So I sat down and thought about what kind of advice I would give to beginner stitchers and managed to write a whole essay, haha.
These tips are mostly for those who only start hand embroidery, I tried to remember myself at that stage and think about what I wish someone told me back then and what I would tell my “students” if I were an embroidery teacher. Which, in some way, I actually am here on Stitch Floral.
So, take a cup of tea or coffee and sit comfortably because, apparently, I had a lot to say, haha.
Related: Needlepainting for beginners e-course
1. Be kind to yourself
First and foremost, I hope you don’t pressure yourself too much.
There are sooo many beautiful hand embroidery works out there, right? We stumble upon them on Pinterest and Google all the time. And maybe you got inspired by one of such works and decided, hey, I’m going to start embroidering like that! But then… your results are a bit underwhelming compared to what you had in mind 🙁
Does it sound familiar?
Well, you should remember that we all need practice to master something. And the beautiful needleworks you see on the web were produced after the artist had gained enough experience. So, comparing your works as a beginner to the works of someone who has existed in this world of hand embroidery already for a while, is not fair to yourself.
If you compare yourself to someone, then only do that in a positive way – as a motivation to work harder, as a goal to look forward to, If you fail at that and instead, feel disappointed, then better avoid comparing at all.
You have to remember that, at the very least, you and your body have materials and tools to get used to. As simple as fabric, thread and needle sound, they will still require some time for you to get familiar with and learn to use with maximum efficiency. And then, after a while, your hands will get more used to moving the needle the right way, your eyes will adjust and spot where to insert the needle for the better look, and so on.
As long as you keep practicing, you will get where you want 🙂
Related: 4 things to remember when talented stitchers intimidate you
2. Start small
The thought here is that you shouldn’t overwhelm yourself with big projects and choose something adequate to your skills instead.
You might find a really beautiful pattern or design, but if it is on a bigger scale, consists of many different techniques, some of which are very new to you, then… it may happen that you overwhelm yourself with too much information and eventually get lost in all the stitches and techniques, and as a result won’t be able to finish the project. And that would lead to disappointment.
Of course, no one knows your capabilities better than you do. It may be that such projects, in fact, will work perfectly as a learning ground for you! That is, if you have enough positivity and patience to tackle it. In this case, you will most certainly finish the project and will feel like a Hercules who tamed Cerberus!
Otherwise, don’t overwhelm yourself too much. It is okay to start small, to try something simple first – no matter how big or modest your steps are, they will still form a path that will lead you to your goals 🙂
3. Consider practice before theory
This is a suggestion based on my personal experience. And it is mostly for those of you who are only taking your first baby steps at hand embroidery.
Take any needle you find, any thread, any piece of fabric and try to make some stitches: back stitch, stem stitch, french knots, for example. Well, anything you want, actually. You can just move your needle around randomly, playing around until you figure out how this whole “embroidery” thing works.
Then you can read some posts on fabrics and needles, take a better thread (DMC is a common option), find a hoop, and upgrade your practice a little. Having different materials and tools, you will notice the difference it makes on your embroidery. Now, you can start with other stitches, try working a little flower, a leaf, a small animal etc. Whatever you want.
After practicing like this for a while, you will make your own observations on what works better, develop your own habits and tricks. With these observations, new questions will come as well. You might find the answers in books, tips, or ask an experienced stitcher for their personal insight. After that, your practice will upgrade again.
Of course, this pattern is exaggerated. You can very well be researching the topic of hand embroidery fabrics and practicing at the same time. But I hope you understand the general idea.
There is a lot of theoretical information on hand embroidery out there, but it will be easier for you to understand it if you already have some experience, have something to compare. Well, that’s my personal opinion. I believe that the new abstract knowledge glues itself better on practical knowledge – at least, that’s what I observed during my own journey.
4. Don’t be scared of working with 1 strand of thread
Majority of what you see on my blog can be referred to as “fine embroidery” – meaning, worked with 1 strand of thread most of the time. On my Instagram account, I’ve recently done a little survey, where one of the questions was about working with 1 strand of thread. The answers showed that there are quite many stitchers who want to try it, but are actually afraid/anxious about using 1 strand of thread, thinking it is too difficult or too time-consuming.
