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Embroidery Tips and Tricks

By: Roxanne McDonald - Updated: 27 Sep 2012 | comments*Discuss
Needlework Embroider Embroidery Beginner

Experienced needleworkers, especially those who are self-taught, have likely learned how to get the most out of a design or pattern by going through a trial and error process, a good deal of frustration, and a lot of embroidery thread or needlepoint yarn. But for beginners, some tips and tricks will help save time, money, and maybe even your sanity.

Blank Canvas or Fabric

Embroidery kits have the blank material already chosen and cut for you, but general stand-alone designs will require you get a certain size, colour, and count. Aida, one of the most popular brands, provides pink, cream, tan, white, black, red, and other natural shades in a variety of sizes and counts.

When you shop for the blank fabric, consult your pattern. The designer will almost always indicate which size weave to get. The weave is gauged by the number of squares/stitches per square inch of fabric. So, for example, a 14-count weave is one which has 14 stitch-squares per inch. The smaller the number, the larger the workable squares.

It is very important that you use the count indicated on the instructions page, for the design will not come out as you want it otherwise!

Also helpful to know is when you get the material home, baste the edges with a sewing machine, so the edge doesn't fray or unravel.

You can also buy a special substance such as Fray Stop® to serve the same purpose: it comes in a little plastic bottle and you squeeze the stuff around the edges of the cloth-working the same way fingernail polish used to stop tights and nylons from running once you snagged them.


Like material and thread selection, embroidery needles vary in size, but keep to the 24 or 26 needle. The trick is to use a blunt tipped needle that wont drag or snag as you work, and to use one which has a small enough eye that the needle doesn't leave gaping holes in the fabric afterward.

Embroidery Thread

When you go to the crafts store or online to purchase specific coloured threads, buy the full amount you will need to complete the pattern. This is suggested because like yarns, threads are dyed in batches; and some will vary slightly from others. Likewise, buy the same brand of thread, staying consistent throughout for the design-so that hues, shades, thicknesses, and consistencies are the same.


The Cross Stitch

When you work a cross stitch pattern, keep with the same direction. That is, if you do the first bar of the cross-stitch from bottom right to top left (\) and the second stitch from bottom left to top right (/), do so for every stitch thereafter. The finished piece will have a beautiful symmetry, or flow. And besides, this habit will give you a rhythm and speed you can appreciate!

Then again, some people prefer to do all the single stitches of one half of the cross-stitch, then return to do the other half. This will be up to you, which is faster, more fun, or more efficient.

Carrying Thread

When you begin a design, you will bring the first thread up through from the back. Do not make a knot as it will create a mess and too much bulk. Instead, hold about an inch of remaining thread at the back while you make your first cross-stitch. Then the thread will "stay" without coming loose.

As you go on, you will get to spots where you use one colour for a few stitches, and then have to take the next stitch in that colour a long way away. You can do one of two things: you can pass the thread through a couple times in the back so that it is secure (like a knot, but not knotted), and snip your thread, then start again a few inches over where the colour picks up again.

Or, you can do what is called jumping: you run the needle and thread through the existing weave on the back, securing and moving it closer to the new spot to be stitched.

The Back Stitch

Some designs will call for a back stitch for the fine detail around eyes, noses, mouths, lettering, or as borders. To do back stitching, follow in a line, starting with one single stitch about an eighth of an inch long. Then, for the second stitch, follow the line wanted, putting the needle up about a quarter of an inch away and putting it back down at where the first stitch left off. Continue to back stitch over the line you want marked as an outline stitch.

Finishing Stitches

When you finish with a colour, run the thread through other similar colours to secure it and to make it blend in as inconspicuously as possible. That is, if you run black thread through white or light yellow threads, the black may show through to the front…which you surely don't want. So stick the colours together as you finish, and snip.

Finishing a Piece

Once you are finished-especially if it is a longer, larger piece, you might find an area that has gotten soiled or smudged. Don't worry, simply wash the finished piece in warm or cool water with a mild soap designed for silks, or other delicates. (Or, you can get special liquid soap at the crafts shop.)

Once the piece is finished washing, lay it on a clean towel to dry for about twenty-four hours. If you wish to iron it, use a very low heat and iron from the back.

The framing will be up to you or the person to whom you give your beautiful finished piece. Some people like to fold the top end of the material, sew it with an inch or so hem, and run a short curtain rod or natural fiber or stick through the hem for a funky and more unique look!

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