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How to Embroider A Beginner's Guide

First, gather all of your materials. You will need:

  • 6 inches of burlap ribbon (Use the threads to guide your scissors in a straight line!)
  • plastic baggie
  • scissors
  • embroidery thread (Only grab the color you are currently working with.)
  • a needle (Be careful! These are sharp.)
  • ruler

As always, if you get stuck or need a hands-on demonstration, ask!

Stitch 1: Whip Stitch

Whenever you start a new project, it is a good idea to prepare the cut edges of your fabric so it doesn't unravel while you work. Whip stitch is one of the easiest ways to do this.

First, take a look at the top and bottom of your ribbon where the cut ends are. If it is uneven (which it shouldn't be if you cut carefully!), then pull a thread or two off the top until the top thread goes all the way across.

Next, measure out about 18 inches of thread. I used white, but you do not need to match my colors.

It doesn't have to be exact.

Note: As you are working, always cut between 12 and 18 inches of thread, no more. Sometimes you might run out halfway across a row, but you can join in a new thread. If you have a piece longer than 6 inches left over, save it in you baggie to use again later. Also, in embroider, you usually separate the thick strands of thread into individual threads, and then select the number you want to use. Because our ribbon is so coarsely woven, we will use the entire thread so it is thick enough to cover the fabric.

Thread your needle. You can stick the tip of the thread in your mouth to stick the threads together and flatten them. This makes it easier to slip the thread through the eye of the needle. Leave a little tail, maybe two or three inches, poking through the needle.

Don't pull the thread too far through.

Start in the upper left-hand corner of your fabric. (You can decide which is the upper left-hand corner, as long at the cut edges are along the top and bottom. It doesn't matter on burlap ribbon, though if you use other fabric there may be a distinct right or wrong side.) Count two threads down, and poke the needle through the hole from back to front. Pull the thread through until you have about an inch of thread left on the backside, with the rest of the thread pulled through to the top.

Start close to the side, and leave a tail at the back.

Move your needle around to the back side of the fabric. Skip one hole, and poke the needle through to the front again. Make sure you stay on the same row as your first stitch! The thread will wrap around the top, which will hold the cut threads in place.

Make sure you use the horizontal threads to keep your stitches even!

You might be wondering when to tie a knot, and the answer is, you don't. Not in real embroidery. Instead, trap the tail under your stitches on the wrong side of the fabric. When you pull the stitch that you just created through, make sure you tuck the tail under the loop created on the back. The tail should be long enough to be held in place by at least 2 or three stitches.

This is what the back looks like with the tail trapped under stitches.

Continue whip stitching across the top until you reach the other side. With the needle and thread on the back side, pull the thread under a few stitches and cut the thread.

Pull the thread under the stitches on the back.
Clip the thread to end your row.

Turn your ribbon around and whip stitch the bottom edge. Make sure you pay attention to which side is the top!

Stitch 2: Running Stitch

This is a good, basic stitch to know. In addition to being a great decorative stitch, you can also use it to attach two pieces of fabric together. Just like before, cut about 12 to 14 inches of thread. I used orange for mine.

Decide which side is going to be the top. Go down to the row of holes below where you completed your whip stitch. Like before, starting on the left-hand edge, poke the needle through from the back to the front, leaving a small tail on the back. Skip one hole, and poke the needle through from front to back. Skip a hole, and bring the needle back up to the front. Again, don't forget to trap your tail on the back.

Needle from Back to Front
Needle from Front to Back
And Back Up Again
View from the Back
Finishing the Thread at the End
Finished Row!

Stitch 3: Double Running Stitch

Skip a hole, and go down to the next row. Create another row of running stitch. No complaining- you need the practice! But here is the fun part: choose a different color thread, and do another pass of running stitch to fill in the empty spaces. Technically, you could do both passes in the same color, and it makes a really sturdy stitch if you are sewing something together, but let's be colorful since we are making decorative stitches.

Fill in the spaces with another color.
Finished row!

Stitch 4: Fancy Double Running Stitch

I'm pretty sure this next stitch has an actual name, but I don't know what it is. Skip another hole, and go down to the next row. Create another row of double running stitch.

Pick a third color of thread; think about what would look nice with the first two. This time, instead of trapping the tail as you go along, you are going to trap it first. Flip your work over to the back. Starting a few stitches in from the edge, weave the thread under a few stitches toward the edge. Then poke the needle to the front through the same hole as your first running stitch.

Weave the tail in on the back first.
Poke the needle through to the front.

