6 Essential Supplies For Hand Embroidery
The array of embroidery supplies available can be overwhelming. I have made a list of the most essential hand embroidery supplies and some nice-to-haves that will get you started with embroidery.
You can choose from a variety of needles for embroider. The type of needle you choose depends to a large part on the stitch technique used and how fine you like your work to be.
While you can use budget needles, and I have used them, you might find they have more burs (imperfections in the metal) that can make it difficult to thread your needles or push your fabric through the fabric. I like to use John James needles. If you want to push the boat out on needles go for Tulip needles. These needles are super quality and made in Japan. They come in a little glass vile and make a great present.
You will find an overview of most commonly used needles below, together with some ideas when to use them.
This is my go-to needle, as it is versatile and great for finer work.
Embroidery/Crewel needles are fine, fairly short and have a sharp tip. The eye of these needles is thin. While more difficult to thread up, they will slide easier through
Embroidery/crewel needles come in sizes 1 – 12. 1 being the largest size and 12 being the smallest. 12 is only used for very fine work such as needle painting with one strand of silk or cotton. Most commonly used sizes are 7-9.
Best use – Embroidery that uses denser fabrics such as crewel work, stumpwork, beading. Any type of surface stitches, such as back stitch, satin
Chenille needles are thicker and longer than embroidery/crewel needles. They also have a sharp tip but come with a larger eye than embroidery/crewel needles.
They come in sizes 13 to 26 with 13 being the biggest size and 26 the smallest. I find the most useful sizes to be 18 – 24. 24 for finer work and 18 for a thicker thread such as wool or more than one strand of embroidery thread.
If you have trouble threading your needle this is a good needle to try. But be aware that this needle will not work so well on very fine fabric such as silk, as it might leave holes, due to its thickness and large eye.
Tapestry needles have a large eye and a blunt tip. They are mainly used for counted work. Tapestry needles are also ideal for any stitches that require weaving, such as a woven wheel, needle lace
Best use – cross stitch, tapestry embroidery, black work.
In principle you can use any fabric you can think of. Linen, Cotton, twill, silk, felt, leather. You name it, there are no limits.
Plain fabric is great for any free style embroidery. But I have seen some great embroideries on patterned fabric to bring out the design or use the pattern as a starting point for your design. The best way to work out what you like is to experiment. Bear in mind that heavy embroidery or thicker shapes might not work so well on finer fabric such as silk or organza.
I love embroidering on linen, I love the feel and the sturdiness. Also, most of my embroideries turn into functional items such as notebooks, cushions and so on and linen works great for this purpose.
If you do any counted work you will need fabric that has an even weave. This means that you have the same number of threads per inch both lengthwise (warp) and transverse (weft). Evenweave fabric makes it easy to count your threads for any of the counted embroidery techniques such as cross stitch, blackwork or canvas work. Some popular fabrics using
There is a multitude of embroidery threads you can use for hand embroidery. But in
I mainly use DMC and Anchor stranded cotton, both are high quality and lovely to work with. Especially DMC is widely available. DMC and Anchor also do pearl cotton which I like to use for split stitched designs.
Pearl Or Perle Cotton
Pearl cotton is a two ply (2 single strands twisted together) embroidery thread that has a high sheen. The thread is non-devisable which means that you stitch with the two strands of cotton in tact. Its twisted appearance gives it its name ‘Pearl’. Due to its thickness and its twisted nature, your embroidery stitches will be more raised compared with stranded cotton. Perle cotton can be used for all types of embroidery but is not suitable for very fine embroidery designs such as silk shading.
Both DMC and Anchor produce pearl cotton.
There are two main categories: Tapestry Wool and Crewel Wool.
Crewel wool is often used in Jacobean Crewel work, hence the name. Crewel wool is 2ply, which means it has two strands of wool twisted together. Crewel wool is much finer than Tapestry wool and is therefore used for finer wool embroidery.
Well known brands include Appleton (British) and Renaissance Dying (Italian).
Other Embroidery Threads
There are other embroidery threads which are worth a try.
Linen thread is stiffer than stranded cotton and it might take a while to get used to. The thread is matt compared to other embroidery threads. But great if you want to introduce some contrast to your embroidery design. The thread has a lovely earthy and slightly rustic feel to it and works well for retro style embroidery and natural embroidery designs such as leaves and stems.
Silk threads are very versatile and can be used for many different embroidery techniques including surface embroidery, blackwork, stumpwork, counted thread work, Japanese embroidery and crewel work. Silk threads have a lovely sheen and will add luster and brightness to your embroidery design. Au Ver a Soie silk threads are one of the best silk threads on the market. If you don’t want to use silk you could use a viscose embroidery thread instead, which will produce a similar result.
Similar to linen threads, flower threads are matt in appearance. They are great for contrast stitches and for retro designs. These threads have their origins in Scandinavian embroidery and Danish flower threads are well known.
You should also have some sewing thread to hand not only to finish your projects but it is also hand for blackwork embroidery to achieve contrast, stumpwork and applique.
