Ultimate Embroidery Guide for Beginners
Trying to start a new hobby like embroidery can seem daunting at first - but it needn't be!
This page will guide you through the basics of starting embroidery, and lots of FAQs that beginners have - you can delve into each topic in more depth if you're curious!
What Do I Need to Start Embroidery?
You don't need much to start your own embroidery project!
Here is a quick guide to all the basics...
A medium weight cotton fabric is usually best for starting embroidery.
A material too thin or stretchy will warp or scrunch up when you stitch on it; and anything too thick or heavy will really hurt your fingers after a while!
My favourite fabric is Klona cotton, but other medium weight cottons, calico, linen, or a thicker polycotton will also work just fine.
Check out my handy guide for the best embroidery fabrics right here.
There's loads of different types of embroidery hoops out there - the more experienced you are, the more you'll know which you prefer!
For starting out, any wooden hoop with a screw top will work fine - I often use a simple bamboo hoop like this one.
When buying an embroidery hoop, it's important to think about what the hoop is for - is it for holding the fabric whilst you embroider (A 'working' hoop) or is it for displaying the finished piece (A 'display' embroidery hoop)? Or do you want one hoop that can do both?
There are a couple of main differences between those two types. If you're looking for a working hoop, then you need one that can be tightened and loosened to hold the fabric taught and allow you to easily loosen it to change the position of the fabric in the hoop. These will almost always be a screw top hoop made from a flexible type of wood - usually bamboo. The other difference between working hoops and display hoops is price - working hoops are cheaper, because the wood is not finished to a 'display' quality.
For Display embroidery hoops, these don't need to be able to tighten, so can be made from less flexible wood - which allows for a wider range of woods that can be used to make them since it doesn't need to be flexible. The reason these don't need to be able to tighten is that you can tighten the fabric when you fit it using stitching - which you can't do when you're working on a piece, because if you stitched it tight then you'd need to unstitch it to reposition the fabric! Display hoops come with a metal hanging ring instead of a screw top. The display embroidery hoops I sell are made from European beech wood.
If you're looking for more information, I've written a short guide on how to choose and use an Embroidery hoop here
It might go without saying that embroidery needles are best for embroidery - but other types will work, too! embroidery needles are finer than cross stitch needles, as the fabric used in embroidery is normally a much tighter weave than the aida fabric used in cross stitch.
I usually use a needle between sizes 7 and 9 for my embroidery, as they're best for working with 2 strands of thread, which is the number of strands I recommend using in my kits.
As you get more experienced with embroidery, you can change the number of strands you use to create different effects - when you do this, you might find it easier to use a larger or smaller embroidery needle - needles are sold in multi-packs, and you can either buy a multi-pack of one particular size, or you can buy a multi-pack of a range of embroidery needle sizes.
The best thread for hand embroidery (in my experience) is DMC stranded cotton - and this is my favourite thread to work with, too!
Embroidery thread is almost always made from cotton or silk, and has 6 strands which is great as it can be separated out to the thickness that you like. The thread is sold in skeins, which are 8m in length - so if you use two strands, one skein can do you good for 24m of stitching.
There's tonnes of other thread out there, too! My second favourite threads are Anchor - and there's even handy colour charts online, where you can find the closest colour matches between DMC and Anchor threads.
I've written more extensively about Embroidery threads in this article here
An Embroidery Pattern
Your pattern is just the design that you'll be stitching - which is the most exciting part!
I've created downloadable embroidery patterns for all of my designs, and there's loads of creative embroidery artists that do the same - so there's a world of designs to choose from.
If you're an arty type - or want to stitch something totally individual - then get sketching! You can sketch your pattern on to regular paper, as this can be transferred onto the fabric quite easily - see below!
If you're a beginner, for sketching your own patterns it's best to use line drawings, without too much shading - this can develop as you get used to the stitches. It's just easier to see and transfer a line drawing as opposed to a sketch! If you're looking for a free embroidery pattern to get started with, I've designed one just for you - check it out here!
A Transfer Method
Finally, you'll need a way to transfer your pattern to fabric.
My favourite method is by using dressmakers' carbon paper, which you can use to transfer a pattern from paper to the fabric. It's quite a simple process, but there are a few things to be aware of - I recently made a tutorial and video on how to use carbon paper for fabric, which shows you the process along with some tips.
Embroidery Tools for Beginners
There's loads of tools that you can also use to get started in embroidery!
Some are obvious - like a couple of good pairs of scissors. Others are less obvious - but can be great little investments if you're keen to spend more time embroidering!
One of my favourite embroidery tools is my wooden hoop stand - perfect for holding my hoops in place and preventing achy fingers or arms.
I love my magnetic needle minder, too - I'm forever dropping needles, so it's great to have an accessory that keeps them safe!
Read my guide to embroidery tools for beginners here.
How difficult is Embroidery?
Starting embroidery can be as difficult as you want to be! Some basic stitches (like Back Stitch) are great for creating simple shapes, and are quite easy to get the hang of. Other techniques (like French Knots) can be a bit trickier, and require a certain knack - but there's plenty of tutorials and stitch guides to help you out along the way!
IIf you're looking for more information on how difficult embroidery is, I've written more extensively on the question here
How long does embroidery take?
..and how long does it take to get good at embroidery?
It totally depends on the pattern or design that you choose! Some of my simpler designs (like the Rainbow) take me about 4 or 5 hours to complete. Other, more complicated, designs like the Elephant take a bit longer - perhaps 9 or 10 hours. The stitches are the same level of difficulty, but the Elephant is just a bit bigger!
Embroidery takes a bit of practice, but because the stitches are small - and are repeated a number of times - then it's easy to master each stitch, without it taking too long!
What if I make a mistake on my embroidery?
My favourite thing about embroidery is that its very forgiving. Unless you're using a super delicate fabric, or somehow chop a big hole in it, then it's really easy to undo mistakes.
If it's a stitch that's gone off course, just unthread your needle, then use it to catch hold of and undo whichever stitches you don't like.
And if it's a big old knot - they happen sometimes, too! - then just snip off that bit of thread and tie it down at that back (if it's long enough), to stop previous stitches loosening. Then just carry on from where you left off!
...If you hear someone say that they have to 'frog' a bit of embroidery, it just means that they're undoing it - 'rip it' = 'ribbit'. It happens to everyone!
I've only done cross stitch - can I do embroidery?
They're two different skills, but chances are that if you've practiced cross stitch, you'll find it easy to transition into embroidery. Embroidery has a wider range of stitches than cross stitch does - but already doing a needle craft is a great foundation for learning more techniques!
I prefer embroidery to cross stitch because there's a bit more freedom with it - you can start on any part of a design that you like, and there's no need to count stitches. Plus, if you make a mistake then you don't need to undo a whole row (or more!) - you can just take out the tiny section that's not quite right and go from there!
Ok you're tempted to try embroidery, but it looks complicated - more complicated than cross stitch - let's go into some detail about how difficult embroidery is or isn't!
Carrying on from my series on the basics of embroidery, it’s time to talk about another staple – the hoop.
Let's talk thread - the main brands, and the main types of hand embroidery thread available.
I show you how to transfer a pattern from paper to fabric using carbon paper - and a pen!
Founder & Owner of Paraffle
Sammy set up Paraffle as a side-venture in 2017 whilst she was doing her PHD at Edinburgh University. After finishing her PhD in Religious Studies (specifically Hinduisim and the New Age movement of Tantra), running Paraffle has become her full time hobby and job!