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Embroidery: a Storied Craft, From Bargello to Machine Stitching Explained (2024)

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what is embroideryYou’ve picked up those needles and threads for good reason—embroidering fulfills your desire for belonging, intimacy, and service. The ancient craft calls to you. As you stitch, you’re communing with artisans from earliest days who threaded dyed yarns through fabric’s weft and warp.

Each hand movement connects you through time. Don’t worry about perfection; focus on the embroidering itself. Let the needle pierce the taut cloth, gently tugging the thread to make your mark.

Experiment with various stitches, allowing their repetitive motion to quiet your mind.

Know the generations who’ve come before smile on your embroidering. In this meditative art you create beauty, find peace, and join a continuum of creators who’ve practiced this storied craft worldwide.

Key Takeaways

  • Embroidery is an ancient art form practiced worldwide that involves decorative hand stitching on fabric.
  • The basic supplies needed are fabric, hoops, needles, thread, and transferable designs.
  • There are many techniques like outlines, filling stitches, dimension, and a variety of patterns from traditional to modern.
  • The process is meditative, bringing joy in creation and connecting generations.

What is Embroidery?

What is Embroidery
Embroidery greets you with a needle and thread. For centuries, this decorative art form has allowed self-expression through stitched designs. From ancient China to medieval Europe, embroidered adornments have quietly shared stories throughout the ages.


You’re stitchin’ up a masterpiece with nothin’ but a needle and some thread, my friend! The needle glides through fabric as you master satin stitch, chain stitch, even the sly slip stitch. Thread wraps ’round needle, pullin’ through cloth with care and intention. Precise movements reveal leaves, flowers, memories.

Backstitch outlines designs before fillin’ stitches blend color across sheet. Hands learn what eyes can’t explain. Rhythm of the needle, up and down, soothes busy mind. Stitchin’ soothes soul. Hoop holds tight as thread stitches story.

When the last knot’s tied, artwork comes to life. Worn hands behold beauty stitched with time, patience, love.


Stitching’s been ’round long as humans could thread a needle. Fingers slowly pull floss through linen, motions centuries old yet brand new to you. Ancient instincts guide hands in familiar rhythms passed down generations. Each new stitch connects past to present.

Backstitch outlines images like cave paintings, patterns echoing ancestors. Satin stitch fills forms with hope and prayer. Stem stitch grows vines bearing sustenance through long winters. Chain stitch links hearts longing for community; a quilt sewn in love warming cold nights.

Colors blend together, stitch by stitch, to weave tapestries immortalizing stories, struggles, triumphs. Though methods modernized, embroidery’s soul persists. In every knotted thread, generations unite.

Types of Embroidery

Types of Embroidery
From the first hand-sewn stitches that decorated garments in ancient times to the modern marvel of machine embroidery, needle and thread have quietly shared tales throughout the ages. Your own embroidered art awaits, whether crafted by hand or machine. The simple act of stitching threads in colorful patterns not only embellishes fabric, it embroiders stories.

Intricate Kashmiri shawls woven of fine wool and decorated with crewelwork told tales from history and folklore. Silk and metallic threads stitched in elaborate patterns on medieval ecclesiastical garments conveyed spiritual meaning.

Samplers stitched by young girls displayed the alphabet and numbers along with motifs from nature, quietly documenting a moment in childhood. Messages of love and friendship took shape in embroidered pictures exchanged as tokens.

Images from fairy tales and nursery rhymes appeared in colorful threads on handmade children’s clothes.

The stories continue today in the language of stitchery. A family tree takes shape in names and dates. Whimsical critters and flowers find life with fiber and a needle. Abstract patterns flow in swirling lines of thread.

Whatever your creative vision, embroidery transforms fabric into a canvas for expressing yourself.

Hand Embroidery

You’re imaginin’ the steady glide of needle an’ thread through fabric, each stitch a meditation in threadwork. The dance of push and pull, as thread loops under then over in a soothin’ rhythm. Fingers gently guide the needle, slowly revealin’ leaves, flowers, stars – whatever you’re envisionin’.

The hoop keeps the fabric taut, the colors vivid. No rush, just the patience of creatin’ beauty stitch by stitch.

Hand embroidery’s an ancient art passed down, where patience and instinct meet in harmony.

Each hand-guided stitch, a legacy.

