Hand embroidery is a fun and relaxing craft that suits anyone with an interest in color and patterns. Many traditional hand embroidery techniques and designs have stood the test of time, but there’s also no end to the modern and off-beat potential of this art form. 

Read on to find out how to do embroidery by hand, what materials you need, and some of the more common and useful hand embroidery stitches to learn. You’ll also find some amazing hand embroidery designs for inspiration.

What Do You Need For Hand Embroidery?

embroidery materials
Items you’ll need for hand embroidery. Most of these are included in convenient hand embroidery kits.

You’ll need the following to learn how to do hand embroidery:

  • Embroidery threads
  • A needle 
  • Fabric
  • Embroidery hoop
  • Scissors
  • Hand embroidery patterns on paper
  • Tracing paper
  • Pencil, pens, or vanishing ink

Embroidery threads are thicker than regular cotton you would use for other sewing projects, but they’re finer than yarn for knitting or crocheting. Experienced embroiderers often experiment with the threads they use, but it makes sense to start with standard embroidery threads when you’re a beginner.

Embroidery projects are often done on white or other light-colored fabric, but they don’t have to be. You can even use patterned fabric to give your design depth. Most embroidery is best on fabrics without any stretch.

Embroidery hoops aren’t essential for all hand embroidery projects, but they are recommended. They keep your fabric taut while you’re stitching it, and they’re very useful when you’re first learning how to do hand embroidery.

Hand embroidery kits can be bought from some craft stores and will provide everything you need to get started, but you can also buy everything individually.

Unless you’re creating a freestyle design that’s transferred straight from your mind to the canvas, you’ll need a way to transfer a pattern (on paper) onto your fabric. Almost all beginner-level embroidery tutorials include instructions on how to transfer designs, and they usually recommend using a combination of tracing paper, carbon paper, pencils, and vanishing ink.

What Are the Basic Embroidery Hand Stitches?

Although it takes longer than machine embroidery, learning how to do embroidery stitches by hand isn’t difficult. You can create beautiful hand embroidery designs with very simple stitches, but to add more detail and interest to your work, it’s a good idea to learn a number of more detailed hand embroidery stitches. Take intermediate or advanced-level embroidery classes to learn more complex stitches beyond these basics.

Running Stitch

embroidery hoop
Running stitch.

A running stitch is a basic stitch that’s used in all sorts of sewing. You can’t complete any hand embroidery patterns without this stitch.

Back Stitch

runninng stitch
The second row shown in this picture is the back stitch.

A back stitch is similar to a running stitch, but it doubles back on itself to fill in the gaps between stitches.

Stem Stitch

different stitches
The third row shows a stem stitch.

A stem stitch is similar to a back stitch, but it creates a chain-type effect that’s good for creating stems, outlines, and borders.

Chain Stitch

stitches
The top row shows chain stitches and detached chain stitches.

Chain stitches can be used for borders or for filling in larger areas.

Couching Stitches

stitches
The blue stitches in this photo are couching stitches.

Couching stitches are long stitches that are anchored down with other smaller stitches. They’re one way to create curved lines without needing to do lots of little individual stitches.

Satin Stitch

stitches
The square is filled in with satin stitches.

Satin stitches are used for filling in larger areas, and depending on your embroidery thread, they can have a shiny effect.

Cross-Stitch

cross stitch
Cross-stitch is different from other embroidery techniques.

Cross-stitch is a type of embroidery that uses little crosses on a grid-textured canvas. It’s a standalone art form, but cross stitches can be used in other forms of embroidery, too.

French Knots

French knots are small raised bobbles that add texture.

11 Hand Embroidery Projects

1. Lotus Flower

Embroidery artist Danielle Clough encourages her students to experiment with non-traditional colors. In her introductory-level course Painting with Thread, she teaches how to use a reference photo to pick light, mid, and dark-toned colors to embroider an exotic flower, such as this lotus. The color and stitching techniques she teaches can be applied to many different types of projects.

2. Floral Monogram

flowers
Floral monograms make a lovely personalized gift.

This simple monogrammed project combines a variety of different stitches (including the striking pinwheel rose) that can be used in more advanced projects later. Make it with your own initials, or stitch someone else’s and give it as a personalized gift.

3. Zodiac Signs

astrology sign
Personalize your art with your star sign.

If a monogrammed initial is a bit traditional for you, why not try personalizing your embroidery by stitching your zodiac sign? You can embellish a simple canvas with sequins and beads for some extra sparkle, if you wish.

4. Cacti

cactus
Embroider these prickly cacti.

Embroidered botanicals don’t have to be all about delicate florals and pastel colors. These prickly (but still cute) cacti are an ideal project for beginners.

5. Woodland Creatures

animals
Learn to embroider a deer, hedgehog, or squirrel.

Floor Giebels’ class on embroidering woodland creatures demystifies the process of creating different and believable textures with thread. With these three animal embroidery projects, you’ll get to practice stitching a number of different stitches that create texture.

6. Intermediate Bouquet

flowers
Learn some advanced stitches to create a variety of textures.

Once you’ve learned how to do embroidery stitches by hand, it’s time to master some more complex stitches. The French knot, woven picot, cast-on stitch, bullion stitch, fishbone stitch, buttonhole stitch, and pinwheel stitch look complicated but are not too difficult to master once you’re comfortable handling thread.

7. Embroidered Felt Patches

patches
Embroider felt patches to affix to your clothes or accessories.

You can embroider directly onto your clothing if you want to wear your art, but there’s always the risk that you might mess up and damage a good piece of clothing. If you don’t want to take the risk, embroider your design onto a felt patch first, and then affix it onto your shirt, jeans, or bag. This method has the added benefit of being removable when the rest of your clothing is past its best.

8. Japanese Sashiko Embroidery

on clothes
Student work by Rasiga Gowrisakar for Sashiko: A Japanese Embroidery Technique.

Japanese Sashiko embroidery uses white thread on a dark indigo background to create (typically) geometric patterns. Traditionally it was used to repair clothes or to stitch layers of fabric together for warmth, but nowadays, it’s more of an embellishment technique. You can create traditionally inspired or more modern art works using this lovely and simple technique.

9. Mixed-Media Watercolor

whale
Embroider a whale on top of a canvas painted with watercolor.

Mixing media is a fun way to combine art forms, and watercolor paint is an ideal medium to combine with embroidery. Prepare the surface of your canvas first to create a landscape or scene (like the underwater scene here), and when it’s totally dry, stitch your design over it.

10. 3D Stumpwork Embroidery

head
Stumpwork embroidery is a good way of creating three-dimensional designs.

Stumpwork embroidery is a technique in which you stitch a pattern onto one canvas, then cut it off and attach it to another stitched canvas. It’s an ideal way of creating three dimensions when layering alone won’t do.

11. French Knot Llama

llama
This finely textured llama is created mostly with French knots.

This llama shows the potential of using French knots in embroidery work. The detailed, raised texture of the llama’s fur can be used to create lots of other kinds of animals, too.

Painting, But Different

Painting With Thread: Modern Embroidery for Beginners