Melanie is a tech YouTuber who loves social media and is an expert on internet culture. She also runs a YouTube channel: The Curious Coder.
Embroidery is a fun and relaxing craft that lends to making beautiful pieces of art. I didn't learn to embroider until my late 20s and still find it an enjoyable way to make gifts for others. This guide will show you five stitches that are perfect for beginners, but also look impressive.
In This Article
- Running Stitch and Threaded Running Stitch
- Back Stitch
- Split Stitch
- Star Stitch
- French Knot
First, we'll start with the running stitch. This is an extremely basic, albeit boring, stitch. However, the running stitch is super easy and is the basis for some really intricate (and more fun) stitches introduced later.
The running stitch is extremely simple to make, making it the perfect stitch for learning how to embroider. In fact, if you ever played with sewing cards when you were a child, you've probably already got this stitch down to an art! The running stitch is useful in making simple, yet fun designs, and is especially useful in making cute, trendy borders and edging.
I learned to embroider with this very first stitch after I was inspired by really cute designs I found in the book Doodle Stitching. To this day, Doodle Stitching is one of my favorite embroidery books. If you want some trendy design motifs to get you started, I highly recommend this book.
So let's learn how to embroider!
- Fabric - preferably something not stretchy. Cotton works perfectly. In this tutorial, I am using unbleached muslin which is a loosely-woven cotton fabric.
- Embroidery hoop - Wood or plastic is fine. I prefer the plastic ones as the wooden ones tend to break easily. Plastic hoops are more expensive, but I've found them to be worth the extra money.
- Embroidery floss - Floss is made up of six strands of thread. You can separate the strands if you'd like. Fewer strands make thinner stitches. I find six stands stitches to be kind of wide, so I use four. It's a personal preference thing. Also, the fewer strands you use, the easier it is to thread your needle.
- A needle - Trying to use a smaller needle, so that you don't make big holes in your fabric. However, make sure that you get a needle with an eye big large enough to thread your floss.
- Scissors - So you can cut your thread. :P
- Patience - Everyone messes stuff up. If you mess up, just start over. Yeah, it's an art form, but it's also a learning process.
Getting Started: The Running Stitch
Cut your floss so that it's about a foot long. This way you won't have too much floss to deal with (tangle-fest), but you'll have enough to play around with so you can get used to making stitches. Put a knot in your thread about 1/2 an inch from one end and thread your needle with the other.
To thread your needle, you'll want to wet the tip of the floss so it'll "stay" as you try to get it through the needle. You may need to trim the end of your floss so that all the threads are the same length (even one little stray fiber can making threading a nightmare.) Thread about one or two inches through so your floss does unthread itself while you're making stitches.
Starting the Stitch
After you've threaded your needle and knotted your thread, you'll want to start your stitch by pushing your needle up from the underside of your project. This way you don't leave your knot on the top (or the pretty side) of your project.
Pull gently with the needle until you feel the knot hit the fabric on the bottom side.
Take your needle and push it down from the topside of your project about 1/2 and inch away from where you came up from the bottom.
Note: You can actually make your stitches any size, but 1/2 inch stitches are a good starting point.
If you put your finger in the loop of your thread as you're making a stitch, it keeps it from getting tangled. It's a real bummer to have to redo a line of stitches because the floss has gotten all tangled. (It's happened to me a lot!)
Spacing Your Stitches
Go ahead and make a line of running stitches from the bottom continue 1/2 inch from your last stitch forming a straight line. And then on the top continue on at a 1/2 inch away from your latest stitch. After doing this, you'll see you've made a nice line of running stitches.
Make a Threaded Running Stitch
Threaded Running Stitch
In order to make this stitch, you must first be able to make a running stitch. This stitch relies heavily on the running stitch, so it's a good idea to not only know how to make a running stitch but to have that concept down pat.
Step 1: Make a nice sized line of running stitches (figure 1.) While you can make your running stitches at the same time as you thread them, it's easier to have your line of stitches made ahead of time, especially if you're learning to make them for the first time.
Step 2: After you've made your row of straight stitches, thread your needle with a new piece of floss.
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Step 3: Push your needle up where you started your running stitches (figure 2.) Then, thread your needle up through the first running stitch while staying on the surface of your work (figure 3.)
Step 4: After coming up through the first running stitch, bring your needle through the second running stitch, essentially threading your second piece of floss through (figure 4.)
Continue threading down and then up through the next stitch. As you continue, you'll find that you're making a nice pattern. This is threading (figure 5!) Finish your last thread where you've finished your last running stitch. Since the thread is almost completely on the surface, you'll have to tie it off using the floss from the running stitch.
I used two different colors of embroidery floss so you can see which part is the initial running stitch and which part is the threading. Using various colors also gives the opportunity to show off the alternating pattern of this stitch.
Make a Back Stitch
Another simple stitch that is very useful (one of my favorites), is the back stitch. Back stitches give you a clean way to make outlines and designs.
This stitch is very similar to the running stitch, the only visible difference being that back stitches do not have the dashed line look to them line running stitches.