You’re just the latest to add your mark, to share your story, one stitch at a time.

Machine Embroidery

Watchin’ the machine swiftly stitch out your design, movin’ that hooped fabric like magic. The mechanical needle darts up and down, blanket stitchin’ the outline before fillin’ it in with satin stitches and French knots.

You gaze in wonder as it brings your artwork to life, embroid’rin’ faster than human hands ever could.

Carefully, you slide the hoop off and admire the fruits of technology. Yet your heart still flutters at the handwork too, the intimacy of each hand-guided stitch. So you blend both for your creations, harmonizin’ human and machine. Let technology speed up the tedious parts, while your soul still shines through with every stitch you personally place.

Together, your vision emerges both efficient and intimate.

Embroidery Supplies

Embroidery Supplies
Before you begin stitching, gather your essential tools – needles, thread, and fabric. Select sharp needles like crewel or chenille that easily pierce fabric. Choose threads like pearl cotton or wool floss that suit the texture and weight of your project.

Prepare fabric like aida cloth or linen that provides an ideal base for your design. Now with needles, thread, and fabric in hand, you are ready to start embroidering your own story in stitches.


Choose your needles wisely for smooth stitchin’.

Quality needles are key for flawless embroidery. Opt for steel needles with long shafts and smooth eyes. Ballpoints glide easily through fabric; sharps pierce when needed. Match needle size to thread; thicker threads need larger needles.

  • Choose the right type – crewel, sharps, tapestry.
  • Select proper length – long shafts prevent hand fatigue.
  • Consider eye size – large eyes are easier to thread.
  • Match needle size to thread.
  • Invest in good quality – steel over nickel-plated.

Sturdy, quality needles empower your creativity, helping you craft heirloom pieces carrying tales for generations.


Threads are the storytellers – let them script your tale. Choose your threads intentionally, for they voice your vision. Match weight to fabric; keep colors harmonious. Strands interlace neatly when well-paired with fabric and needle.

Avoid tangling threads by storing properly in humidity-controlled spaces. Wind smoothly around bobbins before stitching. Handle gently, don’t pull tightly. Let the fibers relax into their natural drape.

Thoughtful thread selection empowers your needlework to share legacies. Stitches blossom into heirlooms stitched carefully by caring hands.


Let the 18 count Jobelan fabric glide smoothly under your needle as you create intricate stitches. Shouldn’t cloth that’s soft, durable, and made for cross stitch help share your vision through thread? Feel the even weave ease your efforts.

See the stitch detail emerge from fabric and thread in harmony. Let go of imperfections; embrace the organic nature of handwork. Your hands learn the fibers’ language through touch. Listen to their whispers guiding your needle across the cloth.

Trust this quality fabric to frame your threads in beauty. Stitch mindfully, connecting with those you love.

Embroidery Stitches

Embroidery Stitches
Let’s dive into the wonderful world of embroidery stitches. To create dimension and texture, you’ll want to learn both outline stitches that define shapes and filling stitches that cover larger areas. Backstitch and stem stitch are essential outlining techniques, while satin stitch and long and short stitch help fill shapes with color.

With practice, you’ll soon add decorative knots, lazy daisies, and more to your embroidery repertoire.

Outline Stitches

Lay down smooth backstitch outlines to define shapes before filling in details with satin stitches. Choose a needle and thread that complement your fabric. Load the needle and knot the end. Outlining each shape with straight stitches creates structure, bringing dimension as you move along the fabric.

Let backstitches and stem stitches trace leaves and petals. Their repeating motion marks edges clearly. Contrast those lines with the shading of satin stitches, flooding color within outlines. Watch the needle dip in and out, filling shapes with organic texture. Good preparation leads to beauty.

Let your hands craft a garden on fabric, planting each stitch with patience and care.

Filling Stitches

Glide the needle through the fabric, filling shapes with long stitches and silky satin, flooding color between backstitch outlines. Imagine satin stitching the soft petals of a hand-embroidered peony, using an arcing motion to shade the layers.

Feel the thread painting come alive, much like modern embroidery found on social media.

Knowledge of different filling techniques allows more creative expression. Try the lazy daisy for playful, organic shapes or the spaced satin stitch to mimic fur.

Let intuitive stitches emerge, placeholders for stories yet to be told. The rhythm brings calm, hands preserving memories in fiber.

