Does anyone else get really impatient when it’s time to begin a new embroidery project? I just want to skip all the prep stuff and get stitching already! Unfortunately, not preparing adequately for an embroidery project will too often bring regret later on. It’s the little things that can really make a difference. Fortunately, preparing to begin an embroidery project isn’t as long or as daunting as it may seem. So if you’re like me (the impatient stitcher) or you’re new to the craft, here’s a list of 10 easy steps you can follow and prep before you make your first stitch.
1. Choosing and Preparing a Pattern
The first logical step to beginning an embroidery project is to decide what you want to embroider. If you’re looking for inspiration, you can start with a quick Pinterest search, follow some talented embroiders on Instagram or browse Etsy for pretty patterns. There are also many books on embroidery that you can find that include patterns. Whether you draw your own pattern or find one you like, take a few moments to think ahead to what you want the final product to be. Will you be leaving the embroidery in the hoop to hang, or are you turning it into something else? What size do you want it to be?
Thinking ahead and having a bit of a plan before you begin your embroidery project can be so helpful and save you from disappointment later. If you bought a pattern, chances are the recommended dimensions will be included in the instructions. You can also scale a pattern using your printer’s settings to resize it however you’d like.
Aaahhh, fabric! I’ve alluded to fabric choice for embroidery in two previous posts already – The Only Embroidery Tools You Need and Different Ways to Transfer an Embroidery Pattern, but it could undoubtedly fill a post all on its own. Generally, when working surface embroidery, you want a nice cotton or linen fabric. There are many different kinds and blends you can get, as well as different weights. If you choose something very light, like most quilting cottons, you can either double the fabric or use some interfacing to make it a bit sturdier. Light and medium weights are usually best suited for embroidery. I would recommend staying away from blends with too many synthetic fabrics in the mix. Hand embroidery is better worked on woven fabrics (as opposed to knits) because it’s much easier to keep the tension even and prevent puckers.
Anything stretchy and knit will be harder to embroider, and although you can definitely do it if you’re embroidering on clothes, I wouldn’t recommend using a stretchy fabric for hoop art or anything like that. Also think about how you will transfer your pattern. Some fabrics/colours are much easier for pattern transferring, so that’s something to keep in mind. Light-coloured fabrics are usually easier to begin with.
3. Cutting Your Fabric
Before cutting your piece of fabric, I would again suggest taking a bit of time to think ahead to how you want to finish your embroidery. If you’re thinking of leaving it in the hoop, you’ll want to make sure you have enough hoop allowance to close the back when you’re done. I like to leave a good inch allowance all around when I make embroidery hoop art. If you want to finish your project another way, such as by mounting it in a frame, or turning it into a bag, needlebook, journal, or anything else, think about seam allowances and allow yourself enough fabric to work with. I can’t tell you how many times I didn’t leave enough seam allowance and had to resort to all sorts of patchwork to finish the piece! Very frustrating. So before you cut, think twice about how you plan to finish your work!
4. Ironing Your Fabric
Ironing the fabric before you begin stitching is such a simple thing, yet it can make so much difference! This is a step I nearly always want to skip because setting up the iron and ironing board always seem like a worse chore than it actually is. It’s done in no time, and really, who would want to embroider on crumpled fabric? Take the time to iron your fabric before you begin your embroidery project, it’s worth it!
5. Transferring the Pattern
Once you have a nicely cut and ironed piece of fabric and your pattern ready to go, it’s time to transfer the pattern onto the fabric. That’s also a topic that can cover many blog posts, and luckily I already wrote a full post on it: Different Ways to Transfer an Embroidery Pattern. It covers two different ways of transferring a pattern on light-coloured fabric: using a light source and the reverse transfer method.
6. Using a Hoop
Now comes the time to pop the fabric into the embroidery hoop! I love this step, haha. If you plan on leaving the embroidery in the hoop, pick a size that will nicely fit your pattern. If you don’t plan on framing the embroidery with the hoop, I still recommend choosing a size that fits the pattern so you don’t need to move it as you embroider. When you’re working a big pattern though, you might need to move the hoop as you work each area.
