Introduction: Embroidery 101: How to Embroider

Picture of Embroidery 101: How to Embroider

This instructable will teach you the very basics of hand embroidery. Learning to embroider is not as tough as you might think! With a bit of practice, you'll get it down in no time. Plus, embroidery is a nice relaxing thing to do after a long day if you're a lover of crafting while watching TV or listening to podcasts - most of my nights are spent embroidering! :D

In this instructable, I'll cover running stitch, back stitch, split stitch, satin stitch, stem stitch, french knots and seed and fill stitches. These stitches are the backbone of embroidery - there are loads more advanced stitches out there, too. Once you've mastered the embroidery stitches in this instructable, I really recommend googling or going to the library to learn more stitches. They're addictive.

I've been embroidering for years, and professionally for the last five or so. I design my own embroideries and also do custom embroideries for customers through my online shop, making jiggy! If you'd like to see my work or request a custom order, please contact me through making jiggy on Etsy or Handmade @ Amazon.

I also have a couple embroidery tutorials up on my site,!

Here are some other embroidery tutorials to get you started. Head to the last step for even more!

If you like this instructable, please check out my Hand Embroidery Class!

I'll teach you everything I know about embroidery, making patterns and more. :D

Step 1: What You'll Need to Start Embroidering

Picture of What You'll Need to Start Embroidering

To start embroidering, you'll need the following items:

  • embroidery hoop - this is a ring consisting of two parts. You put the fabric in between the hoops - this helps keep it taut, making the embroidering easier. These come in plastic and wood - I prefer plastic for doing the embroidering and wood for displaying the embroideries.
  • small, sharp scissors. You can find these under many names - though a google search for "embroidery scissors" will get you what you need. :D
  • your fabric of choice! Linen, quilting cotton, canvas and osnaburg are all great choices! It should not be too loosely woven or too tight.
  • embroidery floss. This is cheap and comes in TONS of colors. I prefer DMC floss and use it exclusively.
  • embroidery needles. These have bigger eyes than normal needles to accommodate the size of the floss.
  • a water soluble marker or other marking tool. This way you can draw designs onto your fabric! It's best it you use a water soluble pen so you can rinse the markings out with cold water at the end.
  • whatever fabric you like! Muslin, quilting cotton, canvas and linen all work well. I typically embroidery on a linen blend.

Step 2: How to Use an Embroidery Hoop

Picture of How to Use an Embroidery Hoop

Embroidery hoops come in many flavors, though the basic circular wood and plastic ones are the most common. You can find them at most craft stores. :)

Cut a square of fabric slightly larger than your hoop.

To start, loosen the screw at the top of the hoop. You'll then separate the hoops. Place the outer hoop to the side - we'll worry about it in a second!

(If you're using a plastic hoop, the inside hoop will have a lip. This lip can come over the top of the hoop OR hang below the bottom. Your choice! See the last photo for how I assemble my plastic hoops.)

Lay the piece of fabric over the plain inside hoop.

After you have the fabric over the inside hoop, push the top hoop down over the inside one. This will sandwich the fabric between them. Now you'll want to tighten the screw a bit and begin pulling the fabric taut. The fabric floating between the hoops should not give very much - this will make the embroidering much more complicated than it should be.

After the fabric is taut, keep tightening the screw until it feels secure to you. But not so tightly you can't budge it! You'll regret that once you've embroidered for a couple hours and your sore fingers can't open the hoop. ;)

Step 3: Threading the Needle and All About Floss

Picture of Threading the Needle and All About Floss

Needle threading can be a little complicated at times. I've found the easiest way to do it is to wet the very end of the floss (yes, put it in your mouth.) and squish it between your thumb and forefinger. This will flatten it out and allow it to pass through the eye of the needle with less fuss.

Also: keep in mind that you do not double the floss as you sometimes do with thread. You're simply going to pull the thread through the eye and let a few inches hang loose. You'll knot the other end as usual. (And make sure to cut off the loose stuff after the knot - it'll make your work neater! Never leave more than 1/2 inch behind the knot, or it'll get tangled while you stitch.)

Most floss is multi strand. The most common is six strands. You can divide the floss for more detailed work. The best way to do this it to use your fingernails to separate the strands and then pull is apart slowly. :)

Step 4: How to Do the Running Stitch

Picture of How to Do the Running Stitch

Done just as it is in regular sewing. You can make the stitches long or short or randomly placed depending on your design.

