The Art of Embroidery: A Beginner’s Guide

Many clothes that would have otherwise appeared bland take on a more exciting look once they have embroidered patterns.

Early embroiderers often used thread or yarn to decorate clothes, but modern ones are known to experiment with other materials such as beads, pearls, and quills in recent times.

Not only clothes of all kinds benefit from a bit of embellishment. These days, it is possible to embroider your hats, bags, and even your blankets.

This article will explain what embroidery is, how it originated, and how we can best take care of embroidered fabric without ruining its beautiful design.

What is Embroidery?


Embroidery is the art of decorating materials (especially fabrics), and it is a form of embellishment art used to enhance the beauty of the fabric

To achieve this, most embroiderers often use a needle and cotton thread called cotton floss; they weave the thread about the target fabric in intricate patterns called stitches.

Stitches can either be simple or very complicated, but they must be able to stick to the fabric for a long time. They can be added by hand or by a machine.

It is also possible to stitch other materials such as stones, beads, and pearls alongside the threads to enhance the beauty of clothes. The texture of the fabric doesn’t matter, and you can decorate fabrics as delicate as silk or as tough as denim with interesting embroidery patterns. 

However, woven cotton is the most embroidered fabric. The preference for cotton is down to its breathability, which allows the easy passage of needles and thread.

Technology has also altered the process of embroidery. Early embroiderers labored by hand to carry out complicated stitches on fabrics that were not always cooperative.

Recent technological improvements have led to the use of sewing machines and embroidery machines capable of sewing many designs in little time and with few errors.

A Brief History of Embroidery

The oldest samples of embroidered fabric known to man are from China, with some pieces as old as the 5th-3rd century BC (an era known as the Warring States Period).

Embroidery was also an essential facet of other medieval kingdoms; embroidery designs on clothes, handkerchiefs, and tablecloths signified power, class, and wealth.

By the 9th-10th century, embroidery design was already on the rise in Europe and Islamic societies, fuelled by the riches and power accumulated by the royal class.

In the 18th century, the mastery of embroidery was considered a necessary skill to have as a female, making marriage prospects more acceptable.

As the Industrial Revolution kicked off in the 19th century, embroidery became easier to produce and acquire. The first embroidery machines produced used a combination of machine looms and hand embroidery to make impressive designs.

By the late 20th century, it was no longer the exclusive right of the upper class; Men and women of all classes began creating designs on cheaper materials.

Today, it is possible to design and embroider fabric entirely using computers and machines.

How is Embroidery Done?

There are two major forms of embroidery. We have hand embroidery and machine embroidery.

What is Hand Embroidery?

As the name implies, hand embroidery is the process of decorating fabrics by hand; it is more tedious and prone to human error.

However, it is still preferred by some embroiderers because it grants them the freedom to employ as many stitches as they like to make their work beautiful.

How is Hand Embroidery Done?

Several materials can be used in making hand embroidery. Some essentials include embroidery hoops, small sharp scissors, embroidery needles, and a water-soluble marker.

The embroiderer begins by separating both sides of the embroidery hoop, placing the fabric between both hoops, and screwing the fabric together until adequately sandwiched.

Next, they thread the needle with a multi-strand floss. Some sewers separate multi-strand floss to get more detailed designs. 

Sewers can weave the floss through the fabric in various stitches to frame the fabric and create different embroidery designs.

When working on stretchy and other difficult fabrics, it is usual for embroiderers to use stabilizers to hold the stitches in place and protect the beauty of their designs.

Embroidery stabilizers can be made of paper, fiber, or any other water-soluble material and can be tear-away, cut-away, or fusible; this means you can blend the stabilizer with your design or pull them off.

What is Machine Embroidery?

Machine Embroidery is the use of automated or semi-automated processes to design fabric. Embroiderers make use of sewing machines and embroidery machines rather than hand.

Machine embroidery is much more accurate and fast. It is also possible to mass-produce the same design without a hitch, so it’s ideal for corporate advertisement, uniform adornment, and product branding.

How is Machine Embroidery Done?

Machine Embroidery is either using semi-automatic or completely automatic. Based on this criterion, there are three forms of machine embroidery: Free-Motion Machine Embroidery, Cornely Hand-Guided Machine Embroidery, and Computerized Machine Embroidery.