This is going to be a surface stitch, meaning the thread stays on top of your fabric instead of going up and down between the back and front. Put the needle through the first running stitch from top to bottom. Pull the thread through, but not too tight. Then go up through the next running stitch, and pull the thread through. Continue going up and down through each stitch until you get to the end. Poke the needle down through the same hole as your last running stitch, and end the tail on the back.

Up through the next running stitch.
Don't pull too tight; you want it to look like waves.
Finished row!

Stitch 5: Satin Stitch

This stitch is used to fill in larger areas with solid color. This time you are going to skip two or three holes, and start on the next row down. You only need to skip two, but I accidentally skipped three. Poke the needle up from back. Go back down through the hole directly above where you started. Bring the needle back up through the hole next to where you started. Go back down through the hole directly above. Your stitches will look like a bunch of vertical lines.

Sorry that this photo is a little blurry. It's easier to see in the next one.
See, vertical lines. Note how I am keeping everything neat and even, and I'm not pulling the stitches tight enough to bend the threads in the fabric.
Finished row!

Stitch 6: Thick Satin Stitch

This is really the same as the stitch we just did. However, I didn't like how I could still see the brown fabric threads between my vertical stitches. This time I skipped three holes again and started on the next row, but instead of going back down in the hole directly above, I skipped a hole to make the stitch taller. Once I reached the far edge, I went back in the other direction, going over the stitches I had already done. Because I was using a color changing thread, it make it look like stripes and filled in all of the brown spaces. You could also go over each vertical line twice from the beginning. If you are using a color changing thread, the color will change in sections, kind of like an ombre, instead of looking like stripes. If you are using a solid color, you could use either method.

As you can see, I held mine upside down to make stitching easier. It was so easy that I forgot to take a final picture of my row.

Stitch 7: Cross Stitch

Now we are getting really crazy. As the name suggests, the next row of stitches is going to form little Xs. If you were going to create "a cross stitch," or a project where you create a larger picture using nothing but cross stitch, you would probably choose to do a row of slanted stitches, and then come back to fill it in with stitches slanted in the opposite direction. However, we are going to create the full stitch as we move across our work.

Skip two holes, and start in the next row. Poke your needle from the back to the front. Find the hole diagonal and to the right of where you came up. Go down this hole. Then come up through the hole directly below where you just went down. Go down through the diagonal hole to the left. You should have created a little X.

Go down through the diagonal hole to the right.
Come back up in the hole directly below.
Go back down through the hole diagonal to the left.

To create your next stitch, come up through the bottom right hand hole of your first X. Then go down through the hole that is diagonal to the right. Finish your stitch the same way as the first. Keep going!

Starting a New Stitch
Finished row!

When you get to design your own pattern, you can also skip a space between your Xs to create individual Xs rather than a row. You can also skip a hole diagonally, and your X will be larger.

Stitch 8: Back Stitch

This stitch looks like a double running stitch, but it is all done in one pass. It is a really strong stitch, so it's great to use if you are sewing something together that is going to be under force or get a lot of wear and tear.

Start a little from the edge.

Again come up from the back to the front, leaving a little tail at the back, but this time start in a couple holes from the edge.

Go down to the left.

Next, skip a hole and go down to the left.

Now move to the right.

Skip a hole to the right of your stitch and go up from the back to the front.

And back to the left.

Go back down to the left. Make sure you go through the hole where your first stitch started. Then skip a hole to the right, and go up from the back to the front. Your stitch will resemble a straight line. Don't forget to tuck in your tail as you go along!

Stitch 9: Chain Stitch

This stitch looks like a chain. Obviously. It also takes a little practice because you will be going up and down in the same stitch, and you will need to leave your loops a little loose.

Starting a New Stitch

As usual, go from back to front, leaving a little tail. Now go back down through the same hole. Don't pull the thread all the way through, because it will just pop out the other side.

Skip two holes this time.

In order to make it look like a chain, skip two hole and come up from the back to the front. Make sure your needly comes up inside the loop created by your first stitch. You might need to hang onto your tail for the first couple stitches to make sure it doesn't slip through.

Now to the Back

Go back down through the same hole you just came up through. Tug on the threads until the first loop is tight, but not too tight, against the stitch you are working on. It should look like a chain link. Now skip two holes again. Go up from the back, making sure that your needle is inside the loop. Pull the loose loop tight, and go back down through the same hole. Keep working, making sure your tail is tucked in on the back side.

End the Row

When you reach the end of the row, instead of going down the same stitch where you came up, go down one hole over, trapping the last loop securely. Finish your row by taking the tail of your thread through a few stitches on the back, as you have been doing, and snipping off the extra.

