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Hand Embroidery Tips & Tricks For Beginners

Updated: Sep 24, 2020

This has been on my to-do list for ages, I am so excited to finally tick this off and get it published! All of you lovely souls who have bought my kits and gotten a bit lost of where to start - I hear you, this is for you! And for anyone else starting out with embroidery and looking at hoops and threads and needles like "whaaat?"

Watch my video below or read on for snippets, photos and facts. Or do both! Anything goes.

Oh yeah I'm on YouTube now so if you're so inclined, pop over and give me a lil subscribe 😘 The video below includes all of the tips and tricks covered in the post, if you're looking for something specific, keep scrolling as I've broken it down in to easier to digest segments.

I'm going to cover how to use an embroidery hoop, how much thread you should be using at one time, how to separate the strands (!), how to use a needle threader, the best way to knot the end of your thread, where to start on your pattern (quick answer - anywhere!) and how to tie off your stitches when you're ready. OK let's goooo!

Using Your Embroidery Hoop

Let's start by talking about embroidery hoops. You can totally stitch without one if you prefer, but I find it so much easier to use one. My favourite brand is Elbesee, who are UK based and make hoops from close-grain beech with smooth radius edges and wax polished. They are really great quality. You can get cheaper hoops but they're often warped or splintered and are not usually as good. I still use cheaper ones occasionally but I do try and get hold of Elbesee when I can!

How do you get your fabric in the hoop? You can watch the video above to show you, or read on if videos aren't your thing...

  1. Start by separating your hoop in to two parts. Then lay the inner ring (the hoop with no screw on) flat on the table.

  2. Pop your fabric on top of the inner ring, don't worry too much about it being centred and perfect, you can readjust it when you're finished - as long as you can get to all the bits you want to stitch it's all good.

  3. Push the outer ring of your hoop over top of that - you need to loosen the screw further to avoid wrestling with it.

  4. Tighten the screw back up, but before you're all the way tightened, give your fabric a tug around the edges and corners so it is really taut in the hoop. Aim for the tightness of a drum skin - no slack fabric here please, it makes your life harder! Once your fabric is taut and flat and lovely, tighten the screw up as much as you can.

Working with embroidery thread/floss

If you've got one of my embroidery kits it includes enough thread to finish your project, but if you've just bought a pattern and you're looking for what to buy I recommend DMC stranded cotton. This is what I use in my kits and it's the brand I always go back to. DMC stranded cotton is double mercurised which means it has a really nice sheen and glides through your fabric easily.

How much thread to use

Stranded cotton typically arrives in an 8 metre skein and you're going to need to chop some off to work with. So how much should you snip off? You don't want to use such a small amount it runs out quickly but equally, if you cut off too much you'll be stretching and reaching and making unwanted knots all over the place.

The answer: use your arm as a guide! Hold your thread in your hand, pull it back to about halfway in-between your elbow and shoulder and snip that much off!

Separating strands of embroidery thread

Any embroidery pattern should tell you how many strands of thread to use for each section - it's pretty unusual to work with all 6 strands at once, but not unheard of!

The easiest way to separate the strands is to pinch the piece of thread you've cut to size in-between your finger and thumb, leaving 2-3cm poking out of the top. Then pull one strand out from the top - one at a time, don't get cocky even though it is tempting to try and separate them all at once! - and repeat that until you have the number of strands you need. It will bunch up underneath your fingers as you pull, don't panic - keep going! It will all be fine, I promise.

Threading your needle

Before I thread my needle I like to trim all the ends of my floss so they're level, this makes it much easier to poke those lil guys through the eye of the needle.

Using a needle threader

I usually go for the old school "lick and stick it" method for threading my needle but I've got years of practice and pretty strong prescription glasses! If you're struggling or just feel like making life easier, use a needle threader. If you've not used one before, here's how:

  1. Thread the needle threader through the eye of your needle

  2. Push it all the way down to the bottom

  3. Thread your embroidery floss through the diamond shaped hole so you have one long tail of thread and one shorter tail

  4. Pull your needle down, off the needle threader and over both tails of thread. May require a yank!

  5. Keep pulling until you're past the shorter tail

  6. Take the needle threader off your floss - done!

Once your needle is threaded, you want to position the thread so there is one long tail and short tail that is a few inches long. Then you need to tie a knot in the long tail - screw the old fashioned rules about no knots at that back, that is impractical and frankly, who cares? If you are into that "neatness is queen" theory and want to keep the back of your work knot free - no judgement - have a google for waste knot techniques.

Knotting the end of your embroidery thread

Honestly, any knot will do but not all knots were created equally. This is how I do it, I have no idea if this knot has a name but let's go!

  1. With the needle threaded as per the above, wrap the end of the long tail of thread around your left hand index finger twice.

  2. Slide this off of your finger so you're holding a loop.

  3. Pop the very end of the thread up through the loop.

  4. Slowly pull so it forms a knot.

  5. Snip off the excess thread after the knot - about 1-2mm away. Ta-da!

How to tie off a stitch

When you're done with a section, nearly out of thread or you're finished you need to tie off your work at the back to secure it. This is how I do it:

  1. Bring your needle to the back of your work. Pass your needle under one of your existing stitches without going through the fabric.

  2. Pull this in to a loop.

  3. Pass your needle through the loop as pictures above.

  4. Pull that tight into a knot.

I usually do this twice on decorative pieces, but if it's work that will be handled a lot like clothing I would do this a few times to make sure everything is going to stay where it should!

Where should I start stitching?

Short answer: it doesn't really matter! Unlike with cross stitch where you tend to start in the middle and work outwards, there's no real rule to where to start with embroidery. I tend to choose a colour to start with and stitch all of the sections in that use that shade first. If there's satin stitch in a pattern, I usually to start with that so if there's details around it they sit on top. Unless there's a lot of dimension and layers to a pattern, just pick a bit and go!

One thing I would be mindful of is travelling about at the back of your work - by that I mean jumping from section to section without cutting your thread, knotting it and restarting. This is fine to do if you're working on a dark fabric or only moving a short way across. If you're working on white fabric or want to jump over more than 1-2cm, I would fasten off your work and start again with a new knot.

That's it!

I hope that helped answer some of your embroidery related questions. I have more videos and tutorials up my sleeve so watch this space! If there's anything you'd particularly like to see or you have any questions get in touch in the comments!

Sara xo

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