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Embroidery Frequently Asked Questions:

Embroidery is the art of decorating fabrics with colourful designs using an embroidery needle, embroidery threads and an embroidery pattern or free-hand. The designs can be modest or elaborate, and you can embroider by hand or machine.

Embroidery covers different types of decorative stitching techniques, including tapestry (known as ‘needlepoint’ in the US and sometimes as ‘canvas work’ in the UK), cross-stitch and crewelwork, but there are more!

Modern-day tapestry (needlepoint or canvas work) embroiders use different stitches to stitch over a pattern applied onto canvas.

Cross-stitch embroiders use cross stitches (they look like an X) to stitch a design onto a blank piece of fabric, following a pattern that has been printed onto paper. Crewelwork embroiders follow a pattern outline applied onto fabric.

Embroidery machines make it possible for you to customise everything from home textiles to accessories and clothing, with beautifully intricate details and designs, in super-quick time!

Modern embroidery machines are packed with built-in designs and stitches, as well as an array of features and functions that give you the freedom to personalise and tailor designs to your projects.

On most modern machines, everything is accessible on an easy-to-use digital display and usually all attachments and accessories are included. The features, functions and accessories included with your machine will depend on the machine you buy.

Some machines are embroidery machines only, and some are sewing and embroidery machines, giving you all the capabilities of a sewing machine and an embroidery machine in one.

Whether you’re a beginner, intermediate or pro embroider, you’ll need these basic supplies in your kit: threads, needles, material, a hoop and scissors.

Commonly made from cotton, rayon, polyester or silk, embroidery thread is a special type of thread that has a rich colour and a high sheen to give your designs a beautiful finish. Hand embroidery thread (also known as embroidery floss) usually has multiple strands so you can achieve different line widths within your designs. Machine embroidery thread is a single strand.

You could use regular thread for embroidery, but you won’t get the high-shine, richly-coloured image you would get with embroidery thread. Remember, embroidery is all about beautiful design, so you need the right threads in your kit.

Stranded cotton (embroidery floss) is commonly used for hand embroidery techniques, including cross-stitch. It’s a 6-strand thread that can be divided into 6 individual strands or left as it is, enabling you to achieve different line widths within your designs.

Some embroidery techniques use other threads; wool, silk or cotton threads are commonly used for tapestry (needlepoint), and wool or wool-blend threads are traditionally used for crewelwork.

For machine embroidery, rayon thread is a popular choice due to its high sheen, rich colour and ability to withstand high-speed stitching.

You should use an embroidery/crewel needle for crewelwork and surface embroidery techniques, and a cross-stitch/tapestry needle for cross-stitch and tapestry (needlepoint) techniques.

Embroidery needles (sometimes known as crewel needles) have a sharp point, a larger eye and a specially-shaped scarf (a small indentation on the back of the needle) which helps to reduce strain put on the threads to prevent them from breaking or fraying.

Cross-stitch needles (sometimes known as tapestry needles) have a large eye and a blunt round point to prevent them from piercing the thread of the fabric. When embroidering by machine, you will need machine embroidery needles.

The size of the needle you use depends on the type of fabric you’re embroidering onto. Generally, the thicker and heavier the piece of fabric and thread, the larger the needle needs to be. The diameter of the needle blade/shaft should closely match the width of your thread.

Having a pack of embroidery needles in different sizes in your kit will ensure you’ve got a suitable needle for your project.

Hand embroidery (crewel) needles are sized 1 – 12, with 1 being the largest and 12 being the finest. The most commonly used sizes are 6 to 9.

Cross-stitch (tapestry) needles come in sizes 13 to 28, with 28 being the finest.

There are 2 sizing scales for machine embroidery needles: American and European. American sizes range from 8 (smallest) – 20 (largest), and European sizes range from 60 (smallest) – 130 (largest).

Often, the different needle sizes are written in both European and American sizes, with the European size first and the American size second, e.g., 75/11.
The sizes represent the diameter of the needle blade/shaft, so a European size 60 means that the blade diameter is 0.6mm. The three most common needle sizes for machine embroidery are 75/11, 80/12 and 90/14.

Typically, fabrics made from cotton or linen with an even weave are used for embroidery, but you can hand or machine embroider onto lots of different fabrics and material items, from cushions and quilts to clothing or plain fabric.

Evenweave fabrics made from cotton are sometimes known as ‘aida’ fabrics. They’re particularly great for cross-stitch embroidery.

For tapestry (needlepoint) embroidery, open-weave canvas is ideal; there are 3 types: double thread canvas, where stitches can be made through the larger holes; single thread or ‘mono’ canvas, which is great for long stitch techniques and beginners; and interlock canvas, which has a twist in the canvas threads to give your project stability and a beautiful appearance.

For crewelwork, linen is the traditional choice but other fabrics can be used, such as wool, silk, cotton, jute and blended fabrics.

Embroidery scissors are scissors that have shorter blades with fine-pointed tips designed for precision cutting of delicate embroidery threads.

Due to most embroidery threads having multiple strands, it's important to cut them with precision to prevent the strands from fraying or braking. A clean cut also ensures your project looks neat – a pair of embroidery scissors will do just this!

An embroidery hoop or frame is a handy tool that helps to keep your fabric taut to prevent it from puckering or the stitching from distorting. You put your fabric into the hoop to stabilise it, a technique known as ‘hooping’. For hand embroidery, plastic or wooden hoops or frames are commonly used. Embroidery machines come with a hoop or hoops that attach to the machine.

The point of an embroidery hoop or frame is to help stabilise your fabric while you stitch, preventing your design from distorting. If you have a way of stabilising your fabric without a hoop, great! If you don’t, it’s best to use one.

The best way to get started with any craft is to get stuck in. We have embroidery kits containing materials and patterns with step-by-step instructions to guide you, as well as embroidery tutorials with free patterns, on our blog. Try one out or simply gather your supplies and let your creativity take over.