Finished Row

Stitch 10: Lazy Daisy

This stitch creates flower shapes. Be prepared: this stitch takes more thread than you expect. Continue to use pieces of thread that are no longer than 18 inches. It's okay to run out in the middle of a row, end your current thread, and start a new piece. The longer your thread is, the more likely you are to get it tangled up or snagged.

This stitch is similar to a chain stitch.

The technique used for this stitch is very similar to what you did with chain stitching. Start by going up, back to front, several holes in from the edge (I skipped about 5). Go back down the same hole, which creates a loop. Make sure that you hold on to your thread tail so it doesn't pull through. Moving back toward the edge of your fabric, skip two holes and go up through the third. Make sure you come up inside your look, like you did when you were chain stitching. Pull the loop snug, but not too tight. It should look something like a flower petal.

Anchor the stitch & start a new one.

Anchor the loop in place in the same way you ended the last chain stitch. Go over one stitch to the left and go down. This will trap the loop. Start the next stitch by going back up through your original hole, and go back down again, creating another loop.

Sorry this one is a little blurry, but you get the idea.

Create four loops to make a flower, making sure to anchor each loop in place, always starting a new loop through the center hole. Also don't forget to tuck in your tail on the back as you work.

Flower #2

For my next flower, I did my loops on a diagonal so I could get the flowers closer together. You could also keep them the same, but give yourself more room before you start your center loop. For my example, I only skipped one hole after the anchor before coming up for the center. If you want your petals to face in the same direction, skip at least 4 stitches before you come up.

Finished Row

Keep going until you run out of room! Remember to not pull your loops too tight, and secure your tail on the back of your work.

Stitch 11: Feather Stitch

This design is similar to a chain stitch, but it covers more space and looks a little like a feather or a vine.

Secure Your Tail

Because this stitch is so spaced out, there isn't a really sturdy way to weave your tail in on the back. Instead, start by going up through a hole one over from the edge. Go down to the left, as though you are back stitching. Go back up through the hole where you started, and go back down again. Now when you start stitching, your thread won't slip out. You can still tuck the tail under the first stitch or two on the back to make it look neat and tidy.

Step 1

This stitch looks really complicated, but if you take it one step at a time, it is easy to do. Bring your thread to the top of the fabric. Skip two holes below where your thread is, and go down the third.

Just like a chain stitch meets lazy daisy, but bigger.

There are some different options here depending on what you want your stitch to look like. Just pay attention and make sure you are consistent with whatever you decide. I skipped one hole to right, and then went up one hole. Make sure your thread comes up inside of the loop created by the first step. Tighten the loop, but make sure you aren't pulling it too much.

Making the Second Loop

With your loop snug to your thread, skip three holes down, and go down through the fourth hole. Again, you can play with the size and spacing a little, but make sure you are neat and consistent. Also, don't forget to trap your tail on the backside even though we anchored it in place!

My bottom stitch is a little larger.

Time to come up through the loop again. This time I skipped two to the right, and skipped one up. Pull your thread through, and tighten the loop. Now it's time to make another loop toward the top.

Finishing the Row

Keep working your way across the row. When you get to the last loop, anchor it the same way you did with the lazy daisy and chain stitch - go down the next hole over to trap the loop.

Finished Row

Just like how you did at the beginning, go back up and down around that same stitch another time or two. Weave your tail in on the back and clip the thread short.

Stitch 12: Seed Stitch

Imagine a bunch of little seeds scattered on the ground - that is what this stitch looks like. It's a little more random than the other stitches, so use your best judgement as to what looks good.

The First Stitch

Anchor your first stitch the same way you did with the first stitch in the feather stitch. Look back at the instructions if you need a reminder. The only difference here is that I made my first stitch on the diagonal. You can do the same, or make it vertical or horizontal. Whatever makes you happy!

See, they look like little seeds, hence the name!

Continue to make little, spaced stitches that are horizontal, vertical, and diagonal. For my vertical and horizontal stitches, I skipped a hole in the middle. For the diagonal ones, I just went the next space over. I wanted my seeds to look a little heavier, so I went around with my thread twice for each stitch. You could make yours thicker or thinner, depending on how you want it to look. Don't forget to trap the tail on the back for a few stitches. Work your way to the other side, then end your thread on the back as you have done for all the other stitches, and clip off the extra thread.

Free Choice

Congratulations! You now know twelve different embroidery stitches. There are a lot more out there, but this is a good start. For the remaining space on your fabric, create your own design. You may use any combination of stitches - you do not have to use all of them.

The number of points you earn is based on your following of instructions, effort, neatness, and how much of your fabric you covered.

Sample Free Choice Section
Completed Final Project Sample
There are a few mistakes, but for the most part the back is as neat and tidy as the front.

Happy sewing!