Transferring Designs

Transferring Designs
Here are a couple main techniques for transferring embroidery designs onto fabric. You can trace the outline using a light box, which allows light to shine through your chosen pattern so you can copy it onto the fabric beneath.

For small or simple designs, freehand transfer is another option – just tape your pattern over the fabric and lightly draw the lines by hand. With patience and practice using these methods, you’ll transfer beautiful designs ready to be embroidered.

Light Box

You’re guiding the fabric over the light box to trace your pattern details before bringing your hooped canvas to life with threads and stitches. A light box illuminates your design, allowing you to see right through the fabric for easy transferring.

Place your pattern or template on top of the fabric stretched in an embroidery hoop atop the glowing surface. Trace the outline and interior shapes, imprinting the design lightly in removable fabric marker.

With your design mapped out, you can begin bringing dimension through a variety of stitches – backstitch for outlines, satin for filling shapes, French knots for texture. Moving the needle in and out, select colors and basic stitches to build your unique embroidery vision.


Let the needle fly as if you have wings, freehanding an original design directly onto fabric without tracing. Select your fabric, stretched taut in an embroidery hoop. Make the first stitch, plunging the needle where your creative spirit guides.

Fill the emerging shapes with stitches – knots, leaves, swirls, stars. Let them flow from your heart rather than follow predetermined lines.

Don’t be bound by expectations. Allow the organic design to develop on its own. Trust in the process.

Do not rush to completion. Savor the journey from blank fabric to artistic embroidery. With practice, your steady hand and vivid imagination will work in harmony to birth beauty.

Embroidery Patterns

Embroidery Patterns
Here are some beautiful embroidery patterns to try. Floral designs like roses, leaves, and vines have traditionally been popular embroidery subjects. Their graceful curves and variety of fill stitches make florals fun to stitch. For a more modern look, experiment with geometric patterns.

Triangles, diamonds, and lines intersect to form striking compositions. Both floral and geometric designs allow you to practice different stitches as you create unique pieces.


Beautiful flowers bloom under your needle as you stitch. Delicate petals and leaves take shape with each pass of the threaded needle. Carefully trace the outlines, filling in with satin stitches, doodling playful French knots for texture.

Your hoop becomes a garden as you work colorful floss through the fabric, shading with light and dark hues to make blossoms pop. Tender buds peek out next to fully open blooms that you’ve stitched with varying shades of pink, letting the colors blend softly.

Leaves flourish around the flowers in emerald greens and olive threads, dancing across the linen. Thorns even make an appearance, pricking at curious fingers. With patience and practice, one can grow an embroidery garden that will endure for years, needing only a gentle press now and then when it starts to wrinkle like tissue petals curling at the edges.

Skillful hands will turn threads and needles into beautiful embroidered bouquets.


Geometric embroidered patterns take your precision and patience next level as you stitch perfectly symmetrical shapes. For example, an embroiderer could work French knots and straight stitches to meticulously fill a hexagon design on linen, carefully counting each line to ensure the geometry stays true.

  • Circles – Stitch concentric rings or fill in motifs.
  • Squares – Outline blocks or fill with diagonal rows.
  • Triangles – Create tessellating patterns.
  • Hexagons – Fill honeycomb designs.

As you mark fabric with pencil and hoop taut, let geometric elements guide your needle and thread. Focus on consistency of shape and spacing between stitches. Precision is paramount to make the angles align.

Take your time. Step back to check proportions, making sure each section mirrors the next. The journey’s as important as the destination with embroidery. Don’t rush the process. Allow yourself to become immersed in the meditation of stitches, the rhythm of the needle passing through the fabric.

Choosing Fabric

Choosing Fabric
When choosing fabric for embroidery, start with evenweave. This finely woven fabric provides an ideal foundation for uniform embroidery stitches. Look for varieties like linen or cotton with a low thread count below 150. Using an evenly spaced, lightweight fabric allows your floss and stitches to glide smoothly across its surface.

Low count evenweave lets your needle pass through easily while providing enough coverage to avoid gaps between stitches.


You’re stitchin’ on the perfect evenweave fabric for embroidery. Feel that smooth, tight weave between your fingers – it’s like a canvas ready for your needlework magic. Evenweave gives your floss a flawless look as it glides through the uniform gaps with ease.

