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Tools and Materials you Need to Start Embroidering

Tools and Materials you Need to Start Embroidering main article image
Posted on January 31, 2023 by Tatjana Iljaseviciute
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So you want to start a new hobby? I’m glad you chose hand embroidery! It’s a great craft with many benefits. Hand embroidery is an excellent practical skill that will support your sustainable lifestyle and positively impact your mental health.

As with any other hobby, hand embroidery requires some time, some skills, and some tools and materials.

Tools and Materials you Need to Start Embroidering

Design or an embroidery pattern

This part will be easy if you are great at drawing and have a head full of ideas. But let’s admit – not all of us have this skill. So, where can you find a design for your embroidery project?

Free hand embroidery patterns

Embroidery floss producers like DMC or Anchor offer free downloadable pdf patterns on their websites. Usually, these are simple designs with basic embroidery instructions and embroidery floss color codes. Also, some embroidery teachers offer free embroidery patterns as part of their teaching process.

Embroidery pattern by DMCPhoto credit: Tulip embroidery pattern by DMC embroidery

Paid hand embroidery patterns

Creative markets like Etsy offer a wide range of hand embroidery patterns to download at various price ranges. Usually, paid patterns have more detailed embroidery instructions and some additional learning material.

You will also find hand embroidery kits, fabric with printed patterns, or peel-off patterns there.

Floral embroidery pattern by Practical embroideryPhoto credit: Floral embroidery pattern by Tatjana Iljaseviciute from Practical Embroidery

Images to use as an embroidery pattern

Almost any image can be turned into an embroidery design. Places I look for inspiration and ideas to embroider:

  • Coloring books and pages. They have nicely defined outlines and are easily adaptable into hand embroidery designs. Creative Fabrica has a wide choice of Coloring pages in its library. You can choose the design you would like to embroider from Creative Fabrica’s extensive Graphics library .

Mushroom coloring page by Creative FabricaPhoto credit: Mushroom Coloring Pages from Creative Fabrica

  • Your photos. You can embroider your house or a portrait of your family. Take a picture, outline the images you want to create, and you will have an original embroidery pattern.

Embroidery portrait by AnemiWorksopPhoto credit: Personalized embroidery portrait by AnemiWorksop on Etsy

  • Classical art. Like photos, you can turn a well-known piece of art into hand embroidery.

Women in the Garden - Claude Monet, Embroidery by Meko GelashviliPhoto credit: Women in the Garden – Claude Monet. Embroidery by Meko Gelashvili on Creative Boom

Fabric

The second important material for hand embroidery is fabric. The fabric you choose will define the type of thread or floss you will use, the size of the needle you will need, and the tools you will use for the pattern transfer.

In general, you can embroider on any material. It can be knitwear, leather, or a plastic bag. But, at the beginning of your creative journey, you should choose less challenging materials. The general recommendation for embroidery fabrics is a medium-weight natural fabric with a tight weave. It will do well for most surface embroidery projects.

Fabric for hand embroideryPhoto credit: Tatjana Iljaseviciute from Practical Embroidery

Fabrics I recommend:

  • Kona cotton. It has a plain weave and a high thread count – everything you need for a good embroidery fabric. You will find it in most quilting stores and online.
  • Cotton Canvas is a great heavier embroidery fabric. Use it if you want to sew a tote bag or something durable with your embroidery.
  • Duck canvas is slightly lighter than cotton canvas and has a higher thread count and a plain weave. Therefore, it is an excellent choice for surface embroidery. There is a wide choice of solid colors too.
  • Cotton twill is a medium-high-weight cotton fabric with a diagonal weave. It is rather sturdy and has a high thread count. Also, this fabric has an excellent surface. Choose cotton twill to embroider pillow covers, zipper pouches, or make wall hangers.
  • Denim is also a medium-high-weight cotton fabric with a diagonal weave. It is a good embroidery fabric choice if you use thicker threads and want to sew denim clothes or household objects with embroidered denim.
  • Linen fabrics are great for embroidery. Choose a non-counted linen fabric with medium weight and high thread count. Keep in mind that linen fabric tends to shrink. Therefore it has to be prewashed before embroidering.

