How to Start an Embroidery Project

Plus, learn the basic stitches.

Whether you've been thinking about trying an embroidery kit (these are our favorites from Amazon) or trying out one of our DIY projects—like this starry zodiac sign embroidery— you'll need to know the basics before you begin. We'll show you how to start (and finish!) an embroidery project, and help you brush up on all the basic stitches. Even if you've never worked with a needle and thread before, you can have your own embroidery project started in just a few minutes.

woman doing colorful embroidery
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How to Start an Embroidery Project

Supplies Needed

  • Cotton fabric
  • Embroidery hoop
  • Embroidery thread
  • Embroidery needle
  • Water-soluble marker
  • Scissors

Basic Embroidery Supplies

Here are all the supplies you'll need to grab before getting started. Your local crafts or fabric store should have these items, or you can order them online.

Fabric: A solid-color cotton or linen works best for embroidery projects. You won't need much for one project; a general rule is to add four inches on either side of the diameter of your embroidery hoop.

Embroidery hoop: Embroidery hoops are inexpensive and help keep your fabric pulled tight as you embroider your design. You can use a wood hoop ($2, Michaels) or a plastic one; both come in a variety of sizes based on how big your project is.

Embroidery thread: When shopping for thread, look for products labeled 'embroidery floss,' rather than traditional sewing thread. If you're just starting out, we recommend starting with a multi-color embroidery floss pack ($5 for 36, Michaels).

Embroidery needle: There are different sizes of needles based on how thick your fabric and thread are, so it's easiest to grab an embroidery needle set with multiple sizes ($3 for 12, Michaels) so you'll always have a needle that works for your project.

Water-soluble marker: One of the most helpful tools to have when starting an embroidery project is a water-soluble marker. It allows you to draw or trace your design directly on to the fabric, and the special kind of ink will wash right out with water. Simply draw, stitch, then wash and dry your finished product.

Fabric scissors: A good pair of fabric scissors is helpful for any sewing or stitching project. We like the Fiskars brand fabric scissors ($25, Michaels).

How to Prepare Your Fabric and Hoop

To begin any embroidery project, cut a square of cotton fabric that's about 4 inches larger than your embroidery hoop. Then, choose your design and use a water-soluble marker to trace or draw the pattern onto the center of the fabric. Be mindful that you don't go outside the dimensions of the hoop.

Then, place the fabric into the embroidery hoop. Pull the fabric taut and then tighten the screws.

Basic Embroidery Stitches

Once you've prepared your fabric and embroidery hoop, you're ready to start stitching. Thread an embroidery needle ($3 for 12, Michaels) and try some of these basic stitches.

Running Stitch: This is one of the easiest stitches to learn. Simply sew the needle up and down through the fabric, leaving an even space between each stitch.

Back Stitch: Make a straight stitch and bring the needle up a short distance ahead. Then, bring the needle back down through the same hole of the last stitch.

Split Stitch: Make a small stitch, then bring the needle up through the center of the stitch. Then, create another stitch and repeat.

Chain Stitch: Make small stitch and come up a short distance from the stitch. Then, pass the needle through the stitch and pull through. Sew through the same hole your embroidery floss just came out of, then pull through again and repeat.

French Knot: Draw the needle up through the fabric from the bottom side, wherever you want the knot to be. Bring the needle up through the fabric. Hold the embroidery floss taut with your other hand as you wrap the floss around the needle. Bring the needle down through the fabric right next to the first hole, then pull the floss through to form a knot.

How to Finish an Embroidery Project

When you've finished stitching your design, you'll need to tie off the back of the embroidery hoop so your stitches stay in place. Stitch a long running stitch around the outer portion of the hoop about one inch away, leaving long tails of thread at the beginning and end.

Cut away the excess fabric following around the hoop about one inch from the running stitch. Pull both threads to gather the fabric into the inside of the hoop, then tie off the thread to secure.

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