Many people associate embroidery with delicate floral tablecloths, folk clothing, or monogrammed handkerchiefs that are kept only for special occasions. While traditional embroidery can certainly be beautiful and charming, modern embroidery, including modern folk embroidery, offers a huge range of colors, designs, and stitch combinations. 

Whether you’ve never picked up a needle before or have already practiced more traditional forms of embroidery, learning how to do modern embroidery is a great creative outlet. With embroidery kits, modern embroidery is even more accessible. You don’t even need any special machines (although machine embroidery is an art form in itself). 

Here are 10 modern hand embroidery patterns and ideas for inspiration.

10 Modern Embroidery Ideas, Inspiration, Patterns, Classes and More

1. Painting With Thread

rainbow embroidery
Modern hand embroidery patterns don’t get much more striking than this!

South African embroidery artist Danielle Clough creates striking, non-traditional works of art with thread, and her beginner-friendly class teaches how to do the same. As Clough says, she essentially taught herself how to embroider, so she didn’t pay much attention to conventional “rules” about what she should or shouldn’t do with the craft. 

While her finished pieces look striking, they use straightforward stitches that anyone can pick up. In this class, she’ll walk you through the process of using your own reference photo and transferring it onto fabric before stitching.

Colorful Thread Sketching

Painting With Thread: Modern Embroidery for Beginners

2. Pet Portrait

dog
Student work by Sandra Isla for Hand Embroidery: Pet Portrait.

Contrasting colors are an important part of creating shading and texture in modern embroidery designs. In her class on embroidering a pet portrait, Floor Giebels focuses on shading techniques and shows you how to select contrasting colors to create realistic-looking portraits in thread.

3. Color-Blended Bird of Paradise

rainbow flower
Create a colorful bird of paradise flower using Floor Giebels’ pattern.

Color blending with thread is an important part of learning how to do modern embroidery, and Giebels teaches how to blend bright, bold colors. She provides a pattern for a bird of paradise flower that is broken up into different sections and suggests which colors to use in each section. 

You’re free to adapt the pattern to your own tastes, but by following Giebels’ technique, you’ll learn how to blend colors nicely for use in future projects. If you’ve bought embroidery kits, modern color schemes like this are accessible, or you can gather the multicolored threads from craft stores yourself. 

4. Blossoms

cherry blossoms
Embroider blossoms using the French knot technique.

Traditional embroidery techniques can be adapted for more modern embroidery designs—and once you’ve mastered some basic embroidery stitches, it’s fun to experiment with more complex stitches. 

The French knot is a common way of making three-dimensional bobbles in your embroidery, and this class with Charlotte Kan shows you how to make this knot. The class includes a couple of patterns that you can follow and introduces the stem stitch and back stitch, too. It’s simple enough for complete beginners to follow along to, yet introduces more experienced embroiderers to new techniques.

5. Intermediate Flowers

flowers
The techniques used to make these flowers can be adapted for use in modern folk embroidery.

Instructor Amanda Neely provides a simple pattern for practicing eight striking stitches in her class targeted at intermediate to advanced embroiderers: the French knot, the woven picot, cast-on stitch, bullion stitch, fishbone stitch, buttonhole stitch, pinwheel stitch, and satin stitch. 

With these stitches, you can create a whole bouquet of flowers or adapt them for other designs. However, you don’t have to follow Neely’s pattern precisely—feel free to embellish it or change the colors to suit your preferences.

6. Freehand Embroidery

rainbow
Student work by Jenny Cole for Freehand Embroidery Hoop Art.

You’ll see a lot of florals in embroidery patterns, but you don’t have to embroider anything so figurative or realistic. As with painting, drawing, or other forms of art, embroidery is a suitable medium for creating freehand art without a strict, structured pattern. In her class on freehand embroidery, Emiko May teaches about color theory and various stitch types so you can create freehand works of art you can be proud of.

7. 3D Stitches for Texture

A lot of embroidery is quite flat, but if you know how to best utilize stitches and color, you can create three-dimensional-looking works of art. 

This class by Neely teaches intermediate embroiderers how to make their pieces pop using a range of stitches, including satin stitch, chain stitch, and turkey stitch. The class assumes you know how to do things like transfer a pattern onto a piece of stretched fabric, but each of the different stitches will be covered in detail. By the end, you’ll be able to embroider works that look truly three-dimensional, like this woman’s cable-knit sweater!

8. Embroider on Clothing

snails
Source: Instagram
Add detail to your clothes by embroidering directly onto them.

Upcycle your clothes and proudly wear your art by embroidering directly onto a shirt or other piece of clothing. In her class on making wearable art, Clough discusses which types of fabric are best for embroidery (pro tip: nothing stretchy!), and provides some sample patterns with the light, mid, and dark tones already marked out. 

9. Embroider on Photographs

embroidered post cards
Create a mixed-media piece by embroidering on photographs or pictures.

Embroidery art doesn’t need to be limited to fabric. By embroidering onto photos or other pictures, you can create a multi-dimensional and surprising mixed-media art work. Peggy Dean teaches the 10 most useful stitches to know when embroidering photos and shows you how to do it without tearing the photo.

10. Embroider on Tulle

cactus
Layered cacti embroidered on tulle fabric.

Cotton without stretch is the preferred material for most embroidery projects, but once you’re more confident with your embroidery skills, you can experiment with different fabrics. 

In this class, Neely teaches how to embroider on tulle, a sheer fabric with large holes. Embroidering on tulle is certainly a different experience from embroidering on cotton, but there are exciting possibilities, such as layering. Tulle can be a bit tricky to work with, so it’s a good idea to have some solid embroidery experience before working on this fabric.

Learn Modern Embroidery Basics

Hand Embroidery for Beginners Step by Step