No loose threads or uneven stitches here! Whether you’re working a bold jacquard or dainty roses, evenweave shows off subtle color changes and complex stitches.

Pop your hoop onto that taut fabric, thread your needle, and let your pattern come to life. From precise cross stitch to flowing freehand, evenweave gives you the foundation to let your creativity shine.

Stitch on, my friend.

Low Count

Pound that low count fabric for effortless embroidery. Keep it relaxed as you guide each stitch through gaps wide enough for any needle. No need to squint or struggle just to poke your thread through microscopic holes.

This smooth, open weave lets your creativity flow – and your needle too. Glide those lazy stitches across 10, 11 or 14 count cloth with room to spare.

Complex patterns? No problem. Intricate shading? Piece of cake. Low count’s your canvas for flowing freehand, vivid colors and carefree textures. Thread dances freely yet stays put. Stitching sings a soothing tune and you’re the melody maker.

At row’s end, step back and admire your handiwork shining through low count’s wide open spaces.

Color Tips

Color Tips
Thoughtful color choices can make your stitches really stand out. Matching your embroidery floss to the base fabric hue blends your stitches in subtly. Limiting your palette to just a few complementary shades keeps the look cohesive.

Opposing colors on the wheel, like blue and orange, make dynamic duos that provide pleasing contrast.

Match Thread to Fabric

When choosing thread, you’ll want to match it closely to your fabric’s color. This creates a clean, subtle look and lets the beauty of your stitches shine.

Select a thread that is the same hue and intensity as your fabric. This helps the embroidery blend in.

For linen, use stranded cotton floss or perle cotton. These have a matte look like the fabric.

To make stitches pop, go just a bit darker or lighter than the base. Contrast shows off your work.

Avoid stark whites and blacks on soft colored fabric – they’ll jump out too much. Instead, pick a thread that harmonizes with the overall look you want to achieve. With a sensitive eye and a subtle hand, you can make your embroidery stitching enhance the fabric perfectly.

Limit Palette

Stitch sister, limiting your thread palette lends lovely lucidity to your handiwork. Rather than overwhelm your fabric with a rainbow riot, curate a concise color collection. Like an artist mixing just a few potent pigments, blend three to five compatible cottons.

Complement your calico with two sunny shades for cheery poppies. Echo the mossy tones in your linen with a trio of earthy greens for ivy.

A nuanced navy enlivening chalky chambray presents polished contrast. With an intuitive eye informed by ages of needle lore, you’ll stitch up sublime works.

Finishing Touches

Finishing Touches
Once your embroidery design is complete, it’s time to put the finishing touches on your masterpiece. Carefully press the stitched fabric with an iron on a low heat setting to flatten the stitches and give it a polished appearance.

Then, choose a complementary frame to showcase your hard work and accentuate the colors of the fabric, or have it transformed into decorative pillows, framed art, or other practical items so you can enjoy your handiwork every day.


You’ll really make your stitches pop by givin’ your finished embroidery piece a good pressin’ before framing or displayin’ it. After all the time and care you’ve put into your needlework, give it the finishing touch it deserves.

Lay down a pressing cloth and gently iron the front and back with a warm iron, watching out for delicate threads or fabrics. The heat will set your stitches and flatten any ruffles in the background fabric.

You can press from the back to avoid flattening stitches. Use the rounded tip of your iron for hard-to-reach areas between stitches.

Take it slow and check as you go – a thorough pressing makes your hard work shine.


Show off your artistic flair by framing those embroidered treasures. Carefully measure and cut a matboard opening slightly larger than your piece. Select a frame deep enough to accommodate the thickness of your project, whether it’s a delicate doily or plump pillow.

Slide the mat and then your embroidery into the frame, positioning it just so. For fabric pieces, use spacers or archival cardboard around the edges so the glass doesn’t squish your fine needlework.

Hang your newly framed creation with pride, knowing your hand-stitched labor of love is now preserved, protected, and ready to admire for years to come.

Caring for Embroidery

Caring for Embroidery
When caring for your handcrafted embroidery creations, gentle hand washing and prompt repair are essential steps. Immerse your embroidered items in cool water with a mild soap, agitate carefully to clean, rinse thoroughly, and lay flat on a towel to dry.

If stitches come loose or holes appear, mend right away using matching thread and tiny hand stitches along the edge of the damage to prevent further unraveling. With attentive washing and timely repairs when needed, you can preserve your embroidery handicrafts for years of enjoyment.