Free-Motion embroidery and Cornely embroidery are semi-automated, while Computerized is completely automated.

In Free Motion Embroidery, the designer tightly hoops the fabric and lowers the machine’s teeth into the fabric. 

The teeth run continuously in a zigzag manner while the embroiderer controls the direction of the fabric, bending and curving it to create intricate patterns.

Embroiders hoops the fabric under the machine’s teeth in the Cornely Hand-Guided process; he then controls both the direction of the Cornely’s machine’s teeth and the movement of the fabric.

Computerized Machine Embroidery

Computerized Machine Embroidery is entirely automated and involves several processes for it to come off well: 

  • A designer creates and edits an embroidery design using special software.
  • The designer exports the design to an embroidery file and hands it to an operator. The file will instruct the machine on what to do.
  • The operator loads the embroidery file into the embroidery machine and checks it to ensure that file is in the proper format.
  • The location of the embroidery statement is determined and set.
  • The fabric is adequately hooped and stabilized and then placed in the machine.
  • The operator sets the machine’s needle to the point where the design is to start and begins the design process.
  • The operator monitors the machine, checks for errors, and troubleshoots appropriately.
  • The operator removes the completed design from the machine. 
  • The stabilizer is removed or trimmed depending on the type of stabilizer used. The design is ready for use.

Types of Embroidery Stitches

There are so many types of stitches available to the embroiderer that it is almost impossible to identify all types of embroidery stitches.

However, three types of stitches are commonly used by embroiderers when designing fabric.

The Satin (or Damask) Stitch

The satin stitch is the most commonly used when embroidering. The stitch is ideal when outlining letters and filling in small colored areas of larger embroidery designs. 

Damask stitch creates a flat, glossy finish on the fabric that looks like satin (hence, the name).

The Running (or Walking) Stitch

The Running or Walking stitch is the second most common stitch used in embroidery. The stitch lines run across an extended length of fabric without stopping or overlapping with each other.

Running stitches are great for creating details and are often combined with other forms of stitching to produce perfect images. The precision of running stitches makes it ideal for designing logos and other images.

The Back Stitch

Back stitches are the most basic kind of stitches used in embroidery and are usually the first type of stitch mastered by an embroiderer.

The embroiderer sews the threads backward on both sides of the fabric and can use it to outline designs. Each new thread is placed directly behind the previous thread.

Back stitches are often paired with other types of stitches to produce very superior embroidery patterns.

Other common stitches include the fill stitch, the feather stitch, french knot, chain stitch, stem stitch, the split stitch, etc.

Uses and Applications of Embroidery

Embroidery is most basically used to decorate or embellish fabrics and materials. Clothes, caps, curtains, and even footwear can all be embellished.

You can also use embroidery to make jewelry pieces (such as wrist cuffs and necklaces) and shirt pins.

Some innovative tailors have used embroidery designs to mend torn clothes and revamp old clothes.

You can also use embroidery to make beautiful gifts for loved ones. Things like old photos, paper drawings, and postcards have been given new looks and handed out as gifts.

How to Care For Embroidered Materials

Before cleaning the embroidered cloth, check the fabric instruction label to ensure the material can survive the cleaning process. Also, do a color fastness test.

Use a damp cloth to scrub the embroidery design, and check for color bleeding to other parts of the garment. If the other parts of the cloth are stained, the cloth should be dry cleaned.

If there is no color bleeding, wash the embroidered clothes with cold water and a mild detergent using a delicate wash cycle. 

Avoid washing embroidered clothes with clothing that has zippers and buttons; they can pull the thread of the embroidery.

Ideally, avoid using bleach on embroidery, but if you must bleach, use a non-chlorine bleach sparingly.

Place the cloth in a dryer immediately after the wash cycle is complete. Do not wring the fabric to avoid damage. You can air-dry the embroidered garment but avoid exposure to direct sunlight during the drying process.

When ironing, turn the clothes inside out and place a piece of cloth between the iron and the fabric. Also, avoid exposure to steam or the use of steam irons.

Once the cloth is dry, turn them inside out and fold them neatly. Wrap the embroidery in a muslin cloth and store it in a dry place.

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