In order to be able to start making a back stitch, you will first need to know how to make a straight/running stitch as shown above.
Step 1: Start out by making a straight stitch going from left to right (figure 1.)
Step 2: Come up from the underside of your embroidery hoop as if you're getting ready to make another running stitch (figure 2.)
Step 3: Instead of making another stitch forward as you would in making a line of running stitches, create another running stitch going back toward where you closed your first stitch. This is essentially "closing the gap" of your previous running stitch.
You can probably see by now, why this is called a back stitch: you move forward, and then back a little, forward again, and then back a little again.
Make a Split Stitch
The Split Stitch
A split stitch is a basic, yet very popular stitch in embroidery. (They're pretty and fun to make.) like many stitches, they start out with a basic running stitch.
Split stitches are quick and easy-to-make stitches that form clean lines. Because of this, these stitches are commonly used to outline shapes or add border detail to a design. Since split stitches are made going in sort of a backward direction, they're actually considered to be a variant of the back stitch.
Step 1: Start out by pushing your needle up from the bottom of your hoop and making a straight (running) stitch (figure 1.)
Step 2: Flip over your hoop so you're on the bottom side. With the tip of your needle find the halfway point of your stitch (figure 2) and push your needle through. While doing this, keep an eye on the topside, making sure that the needle goes through the center of your floss (figure 3) and pull the floss through (figure 4.)
Step 3: To start your next split stitch, make another running stitch as before (figure 5.) Rinse and repeat and you'll have a beautiful line of split stitches in no time!
Now that you've completed making split stitches, you can probably see now why they're considered a form of back stitch: you go forward a little, and then back a little, forward a bit more... and then back. A split stitch is just one of many different types of back stitches.
Make a Star Stitch
The Star Stitch
A star stitch is a fun and easy embroidery stitch to make. Star stitches are usually used as an accent on a project. They get their name from their pretty, star-like appearance.
This stitch is an independent stitch, which means that after you make this stitch, you tie it off and before moving on to another area of your canvas.
Step 1: Before diving right in and making your first star stitch, you will have to make a cross stitch.
Step 2: After you've made your cross stitch (as seen in figure 1), push your needle up from the bottom just to the left of your cross (figure 2.)
Step 3: Push your needle down just to the right of your cross stitch to complete your star (figure 3.) Voilà! You're done.
Don't forget that this is an independent stitch, so you'll want to tie off your completed star (unless your next star is going to be fairly close to the one you've just made.)
The French Knot
The french knot is a beautiful, independent stitch useful for accents and as a filler. Since these stitches often take a great deal of time to make compared to other fill stitches, many embroiderers may choose a different stitch as a filler instead. However, these tiny, intricate stitches are gorgeous and well worth the extra time.
Before getting started, it's important to note that French knots can sometimes be frustrating. There is nothing particularly difficult, it just takes a bit of practice and patience when learning for the first time.
Step 1: Start by threading your needle and knotting one end (as you would any other stitch.) Then, push your needle up from the underside of your fabric (as seen in figure 1) so that you can get started with your stitch.
Step 2: Point your needle to the left to aid in creating a loop around the needle (as shown in figure 2.) At the end of this step, you will have the loose end of the strand under the needle, the end attached to the fabric over the needle.
Step 3: Without pushing your needle into the fabric, gently pull it in toward where the floss is attached to the fabric. While doing this, you'll be pushing the loose end of the strand toward the attached bit of floss (you can see this in figure 3.) Gently pull on the loose end in order to wrap the thread around the needle.
Step 4: Push your needle into the fabric while gently pulling on the loose end of your floss (figure 4.)
Step 5: Thread the needle and its trailing floss all the way through and you've created a French knot (figure 5!) After you create your knot, you'll want to tie it off before making another as this is an independent stitch.
You may notice that many embroidered works have french knots of various sizes. There are two ways to achieve this look. You can make smaller or larger knots based on the number of floss strands you use.
Another way to achieve this is to wrap the floss around the needle more than once. To nail down this technique, start off by wrapping the needle twice and making a knot to observe the differences in size. Repeat by wrapping the needle three times and so on. As you become more accustomed to making French knots of different sizes, you'll be able to figure out how many times you'll need to wrap your needle to get the desired knot size.
Finishing a Project
When you're done creating your design, you'll want to tie it off so your stitches don't come apart. You'll want to keep your needle threaded for this (it makes it much easier.)
On the bottom side of your project take your needle through the last stitch (figure 1) and loop it around and under (figure 2) and pull tight (figure 3.)
Snip the end and you're done! Be careful not to snip the ends too close to your knots or they may come apart!
© 2011 Melanie Palen
Hari Prasad S from Bangalore on November 10, 2015:
Very useful. Thanks for sharing.
Danette Watt from Illinois on November 08, 2011:
I used to do a lot of cross-stitch projects when my husband was deployed. I still have all my threads, books and needles in my attic but I'm not sure I could get the needle threaded any more! I'd probably need a magnifying glass.