I use this stitch for framing and embroidery design, or for things that I want to seem open and airy. I don't recommend this as much for text, because it can be a little too spacey.

You can either do the standard up and down, or push the needle through and make several stitches at once. For new embroiderers, I recommend using the up and down method just until you get the hang of spacing. :)

Step 5: How to Do the Backstitch

Picture of How to Do the Backstitch

I use this stitch all the time for text. It makes the text easier to read and it's more uniform. I also use it for any outlines on drawings because it makes the outlines nice and crisp.

I use a slightly altered backstitch for embroidery - it keeps the back neater and leaves less dark lines that show through to the front.

Here's how to backstitch for embroidery:

  1. Bring your needle through to the front of the fabric and take a stitch to the right.
  2. Bring the needle back to the front of the fabric a stitch length to the right and then pass the needle through to the back of the fabric using the hole at the end of the first stitch. (As shown in the second photo)
  3. Use the hole at the end of the farthest right stitch to bring the needle back to the front of the fabric.
  4. Repeat until you're done!

You can backstitch to the left or the right - but try it to the right first to get the rhythm down. As long as you keep your stitches even lengths it will look great!

The most important thing about backstitching is to make sure you're using the hole that forms at the end of a stitch to start the next stitch anytime you can. Take a look at the back of my back stitch - see how everything is nice and neat? That's what you want. You'll use less floss that way and keep everything nice and organized.

The pictures will probably help make more sense of this! ;)

Step 6: How to Do the Split Stitch

Picture of How to Do the Split Stitch

This is a great raised decorative stitch. It can be used much like a backstitch and works much like one.

I use this when I want things to have a little bit of texture. For example: the frosting on a cupcake, tree tops, flowers, outlines of fuzzy animals, etc.

For this stitch you'll pull the thread up and make a small stitch (no bigger than a grain of rice works best!). You'll then come back up through the middle of that stitch and take it back down through the fabric a short distance away in the direction you're going in. It's best to keep your stitches pretty short (1/8 of an inch to 1/4 of an inch.) when doing this - otherwise your stitches look messy and they won't conform to curves as much as you'd like.

See the pictures for extra help! :D

Step 7: How to Make a French Knot

Picture of How to Make a French Knot

French knots are considered to be a nightmare for most embroiders, but I love them. They're very delicate and cute and they never look the same.

Their size can also vary greatly, so you can use them in a ton of ways. (Check the first photo - the top row is French knots made with six strands of floss wrapped once, the second row the knots are wrapped twice!) You can use them for the center of flowers, as eyes, for polka dots, and even as lines if you're feeling patient. :D I use them most often while dotting i's in text.

To pull off a french knot successfully, you'll need to follow these steps:

  • pull the floss through to the front of the fabric.
  • wrap the floss that's between the fabric and the needle around the needle 1, 2, or 3 times. (One time is a small knot, 2 is medium, 3 is large.)
  • hold the floss tightly so that it is wrapped around the needle.
  • with your other hand, push the needle through to the back of the fabric very close to where the floss emerged.
  • keep holding the floss taut and pull the needle all the way through.
  • practice this a few hundred times until it becomes second nature. :D

You'll knot these on the back as normal. For the cleanest work (if you're not making loads of them!), tie off between each french knot. Otherwise, you'll have tails everywhere if the knots are spread out!

Step 8: How to Do the Stem Stitch

Picture of How to Do the Stem Stitch

The stem stitch is fantastic for vines, branches, flowers and outlines. It also looks great for text, but you've gotta be careful with sharp corners.

A stem stitch is similar to a backstitch, but instead of linking stitches at the ends, you're going to instead bring the needle up for the next stitch right next to the last stitch.

Make a small stitch about the length of a grain of rice. Bring the needle back up through the fabric on the right or left side of the previous stitch, fairly close to the end of that stitch as shown in the second photo. Keep starting your new stitches on the same side of the stitches you're already put down.

This stitch is easiest to practice with lines drawn - when you try it without lines it can be tricky to know where each stitch should end.

Step 9: How to Do the Satin Stitch

Picture of How to Do the Satin Stitch

Satin stitch is great for adding big splashes of color to your embroideries - filling in letters and shapes and all kinds of things!