Fabrics to avoid:

  • Aida fabric. It is perfect for cross stitch and counted thread embroidery. But not that good for surface embroidery projects. Leave it for the time you will want to try other hand embroidery techniques.
  • Synthetic materials. They are not worth your time and effort and will reduce the value of your embroidery art.
  • Stretchy or highly shearing fabrics. Also, semi-transparent materials like tule of chiffon. These fabrics require special techniques, stabilizers, and particular embroidery stitches.

Embroidery threads and floss

Embroidery threads, together with the fabric, create a final embroidery. They can make your embroidery look tremendous or ruin it. Choose them wisely!

Thread and floss for hand embroideryPhoto credit: Tatjana Iljaseviciute from Practical Embroidery

Primary criteria for choosing the right thread for your project:

  • Type of embroidery project you want to make. Choose a sashiko thread for sashiko projects. Wool crewel yarns are the best for classical crewel embroidery. Cotton embroidery floss is most suitable for surface embroidery on cotton fabric. 
  • The fabric you chose for your project. It’s not worth wasting silk threads for synthetic materials. Also, it’s not wise to embroider bulky knitwear with cotton embroidery floss. 
  • The quality of the thread. Hand embroidery takes a lot of time and effort to make, so don’t risk that low-quality embroidery floss ruining everything. Good embroidery floss has stable colors that do not bleed when washed and do not lose their bright colors with time.

Embroidery floss and threads that are created for embroidery purposes:

  • Stranded embroidery cotton, also known as Embroidery floss or cotton mouline. It’s a classic go-to for any traditional hand embroidery project, from cross-stitch to silk shading. It comes in skeins and is made with six strands of thread that you can use all at once or separately. Some producers offer up to 500 different colors of embroidery floss. In most craft shops, you will easily find stranded embroidery cotton by DMC or Anchor. Also, smaller brands like Cosmo or Aurifil offer a wide choice of colors and high quality.
  • Pearl cotton is also widely used in hand embroidery. It is non-divisible but comes in different thicknesses. Best known producers of Pearl cotton are DMC and Anchor.
  • Crewel yarn and Tapestry wool are two types of wool yarn created for hand embroidery. You can find high-quality wool yarns for embroidery made by Appleton wools, DMC and Anchor.
  • Besides the most popular choices mentioned above, you will also find Silk embroidery threads, Rayon floss, Metallic threads, Sashico threads, Floche, Cotton a border, and more available in the craft shops. If you need a particular thread for a unique project, research online or ask at your favorite craft shop.

TIP. Only buy a few different types of embroidery floss at a time. You will soon see which kind of thread are your favorite. Only then add more colors to your stash. And when the time comes to organize your embroidery floss supplies – read this article – “8 Creative Ways to Organize your Embroidery Floss.”

Hand embroidery needles

Can you embroider with any needle you find at home? Yes, but don’t!

Choose the correct needle, and your embroidery process will be smooth and pleasant.

Hand embroidery needlesPhoto credit: Tatjana Iljaseviciute from Practical Embroidery

Needles you should have:

  • Crewel needles (also called embroidery needles). These needles will be your primary embroidery tool. They are very sharp and have a rather big hole for the thread. It is great to have an assortment of embroidery needles in various sizes. 
  • Tapestry needles (also called cross stitch needles). These needles have a blunt, rounded point and are great for all embroidery stitches that use lacing or whipping.
  • Milliner needles (also called straw needles). These are sharp, long needles with a smaller rounded eye that is not wider than the shaft of the needle. In hand embroidery, we use these needles for french knots, bullion knots, and other stitches, where the thread is wrapped around the needle.

How to choose the right needle:

  • When you pick the size of the needle, keep in mind that the shaft of the needle should be as thick as the thread you will use. For all six strands of embroidery floss, I recommend using an embroidery needle size 5. For 3-4 strands of the floss, use needle No. 7. And for 2-3 strands – No. 8. Smallest embroidery needles (No. 9) are great for a single strand of embroidery floss. 
  • Consider how thick is the fabric you use for embroidery. Thicker materials require bigger needles. The needle should create a hole big enough for the thread to pass through without significant resistance.
  • Use special needles for specific tasks. As mentioned above, some stitches will require special needles. If you want to add beads or ribbons to your embroidery, use specialized needles too.

