Hand embroidery for beginners: a guide to getting started

29 May 2020
Just beginning your embroidery journey? Our hand embroidery beginners' guide talks you through the basics to get you started on the path to beautiful stitching.  

The joy of hand embroidery? You don’t need much – a piece of fabric, some threads, a needle, scissors and a hoop is all it takes to start stitching beautiful things… Once you get the hang of it, there are so many techniques to branch out into and enjoy!

Explore the guide:
Choosing the right fabric
Using an embroidery hoop
Using stranded thread
Embroidery needles
Embroidery scissors

How to start hand embroidery

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Choosing the right fabric

Fabrics used for embroidery are usually classified as either evenweave or plain weave. Evenweave fabrics have a regular number of threads in both directions and are used for counted thread techniques such as cross stitch and blackwork. Aida and canvas are included in this category. Plain weave fabrics include cotton, rayon, silk, linen twill and even synthetic fabrics. They are used for freestyle embroidery, crewelwork or any non-counted technique.

Cotton or linen make an excellent first choice for beginners to hand embroidery. Look for fabrics with a smooth surface and a tightly woven finish as these will be easier to work with. If the fabric is likely to need washing in the future, then give it a quick wash first. This will avoid the fabric shrinking after you’ve stitched on to it.

Top tips!

  • It’s a good idea to give the fabric a good press before starting. This makes the fabric much easier to stitch, as well as removing unsightly wrinkles.
  • Make sure to leave a good border around the design before cutting your fabric. This will allow for mounting in your hoop, plus any finishing you may wish.
  • To prevent the fabric fraying as you work, finish the raw edges either by cutting with pinking shears or zigzagging with your sewing machine.

Using an embroidery hoop 

embroidery hoop needle thread

If you want to avoid your fabric puckering as you stitch, then invest in a hoop. A 6in hoop makes a great starting point, doesn’t cost much and is really easy to use.

  1. Separate the two rings by loosening the screw on the outer ring. The outer ring will hold your fabric over the inner ring once your fabric is inserted.
  2. To prevent your fabric from slipping, bind the inner hoop with strips of fabric. Secure the end of the binding with a couple of stitches. If using fine or delicate fabric the outer hoop should also be bound in this way. When using a firm fabric such as linen twill, it isn’t necessary to bind the hoops.
  3. Place the inner ring on a flat surface and lay your fabric over the top. 
  4. With the tension screw at the top, gently ease the outer ring down over the inner ring, pulling the fabric taut as you go. When your fabric is taut and wrinkle-free, use a screwdriver to tighten the screw.

Top tips!

  • Always remove your embroidery from the hoop when you’re finished stitching. This avoids creases developing in the fabric that are difficult to remove. It only takes a moment to pop your embroidery back into the hoop and makes for a much better finished result.
  • Check the fabric tension in the hoop regularly and adjust as needed.

Using stranded thread 


Stranded cottons are extremely versatile and come in a huge range of shades. The number on the thread refers to the colour assigned by the manufacturer. The threads are made up of six strands twisted together. 

  1. Cut a length about 50cm long from the end with the barcode label and pull gently to avoid tangles. 
  2. Next holding the end you pulled from the thread between your index finger and thumb, remove one strand at a time from the cut length. The remaining strands will fall back into place. 
  3. Pull out another strand in the same way.
  4. Recombine the required number of strands as specified in the project. This makes certain that the strands are not twisted together and gives smoother, more even coverage on the fabric. 

Top tip!
When stitching, allow the needle and thread to hang freely from time to time as this enables the thread to untwist and helps avoid knotting. 

Stitch magazine is all about inspiring ideas with needle and thread. Each issue gives you step-by-step projects that are packed with all the detail and images you need to create beautiful embroidery. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a beginner or have a bit more experience, you’ll be guided every stitch of the way. Find out what’s in the latest issue and see our great subscription deals!

Embroidery needles – getting to the point! 

Embroidery (or crewel) needles have a sharp point so they slide in and out of closely woven fabric easily. In this way they are very similar to sharps – the general purpose sewing needles used by dressmakers. However, they have an elongated eye. This allows them to carry multiple strands and makes them easier to thread. They come in different sizes numbered from one to 12. The higher the number, the shorter and finer the needle. Sizes seven and nine are most commonly used. You need to choose the right size to allow the needle to pass through the fabric easily, but not so it leaves a hole in the fabric. 

Top tips!

  • Needles get blunt. As soon as the tip starts to catch the fabric or does not pierce it cleanly, change it. 
  • You may find a needle threader makes it easier to thread multiple strands.

Embroidery scissors – at the cutting edge!

embroidery scissors

Ideally, you’ll need three pairs of scissors – one for cutting fabric, one for paper templates and a final small pair for snipping threads. Your embroidery scissors need a fine tip for accurate, clean cutting every time. The blades can be straight or curved –the curve allows you to cut threads closer which can give your embroidery a tidier finish on the reverse.

Top tip!
Buy the best you can afford and keep for their designated use. Paper will blunt your blades!

Now you’re familiar with the basics, explore what’s possible with needle and thread in our introduction to embroidery techniques.

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