Satin stitch can be done in many ways. You can outline a shape with backstitching and then fill it in. You can do satin stitch on its own with no outline. You can also backstitch an outline and then satin stitch completely over it to get a slightly raised area.

To practice satin stitch, first draw a simple shape on your fabric. Then use a backstitch to outline it. Then you'll simply go back and forth across the shape (I always like to start in the middle, but it's personal preference.) until it's filled in.

Try it again using the other two methods!

The two most important things about satin stitch are:

  • getting as close as possible to the outlines so that your satin stitch looks nice and full - you can always go back and fill in those bald spots with seed and straight stitches, but it's easier to get it right the first time!
  • don't continue your satin stitch on the back of your work. It'll waste your embroidery thread and make your work bulky! To avoid this, bring you thread to the front for the first time right next to the outline on the left. Then, bring it across, and down next to the right outline. Instead of crossing over to the left side of the outline on the back of the fabric, just bring the needle right back up next to where you just pushed it through. That way you're saving thread and time. :)

Step 10: How to Do Straight and Seed Stitches

Picture of How to Do Straight and Seed Stitches

These are similar to running stitch - you're just not following a line! The placement is normally very random.

Straight stitches can vary in length and are wonderful for filling in areas with loads of texture. Seed stitches are very tiny - you'll be catching just a few threads with these! Seed stitches are most often used to fill areas in. Straight stitches can be used for a ton of different things - filling things in, adding detail, shading, etc.

See the pictures for a quick example.

Step 11: Additional Information and Recommendations - and Some Embroidery Photos!

Picture of Additional Information and Recommendations - and Some Embroidery Photos!

The stitches in this instructable are just the beginning! I've included lots of photos of my embroideries just so you can see what you can do. I use the backstitch waaaaaayyyy too much - it's my crutch! I'm trying to get better about it, though. :D

Creating your own embroidery patterns

I've also published an instructable over how to transfer embroidery patterns, which should be useful if you're just starting out!

To create a pattern, you can draw on the fabric (there are water soluble markers!), or use iron on transfers or carbon paper to copy a design onto the fabric.

I've also posted a tutorial over creating easy borders to your embroidery patterns!

Advanced Stitch Tutorials:

Embroidery supplies and tools

As far as shopping for supplies and patterns, you can check your local craft/sewing retailer or try these websites:

Instagram embroidery

Instagram has a HUGE embroidery community, so I recommend getting involved there! Here's my profile - check out the list of folks I'm following to find some amazing artists. :D


fkflores made it! (author)2009-08-16

I've been meaning to show you the Japanese curtains I made for my boyfriend after reading your Instructable! I have never done anything artsy before and this was my first attempt at embroidery. It was a lot of hard work but I pulled it off... Thanks again!

Oscelot (author)fkflores2016-01-28

Holy bajeebus, those are GORGEOUS. I love the metallic thread too! Now I want to go make noren...

jessyratfink (author)fkflores2009-08-16

Those are amazing! You did a beautiful job. Did you like doing it? Because I think you should keep on with it if you did - you seem to have a knack for it! :D

Craftyman84 (author)2017-12-11

HI, Great tutorial, i am looking forward to starting embroiding amongst other craft skills i am trying, could you advise how you would go about embroiding a 50mm fabric badge? i feel i may have started at the deep end, but hopefully there is an option that i can use? thanks again

Jac_Attack (author)2017-08-24

Where did you get that neat box to hold all the bobbins?

mrsrobinsonchs (author)2017-03-15

Working my way through your tutorial. Thanks so much for keeping it short and sweet. I feel like I accomplished something today!

DianaG53 made it! (author)2016-03-01

first embroidery project! Half way through , thanks for the tutorial. I'm not good at drawing or sketching or painting, it's super frustrating finding different mediums to work with ! I know it's kinda crappy cause I did it free hand. Il show you how it looks when it's finished !

jessyratfink (author)DianaG532016-03-01

That looks so great! I think that's really impressive for free hand. I can't wait to see what it looks like when you're done :D

DianaG53 made it! (author)jessyratfink2016-03-02

Hip ! Hip! Hooray !?Finally done the flower thanks again for the tutorial I'm gonna be decking out these jeans !!!

KMack76 (author)DianaG532017-01-22

Love this!!! Beautiful!

