Learning to Embroider

It’s one of my great desires to learn to embroider.  I just love how you can add whimsy to anything by using a premade image and recreating it in thread.  But boy do I have a lot to learn.  I’ve always appreciated it, but I didn’t quite realize how little I knew or how hard it is.  I don’t know why I’m surprised that it is hard, but I am.  I’m used to being able to pick things up pretty quickly.  And I think I’m already becoming quite opinionated about using quality materials.  Big shock there.

So I’ve done a little practicing.  All letters…which are again a lot harder than I thought. And it takes a long time. Am I just really slow? Probably.

Practicing my Embroidery

I like some things and am frustrated with others. So I want advice from you all! What books should I get? What thread/floss should I use? Needle size? Hoop size? Fabric?! I’m a little overwhelmed with all that I don’t know. Socrates would be so proud. I know that I know nothing.

Teaching myself to embroider

Teach Me!!

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28 thoughts on “Learning to Embroider

  1. That is such a funny post!!! Socrates would indeed be proud of you! I cannot give you any advice since I'm also new to the trade. I love embroidery and would love to do it more often, but I'm still learning a lot. The only thing I can tell you is to use DMC threads – usually two strands and have the courage to embrace it!
    Sorry about such poor advice, but I just had to comment… he he

    By the way, your work is great so far!!! (and yes, it takes a lot of time. this kinda craft is for the patients at heart)

  2. Oh how do I know how tortuous this can be – my mum made me embroidery a number of Christmas and birthday pressies for my grandmothers and great grandmother when I was little, and I totally revolted against it! Now I think I may be ready to embrace it, but as for where to start, the Clover and Violet tuts (mentioned above) would probably be the place. Have fun!

  3. Embroidery does take time, but slowing down the crafting process can be really relaxing. I like to use perle (or pearl) cotton for embroidery over the six-strand floss. It's mercerized so it doesn't pull apart and has a lovely sheen. I often use multiple sizes of perle cotton in the same design, with my thinnest thread being a size 8 and my thickest being a size 3. I would try a few different sizes doing different kinds of stitches to see what you like best. As far as needles go, I keep an assortment of sizes to choose from, although with embroidery you almost always want a sharp when stitching into a normal weave cotton fabric. Clover and Violet is currently doing an amazing stitch along, so I would second checking out those tutorials. Good luck!

  4. I think perle might be easier for a beginner than stranded floss. If you do use stranded floss and you want to use say three strands it's best to seperate out three strands and put them back together for needle threading – rather than pulling three out together. Otherwise they have a tendancy to twist and have those little loopy knots in them. If you're embroidering on to cotton or linen then it's worth using an embroidery hoop to help keep the right tension. It is a slow process, especially when you aren't used to it. Have you thought about looking in thrift shops for books. Some of the best books I've come across have been written years ago when everyone embroidered. My mum is not into sewing but she taught me how to do embroidery because everyone did it when she was younger. I can remember us making out own transfer patterns out of greased proof paper and a pencil! Very hi-tech!

  5. I used to do a lot of hand embroidery when I was much younger but got away from it for years. When I decided to pick it back up I got The Embroiderer's Handbook. It has every stitch you could want and wonderful instructions on how to make them. I also go to Mary Corbet's website. She is a genius with embroidery.

  6. Angela, dear, I'm so happy to report that letters are the hardest thing and you've done a knockout job!
    Unfortunately, practice is what makes perfect, so I'd suggest picking a sampler or image you like and going for it! I started with Little Birdie Stitches http://www.littlemissshabby.com/2011/01/birdie-stitches-block-1/
    And I second the Clover and Violet tutes. Fun books are the Doodle Stitching books. So cute!

    You can see this Flickr group for lots of free patterns: http://www.flickr.com/groups/hooplove/

    I use whatever size hoop fits my project, without getting too big/unmanageable. I have a variety pack of size 1-5 embroidery needles, and it depends on how many strands I'm using which needle I choose. I would get one of those water-soluble markers for transferring patterns. They rinse out under cold water, but ARE permanent if ironed over. I like DMC floss, but just for it's affordability…I can buy lots of colors that way. Plus, if you're following a pattern, it's a more common brand to match color numbers with.
    I practiced on Kona White before I moved on to linens and other fabrics. It's easiest to transfer onto, too.

    Good start? Good luck and just have fun!

  7. I am also new to this and it is practive makes perfect and remember not to be to hard on yourself as you learn. I have also started with the Little Birdie Stitches as listed above and I also signed up for "Once Upon a Time BOM" which as cute little stitcheries. Leanne Beasley has a new mag out now called "Vignette in Stitches" and she is doing a Mystery BOM in it. If you visint my blog (lilabellelane.blogspot.com) you can have a look at what I have done and I am still very much learning. Again, it's all about the practice and not being in a rush. I'm off now to check out Clover and Violet! BOL and I enjoy reading all your posts. Sharon xx

  8. You'll love embroidery, and your words look great! I agree that it takes a long time, but the more familiar you are with it, the quicker it will go. As far as books go, I'd really only buy ones that have actual projects you want to stitch, you'd be much better off with a stitch card or looking to the internet for tutorials. Enjoy!

  9. I'd definitely recommend getting a stitch dictionary. Preferably one with good picture instructions of the stitches. Can't think of the name of the book I've seen which is really good, but an amazon search with look inside should narrow it down.
    As to threads, I confess I've become a bit of a thread snob. DMC is fine for large cross stitch designs, but for everything else there's so much more fun… Au ver a soie, caron's waterlilies, carrie's creations, dinky-dyes, gloriana… The list goes on. Some are silk, some cotton. Some variegated, some solid. Some hand dyed, some not. Check out all the threads at stitchingbitsandbobs.com if you are ready to be corrupted 🙂

  10. I'm still a beginner myself, but have found it helpful to pick up a stitch dictionary and some books/project cards that I want to do. I'm lucky enough to have an amazing needlework shop in town, so it's been fun going there to look for new projects. Right now, I am working on some towels that will have patterns I came up with myself. It's slow going but relaxing.

