One of the best reasons to start embroidery is that it costs next to nothing, you don’t need fancy equipment and you could start literally as soon as you finish reading this post! Not only is reduced stress and increased contentment a proven outcome of making things, the finished results are great to personalise our homes. Making things helps to liberate our hands from a life spent constantly on technology so that we can reconnect with basic skills.
Over the next four weeks, I’ll be taking you through four stages to get set up in embroidery. This week we’re talking about tools and lucky for us, they’re inexpensive to buy, easy to find and very versatile. I really like the online shop Cloudcraft for materials and so most of the links in this post point to that shop (no money changed hands – I just really rate Nicole’s shop!) You could also try a local haberdashery which should be a fount of knowledge for any embroidery questions, otherwise try Ebay, Etsy or Amazon.
Essential Tools to Start Embroidery
1. Embroidery hoop
This is your number one bit of kit if you want to start embroidery. If you try to sew by hand without a frame, your fabric won’t be taut and your work will just get pulled out of shape. Not a good effect! Hoops come in all shapes and sizes depending on the project you’re working on. You’ll find them in plastic or wood, either of which works well, though personally I prefer wood with a brass screw. For starters, why not try a 5″, 8″ and 12″ inch hoop and see which size you most like to work on.
2. Embroidery thread
Embroidery thread (or floss) is made up of six strands but most of the time when I embroider I split them down to three. I cut a length of thread, separate the six strands into two groups of three, then clamp the other end in between my teeth to hold it fast somewhere and pull the two groups of threads apart. Try it!
The reason that I split embroidery thread is because you can get a much cleaner, sharper effect with slightly thinner threads, plus it’s easier to thread the needle and also makes the threads go a lot further.
If you’re starting out, why not buy a selection pack of colours so you have plenty of choice or if you’ve already chosen a pattern to work on, then you can follow that to choose your colours.
3. Small sharp scissors
If you’ve been slumming it with your kitchen scissors trying to snip fabric then your life’s about to change. Invest in scissors specially made for the job – brands Fiskars, Korbond and Gingher all score top marks in the scissor department. Invest in one larger pair (8″ or 9″) for cutting fabric lengths and shapes. More importantly, buy one small, sharp pair for snipping into awkward places.
A Word About Needles and Fabric
Oh crikey, there’s a lot to say about needles, but for the purposes of getting started you really need two kinds –
i) An embroidery needle – which you might also hear called a ‘crewel’ needle. It has a really sharp point and quite a big eye so you can thread your embroidery floss through it. Don’t get muddled up and buy a tapestry needle because these are blunt and won’t go through the fabric easily. Needles are numbered and the higher the number is, the smaller the needle is. Buy a variety pack with different sizes in and experiment with what works well on what fabric.
ii) Sharp needles are the standard, short, sharp needle, used for all kinds of general hand sewing tasks like using slip stitch to close the gap of the mermaid doll.
5. A Close-woven fabric
The best fabric to do hand embroidery onto is something closely woven. In other words something like cotton or calico will be great. Something with big holes in like net or tulle will be really hard to work with because the stitches will fall through the holes.
Buy a medium-weight calico or lining fabric that you would use to line curtains but avoid the ‘sateen’ version which is more slippery to handle, thicker and more expensive. Either lining fabric or calico are fairly cheap to buy (think £2.50-£3.50 a metre) and are easy to handle, cut and stitch because they are closely woven.
Buy your fabric on Ebay
Other Tools to Start Embroidery
6. Paper scissors
It’s ideal to have some scissors just for paper cutting and cheap and cheerful is fine. Whatever you do, never, ever cut paper with any of your treasured fabric scissors because it blunts them. Using blunt scissors to try and cut fabric is like trying to gnaw through a tree branch.
So, so vital to your sewing success! When you want to match and hold fabric edges together, make an adjustment, put a marker in, then sharp, new, shiny pins are what you need.
8. Iron-on fabric backer (vilene)
This is a really handy addition in your arsenal of sewing tools as it helps to stabilise finer, lightweight fabrics. You might find that if you embroider on a very heavy fabric, it’s hard for the needle to go through. Equally a fabric that’s too flimsy won’t hold it’s shape when you start sewing. The best bet is to choose something on the lightweight side and iron on a backing. This iron-on backer is commonly called ‘vilene’ which is basically a brand name. It comes in three weights and medium or light will be the best for embroidery.
A Word About Fabric Marking
9. Air erasable fabric pen or fabric marker
If you’ve ever wondered how to transfer an embroidery design onto fabric then using an air erasable fabric pen is a top way. First, stick the paper version of your embroidery design onto a window (or a light box if you’re really fancy). Next, tape your fabric over the top and trace over it with the pen. Depending on the pen you use, your design will stay put from a few hours to a couple of days. In time it will just fade away on it’s own, giving you the chance to stitch on your design before it fades. No one will ever, ever know. Genius.
And that’s really all you need to get started. Except for a project of course. Why not try this lovely little beginner embroidery kit. Full instructions, hoop and threads are all included and ready to go!