DianaG53 made it! (author)jessyratfink2016-03-02

here are the jeans ! I found this pair at a thrift shop for 7$ . They are Apple bottom jeans that had a super wide leg that I made skinny fit. I love how they are turning out!now I got the song ! Apple bottom jeans - em-broid-erred - the whole club was looking at her!

Somebodyspecial made it! (author)2016-07-12

I did this one morning to practice for embroidering a quilt block on a quilt for my aunt and uncle. It worked out very well!!!! Thanks so much for teaching me those extra stitches!

Oh, I love the way that looks! I've always wanted to embellish printed fabric. :D

SuzyP7 (author)2016-05-13

I am taking on my first project, but with a challenge. I purchased blue and cream colored embroidery canvases and after cutting 2 rectangles 12x6 sewed them together, then set up the hoop to show 2/3 blue and 1/3 cream. I am planning a scene with embroidered grass below and clouds in the blue area above. It's going well but I am having trouble withe the split stitch grass at the seam. It's coming out very bulky even though I trimmed the seam as far as I could. Any ideas? Thanks

jessyratfink (author)SuzyP72016-05-13

You know, I have never tried to embroider over a seam! I did some googling, and it looks like you may be able to smush the seam flatter by using a mallet to smack it.

The only thing I can think of to help will be a next time sort of thing, because it involves the way you sew the canvas. If you sewed it together and left a 1/4 inch seam allowance and pressed the seam open, that may be you best bet since you've only got two layers of canvas on each side and it's nice and flat.

Here are some photos of what I'm talking about:

MohammadF6 (author)2016-03-20

this seem hard but is not.

ToniD11 (author)2016-03-06

Hi. How many strands should you use if no number is specified? This is where I really get confused.

jessyratfink (author)ToniD112016-03-07

That is really personal preference! I tend to do 6, 3, and 2 strands for everything.

6 strands is great for outlining, satin stitching large areas, or big text since it's the thickest. I use 3 strands for smaller text or coloring in tiny areas. 2 is for complex outline or teeny details.

Sometimes if I'm unsure, I'll hold the thickness of floss I'm thinking about using up to the pattern, that can help you decide. :)

tlouisa (author)2014-03-30

Hi there! I am really new to this so I have really enjoyed reading your instructions but I am a little confused with this.. So, on the 4th picture (or the 1st one in the row of three) would you then put the needle back left and go through the fabric right next to the first stitch that is there? Then after this would you need to make a double long stitch on the back so it stretches out far enough for you to do the same thing again?

teshcreations (author)tlouisa2014-11-09

Hi tlouisa, from what I understand you to be saying, I think you are right. Just to make sure, in the photo below the black arrow shows where the needle goes back in, and the green dot shows roughly where the needle should come back up. Then the need would go back in where you see the thread coming up in this picture.

mar9en (author)teshcreations2016-02-03

I don't understand how the back looks the way the author's does. When you're going down at the arrow, up through the green dot, and back down to the left, shouldn't the back have long overlapping stitches instead of gaps every other stitch?

teshcreations (author)mar9en2016-02-17

I just did a bit of backstitch to see...yes, the back stitches should overlap (unless I'm doing it wrong). I think 1) @jessyratfink changed the pictures from what they were, and 2) maybe those are the wrong back photos?

Sorry about that - I updated the photos without updating the text! I changed it all out now so it should be easier to understand. Have a look and let me know if it makes sense. :)

I've slightly modified the backstitch I was using so it is neater now!

mar9en (author)jessyratfink2016-03-01

Yes, that makes more sense now, and I liked the neater look, so thanks!

jessyratfink (author)mar9en2016-03-01

Sorry about that - I updated the photos without updating the text! I changed it all out now so it should be easier to understand. Have a look and let me know if it makes sense. :)

I've slightly modified the backstitch I was using so it is neater now!

magdalena.strzelec.56 (author)2014-11-03

Hello! I just began embroidering, and I have a question about transferring patterns. Is there a way to transfer your own, hand drawn patterns onto fabric? I searched the internet and all I could find were pre-made iron on designs. Thanks!

Here's how I do it!

If you have a laser printer (not an inject printer):

* Scan you drawing in

* Print a mirror copy of your picture

* Put the paper on your fabric and iron it on

The reason why it works is because the printer work by essentially melting toner on the paper. So heating it up again will release some of the ink back onto the fabric. Most copiers and high end color printers work the same way.

