How to get started with embroidery

I'm just going to say it - embroidery is great! You don't need a lot of expensive equipment and there's infinite room for creativity. If you can envision it, you can stitch it! You just need to know a few basic stitches and gather a few basic supplies and you can be off and running.

What do you need?

  • fabric

  • hoop

  • floss

  • needle

  • scissors / thread snips

  • printout of a design

  • carbon paper, a light table, or a window with good light

  • pen or pencil to transfer the design - heat erasable pens are perfect for drawing a design on fabric.

Transferring your design

There are a few different ways of transferring an embroidery design onto fabric. Any products mentioned are those that I have personally used and I am not receiving any compensation for promoting them.

  • Freehand - If you're an amazing artist (which I am not) you can probably sketch a basic outline directly onto your fabric and improvise with your stitching.

  • Window tracing - Print out your design and tape it to a window with a good source of sunlight. I recommend taping it around the edges of all four sides. Then, tape your fabric over the design, again taping around all four edges of your fabric making sure it's taut. You should be able to see your printed design through the fabric. I recommend using a heat-erasable pen like Frixion pens to trace over your design. When you are finished stitching, you can run a hot iron over your piece or use a hair dryer to make any visible lines disappear.

  • Using a light table - Light tables are fairly inexpensive and are great if you want to trace a design at night or on a cloudy day (when the window tracing method is impossible). They can even work with darker fabrics. Just lay your printed design on the light table, place your fabric over it, turn on the light, and start tracing.

  • Transfer paper - Also known as dressmaker's carbon paper, this is especially useful for transferring designs to dark fabrics. I've used Clover brand tracing paper and have been happy with it. Instructions are included but basically, you place your fabric (right side up) on a flat surface. Then place the carbon paper (colored side down) on top of the fabric. Then place the printout of your design on top of the carbon paper and trace your design using a pen, pencil, or special tool for tracing. After you've traced the first line, lift the corner to make sure it's transferring properly. If not, you may have to press a little harder.

  • Printer - This is my favorite way to transfer a design to fabric but it requires a little more effort than the above methods. However, I think the effort is worth it, especially for more intricate designs. I wouldn't use this method if I had a very expensive printer and it won't work if your fabric is too thick. This YouTube video by Stitching Sabbatical (who does amazing thread-painted pet portraits!)explains the process perfectly. I will add that you need to have your design on your computer in a format that will print easily. I mainly design my patterns in Adobe Illustrator and save them as Adobe PDFs and print them in that format. I also use my sticker paper more than once. I can usually get 5-6 printouts from one sheet of sticker paper.

*When using the printer method, be sure to completely cover the printed

lines with your stitches because the lines will not wash out or disappear if heat is applied. You should also not wash the finished piece as the lines from the ink could run and ultimately ruin your finished piece.

Preparing your hoop

  1. To begin with, separate the two hoops (inner and outer) by loosening the screw at the top. Then place the inner ring on a flat surface.

  2. Place your fabric right side up over the inner hoop, centering your design in the middle.

  3. Place the outer hoop over the fabric and inner hoop. Gently pull your fabric taut within the hoop and tighten the screw at the top. As you stitch, it's normal for your fabric to become looser so just keep readjusting and tightening the fabric as you go along.

I generally use bamboo hoops to frame pieces but when I'm stitching a piece I use this Clover hoop as it keeps my fabric taut while stitching.

Embroidery floss

There are a lot of choices out there for floss but the gold standard for cotton floss are DMC, Cosmo, and Anchor. You can also use sewing thread (it's much thinner so is more appropriate for thread painting), wool, and silk threads.

DMC, Cosmo, and Anchor cotton floss are comprised of six separate strands of thread. Using a different number of threads affects how your stitches look. The fewer strands you use, the finer your stitches look. Most patterns will include instructions on how many strands of floss you should use for each design element.

To begin with, you need to cut a length of about 20-30 inches from the skein of floss. To separate the strands, pinch one end of the floss between your thumb and forefinger. Pull that strand out while keeping hold of the rest of the floss in your other hand. Continue to do this until you've separated the number of threads you need. Recombine the number of strands you'll be using, thread your needle with them, and tie a knot at the end of your floss.

Finishing a hoop

After you're done stitching your design, you will want to finish your hoop off nicely so you can display your work. If you decide to display your piece in the embroidery hoop, here are the instructions for backing your hoop with felt.

  • Trim the excess fabric around the hoop so there is at least 1/2 inch of fabric remaining. Thread a needle with enough thread to sew around the circle. Leave a six-inch tail of thread at the beginning and use a running stitch to sew around the edge of the excess fabric. When you finish your running stitch, gently pull the thread tails until the excess fabric cinches. Tie the tails with a double knot.

  • Next, cut a piece of felt a little smaller than your inner hoop. Put the felt circle over the back of the hoop. Thread your needle again with enough thread to sew around the hoop. Use a whip stitch to stitch the felt to the cinched fabric on the back of the hoop.

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