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How to Learn Embroidery Stitches

Updated on January 6, 2013
BlossomSB profile image

As a teacher at all levels and mother of five children, Bronwen has been interested in a variety of crafts for both children and adults.

Useful Equipment
Useful Equipment | Source

Hand Embroidery

While there are many sewing machines that offer interesting options, they need space where they can be set up. Hand embroidery can be stored in a small work basket that is readily accessible. It is a skill that is creative, relaxing and can provide great satisfaction. A little patience is needed at the beginning, but learning embroidery stitches is fun, and only three or four basic stitches need to be mastered in order to produce really attractive items.

Materials: For the beginner, not many materials are needed and they are relatively inexpensive. Basically, for learning hand embroidery, all you need is

  • a packet of sewing needles with eyes that are suitable for embroidery thread
  • a few hanks of different coloured thread
  • a small pair of sharp, pointed scissors
  • some plain weave cotton or linen fabric to practise on

In Addition:

  • A 'quick-unpick' tool may be useful
  • A thimble can help to protect your fingers

The Six Strands in Embroidery Thread
The Six Strands in Embroidery Thread | Source

Before You Start

  1. Preparing the Materials: Find a scrap of plain weave fabric on which you can try sewing the stitches in the same way as demonstrated in the sampler.
  • With a pencil, draw a straight line alongside one of the horizontal threads in your fabric. You can follow this line for your practice stitches.
  • The best thread to use is stranded cotton. Choose a colour, find an end of the thread in the hank and pull out about half a metre. Cut it off and fan out the end. You will find that there are six strands.
  • Choose three strands and separate them from the other three. Sometimes they twist around and tangle, so it is helpful to have someone hold the other end, or you can hold it with your teeth.
  • Put aside one lot of three strands, ready to use next, if you need them. Keep them neat, if necessary winding them around a small piece of card.
  • Thread the remaining three strands through the eye of the needle.

The Beginning: Anchoring the Thread

Some quite good embroiderers begin with a knot at the end of the thread. While a knot holds the thread fast, it does not improve the appearance of the back of the work; the aim is to keep both sides as neat as possible.

It usually works quite well to anchor most embroidery stitches by taking several small running stitches along the line you plan to embroider on the right side of the work, say, for about one and a half to two centimetres. Leave a tiny tail poking out at the end of the thread on the wrong side. When you work over it, the embroidery stitches will help to anchor the end of the thread.

This method does not work for all stitches, as it might show. In that case it is best to anchor the tail of the thread on the back of some previous work in your design, if possible, making a back stitch or two in the one place to make sure the thread is firm and will not pull out.

Keep the Back of Your Work Neat
Keep the Back of Your Work Neat | Source

Basic Embroidery Stitches

In the sampler below twelve different stitches are shown, but probably the basic embroidery stitches can be narrowed down to about four.

Stem Stitch: This is the fourth stitch down on the right side of the sampler. It is used for stems and for many designs that require a slender line. If you are right-handed, keep the thread to the right side of the work the whole time as you sew.

  • Working from left to right along the line, push the needle into the fabric about three millimetres to the right of where the thread is anchored and bring it out back at the anchor.
  • At each stitch the needle should come out just above the top of the previous stitch. This helps to make a neat, straight line.
  • At the end of your practice line, take the needle to the back of the work and fasten with three small backstitches.
  • Snip the thread, leaving a very small 'tail.'

Satin Stitch: This is the fifth stitch down on the left of the sampler. It has a satiny appearance and is very useful for filling in a variety of shapes.

  • Working from the left to the right along the line, bring the needle from the thread anchor to the from of the fabric about two millimetres above the line.
  • Following the weave of the fabric, insert the needle about two millimetres below the line.
  • Continue making these vertical stitches, keeping them close together until you have covered the line.

French Knot: This is the third stitch down on the left side of the sampler. It is used for the centre of small flowers, eyes, and most places where a small dot is required.

  • After anchoring the thread, bring the needle to the front of the fabric, push the needle into the fabric and out again, as if making a tiny stitch, but do not pull the needle all the way through.
  • Wind the thread three times around the part of the needle that is away from its eye.
  • Holding this twist of thread fairly firmly, draw the needle all the way through to form a neat knot.
  • Close to the knot push the needle through to the back and fasten firmly.
  • If you are making the one French Knot, cut the thread, leaving a very short tail. If you are making a row of knots, as in the sampler, continue a little along the line and make another knot.

Lazy Daisy: This is the third stitch down on the right side of the sampler. It can be used for small petals and in most places where a small, circular stitch is required.

  • Push the needle partly through to make a small stitch the size you choose to make the petal.
  • Bring the thread around under the pointed end of the needle and hold it in place with your thumb.
  • Pull the needle through gently so a circular petal is formed.
  • Push the needle back down almost in the same place, but the other side of the the thread to anchor the petal. As you do this you can take the point of the needle to where you want to position the next petal.
  • When you have practised lazy daisy stitch all along the line, after you have anchored the last stitch leave the at the back, turn the fabric over and anchor at the back with three small back stitches.

Sampler Showing 12 Embroidery Stitches
Sampler Showing 12 Embroidery Stitches | Source

A Variety of Stitches

Once you have mastered these four basic stitches, you will find that many of the other decorative embroidery stitches are based on variations of these are fairly easy to learn. Some other embroidery stitches are more complicated and are best saved for when you are ready to try them.

