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Embroidery Basics

By: Roxanne McDonald - Updated: 18 Jun 2010 | comments*Discuss
Basic Embroidery Stitches Embroidery

There’s something delightful about turning a blank canvas into a colourful, detailed image. It’s thrilling to browse embroidery patterns, choose a challenge, shop for colours and even amass embroidery supplies. So it is with learning embroidery basics, which even seasoned stitchers recall with joy.

Getting Started

Be comfortable, whether you sit in a comfy chair or at a kitchen table, use good lighting and take note of the following advice.

Hooping Fabric

  • Separate embroidery hoops (some by loosening a screw, others just by pulling apart).
  • Lay inside hoop down flat; place fabric over first hoop with outside of fabric facing you and space you will work in open space at centre of hoop.
  • Lay outside hoop on top, and gently press down until material is unwrinkled and taut. If hoop has a tightening device, tighten just to stopping point.

Threading a Needle

It may seem straight forward to thread a needle but you must be sure that:
  • the number of strands of floss you need is correct (number is noted on embroidery pattern);
  • you only work with about a foot or so of thread length at a time (otherwise it tangles and snags): try making length from surface of your project to reach of your face/nose; and
  • you do NOT knot the thread. (Knots show through lighter fabrics, and also make too much bulk at the back).

First and Last Stitches

With the first stitch, when bringing the needle and thread up from back through to front, instead of knotting, leave about an inch or so loose at back. Hold it with your unused thumb as you finish the first stitch.

When you near the end of a length of thread, insert the needle through front to back of the fabric; turn project over; and with the thread still in the needle, weave two or three times through existing stitches. Then trim the extra hanging thread.

Basic Embroidery Stitches

There are several embroidery stitches, some easy and most often used for adding texture and showing definition, some more advanced and ornate.

To start, we will consider the most basic of stitches, Straight/Back Stitch – to make a straight lineThis stitch is typically used to outline:

  • Bring the needle up from back and through the fabric at the starting point.
  • Take the needle back down from front through to back, about 1/8 of an inch from first entry point.
  • Come back up through about 1/8 of an inch away from the second point, starting a new stitch.
  • To go back down through this time, put the needle into the threads of the first stitch. Repeat for a long line of outline stitches.
Stem Stitch –This stitch gives a great border effect and looks a little like roping:

Make first stitch.

Bring the needle up beside the stitch, and down in a point where a straight second stitch would go down into fabric. Lay stitches next to each other.

Turning a Corner

To make a curved line, you can use shorter straight back stitches that follow a curve, or you can use…

Couched Stitch

Done using two separate strands, this will have a more dramatic appearance. But modified, it is great for long lines of thread you wish to anchor and make go around turns in the line.

Prepare as if to make one long stitch by laying down line of thread along the line or in shape you want, and pushing the needle through at the second point. At intervals in line, bring the needle up right next to one side of thread and back down over and into a point right next to opposing side. Do two or three times in evenly spaced places on the same line of the thread.

French Knot

This stitch is most commonly used for flower centres and tiny eyeball dots:

  • Bring the needle and thread up through from the back.
  • With the needle tip at the entry point, twist the needle around the thread three times, and immediately re-insert the needle point at the same entry place.
  • Pull the needle out through the back until you see a knot formed on the front.
Satin Stitch

This stitch is fun and looks feels great, just as its name suggests: satiny:

  • Bring the needle up from and through the back of the fabric at one side of shape to be stitched.
  • Carry the needle across to the other side of the shape and insert at a second point.
  • Right next to second point, bring the needle back up (into a third place), and carry across to the other side of shape, pushing the needle into a fourth point/place, which is right next to second.
  • Keep doing these stitches, laying them down tightly next to each other, until the shape is filled—as if you were colouring with a crayon in straight back-and-forth lines.
Many more stitches are available when you are ready to get even more involved in the wonderful hobby world of embroidery, so stay tuned, and stay creative.

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