Starting a new hobby can often become rapidly very expensive. The good news with getting into embroidery is that you don’t need a whole lot of fancy tools and equipment. Getting started is easy and inexpensive! In fact, you probably already have a few of the following items lying around the house.
Embroidery hoops are essential for keeping your fabric taut and the tension even. They come in a variety of sizes and materials, generally ranging from wide 12” ones to small 4” ones. The most common ones are made of wood or plastic. Usually, they have an adjustable screw on the outer ring to make it easy to tighten the fabric and keep the tension even. They can be found in major craft stores (in Canada, you can get them at Michaels or Fabricville/Fabricland). You can also purchase them online. You can even get fancy ones with a stand, which are especially great because they free both your hands. These are a bit harder and more expensive to find however, and are not essential if you’re just starting out. Any hoop size can work, it will really depend on the size of your project. I like to keep a few of different sizes on hand!
Side Effect Warning:
Embroidery hoops make the cutest frames and will soon become your preferred way of displaying your embroidery… prepare to have all your walls decorated with them. 😉
Pretty much any fabric can be embroidered on, but some are definitely easier to work with! Woven fabrics are especially ideal. Think light to medium-weight cottons or cotton blends, or linen for example. I would recommend something with a tight enough weave so that your stitches remain secure, unless you are planning on using the weave of the fabric to guide your stitches (such as for cross-stitch). I recommend staying away from anything knit or stretchy, as it’s so much more difficult to keep the tension even and prevent puckering. You’ll also want to avoid using fabric that is too see-through (like lining…I tried that once, don’t recommend!). That’s because all the back threads and knots and other such bits of floss will show through on the good side. However, if your fabric is too heavy-weight and thick, it will be more difficult to transfer your design if you’re tracing it from a pattern or an image.
Side Effect Warning:
I’m not kidding when I say that pretty much every type of fabric can be embroidered on though – you’ll soon find yourself adding embroidery on everything, even things that aren’t fabric…(I recently cross-stitched a plastic phone case lol! Super fun but hard on the fingers.)
Perhaps the most necessary embroidery tool, the needle is an embroiderer’s best friend. You obviously can’t stitch without it! There are a few different kinds of embroidery needles out there, varying in length, size, and sharpness. Embroidery needles (also called crewelwork needles or sharps) are longer and have a bigger eye than common sewing needles. Because embroidery floss is thicker than sewing thread, you will want a needle with an eye wide enough to thread your floss, and a tip sharp enough to pierce the fabric repeatedly. Embroidery needles usually come in packs that identifies them by number; the higher the number, the smaller the needle. The sizes range from 1-12, and one pack will usually feature more than one size (I personally like the 3-9). The varying lengths and sizes will depend on the kind of stitches you’re interested in trying. I would recommend trying a few different ones and seeing what feels most comfortable.
Ideally, you don’t want to use too big a needle to create unnecessarily large holes in your fabric, or too small a needle that you can’t thread it properly. If you start with getting a set of “embroidery” or “crewelwork” needles within the 1-12 size range and you work with DMC cotton floss (or Anchor or another equivalent), you’ll be good to go! You can find embroidery needles in major or local craft stores, or online directly on the DMC website.
Making cozy little homes for your needles in the form of cases and needlebooks will become as much a priority as a necessity.
Aaaahh, this is undoubtedly the best part and the most fun to buy! The two major brands of cotton floss are DMC and Anchor, although I’ve mostly only seen DMC sold in stores around here. Again, you can get embroidery floss at most major craft stores as well as in various other local craft stores or online (the DMC website is pretty great!). Anchor and DMC use a different numbering system to identify all their colours, but there are several useful charts you can find online for colour equivalencies.
Cotton embroidery floss comes in stranded skeins of about 8 meters long (8.7 yards). The 6 strands are loosely woven together, allowing you to easily separate them depending on how thick or thin you want your embroidery to be. Most surface embroidery projects are often stitched using 2 or 3 strands at a time. However, you can use as few or as many as you want depending on what you’re stitching and what you want the overall effect to be.
Side effect warning:
Buying floss is one of the most addictive things ever, as you’ll soon convince yourself that you need ALL. THE. COLOURS.
Snips or embroidery scissors (basically small, precise sewing scissors) are an essential tool for embroidery because you’ll need a small, fine blade for making precise and clean cuts. The fine point of embroidery scissors makes it easy and un-stressful to snip threads close to the main fabric and embroidery work. Snips also come in different shapes and sizes. Ideally you’ll want a pair with a blade about 1-2” long. They can be picked up at most major craft stores or you can browse Etsy to find some truly unique or vintage ones!
I’ve somehow ended up with two pairs of these popular stork-shaped ones, of different sizes. They’re definitely my favourite kind of snips so far. The blade is nice and thin, its fine point ideal for detailwork and making clean cuts. I love them and strongly recommend them! I got the smaller pair on Amazon, and the larger one at my local Fabricville store. They are typically around ten dollars.
Even if you don’t end up getting bird-shaped ones, snips have a tendency of flying away. I strongly recommend tying a piece of string or ribbon to keep them around your neck, or you’ll find yourself losing them all the time (and I should consider taking my own advice).
There are many different ways of transferring an embroidery pattern onto fabric, and many different tools to do so. If you’re just starting, an HB or mechanical pencil will do just fine. It doesn’t work for every type and colour of fabric, but if you’re using a lightweight cotton or linen that is see-through enough, it works wonderfully. Because a well-sharpened (or mechanical) pencil tip is so precise, it is ideal for marking or transferring patterns with small details.
Other useful marking tools include the water-soluble pen, which washes off easily with water (2). The iron-on transfer pen (3) transfers your design using heat. The chalk pen (4) works like a mechanical pencil but uses chalk refills instead of graphite. The latter can prove very useful if you’re planning on embroidering on darker fabrics, but they can be expensive.
Side Effect Warning:
Even though I love trying out different kinds of transfer method, I have to be honest and admit that the mechanical pencil really is my favourite! No trick for this one. Although you may end up like me and just convince yourself you need the latest transfer pen they come up with. Maybe 😉
This is probably not the first thing that comes to mind when you think “embroidery tools”, but! If you’re using a paper pattern – or just an image you want to copy– the easiest and cheapest way to get it onto your fabric is by tracing it over a window during the daytime. Simply tape your paper pattern to the window and then secure your fabric over it. Trace your design onto the fabric using the marking tool of your choice. The iron-on transfer pen won’t work for this method, but a pencil will work great. Voilà, natural lightbox!
Side Effect Warning:
Speaking of lightboxes, if you’re serious about getting into embroidery, you’ll probably want to invest in an actual one. While the window trick does work quite well, it can become very tiring on the arms and sadly doesn’t work after like, 4 pm during the winter when darkness comes on so quickly.
And that’s it!! Those are the only embroidery tools you really need to get started and achieve satisfying results, and you don’t need to break the bank to do so. Embroidery is a wonderfully affordable hobby. I hope you found this post useful and that you decide to give embroidery a try if you were thinking about it. Happy stitching!