An embroidery hoop is made of two rings: the outer ring, larger, usually has a little screw at the top, and the inner ring is smaller and fits inside the outer ring. Simply loosen the screw and the two rings will separate. Center your fabric over the inner ring, good side up, then place the outer ring over it, securing the fabric in place. Tighten the screw while adjusting the fabric until it is sitting nice and taut. There should be no ripples or puckers.
Some wooden hoops may have slightly uneven rings, which can cause uneven tension. It’s super annoying, and I recommend using another hoop, or binding it with fabric until it’s even. I wrote more about hoops and different kinds/sizes in the post The Only Embroidery Tools You Need.
7. The Right Needle
For some reason, I always find the idea of finding the “correct” needle somewhat overwhelming…probably because I have too many needles and they’re in such a state of disarray that locating the right one really feels like looking for a needle in a haystack! But it doesn’t have to be that way! If you start by keeping your needles well-organized (in needlebooks, cases, or even small boxes), locating the right one will be so much easier.
As for the “right” one, this will depend on your project. If you start by purchasing a pack of “embroidery” or “crewel” needles, you will be fine for working surface embroidery. There are usually a few different sizes per pack so that you can use a longer or shorter needle if you prefer, or one with a bigger or smaller eye depending on how many strands of floss you like to work with. I like the DMC needles #3-9 for embroidery, which you can find in most craft stores.
8. Embroidery Floss
This is a bit embarrassing, but when I first started embroidery, I didn’t know that you could separate the floss strands! Stitching small details was a mystery to me. Clearly I missed the part where they tell you that embroidery floss indeed comes in separable strands! The big brands like DMC and Anchor come in skeins of about 8 meters long made of 6 separable strands. While you can definitely choose to embroider with all 6 strands, knowing that they are separable will definitely be helpful 😉. Depending on your project and the style you prefer, you can use only 1 or 2 strands if you like! It’s perfect for working small details, as I finally figured out eventually. If you’re picking out the colours yourself, I recommend pulling out more than you’ll need to try different combinations. This is best done during daylight since thread colours look a little different at night!
9. Practicing Stitches
Now that you’ve got your pattern transferred to your fabric sitting nicely in the hoop, and a threaded needle ready to go, it’s time to begin stitching at last! The first stitch is the best part of a project (or is it the last?). If you’re unsure how you should begin and end your stitches, I have a full post on it with lots of helpful photos here. As you embroider, whether you’re following a pattern with instructions or following your heart’s desire, don’t hesitate to stop and practice a stitch if you need to. Ripping stitches out of a main project is sometimes necessary, but a great tip to avoid this is to practice something on a piece of scrap fabric first. If you get to a stitch that you don’t know how to do, or you feel like trying something new, practice first! You can have a look at the following tutorials if you need help with any of these stitches:
My last tip to successfully begin an embroidery project is to not be afraid to add your own personal touch! Change up the colour palette, use different stitches, add a quote or a touch of ribbon, and use materials you already have to really make the piece your own. I like to use some ribbon, lace, beads, and other bits and pieces in my projects, and it’s an excellent way of really making it unique. Even if you’re a complete beginner, don’t feel “bound” to pattern instructions. Follow the basics of embroidery, yes, but don’t be afraid to personalize. It’s immensely satisfying, and really opens the door to creativity.
I hope these 10 easy tips will help you seamlessly begin your next embroidery project! Whether you’re following someone else’s pattern with instructions or making up your own, taking the time to go through all these little steps before stitching will make a difference. I even like to jot down notes as I embroider (things like what colours I’m using, modifications to the pattern, etc) so I can refer to them later. Happy embroidering my friend, and don’t hesitate to reach out if you have any questions or comments! I’d love to help.