This is a fun one! I use it to make leaves or flower petals. To make this one, come up through your fabric, and put your needle back through that hole or very close. Before you pull your thread all the way through, push your needle up wherever you want your petal/leaf/loop to end. Catch the loop with your needle, and then come down on the other side of that loop. Don’t pull too hard, or it’ll be a straight line instead of a nice wide loop. You can add in more of those catch stitches if you want a super circular loop.
I happen to think this stitch looks like a boob and a nipple. I can say that, because this is my blog and I own it. They look like boobs, y’all.
This stitch is kind of my nemesis, because it takes a little practice to get it looking decent. It’s a million times easier to do when you have something drawn out than when you’re freehanding, just FYI. Basically, you go back and forth and back and forth across your shape ad infinitum until you’ve filled it. The important part is that you must always go up on the same side. If you start on the bottom of your shape, you must return to the bottom to go up, not come up on the top and then down on the bottom. It just doesn’t work. I sometimes lay the thread flat against the fabric to see where I should aim it.
Allie DMed me yesterday to ask if you stitch around the outside of your shape before satin stitching. My answer was that that may very well be the right way to do it, but I sure as h*ck will not because that, my friends, is an extra step. And as I have mentioned, I am the Laziest Person Alive.
One pro tip I will offer you is to start at a wide point in your satin stitch area, like the highest part of a petal. It’s way easier to start in a large space and get smaller than vice versa. Another pro tip (two for the cost of one! Which is free because this is the internet!)! Things like petals are wider at one end than at the other. I start at the thinner spot and move up towards the wider spot, so the center of a flower out towards the petal edge.
I stagger the stitches a little above or below the center so that I can get two stitches in the same bottom location, but the two end up next to each other. Sometimes I also use the same hole at the center for two stitches. Basically, I layer stitches, and it fills things up nicely and also adds a little dimension and texture.
I love making roses, y’all. They look gorgeous, and they’re so simple, really! Start with a circle, and then draw out lines from the center. Try and get as center-y as possible, and also don’t make your circle too big. If you do, the rose will take forever and you will get bored and hate yourself. You also need to make an odd number of lines, no matter how many you do, to do your weaving right. They can all go back into the same center hole.
Once you’ve made your lines, push your needle up just outside of the center. Then you just weave your needle through those lines, over-under-over-under. Repeat forever. I hope you have a TV show on or something.
You can pull your thread as tight or as loose as you want. If it’s tighter, it’ll take longer, and will not be as textured. A looser stitch will end up with a loopier rose. I try to do a balance — no section looks loose, but nothing is stretched. Also, I usually cut off a TON of thread for these flowers. It’s easier to pull through on the weaving than it is to repeatedly pull through fabric. If you happen to run out of thread, no biggie! Drop your needle down to the backside of the fabric either right before or right after you have an “over” leg of the flower. Knot it and cut it off, and start your new length of thread. Put it up from the backside as close to where you ended as possible. Continue your weaving pattern.
These stitches are the ones that require the most practice for me, especially if I haven’t done them in a while. They also take two hands, so be prepared. I’m a righty, so I’m going to tell you how to do this with the right hand as the dominant one. I’m sure that if you flipped hands, it’d be the same steps.
Put your needle up and pull the thread all the way through. About an inch above your fabric, pinch and hold the thread with your left hand. I usually do this with my thumb and middle finger. I then use my left pointer finger to wrap the thread three to five times around the needle I’m holding in my right hand. The more times you wrap it, the bigger your knot, but I think three is the minimum number for it to work. Still holding that inch section with your left hand, put the needle down super close to the first hole but not in it. The tighter you hold that inch, the better your knot will come out. Once your needle is through to the backside and you’re running out of thread, release the section and finish pulling through. Your knot should appear!
I’m not dead set on perfect French knots. I like the texture that a loopier knot brings, but I do take care that it’s not soooooo loose that it might catch. You do you!
Finishing Your Hoop
Again, I’m unconvinced this is the usual way to knot things. However, I use it constantly and nothing has come out of my hoop!
On the backside of my hoop, I slide my needle between a stitch and the fabric. I then pull the needle backwards through the loop I’ve created and pull taut. I do this at least twice. Boom! Knot. If I’ve left it too late and I can’t make a big enough loop for the needle, I just tie a knot with the strands of the thread.
Finishing the Hoop
Let me preface this by saying I did not leave enough fabric on the edges of my hoop in the example photo. Give yourself an inch-ish!
I trim the fabric in my hoop to about half an inch around the circle. I find a length of thread — one thread, six threads, embroidery floss, sewing machine thread, doesn’t matter. Make a knot in one end, and thread your needle. Do a quick running stitch around the edge of the fabric. I make my stitches about a half an inch apart, and you could do a little more or a little less. Then when you’re back to your starting spot, pull that thread and cinch in the fabric. Knot it good, and there you go. A finished hoop! Some more official embroiderers back their hoops in another fabric or like cardstock paper. (Is anyone at this point surprised I don’t?) I think that to do this, you could glue the fabric or paper to the outer hoop. Don’t glue it to the fabric itself!
Alternatively, you could use fabric to act as a lining, like I did with my yoke. You can take apart your hoop, lay your “lining” fabric on the back of your embroidery, and re-sandwich it.
Other Random Stuff
If you’re embroidering something you’ll wear, you may want to interface it. I recommend a thin sew-in interfacing as opposed to an iron in. The glue from the iron in interfacing will gunk up your needle. If you’re embroidering on a thinner apparel fabric, a lining could be key to the stability of your garment’s guts! I’m still mentally debating the best way to embroider something like my yoke, which has a seam on all the edges. At this point, I’d say find a way to drop your lining in most of the way but not all. Then you can maneuver your hoop so you’re not sewing through your lining, but you know you won’t have it potentially sucked into a seam.
Yay Free Pattern!
I promised a pattern that would use all of the skills we’ve talked about today, and I have one! This is a super simple little hoop with plenty of room for you to add your own embellishments if you wish. Put it in your sewing space, your laundry room, above your kid’s bed… I don’t care! But definitely share it with me, cause I wanna see what you make!
*Update: As of October 2017, this pattern is now a bonus for signing up for my newsletter. If you’re on the list and don’t have it, shoot me an email. I’ll hook you up!*
Well, these beginner embroidery stitches officially brings our beginner hand embroidery guide to an end. Please feel free to comment or DM me on any social media with any comments or questions. I’m pretty easily reachable!