Hoops and Needles: The Basics of Starting Embroidery

Thread arts have been used for hundreds of years to decorate clothing and home goods. Recently, the art of embroidery and needle lace has regained popularity and has become a way for artists of all temperaments to share their vision with the world. Everything from tweets to food is being embroidered and used in home decor, and artists are incorporating real dried flowers into their work.

Getting started with a new hobby can sometimes be expensive, and there is no shortage of people who want to make sure you have the “best” items for the job. However, with embroidery and thread arts, there are just a few basic things you need. Start with quality tools, and you’ll be on your way to expressing a new artistic vision in no time!

Let’s go through the basics of what you’ll need to get started with embroidery.

What do you want to decorate?

Embroidery can be done on anything that will survive having holes punched in it. From wood planks and cardboard to silk and linen, a thread can create art on any surface that will let you stitch. Paper embroidery uses holes punched in paper and yarn or thread to create cards, gift tags, or beautiful framed pieces. Embroidered curtains and pillows are just a couple of ideas for home decor, and even a pesky hole in the seat of your car can be dressed up and covered with an embroidered patch or design.

Some artists will purchase fabric which already has a printed design, and then augment that design by adding color, words, or other images. This is a great way to start embroidering and doesn’t leave you fumbling to create your own pattern on day one.

When you’re beginning embroidery, it’s best to start with a piece of fabric that is contrasting with the thread that you’re using. This makes the stitches easy to see, and easier to fix if you need to! “Fat Quarters” are easy to work with, usually inexpensive, and can be found in many stores. This will give you more than enough fabric to work with.


Fabric embroidery is best done on fabric that is stretched tightly. Stretching keeps the design from puckering the fabric while you’re sewing and makes a completed piece look professional. Thread artists accomplish this by using embroidery hoops. Usually made of wood, but sometimes made of rubber, metal, or plastic, hoops keep your work organized and neat.

An embroidery hoop is actually two, one slightly smaller than the other, which fit together, trapping the fabric between them. The outer hoop will usually have a mechanism for tightening, which helps you hold your project firmly as you work. Hoops are used when the embroidered object is portable and pliable, such as a piece of fabric. Embroidering onto an already firm surface, such as a car seat, chair, or pillow, does not need to be hooped.

Snip, Snip, and Draw!

When you’re working with thread, it’s inevitable that you’ll need to cut it, and nothing is more frustrating than having nothing on hand. It’s easiest to use small, sharp scissors, but you can also use a new set of nail clippers that will do the job just fine.

You’ll also need either a pencil or a water soluble marker to draw the design you’d like to stitch on your fabric. Some artists freehand completely, but most find it helpful to have a line to follow with their stitches. After you’ve completed your art, rinsing it with cool water will remove the marks, leaving only your beautiful stitching.

Are you on Pins and Needles?

No need for pins! Some more complicated embroidery stitches use headed pins for holding thread, but you definitely don’t need them in the beginning. You do, however, need a needle!

Needles come in all sorts of sizes, shapes, and even metals. Blunted needles are nice to start with, as there is less chance for you to prick your finger, but any needle with a head on the opposite end from the tip is good to start with.

Make sure that the needle is large enough for you to comfortably hold and appropriate for the size of your fabric: if you’re sewing burlap, don’t use a tiny needle! If you’re sewing silk, a smaller needle will leave much smaller holes to help you avoid damaging your fabric.

Thread Art needs…Thread!

Arguably the most important component of thread arts is, well, thread! There are many kinds of thread, but an easy way to start is with embroidery thread. Embroidery thread, unlike sewing thread, is made of six smaller strands, which can all be stitched as one larger strand or taken apart into smaller amounts to make finer details.

As a beginner, the best way to learn is by using a whole strand. This gives you an easy-to-see project, and you’ll learn what stitches look like as you progress. When you become more comfortable, using fewer strands for outlines and details will become easier.

Some artists use yarn, twine, or even fishing line to embroider and decorate designs. The best way to start is often the simplest, and starting with embroidery doesn’t have to be complicated.

Ready to Get Started?

Thread arts, such as embroidery or needle lace, are one of the hobbies which are relatively cheap to pick up and offer instant satisfaction as an artist. Some artists needle paint, which is a more advanced method of embroidery, to attain more realistic representations of flowers or birds. Others love to embroider sayings from poems, favorite authors, or even tweets. Other artists decorate lapels of jackets, dress hems, or car seats. It’s up to you, and the world is yours to decorate!

People love sharing their embroidery patterns, and there are many ways to learn stitches. Come back soon for help getting started with stitches, patterns, and even some kits!

Where will your vision take you? How can you share your artistic vision with the world? It doesn’t take much, just you, your needle and thread, and something to stitch on!



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