I mainly use organic cotton sewing thread from skanfill, which is now widely available in Europe and the US. I also use Coates Cotton, which is Öko-tex Standard 100 certified and has been tested for harmful substances.
My go to fabric marker is the air erasable Prym marker. They come with a fine or medium tip. This marker is great if you stitch something in a day or two, as the marker will air erase withing 48 hours. However, test before use. On some fabrics the marker can take longer than 48 hours to disappear!
If you have a longer term project I would go for the water erasable Prym marker. As the name suggests you have to use a damp cloth to remove the ink.
Please make sure you try the markers first on a little piece of your fabric before you draw out your main design to make sure you are happy with the result.
For me it is absolutely essential to have sharp scissors. I can’t stand cutting my fabric or embroidery threads and the thread or fabric comes out all frayed.
You will need at a decent pair of dressmakers or fabric scissors and a pair of embroidery scissors.
My favourite dressmaker scissors are from Gingher (8inches). As they are made from steel they are little heavier but I love them. Gingher dressmaker scissors are on the pricier side but will last you a life time and longer.
Embroidery scissor brands I love and use myself are Gingher and Kai.
If you cut a lot of fabric you will need a scissors sharpener. I am using the scissors sharpener by Fiscars. The handy thing with this sharpener is that you can sharpen both blades at the same time.
Other cutting tools I am using are simple snips and seam rippers. Snips are handy when you are sewing and seam rippers great if you have to open up seems and applique.
Hoops are used to tightening up your embroidery fabric and make it easier to stitch your designs. Hoops come in many different sizes and are most commonly round. But you can also find oval, rectangular and square hoops and a variety of miniature embroidery hoops. Hoops are generally made of wood or plastic. There are various types of hoops – hand held hoops, seat hoops, hoops with table or floor stands and hoops you can clamp to a surface such as a table.
My absolute favourite hoop is a seat hoop. It has a little base that you put under your thigh to hold it. The seat hoop allows you to have both hands free rather than holding a hoop with one hand and stitching with the other and having to put it down if you need to change threads etc. It is small enough to put in a project bag and carry with you. I use the Elbesee seat hoop, which comes in a number of sizes which can easily be exchanged.
Elbesee is a good quality hoop brand for hand held hoops as well. There are cheaper hoops on the market. But be aware that edges might be quite rough and might damage your fabrics. If you go for the cheaper brands you might have to sand down the hoop or bind it with fabric or ribbon.
While not essential, I like to keep a project diary. I take notes while stitching and note down what works and what I’d like to improve next time round. It also happens that I come up with new ideas while stitching and I like to keep a note for future reference. It is a nice thing to have as well to look back on when you have been stitching a while and see how far you have come!
Organising Your Supplies
A top tip is to store your projects in a dedicated box, basket or bag. It is so much easier to know where your things are and you have access to your work if you just have a few minutes to stitch without having to search for all your bits and pieces. I have written a blog post on how to be more productive when crafting. You might find this handy if you find it difficult to find time to craft.
Needle Minders And Pincushions
I have used pincushions since I can remember. I think pincushions are essential to keep rogue needles turning up on floors, cushions and sofa arms to a minimum.
I have only recently started using needle minders. These are strong magnets you can ‘clip’ onto your work and put your spare needles so you don’t have to search for them. Especially if you use different sizes of needles for your design. It is not essential but a handy little thing to have!
I hope you have found this roundup of supplies useful. I have created a resource page where you will find suppliers of items I mentioned above.
I created a whole online class with the beginner in mind that covers everything you need to know to get you started with hand embroidery. Learn more about what is included in ‘Contemporary Hand Embroidery 101: Foundational Stitches and Techniques’.
I’d love to hear from you if you have a question or comment or whether you have found some other tools helpful. Please leave a comment below.
You might find the following posts helpful to get you started with your embroidery journey.
Its good to learn that embroidering on linen is great for things like notebooks and cushions. My wife is getting into embroidering as a hobby and she was wondering which kind of fabric would feel sturdy enough to work on a notebook. I’ll let her know that linen is a great material for embroidering.
Hi Devin, thanks so much for reading the post. I love linen and it is great for notebooks. Look for some medium weight linen for notebooks. Twill works also well, as it has some structure to it. Twill is woven on the diagonal though and makes it slightly more difficult with directions as opposed to linen where you can see the horizontal and vertical threads. However, both are good for surface embroidery. If your wife is looking at cross stitch, choose some zweigart or aida fabric or eavenweave linen to get her started!
i love reading all about embroidery and what I would need and how to do it. I wondered if you had a book with all your information in it. Thought I might find it easier than following you on line.
Hi Sally – thank you so much for commenting. While I don’t have a book at the stage I am working on a hand embroidery fundamentals online course that will launch at the end of May. There is a good chance I will turn the book into an ebook, as I have had more requests for a readable format as opposed to an online format. Watch this space!