Sunday, March 4, 2012

Embroidery 101 {sort of}

In case you haven't noticed, I've been a bit obsessed with embroidery lately. :) And as I've been stitching, I've been thinking about the things I've learned since I first started.

When I was a kid, my grandma taught me the basics of embroidery (both of my grandmas embroidered and sewed, so I like to think I'm helping to carry on the tradition :). She gave me some embroidery floss and a hoop, and I worked on some of those little samplers that have the pattern printed on the fabric, and you just stitch over it. Apparently I didn't fall in love with it then, because I didn't embroider any more until just over two years ago.

You can see my first awkward stitches here. :)

{VW van cross stitch I finished this week. It's tiny- 4 inch hoop- and adorable. :) I've always had a thing for VWs, and I love the rounded vans. You can find the *free* cross stitch pattern here.}

Every once in a while I get emails from blog readers about my embroidery. They usually ask how I learned and if I have any books or websites to recommend. I do, and I'll share them at the bottom of this post. But for now, I give you...

8 Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me When I First Learned Embroidery
{aka, the longest list title ever}

1. Keep things organized.
For a while, all of my floss was jumbled up in a little plastic bag. If you're just starting to embroider and accumulate colorful floss, now is the perfect time to get your supplies organized. If you've been doing this for a while and have stuff scattered everywhere, you have a slightly more daunting task ahead of you. But it's still worth the trouble.

All you really need is a clear plastic craft organizer box and some embroidery floss bobbins. I got mine at Hobby Lobby- the case was about $2 (and probably on sale for even less) and the bobbins are 99 cents for a package of about 25 (I use the plastic ones because they're more durable, but you can make your own out of cardboard).

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a colorful embroidery box is one of the prettiest sights ever.

Note: Always keep your embroidery box closed when you're not using it. Even if it seems to be in a really safe place. I know from experience that when your perfectly coordinated box falls and your beautiful rainbow of colors is scattered across the floor, it's almost enough to make you cry.

2. Take the hoop off your fabric when you're not stitching.
It takes approx. five seconds to do this. I used to think it was such a pain to remove the hoop. I would leave my fabric in there for days until I worked on it again. So my first embroidery projects have permanent hoop markings that no amount of washing or pressing will remove. I learned my lesson and take the fabric out every time I'm finished working on a piece for the time being, even if it's just going to be a few hours before I pick it up again.

3. Always wash your hands before embroidering.
Even when you think your hands aren't dirty. :) It sounds silly, I know, but I honestly think it keeps the fabric cleaner and prevents stains. This, combined with the above tip, will help you avoid hoop marks.

4. Use good fabric.
You're going to be putting hours into most embroidery pieces, so you might as well use nice fabric that will last for a long time. I used to use cheap muslin, which worked okay sometimes but not so great at other times. I've found that Kona cotton works well for solid colors.

5. Keep up with needles.
Maybe this is just a "me" thing, but I have a really bad habit of sticking needles in places and then forgetting about them. Examples: in the hem of my t-shirt, in a crease of my jeans, in the arm of chairs, etc. Confession: I once lost my embroidery needle in the hospital (my brother was having surgery and I took something to work on). I still feel really guilty about that. Of course I had to lose it at the one public place where people actually walk around in sock feet. I have a cute needle book...I don't know why I have such a hard time using it. :)

6. Metallic embroidery floss is not scary.
I always heard such horror stories about metallic floss that I thought I would never use it. Then I tried it, and guess what? It's not scary at all. It does fray and split very easily, which is a little obnoxious, but it just means that you have to slow down and be careful. It can add a really unique look to embroidery.

{Fantastic Mr. Fox}

7. Don't stress out over knots.
The knot in your embroidery floss probably looks a lot worse than it is. A few tugs or a bit of loosening will usually unravel a terrible looking knot. If it doesn't, no big deal. Just cut the floss, either knot or tuck in the loose end, and start again. :) A sharp needle can sometimes help with tight knots.

8. Check the colors you already own before you buy any new floss.
I know how it is when you first start a new project. You see the color list on the pattern and the first thing you want to do is hurry off to the magical floss aisle at Hobby Lobby. :) And floss is only 40 cents a skein, right? But a lot of those skeins add up, and sometimes the pattern will call for a color that you only need a tiny bit of.

So I always look through my embroidery floss before I go to the store, and then write down the colors that I really need. On the Princess Bride cross stitch, the pattern calls for about four different shades of brown. I didn't buy any, because I already have a lot of brown floss. But for Buttercup's dress, for example, I needed that perfect shade of burnt orange, so I bought that specifically for this pattern.

It's less wasteful (and less expensive) to check and see if you already have any colors that might work. :) And you won't accidentally end up with three or four skeins of the exact same color. *cough*

As for resources, I learned to embroider by using Aimee Ray's Doodle Stitching book. (She also has a book of motifs out.) But I also highly recommend Alicia Paulson's Embroidery Companion. They're both equally amazing if you're just starting out, or if you already embroider. But they're two very different styles, really, so you might prefer one over the other.

The internet is full of crafty resources. One of my favorite embroidery blogs is Wild Olive. She has free patterns and projects, an adorable Etsy shop, and an amazing series about embroidery basics. If you're leaning more towards cross stitch, Alicia Paulson has a tutorial here. And lastly, Feeling Stitchy is a blog full of embroidery info and inspiration.

I don't claim to be an expert at embroidery by any means...these are just things I've learned along the way and resources that were helpful to me. :)

{Some embroidery on my wall.}

If anyone has any other helpful embroidery resources, blogs, tips, or anything else, feel free to share in the comments. :)

P.S. I am brainstorming ideas about possibly doing a free embroidery pattern or two and maybe an embroidery-related tutorial here on the blog. And I'm also looking into offering PDF patterns in the Etsy shop, but that would come later. :) Is that something any of you would be interested in?

Until next time,


  1. ~ * ♥ * ~

    Thank you for posting this Kristin! I've been dreaming about embroidery, but have yet to pick up my hoop and needle. I love the tip about sorting out your floss - I intend to do that asap. Maybe that will help. :3

    bonita of Depict This!
    ~ * ♥ * ~

  2. Thanks for the tips! I just took the hoop off my current embroidery project. And, I may find myself organizing my thread before the end of the day!

  3. Oh, you are amazingly smart! :) Thanks for the tips. Once I'm back from my trip, I hope to attempt some embroidery. Question, where did you get the pattern for the one of the little girl hanging clothes? It's so cute! And of course, I'd be interested in it!

  4. I'm just starting to do a tiny bit of basic embroidery, but have a plastic sack full of floss. I've made cardboard bobbins for some but really organizing it would be good. And I had no idea about taking the hoop out. .. point taken!

  5. I will add this: WOODEN HOOPS ARE NOT FOR DISPLAY! They are cheap and WILL explode after being tensed for a long time. They are a Temporary Thing. Your lovely embroidery WIll sag and WILL eventually fall to the floor. If you want to have the "in the hoop" look, buy any number of the "hoop like" frames for this. Whenever I son etsy sell something in a wooden hoop as the "frame" i just want to beat them hard.

  6. Great ideas! I bought the floss divider that had 2 metal rings and 2 small white plastic boards to create a "notebook". It came with ziploc type bags to organize the floss. I write the color and number on index cards that have been cut into smaller pieces and put it inside each bag. Next I sorted the bags in number order to easily find them when I need them. I just use regular ziploc type sandwich bags to organize more floss. I punched 2 holes in the bottom of each bag to fit in my little "notebook".

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