Now, if you don’t really like working with 1 strand of thread – that’s another topic. You do you! Just do whatever makes you happy!
But if you actually like fine embroidery but think that “it’s not for you”, that “it is too complicated”, that “it is for some specially gifted artists”. then you couldn’t be further from the truth. Just give it a shot! All the difficulties you might face can be tackled with time.
And if you are only at the starting point of your hand embroidery adventures, my tip is to try working with 1 strand of thread in any case. If you don’t like, if you decide it’s not your cup of tea – switch to 2 strands or more. But at the very least, you won’t have any prejudice/fear about using 1 strand of thread. You will know that it is possible and you can do that, but it is your conscious decision to work with more strands because you like it more. No regrets. You know what I mean?
In my case, the very first stitches I made were with 1 and 2 strands of floss. It was a piece of wild grass, so I worked the stem with 1 strand and the elements – something like little leaves, with 2 strands of floss. Later I moved to using 2 strands mostly, even for long and short stitching, because it seemed like the effect was pretty much the same, while in terms of time, working with 2 strands was faster. However, after a while, I returned to 1 strand stitching because I missed the “delicate” feeling.
It was easy for me to switch back to 1 strand of floss because I didn’t have any prejudice. I knew I was capable of that. And that’s what I wish for you too: that you know that you are capable of finest stitches. And then you can decide what you like more.
5. Take it easy with materials
Seems like we are at the point where some handy tips come up, finally. 🙂
What I mean by “taking it easy” is that… generally speaking, one would recommend you to get specialty fabrics for your hand embroidery. Even weaved linen from needlework stores – the best option. However… it is costly. To be very honest. And it is that type of material that you don’t want to mess up, haha.
Soo… I wouldn’t call it a nice option for beginners. But also… I wouldn’t recommend you to use something really cheap. Because when you work with bad quality materials/tools, it really affects your experience in hand embroidery.
That’s why my tip is to strive for the golden middle. Between cheap but bad quality and expensive but high quality, there are lots of affordable options for your needlework adventures. Affordable but pleasant to work with. That’s what I would call that.
But at the same time, you can use some cheap pieces of fabric if you need to just train some stitches or techniques.
6. Get your tools as you learn
You might find very explicit articles out there on which tools you need for hand embroidery. The list is usually quite long and you might find out that fabric + needle + thread are not the only things you need. Surprise!
However, I think you don’t need to pressure yourself too much about these things. Invest in your materials and tools according to the stage you’re at, taking your skills, style and goals into account.
Like, if you are just making your first steps in hand embroidery, the only things you need are: fabric, needle, thread, scissors (to cut fabric and thread) and a hoop. That’s pretty much it. It will be enough for you for quite a while.
I will tell you more – I didn’t even have a hoop when I started. I used a photo frame, stretched the fabric over it and secured with office clips. I still use it sometimes, for example, after ironing – you can catch a glimpse of how it looks like in the end of the post.
And only then you can consider the secondary tools. Thimble if you hurt your fingers (I don’t hurt mine, so I never bought one). A mat and fabric cutter – if you want even, nice looking squares of ground fabric (if you use linen you can cut without scissors or fabric knife, by the way). Threadener if you have difficulties with threading your needle without wetting it with your saliva. Thread conditioner – I still do without it, to be honest, so I will leave it up to you to look for advantages and see if you need it. Fabric glue – well, I can think of a few instances where you might use it (including making a brooch) but I personally still didn’t buy one because there is no need yet.
I mean, if you want to buy all of these to feel better prepared then you do you. All of us crafty folk are like little hamsters, haha. I just prefer to invest in threads and fabrics so I think twice whether I need this or that instrument or not 🙂 And at the beginning of your hand embroidery journey, you won’t need much.
Related: 5 hand embroidery rules that I break
7. Take your project out of the hoop
I have spoiled one of my needleworks because I didn’t come across such a tip in my time. So, when I started stitching a pattern, I hooped it and left it there in the hoop until I finished it. Which took a few weeks.