  11. I am also teaching myself to hand embroider. Part of it, I think, is just practice. Currently, I am using just one strand of DMC floss, and that seems to be working well. Not too bulky, but just enough to add the color and texture I wanted. Let us know how you are doing!

  12. I have not done a lot of (read that as NONE lol) for a long time. My needles and embroidery were all put away when I had three boys under the age of 5 and a very poor choice for a husband was told/invited to move out. So yea, I was a bit busy for the next 20 yrs and had no time for that. But, I am to a point where I can relearn hand embroidery and I also now have an embroidery machine plus I'm learning to quilt. Geez, I think I'm busier now than when I had those three little boys sometimes. lol

    I see someone did mention Mary Corbett's site which is a great site. I will warn you about her site however if you sign up for email updates you will get them every single day and sometimes more than one a day.

    Another I have been following has extremely good pictures giving step by step for the different stitches. She's working her way through this book http://www.amazon.com/One-Hundred-Embroidery-Stitches-Book/dp/B000O7USU6/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1315683620&sr=8-2

    Here's her blog ~ Big B http://bigbgsd.blogspot.com/

  13. I was going to suggest Clover&Violet, We love French Knots and Big B but I see I've been beaten to it already! I should think you can learn everything you would ever need to learn from those three. Have fun!

  14. So glad I found your blog! I've been wanting to embroider really bad for the past year now. I've never heard of Clover & Violet but now thanks to the commenters! I will definitely check that out!

  15. I have to admit, I'm shocked to hear that you just started. Your blocks are fabulous. I love the chunky letters you used.

    When I started – a whole 3-4 weeks ago – I started following We Love French Knots and also bought The Embroiderer's Handbook (Bauer) and The Embroidery Stitch Bible (Barnden). I like both, but first has better pictures/directions, but the latter is more portable. I need to dig into them again as I'm starting to use too much back stitch and running stitch. 🙂

    If you want regular (read: accountable) practice, Feeling Stitchy has monthly stitch-alongs with free patterns. They are normally fairly easy and always a lot of fun.

  16. Hooray! Love embroidery.

    Needles are really personal. I've used embroidery needles, sharps needles and my new favorite tapestry needle. The trick is to get something with an oval eye but not so big that it has a hard time going through the fabric. The shorter the needle the smaller you can get your stitches, which is important on curves (I also like them for french knots) but less so going straight.

    I'm with everyone else on thread–there's really no competition with DMC for good quality, fade and bleed resistant colors. I actually think starting with pearl cotton is a mistake–it's a lot less forgiving than strands. General rule is to use 2 threads from a 6-strand for most work. Don't make your strands too long–the longer they are the more tangles you'll have and the more swearing will ensue 😉 If you like it, run them through bees wax to keep them straight and tangle-free. I don't like the feel of bees wax, so I just make sure to stop every 10 or so stitches and hold the hoop up and let go of my thread so it will naturally let all of the twists out of it.

    I like the embroiderer's handbook for stitch descriptions: http://www.amazon.com/Embroiderers-Handbook-Margie-Bauer/dp/0715320378/ref=sr_1_13?ie=UTF8&qid=1315846947&sr=8-13 Tons of pictures. If I can't figure something out there or am feeling chicken then I go to needlenthread and watch one of Mary's videos.

    One thing you might not find frustrating like I do since you're so creative–virtually no patterns say use "y" stitch on this part of the pattern. You kind of just have to experiment with how the stitches look. Because of that, I love the sampler idea. I have Aimee Ray's Doodle Stitching book: http://www.amazon.com/Doodle-Stitching-Fresh-Embroidery-Beginners/dp/1600590616/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&qid=1315847153&sr=8-4. It's ok for stitch descriptions (although I prefer my book before). It has a really pretty sampler WITH stitches designated for each spot. It was enlightening to see what things really ended up looking like and to see what stitches I HATED doing–like the stem stitch. Lots of people love it, I hate it to death.

    One last piece of advice–don't think that "small" projects necessarily go quickly. Embroidery can be super fast if you are outlining something fairly large and uncomplicated. Most projects won't be like that though. So give yourself plenty of time to stitch or you'll be frustrated. I tend to take my stitching in segments–say, I'll finish everything in red tonight or I'll finish the hand and hair etc.

  17. Oh, Ang, you did such a great job. But, wow, look at all this advice too. I agree – letters are hard. Yours turned out very nice and the way you shot it with the Heirloom fabric seals the deal. Congrats for taking the plunge!

  18. I would say start with backstitch, Angela. It's the best for small, curving letters. I find it really hard to round corners with stem stitch! Keep going, don't give up. Embroidery is so lovely, as is the simple act of doing it. Enjoy!

  19. Cosmo floss for me too. It's the latest and greatest… and that's saying a lot because I once owned a counted cross-stitch shop and sold DMC. Be sure to check out Helen Stubbings' blog in Australia. It's HugsnKisses. She recently offered a series of posts about how to make different stitches. She just blogged about one of my recent embroideries done with Helen's Colourque (pronounced Color-Kay), Helen's technique for pencil-coloring embroidery. It adds so much dimension to a simple design. http://hugsnkisses.typepad.com/hugsfromhelen/2011/10/and-the-winners-are.html

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