An alternative method is to make the mirror image with computer and trace the picture with a washable crayon.

KatieR35 (author)2016-01-28

I'm BRAND NEW to embroidery, like, I know NOTHING. When you buy floss to you separate the threads for embroidering?

jessyratfink (author)KatieR352016-01-28

You can, yes! For example, on these embroideries, the outlines are made of the full six strands of the embroidery floss. The text is made of three strands of the embroidery floss.

Just cut a length of floss and then use your fingers to pull it apart. :)

clewis21 (author)2016-01-28

Great idea to remind folks you don't need some high priced embroidery machine.

maxhirez (author)2016-01-28

I just wanted to comment to say something nice about your choice of particular police box as subject matter. Thank you for beautifying the world!

jessyratfink (author)maxhirez2016-01-28

Ha, thank you! I love Doctor Who but had never tried embroidering anything from it. Thankfully a customer set me down the right path :D

Walrus83 (author)2016-01-20

This is so helpful! Thanks!

BlogMarsha (author)2015-11-08

Thanks for your sharing, I love all of them.

KathrynP12 (author)2015-10-12

What a great tutorial! Thanks for sharing this infor!

aurorathewise (author)2015-05-09

How do you get the floss to stop falling out of the needle when you make a stitch?

Keep a tail of about 2-3 inches long through the eye of the needle and try to hold your needle very close to the eye. The long tail and the pressure from your fingers will help keep it in place.

Once you've done it for a while, you can embroider with hardly any tail - it'll become second nature to constantly check to make sure you won't pull the thread out. :)

dixon.martin (author)2014-11-17

Thank you for doing this. It looks like you put a lot of work into it, and it is fantastic.

PennyB1 (author)2014-09-27

Thank you for taking the time to create this great easy-to-understand instruction page. I've been wanting to start an embrodery project for a while now and now I feel like I can do it! I'm so excited to get started on a pillow cover. I'm heading over to Michael's right now to get my supplies. :o)

neetz (author)2012-02-13

i am making a purse and i want to embroid it but it is way too small to use an embroidery loop. can i do it without it?

JaelynRae (author)neetz2014-04-02

I know this is old but I thought answering might help someone later one...embroidery hoops come in MANY different sizes. The smallest I have personally are 2 inches in diameter (across the middle of the circle) and the biggest is 14 inches in diameter. I think the sizes are available in 2 inch increments, but I could be wrong and there are likely larger/smaller hoops than what I have. Hope that helps!

jessyho862013 (author)2013-02-17

pretty one lolz

aweekfromthursday (author)2012-11-24

This was wonderful. Thank you for being so informative, and your photos were terrific. Thank you.

pjds78 (author)2012-11-13

Thank you for sharing this tutorial. I need to have reminders on stitches occasionally now that I get forgetful. It will be nice to have this handy , you did a beautiful job on showing the different stitches.

destiny1952 made it! (author)2012-01-29

i just wanted to share a quilt that i just finished. the pegasus is hand embroidered with yarn. I wanted to do something with my art besides doing on paper. anyways, thanks for letting me share....

GlenCoco (author)2012-01-09

Thank you, very well done! <3

kjoberk (author)2011-11-20

Cannot wait to do this! I'm planning on making my daughters monster lovies for Christmas and need to embroider the happy, happy monster smiles!! I'll be going to get some embroidery thread this week! Thank you so, so much!

frannylaurie (author)2011-08-21

Can not get the hang of this! Ahhh It looks as tho it is going to work then when I pull it through it unwraps and comes through as a stitch : (
Any advice?

It could be that your needle is coming out and going into the fabric very close together. Sometimes, when I try to bring the needle down really close to where I started, it can form a larger hole and I'll just end up pulling the knot right through! I've done it tons of times when I've been in a rush.

If that's not what's happening, I'd make sure to wrap it at least two times, and hold the thread taut until the thread loop forms and starts to goes through the knot. Sometimes it can be tempting to let go too early. I've done that too and had it unravel. :)

This is a good video, too, if you think watching it being done might help:

About This Instructable




Bio: I work at instructables by day, and turn into a stitch witch by night. follow me on instagram @makingjiggy to see what i'm working ... More »
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