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Hand Embroidery Tips

Hand embroidery tips

Here we gather some useful tips and resources for starting out or refreshing your memory with hand embroidery.



You don't need a huge amount of materials to start with hand embroidery but it will pay dividends to get the correct needles, threads etc. We share some useful resources and where to buy your supplies.


Hand Embroidery Needles

Choosing an embroidery needle

We have an excellent article on choosing the correct embroidery needle written by embroidery tutor Jen Goodwin. Find it here.

Needle sizes - I always find this confusing, so here's a reminder. The smallest needles have the highest number, so a size 24 is much smaller than a size 11. You can download a useful Needles Guide from John James Needles here

You can order a great selection of hand embroidery needles from Minerva Crafts and Jaycotts.



Choice of embroidery threads 

There are many choices of thread you can use for hand embroidery. Here are some of the most common  options:

  • Stranded Cotton - these are the popular 6-stranded skeins such as Anchor by Coats Crafts. Stranded cotton is Ideal for cross stitch on various fabric counts. Stranded Cotton can also be used in freestyle embroidery, canvaswork and other forms of embroidery. You can split the 6 strands into as many as you like for good coverage on your fabric.
  • Soft Cotton - Anchor also produce a soft cotton that cannot be split. This is used for canvaswork or for bold style embroidery designs when stitched onto medium heavyweight fabric. See the product range from Coats Crafts.
  • Perle Cotton - Anchor produce perle cotton in different weights for embroidery - the most popular being #5 and #8. #5 is the thickest and can be used for hardanger, cross stitch or freestyle embroidery. See more here.
  • Wool - wool can be thicker (tapisserie or tapestry) or thinner (crewel). Tapestry wool is used for canvas work to cover the canvas evenly and crewel wool can be used a surface thread for crewel work and Jacobean embroidery. Anchor produce a large range of tapestry wool colours.  
  • Other threads for hand embroidery include silk threads and specialist threads for techniques like goldwork.

 For all thread types, when cutting a length of thread, don't cut it too long. About an arm's length is good. If it's too long it will fray more easily from being pulled through the fabric too many times and it will make your arm ache too!

To prevent your thread from tangling, you can run it through a beeswax holder to condition it - it also makes it easier to thread! You can buy a beeswax holder from Minerva Crafts, Jaycotts or Weaver Dee.

Always thread the end that you have just cut from the spool or skein. 



Fabrics for embroidery

As a rule, natural woven fabrics are usually best for hand embroidery techniques. Choose from cotton, wool, linen or silk for your background and select the appropriate thread-count for your technique and threads you are using. Make sure you prepare the fabric properly. 

You will need specialist fabrics or canvas for tapestry work and other pulled thread techniques such as Hardanger, where you actually cut the fabric threads to create the design! For canvas work, there is mono canvas, double-mesh canvas and interlock mono canvas. You need to choose depending on what you are making and the threads you want to use. Willow Fabrics have some useful guides about which fabrics to use here.

For an excellent selection of different fabrics for embroidery, visit Minerva Crafts website.



Using a hoop for hand needlework

You may choose to use a hoop for your needlework - this is a matter of preference but using a hoop or a frame can prevent the work becoming distorted. There are a number of different hoop types you can buy:

  • Wooden embroidery hoops are the traditional type with a screw to tension the fabric. 
  • Flexi hoops have a hard inner ring and a soft flexible outer ring to stretch over your fabric.
  • Spring hoops have a spring-loaded handle that you push together to tension the fabric between the outer and inner ring. 
  • Plastic tubular frames can be linked together to make a frame. The fabric is placed over and then plastic clips are clipped over and tensioned to hold the fabric in place.
  • You can buy slate frames for stitching where the fabric is sewn onto the frame and held perfectly taut under tension. 

Take a look at the selection of different frames and hoops available at Minerva Crafts here.

Transferring Designs

We have a couple of articles about how to transfer emboidery designs onto fabric - the Prick and Pounce method and the Tissue Paper method.

Transfer methods

There are other ways of doing this too - check out this useful post by Ruth O'Leary Textile Art outlining a number of different methods.


Starting and finishing your work

Starting off hand embroidery

To knot or not, that is the question! Craftsy have an excellent post on starting off your embroidery without a knot - see it here.

 is an excellent tutorial from Needle 'n Thread on how to end your work without leaving a knot at the back.


If you enjoy hand embroidery, please see our series of projects and techniques here.

 10-part embroidery series