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teach yourself embroidery

I love crafting, but it’s a little intimidating to try a new craft project. Some require a lot of start-up costs, and it’s hard for impatient people (like myself) to push through the awkward learning phase that beginners have to go through before actually making something that looks good. But what if I told you there was a craft that you could try out for just a few dollars and you might even make something you don’t hate right out of the gate? It’s called embroidery.

So, I am definitely not here to say that it’s easy to be good at embroidery. There are amazing crafters and fiber artists who are on a level I can’t even imagine. But I would venture that it’s easy to be okay at embroidery, and it’s definitely a craft you can start for very little upfront investment and one that requires more patience than innate skill. I’m a self-taught beginner, which is why I’m not teaching you how to embroider…I’m showing you how to teach yourself embroidery!

Handmade cross stitch design of The Breakfast Club

Pattern by Wee Little Stitches.

Where to start

The very easiest way to start hand embroidering is to buy a kit, which will come with all the materials you need to make the included pattern. Personally, I started a half step up by just purchasing a downloadable pattern – any of these will have a list for you of what you’ll need. For your average beginner-level cross stitch/embroidery project, I’d expect to need:

  • Fabric/Aida cloth (the natural grid weave of this fabric makes it perfect for cross stitch)
  • A hoop
  • Tapestry needles (these have round, blunt tips)
  • Embroidery floss
  • Scissors

That’s it! Technically the hoop is optional, but I would highly recommend using one – not only does it keep your fabric nice and taut so it’s easier to stitch, but it makes it very easy to move your project around if necessary. I purchased all my supplies at my local Michael’s, but you can probably find these at any craft store.

Your first project

I would definitely recommend starting with a kit or pattern for your first project so you can get a hang of working with the materials before you set off on your own. But one of the best parts of a budget-friendly craft is the freedom to experiment. After completing a few cross stitch patterns, I decided I wanted to branch out and get more familiar with embroidery. So I googled a few different stitches and was on my way! Like I mentioned above, a lot of embroidery is about patience. Especially with cross stitch, there isn’t necessarily an unusual “skill” you need when following a beginner’s pattern. As long as you pay attention to detail and follow the pattern, you’ll probably end up with something that looks pretty good.

Handmade cross stitch design of a witch to celebrate Halloween. The text reads "Best Witches To You"

Pattern by Redbear Designs

Shops & Resources

  • Sublime Stitching was & is a huge help to me! If you want high-quality, easy to follow tutorials for basic stitches, this is the place to go. There are also a variety of patterns & supplies available.
  • Cross Stitch Writing Tool: If I want to add my own words to a design, I love using this free tool to map them out. There are a few different font options to fit your style.
  • Wee Little Stitches: Most famous for “pixel people” often of a geeky persuasion. I bought my very first cross stitch pattern from this shop! It was super easy to follow and gave me the confidence to continue in my cross stitch adventures…I’ve purchased other patterns after that first one, and I will definitely purchase more.
  • Redbear Design: the cuuuutest seasonal cross stitch patterns. I love the witch pattern I made for Halloween last year, and I’m drooling over all the spring patterns in the shop right now!

On the whole, downloadable patterns are super reasonably priced; you can also try searching for free patterns on a subject you want…a lot of them are a bit more traditional than I prefer, but I did once find a site with like 70 free cross stitch patterns of Pokemon, so you never know.

In progress hand embroidery project

Work in progress

Tips & Tricks

As I said above, I am certainly not an embroidery expert (or, I’d argue, even particularly good at embroidery), but hopefully my close proximity to the stage of absolute beginner means my tips will be useful to other people figuring it out along the way!

  • If you mess up, you should probably just keep going. I’m definitely a perfectionist and I hate seeing that I’ve missed a stitch or miscounted a row, but in my experience, trying to rip things out to “fix” the mistake just makes a bigger mess of everything. In the end, you’re probably the only one who will notice that out-of-place stitch.
  • Consider the order you place your colors. For the most part, jumping around the pattern doesn’t matter that much in cross stitch…but when you find yourself accidentally depositing tiny fibers of red on your pristine white stitches, you’ll wish you thought about it.
  • Keep the back as clean as possible. I kind of rolled my eyes at this advice when I was first getting started, and I’m still not the best about it, but it really does make it easier when the backside of your design is relatively neat instead of a rat’s nest of tangled threads.
  • Beware of stitching in the dark. Unless you’re in a really well-lit environment, it’s a fool’s errand to try to keep squinting down at your hoop.
  • Relatedly, give your eyes a rest. I’ve definitely pushed it trying to get to a better stopping point in a pattern and eventually my eyes just…decided not to focus anymore. At that point, it’s time to put it away.
  • Give yourself plenty of time. I am constantly underestimating how long it will take me to finish a project, until the birthday/event/whatever is looming over me and I end up rushing (and making more mistakes) and doing a lot of that squinting in the dark. Embroidery is super easy to set down and pick back up, so try to go slow and steady whenever possible.

I absolutely love that when I finish a project I end up with something I can hang up my wall. I also really like how “vintage” this craft is – I have some beautiful cross stitch pieces that my grandma made and even more memories of the extensive cross stitch samplers framed in her house. I remember when my mom first told me that Grandma had made those…I was totally in awe! When I’m curled up on my couch with my hoop and needle, I feel closer to her.

I definitely want to try embroidering onto tea towels or even clothes next, as well as designing my own patterns (instead of just making things up as I go along…)! I literally JUST NOTICED that Sublime Stitching has a Gil Elvgren pinups embroidery pattern while I was writing this post, so I think I know what my next project is going to be.

Do you feel up to give embroidery a shot? Are you already a cross stitch master?

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