As a result, there were very visible wrinkles – traces from the hoop – which didn’t disappear even after I washed and ironed multiple times. That’s how much the ground fabric “remembered” this position.
So, always, always take your needlework out of the hoop when you stop stitching for the day. When you want to take it up again, you hoop it up again. In between the stitching sessions, your fabric needs to have some rest.
Also, bind your hoop! If you follow the link, I explain there all the advantages of hoop binding and also, there is a tutorial on how to that without any glue.
8. Health matters
Health issues are something that we don’t talk about enough in hand embroidery world. Which is a pity. I actually think it is an important topic that deserves a separate post. But to put it briefly, think of hand embroidery as a desk job.
You sit in your chair/couch for a few hours, moving only your arms and hands, your head is in the same position most of the time and your eyes are straining.
That’s why, like with any desk job, it is important to be careful with your health. Make sure to stand up once in a while and move your body, stretch your muscles a little, including neck, maybe jump and do some sit-ups? No need for a full work out, just move a little so that your blood keeps circulating as it should.
Kep your posture upright! I’ve struggled with my posture for a long time, even before embroidery, but I noticed that after I picked up this craft, it actually became worse. So now I watch myself and have family members watch after me, I also do push-ups, planks and other exercises that help my back “memorize” the right position. Thank God, it got better and right now I’m sitting perfectly upright and it actually feels wrong and uncomfortable when I slouch.
You should also take care of your eyes! I experienced something bad with them that you can read here. When I say be careful, I really mean it. There are real consequences to our mindlessness, don’t repeat others’ mistakes and don’t be careless just because “nothing bad happened yet”. Consult with your ophthalmologist about glasses, you might need ones for hand embroidery and others for daily routine/reading. Also, you might consider using a magnifying lens if your sight requires it. There are special ones for hand embroidery and other crafts. And make sure to embroider under good lighting, whether from a window or from a daylight lamp. Never embroidery under bad lighting!
9. Do what you like
Now, about pressure from your family and friends. Unfortunately, not always people from our circle support us in our craft, our dreams, and ambitions. The only thing I can tell you is that if you are really passionate about it, you need to persevere.
Uh… to be honest, I had experienced this kind of thing and still receive some kind of side-eyeing. Not only in relation to my hand embroidery ambitions per se, but I also received comments saying if I do this, then at least I should do ribbon embroidery instead, that I’m better at it and it looks prettier.
Well, I don’t really want to talk about it in detail. But I will just say that I held my ground quietly: shrugging my shoulders and saying with a smile that “this is what I like and want to do”.
You know better what makes YOU happy, so do what YOU like. You can’t please everyone.
Arguing and fighting your close ones will definitely bring the mood down for both sides, and it is possible that, whatever you have to say, they will still not change their mind unless you show them some kind of “success” or achievement.
Deal with this with love and/or patience. Demonstrate that this is what makes you happy. Show your smiles and joy. Maybe they will understand you and accept your interest as it is, without any “proof of success”. If not, at least, they will hopefully see that you’re stubborn enough to keep at it despite negative remarks.
It happens with many of us, so if that is any consolation, you’re definitely not alone.
Keep moving and be proud of yourself. And I’m proud of you too 🙂
10. Pat yourself on the back
Whether metaphorically or literally, but pat yourself on the back. Give yourself the credit, approval, praise you deserve. You’re doing great! And you will do even greater!
Being your own support system is not anything to be shamed for. If there’s no one beside you to tell how awesome your embroidery is, then spoil yourself so much until you have cavities. And even if there is someone that praises you, then why can’t you add something from yourself?
Look at that stitch! How neat! And this one, look how perfectly it is lying on the fabric! Wow! The precision. The excellence. Top class! Can anyone else do it like that? No, you’re the best in the world. Period.
Pamper yourself, feel no shame! 🙂
Aaand, here is the end of this 5 page essay, haha.
Sorry of the tips here were not practical enough. But these things are also important to know and remember 🙂 If you are an experienced stitcher, share your own tips in the comments! And if you are a beginner, you can leave your questions below, we will help!