Hand embroidery hoops

Hand embroidery hoops are made to keep your fabric in tension while you embroider. They help keep the embroidery stitches tense and prevent your work from puckering. There is a wide choice of embroidery hoops in the market. If you are seriously into hand embroidery, consider choosing a hoop stand or an embroidery frame instead of a regular hoop.

Bamboo embroidery hoopPhoto credit: Tatjana Iljaseviciute from Practical Embroidery

Most common types of embroidery hoops:

  • Bamboo hoops. These are cheap and widely available in different sizes. Most of the time, they will suit any beginner’s needs. 
  • Wooden embroidery hoops. Usually, the quality of these hoops is better, and the screw for tightening the fabric will be more durable. If you can afford it, choose wooden embroidery hoops instead of bamboo ones.
  • Plastic embroidery hoops. I’m not a big fan of these as they are rather slippery, so they do not hold the tension well. 
  • Flexi hoops. These hoops hold the tension and look good as a frame for your finished embroidery. The downside of these hoops is that you can not regulate the tension of the fabric.

Here are some tips on how to choose a suitable embroidery hoop:

  • Size. In the best-case scenario, the whole embroidery design should fit into the hoop. Having a couple of hoops in different sizes is convenient, so you do not have to move your work often and don’t waste the fabric for a too-big hoop. 
  • Good tension. If your fabric keeps loosening while you embroider – change the hoop. A good hoop should hold the tension well. Opt for high-quality wooden hoops with a robust tension screw.

Pattern transferring tools

The modern crafting industry has created a wide range of tools and materials we can use for pattern transfer. Your choice of pattern-transferring tools will depend on many criteria, like your fabric, the final use of the embroidery, and the stitches you plan to use.

Tools for embroidery pattern transferPhoto credit: Tatjana Iljaseviciute from Practical Embroidery

Most common tools for embroidery pattern transfer:

  • Pencil. Cheap and widely available, but not easy to erase. Use it if your fabric is light-colored and you plan to embroider over all the lines you transfer. The stitches should cover all the tracing marks.
  • Water-soluble pen. Available in most craft stores and easily removable with a wet sponge or by washing the finished embroidery. A blue pen works excellent on all light-colored fabrics, and a white pen – or dark-colored materials.
  • Friction pen (or heat erasable pen). This tool is widely available in different colors. It is easy to remove with a hot iron or hair dryer. Works only on light-colored fabrics.
  • Chalk pencil. This white pencil works great on dark fabrics and is easy to remove with a damp cloth or by washing.
  • Iron-on transfer paper and pens. These tools transfer printed or drawn patterns to the fabric by heat and create permanent markings. Be sure to cover all the marking lines with stitches.
  • Carbon paper. It comes in various colors and can be used for light or dark-colored fabrics. 
  • Stabilizers. We can use a wide choice of stabilizers for pattern transfer, from water-soluble (sticky and non-sticky) to tear-off stabilizers. 

Scissors or snips

Besides the tools mentioned above, you will also need a pair of scissors. You can use a wide choice of scissors for hand embroidery. Choose from beautiful crane-shaped scissors created for hand embroidery to simple paper scissors that you probably already have at home.

If you plan on buying new scissors for your hand embroidery, get two pairs of scissors – one for cutting the fabric and the other one – for the threads. Fabric scissors should be big and sharp. Do not cut paper or anything else with these.

Assortment of scissorsPhoto credit: Alabama Chanin

Small embroidery scissors can be replaced with:

  • Thread snips (nippers).
  • Foldable scissors (great if you bring your embroidery when traveling).
  • Seam ripper.

What are you waiting for? Grab all the listed tools, choose a design and start stitching!

And if you have a friend you want to take on this journey with you – share this article with them!


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