Embroidery Know-How

Embroidery can be rewarding and provide years of enjoyment. As with any needlework, embroidery takes practice. With the right tools, materials and practice, you'll be embroidering beautifully.


  • An embroidery/crewel needle is sharp and has a long oval eye. This needle is designed for fine- to medium-weight fabrics. Sizes 1-10 are standard.

  • Sharps are fine, strong and have a round eye. These needles are good for embroidery and fine hand sewing. Keep a supply of sizes 10, 11 and 12 on hand; 12's are the shortest.

  • A millinery needle is long and narrow and has a consistent thickness along the shaft. Milliner's needles are perfect for making French Knots.

Thread choice depends on the fabric you are embroidering and the look you want. Experiment with different threads on different fabrics to acquaint yourself with what types of threads work best for your project.

  • Rayon embroidery floss has a high sheen. Because it tends to knot easily, work with short lengths. Before stitching, first dampen thread with a moist cloth to discourage knotting.

  • Cotton floss is a single twisted thread with a shiny finish. Work in lengths up to 18".

  • Perle cotton has a low sheen and comes in sizes 3, 5 and 8; the largest number is the thinnest.

Using a hoop helps the embroiderer avoid pulling the stitches too tight, puckering the background fabric. Look for a hoop large enough for your fingers to reach the center, around 6"-7" in diameter. Hoops are available in metal, wood and plastic.

To use a hoop, first insert the area to be embroidered over the inner ring. Align fabric so the grain is straight and the surface is smooth. Place the top ring over the inner ring; adjust the tension screw if necessary. Remember to remove your work from the hoop after each embroidery session to avoid distorting or creasing the fabric.

Begin stitching by inserting the needle from the back of the fabric 2"-3" away from the starting point of the first stitch. Sew a few running stitches to secure the thread ends; these stitches can be covered as you complete the embroidery stitch, securing the ends. Or running stitches can be removed after the embroidery is complete. To do this, unsew the running stitches and rethread the needle. Bring the thread ends to the back and work them into the embroidery.


  • Before embroidering the design, test thread for colorfastness by immersing an embroidered sample in warm water. Let sit for 10 minutes and then remove the fabric. Gently squeeze the sample between layers of paper towel or muslin to check for stains. Do not use any floss that bleeds.

  • Always use a larger background fabric than you need. After embroidery is complete, trim fabric to the correct size.

  • Avoids knots on the back of your work; knots create lumps and show as shiny spots when pressed. From the back, weave the ends of the floss under the embroidery and trim the excess length.

  • Press the completed piece from the wrong side on a padded ironing board with a damp pressing cloth.


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