  • Snail Trail is basically a series of small running stitches. As you end a running stitch, bring the needle to the front again, almost in the same spot as it went to the back, and make a French Knot before beginning the next running stitch. It is fun.
  • Couching is a useful stitch when you want a line to stand out more. Using all six strands of a thread, anchor it on the wrong side, make one long stitch horizontally along your drawn line and anchor the end on the wrong side again. If it is very long, it can be best to anchor it at the beginning and leave the rest of it loose, covering it as you go. Then you 'couch' this thread with small vertical stitches of two or three strands of thread. The two threads can be different colours and different thicknesses; couching gold cord can be very effective in some heavy embroidery.
  • Chain Stitch is a variation of Lazy Daisy and can be very effective.
  • Magic Chain Stitch is a variation of Chain Stitch: it is created by using two contrasting coloured threads in two separate needles and alternating the use of each as you form the chain.
  • Cross Stitch has many uses and is not difficult to do. The main thing to remember is to keep all the top cross-over stitches going in the same direction, or the work can look uneven.

Have you noticed that there are actually thirteen different stitches shown on the sampler?

The last one is used around the edges and is a special stitch used in Drawn Thread Work.

Happy Stitching!


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    • BlossomSB profile image

      Bronwen Scott-Branagan 4 years ago from Victoria, Australia

      Thank you. It's a very satisfying handcraft as it's lovely to create beautiful things that are also useful.

    • profile image

      keerthi 4 years ago

      very interesting

    • BlossomSB profile image

      Bronwen Scott-Branagan 5 years ago from Victoria, Australia

      Becky Katz: They are useful in quilting. I made a quilt with hexagons and the middle of many of the 'flowers' I embroidered events through our married life and put the family 'Arms' in the centre. The only trouble was I couldn't give it to all of our children, so now the eldest has it. A crazy quilt is a great idea, too.

    • Becky Katz profile image

      Becky Katz 5 years ago from Hereford, AZ

      My grandmother taught me to embroider when I was little. I made pillowcases and table runners. Now I use the same stitches in quilting. I have taught many people to use these stitches who love to use them in their quilting. I have a crazy quilt that my great-grandmother made in 190 and it uses so many of these beautiful stitches. It is a work of art and I have shown it to many people who want to know what a traditional crazy quilt looks like. I am trying to keep this art form alive and in use. It should not die out.

    • BlossomSB profile image

      Bronwen Scott-Branagan 5 years ago from Victoria, Australia

      teaches12345: Yes, I let it go for some years, too, but it's fun to get back to it now. Your comment only showed up today, but says that you wrote it 2 weeks ago. Interesting things happen in the ether! Thanks, anyway.

      Ruth Pieterse: Cross-stitch is so relaxing, I must have a look at your hub. Thank you for your comment.

    • profile image

      Ruth Pieterse 5 years ago

      Lovely hub. I love cross-stitch and have just written a hub about it. Embroidery an excellent pastime and so relaxing.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 5 years ago

      I used to know this back when I was a child. My mother taught me all the stitches, but as time passed I let them slip out of my mind. Wish I would have kept up with it now. Thanks for the share and the memories.

    • BlossomSB profile image

      Bronwen Scott-Branagan 5 years ago from Victoria, Australia

      always exploring: I love some of those old pieces, they're really family heirlooms, aren't they?

      lauramaryscott: Embroidery with beads sounds great. That would be very interesting.

      Frank Aatanacio: You're a great commenter, Frank. It is a matter of practice and being meticulous.

      WillStarr: Some of my attempts at school are awful, too. That sampler was when I was in Teachers' College.

      lauramaryscott: That's true, especially if we received a good mark for it. The teachers must have been very generous sometimes.

    • lauramaryscott profile image

      lauramaryscott 5 years ago from Boise, Idaho

      WillStarr, I remember having a similar experience. As an adult my work was awful but at the time I created it I thought it was beautiful.

    • WillStarr profile image

      WillStarr 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      We had to do this in 7th grade. I still have the work I did. It's awful!

    • Frank Atanacio profile image

      Frank Atanacio 5 years ago from Shelton

      looks very difficult blossoms..but I guess practice makes perfect right? thanks for the share

    • lauramaryscott profile image

      lauramaryscott 5 years ago from Boise, Idaho

      BlossumSB, you have inspired me to write a Hub on embroidery with beads. I have made some beautiful jewelry pieces using beads with embroidery. You did a good job on your article. Thank you.

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Richert 5 years ago from Southern Illinois

      I used to embroidery and loved it. I still have some of my Mother's pieces. Thank you for sharing..Enjoyed...

    • BlossomSB profile image

      Bronwen Scott-Branagan 5 years ago from Victoria, Australia

      Marzime: Thank you for your comment and vote. Embroidery is an interesting hobby.

      Jackie Lynnley: Do get back to it, it can be fun to create, especially if you make your own designs. A hand embroidered handkerchief can make a great gift.

      AudreyHowitt: I love it, too. I'm glad you enjoyed my article.

    • AudreyHowitt profile image

      Audrey Howitt 5 years ago from California

      I love embroidery! Thank you for this excellent article--

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 5 years ago from The Beautiful South

      Beautiful embroidery, isn't it so fantastic. My mom taught me some when I was younger, I really would love to get back into it! Thank you for such an interesting hub! ^

    • profile image

      Marzime 5 years ago

      Wonderful job writing this hub! I voted up. Keep up the great work :)