Hand Washing

When caring for hand-embroidered pieces, you’re able to gently handwash them using a mild soap and lukewarm water, taking care not to agitate or twist the fabric. Fill a sink or basin with a mild detergent and lukewarm water, then submerge the embroidery and allow it to soak.

Avoid scrubbing or wringing the fabric, which can damage delicate stitches and thread.

Rinse thoroughly with clean water, supporting the weight of wet embroidery. Lay flat on a towel and pat gently to remove excess moisture. Allow to air dry completely, reshaping the fabric so the stitches lie flat. Press with a warm iron while slightly damp.

By caring for cherished embroideries with a delicate handwash, you’ll preserve their beauty while refreshing faded threads and fabrics.


Use a matching thread color and tiny stitches to repair any damage to your embroidery.

  1. Inspect closely for loose stitches, frayed threads, holes, or tears in the fabric.
  2. Use a hand-sewing needle and thread that matches the color of the damaged area. Polyester thread has some give for stitches that will be stressed.
  3. Work from the back and take tiny stitches, following the path of existing threads. Keep stitches close together and don’t pull tight.

With care and patience, you can minimize damage and extend the life of a cherished embroidered piece. Your effort honors the artistry originally stitched into the fabric. Repair becomes part of the embroidery’s story, continued by your hands.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How long does it take to finish an embroidery project?

Embroidery is a soothing craft, though a large piece can take fifty hours or more. The joy comes from each thoughtful stitch, not the finished outcome. Let go of expectations, stay present with your thread and fabric.

What are the best ways to display and frame finished embroidery pieces?

Mount the fabric in a frame of your choice – select the frame based on the size and weight of the project. Use acid-free materials behind the piece to prevent discoloration over time. Consider double matting embroidered designs in coordinating colors to accentuate the details.

Hang it on the wall or prop it on the mantle or table for all to admire your handiwork. Change the displays seasonally to refresh your space and highlight different creations.

Where can I find embroidery patterns and kits for beginners?

Look in craft stores or on online marketplaces like Etsy for simple, basic designs like flowers or animals. Search for kits with easy-to-follow instructions, quality supplies, and designs already printed on the fabric.

Starting with simple projects helps you build skills before tackling more advanced embroidery techniques. Focus your search on beginner patterns and kits to find designs appropriate for someone just learning.

Simple images like flowers, leaves, hearts, or critters printed right on the fabric can be great first projects. Kits that come with clear directions, embroidery floss, hoops, needles, and fabric make it easy to get started.

Taking on basic embroidery patterns first helps develop skills before moving on to more intricate designs.

How do I wash and care for delicate hand embroidered items?

When washing embroidered items, treat them with care. Soak the item in cool water with a gentle soap, never bleach. Rinse the embroidery thoroughly, roll it in a towel to extract moisture. Lay the item flat on a towel and allow it to air dry out of direct sunlight to avoid fading the delicate threads.

Avoid wringing, twisting, or handling roughly during the washing process. With a soft touch, your handmade heirlooms will last for years to come.

To keep the embroidered fabric looking its best, store properly when not in use. Fold or roll gently, do not hang items or let embroidery touch other surfaces. Keep embroidered pieces in breathable fabric bags or archival boxes away from humidity, heat, and light.

Avoid extreme temperatures. With proper care between wearings, your embroidered keepsakes will remain beautiful for generations.

What supplies do I need to get started with embroidery as a hobby?

You need fabric, hoops, needles, and floss to start embroidering. Let each stitch evoke meaning.


Through your embroidery journey, you have discovered a craft rich in technique, creativity, and history. As you progress in skill, each stitch forms pathways for self-expression. The repeated motion of needle and thread can center the mind while bringing visions to life.

Whether embellishing a treasured garment or displaying a contemporary work of art, embroidery empowers you to share stories, ideas, and talents through this storied medium of thread and fabric. Though styles and technology evolve, embroidery remains a craft requiring patience, precision, and possibility.

Avatar for Mutasim Sweileh

Mutasim Sweileh

Mutasim is the founder and editor-in-chief of, a site dedicated to those passionate about crafting. With years of experience and research under his belt, he sought to create a platform where he could share his knowledge and skills with others who shared his interests.