'The Great Wave off Kanagawa' hand embroidery tutorial

04 August 2021
Learn how to hand embroider The Great Wave off Kanawaga, one of the most iconic Japanese works of art in this stunning step-by-step tutorial by Tamina Astrid.

The original is a woodblock print. Here you can learn how to translate all the power and movement of that enormous crashing wave into stitch.

How to hand embroider The Great Wave 

By Tamina Astrid

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You will need


  • DMC stranded cotton thread – 310, 823, 517, 3765, 3761, Blanc, B5200
  • White drill linen – 10x10in
  • Felt – 6x6in


  • Light box
  • Pencil
  • 6in embroidery hoop
  • Embroidery needle
  • Embroidery scissors 
  • Fabric glue

Back stitch, French knot, straight stitch

Download The Great Wave template


1. Using your light box and a pencil (or your preferred method) transfer the pattern onto your fabric. Don’t worry too much about it being perfect as it’s just a rough guideline! 

The Great Wave pattern on fabric

2. Take the DMC 310 (black) and split the six threads into two strands. Start by tracing the outline of the break of the waves in back stitch. Follow this with lighter straight stitches to add texture throughout the crests. These details will create depth. 

Adding stitching to The Great Wave pattern

3. Now take the DMC B5200 and split the six threads into three strands. The remainder of the project will be worked in three strands. Fill in the crest of the waves with straight stitch and back stitch. The stitching needs to be closely packed. Stitch in the direction of the ‘flow’ of the water, as the crest of the wave would naturally tumble over. This will create movement. Since you're covering a largeish area with dense stitching, you may need more than one skein of B5200. 

Hand embroidered waves

4. Now it’s time to fill in the bottom half of the waves. For this you'll need DMC 823. Follow the traced lines, filling every other curved stripe with lines of back stitching to create thick blocks of navy blue. You could choose to make them different widths or have them the same. It depends on the style you prefer. 

Hand stitched waves in progress 

Top tip! As an alternative, try using lines of stem or split stitch to fill in the waves.

5. Now fill in the stripes in-between in DMC 517, again using close lines of back stitch. The main wave is now finished! 

Finished hand embroidered wave in hoop

6. To complete the side of the waves, you'll need DMC Blanc, 3761 and 3765. First complete the outer edge of the waves in Blanc using back stitch. Then working in rows of tightly packed back stitch work the inner sections in DMC 3765. Then form arches around these in DMC 3761. Before filling in any spaces left in Blanc. The stitching should follow the direction of the wave as it starts to arch up.

Sides of the waves stitched

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7. The last step is to add the detail of the spray. Form a series of French knots in DMC Blanc and 3761, randomly scattered like water droplets being thrown from the top of the wave. 

Embroidered wave with water droplets effect

Top tip! For a more dramatic look, use black or navy-blue fabric!

8. To finish pull the fabric so it’s sitting flat and taut in the hoop. Then trim any excess to 3cm. For a quick finish, simply glue the edges of your fabric to the back of the hoop.

9. If you have more time, run a gathering stitch all the way around the trimmed fabric and pull the thread tight. Carefully remove the outer hoop (the fabric will be held in place). Draw around the inside of the hoop on to your felt. Cut out. Replace the hoop. Secure. Now whip stitch the felt to the fabric to hold in place. 

Find out more

Tamina Astrid

Facebook: facebook.com/taminaastrid/
Instagram: @taminaastrid

New to hand embroidery? Don’t miss our hand embroidery guide to getting started, ideal for beginners or if you’re looking for a refresher. Or continue the ‘nature’ theme and try your hand at stitching beautiful cornflowers.

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