Beginner's Guide to Hand Embroidery >>

Beginner Hand Embroidery: Tools and Prep

Beginner's Guide to Hand Embroidery >> MaddieMadeThis.comHappy Thursday, folks!  I got so much love throughout the process of embroidering my Easter dress — thank you!  A lot of you have asked me how I learned embroidery.  I really can’t say I ~learned~ it.  I’ve kind of been making things up as I go along.  But so far, I haven’t made anything, like, fall apart or anything, and it’s a great hobby!  Today I’m sharing with you part one of two of a little beginner hand embroidery guide, in case you’d like to pick up this skill too.  This post covers tools and supplies.  Tomorrow I’ll post some basic stitches and a sampler pattern for you to practice with!

*some of the links on this page may be affiliate links.  this means that I may get a small commission from purchases you make using them, but doesn’t cost you anything!  of course, I only share things I love and that I think you’ll love too.*

Beginner Hand Embroidery Tools


Hand embroidery needs a couple of tools.  First off, you need a hoop.  It’s actually two circles that fit in each other.  The larger has a nut at the top that you use to tighten and loosen it.  Embroidery hoops come in a ton of sizes.  My JoAnns has hoops from 3 inches all the way up to 10 inches, and you can get even larger ones online.  They’re most often round, but you can also get oval and square/rectangle ones.

Beginner's Guide to Hand Embroidery >>

If you’re working with a pattern that someone else has written, they should tell you what size hoop you need.  If for some reason it doesn’t, you can always measure the diameter of the pattern!  They’re relatively cheap, so I often stock up when there’s a sale.  I have mostly 7 inch ones, with a few 5 inch and 8 inch ones as well.  Also, for some reason, my JoAnns is ALWAYS sold out of 8″ hoops…

You will need embroidery needles, and not regular hand-sewing needles.  Embroidery needles have a larger eye, because you’ll feed more thread into it than a regular needle.  They’re also often thinner, sharper, and longer than a hand-sewing needle.   That thin, sharp tip makes a smaller hole in your fabric.  Packs of embroidery needles are a couple bucks for 8 or 16.

Beginner's Guide to Hand Embroidery >>

The fabric you use in your hoop is pretty important.  I did my dress in a linen, and noted that the loose weave made the embroidery a little difficult.  You want a really tight weave in your hoop, because that makes your stitches crisper and smaller.  My favorite embroidery fabric is Kona cotton — sooooooo tightly woven and awesome.  But I’ve also had great luck with the basic cottons or nicer muslins at my local JoAnns.  Some people use patterned quilting cottons in their hoops, but I prefer a plain background.  I do advise sticking to cottons: I have black fabric that is a cotton/polyester blend and I can’t get it to stick in my hoop very well.

Beginner's Guide to Hand Embroidery >>

You’re going to need some skeins of embroidery floss/thread.  These are again pretty cheap —  I think 53 cents per skein at JoAnns?  That link goes to a big variety pack, but I’m really just including it so you can see what the skeins look like.  If you can, go to your local sewing shop and look at the wall of flosses.  I love seeing all the pretty colors!  I only use DMC floss because that’s what my JoAnn’s sells, but I know that ANC is also good quality.  There are six threads wound about each other, and each thread looks like it’s two tinier threads twisted together.

Different stitches and designs will use different combinations of those six threads.  For example, I may use all six to do a satin stitch, but only two to do a backstitch.  I used about two skeins for my entire yoke, to give you an idea of how much thread goes into things.

Beginner's Guide to Hand Embroidery >>

The last thing you might want is a pattern.  I’ve used plenty of patterns, mostly purchased on Etsy.  None of the following links are sponsored.  I just really like their patterns!  I love ThreadHoney (here’s a great beginner pattern from her), NamasteEmbroidery, Lolli and Grace (another good beginner pattern), CozyBlue (I love her palmistry and eye patterns, and she has other great entry-level ones), and MinatureRhino, who sells awesome kits.  Additionally, I have the book written by the owner of MiniatureRhino, Stitched Gifts.  It’s great!  DMC Embroidery also has TONS of awesome patterns for free on their site!  Also, yours truly has a free embroidery pattern, and I’ll also be posting a little sampler tomorrow to help you work on your basic stitches.

Set Up Your Hoop

This is pretty easy.  Cut a square of fabric that’s at least an inch and a half bigger than your hoop on all sides.  I just eyeball this.  You need enough to be able to pull it taut when it’s in the hoop.  Lay the fabric over the small hoop, and lay the larger hoop over it, making a lil fabric sandwich.  Use the nut on the larger hoop to tighten it around the smaller hoop as much as you can.  But, don’t a – break the smaller hoop, or b – tighten it so much you won’t be able to undo it.  Pull the excess fabric outwards as you tighten, so that it becomes tauter and tauter.  Once it feels akin to a drumhead (or what you imagine a drumhead might feel like, if you don’t know) (like me, even though my boyfriend plays the drums), you’re set!

If you’re using a pattern, now’s a good time to trace it.  Some people use transfer paper, some people use iron-ons, some people use light boxes… Me?  I’m lazy, which isn’t news to any of you guys.  Most often, I just put my hoop fabric-side down on the printed pattern, and then it’s dark enough to trace.  If it isn’t, I trace the lines in a felt-tip pen, and then I’m good to go.  If that still isn’t work, I tape the pattern to a window and trace the pattern that way.  Then I just take the fabric out and put it in at the top of the hoop instead of the bottom.  Boom!

Most often, I just use a pencil to trace the pattern.  I’ve heard that Frixion pens are great for tracing/marking too.  Those I guess you just pass a hot iron over to erase the pen!  I actually used a fabric pen for my Easter dress.  Those rinse out in water, and it was so cool to see it disappear.  When I drew the pattern for that embroidery, I first traced my front yoke pattern out in fabric pen.  I cut a wide berth around that piece to make sure I’d be able to pull it taut.  Then I drew in my design at least 5/8″ (or tried to…), to make sure I’d have room for seam allowances.

*Update: my new go-to method is the pattern or the pattern and the window + a Pilot Frixion pen.  Super strong color, writes like a regular pen, and then you can use your iron to erase the pen lines when you’re done!*

Beginner's Guide to Hand Embroidery >>

Okay.  Wow.  I have more to say about embroidery than I expected!  As a reminder, I’m going to post part two of beginner hand embroidery tomorrow, where I’ll cover stitches and finishing your hoop.  Maybe you can stop at your local sewing supply shop tonight, so you’ll be all ready to go tomorrow when I post part two!  If you want to use either of my patterns (the one already up or my sampler), get a 7″ hoop, cotton fabric of your choice, and some floral-y colors like pinks and green.  You can conquer a new skill THIS weekend — I can’t wait to see what you make!


  1. Urban Threads is a great place for less traditional designs. Even better, the hand embroidery versions only cost $1 and they regularly have sales that make them 50 cents!

    1. Thanks for the suggestion, Jen! I’m going to check them out!

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