I really admire artists who create near perfect needle painting and exquisite silk embroideries, but that's just not me. My approach is a wee bit more laissez faire. I don't do straight lines, and counting threads is way beyond me. I don't want perfection, or something that looks like a machine made it. Using your own hands, heart, and mind to create something unique is what’s important to me.
So, if you've always wanted to try embroidery and hand stitching - just have a go. Don't worry that you don't do it the way the instructions say, or worry about how neat your work is on the back. As long as your threads are secure and don't show through - it doesn't matter.
Hand embroidery/stitching is fun, and most people can do it! You can take it practically anywhere; it's relaxing, and very sociable. You can stitch and chat with friends - and make new ones. Sewing machines and computers are fantastic - but it’s fair to say it’s harder to talk while you’re using them! You probably have much of the equipment you need to start stitching, and tools are reasonably inexpensive.
My basic embroidery tool kit:
- embroidery needles (assorted)
- small, very sharp scissors
- embroidery hoops, various sizes (but you can start off with one and
- buy more as you need)
- small screwdriver (for tightening hoops)
- an emery board- for keeping needles sharp (a small piece of sandpaper will do)
Make yourself comfy, and don't forget to take a break from time to time. It's easy to get engrossed - which is great - but you know you are too tired when you get up and find have stitched your work to your jeans (not that I have ever done this of course.....)
Before you start a project, practice any new stitches first, and make sure you are happy using them. You don't have to make a whole sampler (although this can be a fun project in itself), just get used to the stitch - try finding a simple design to copy and play around with it trying out your stitch. It’s much easier to practice first than risk spoiling it by unpicking.
Most important, find the way to stitch that is right for you; have fun and enjoy yourself!
Patchwork and quilting go wonderfully with stitchery - embroidery and applique
A bit about the detail
ThreadsBuy the best quality you can afford and treat them well! There are lots of different types of thread, but I'm mostly going to talk about 6 stranded cottons - most easily available and very versatile.
When you begin stitching it's easy to think using longer threads will save you time - sadly, this is not true. Please don't use too long a thread, or you'll get lots of horrid, knotty tangles. Really frustrating; especially when you are trying to master a new stitch. The rule of thumb is - cut a length from your index finger tip to your elbow.
Separate the strands into single threads, by fluffing them out gently. Pull one thread out, and keep the rest straight by smoothing down with your hand. Repeat the process for each strand you need. Separating each strand and then putting them back together for stitching, keeps the threads more even; your stitches will be really neat and smooth!
I used to wind my thread onto bobbin cards, but I now often use it direct from the skein. This is because each thread has a nap (the direction of the pile) and it helps to get smoother stitches if you use your thread with the nap in the same direction. You don't know which end you are using if it has been wound onto a bobbin.
If your project will need to be washed, like a tea towel, use a colour fast thread. Do a test piece and put it through the wash before you start!
Cotton Perle or Pearl cotton is another great thread to use for beginners, it comes in a variety of sizes and lovely colours, and doesn't need dividing!
Using one colour ( redwork) can be really effective.
Find a needle that's right for you and the job you are doing- regardless of what the instructions say. For example, I always hand sew with embroidery needles.
Use the correct size and type of needle for the number/type of thread you are using, though. There are a lot of different types, but basically embroidery needles size 7 and 8 are a good starting point. They will take about 2 strands of thread. If your needle is too small it will be hard to pull the thread through the fabric and too large a needle will leave holes.
- dampen the needle very lightly
- flip it over (needle eyes have 2 sides, top and bottom, where they are pressed out; so the thread will go through the 'top' more easily than the bottom, clever huh!).
A small piece of fine sandpaper or an emery board is handy for keeping your needles sharp.
HoopsTo hoop or not to hoop? It's a personal choice, and like most needle crafts, depends on the tension you use to hold your fabric and thread. I love mine. They come in different sizes and types; I like traditional wooden ones with a metal screw fixing.
If you bind your hoop with cotton strips or tape it provides more friction and also helps protect more delicate fabrics rubbing against the wood. Binding may seem a chore, but it doesn't take long, and you'll probably only have to do it once. Most of my hoops were bound 25 years ago and are still going strong. See the tutorial here.(Coming soon!)
Choose an appropriate sized hoop to hold your design. If it's got a screw fixing use a small screwdriver to tighten and unloosen it, rather than your fingers. But not too tight See the tutorial here.(Coming soon!)
If you take your work out of the hoop each time you finish, there's less chance of getting a dirty ring around it, or a permanent hoop mark.
Long tailed tits in stump work - simple stitches, but just used in a different way
FabricYou can stitch on pretty much any fabric. Use up scraps of old cotton fabric or calico for practicing your stitches. Calico is one of my favourite surfaces. My first embroideries were all done on my mum's 'best' sheets from the 1940's. They were gorgeous for stitching on! I generally use patchwork weight cottons. Linen or silk are nice to work on, but you may want to practice on cotton first.
Tacking a 'hem' around your fabric stops it catching and fraying while you work (OK, I'll admit - I occasionally have used masking tape!)
Leave enough fabric around your design to fit neatly into the hoop with a couple of inches to spare.
Other bits and bobs
Invest in a pair of small, really sharp scissors. For years I used blunt ended ones! These 'Bunny' scissors were a gift from a kind friend and now I don't know how I managed without them!
A tape measure helps position designs centrally, and a pair of large fabric scissors is useful for cutting your fabric to size.
That's about it for starters. Off you go. Have fun!