Embroidery is one of my favorite craft mediums. It’s the perfect ‘lap’ project to work on while watching a movie and I love that I can pick up my project, work on a few stitches and just as easily put it down again. I first learned embroidery from my grandmother, who taught me to sew when I was a kid. Since then I have accumulated a big collection of vintage embroidery kits, endless boxes of floss, and have been known to transform my own art into embroidered masterpieces.
In case you haven’t heard, the DIY Craft Challenge is back! This month’s theme is Stitches & Threads, which pairs perfectly with embroidery. I’ve been longing to create a beginner embroidery tutorial for quite some time now, so this month is the perfect opportunity! And since it’s February, I made sure to design a project that can also become a Valentine for someone special in your life!
What is an embroidery sampler?
An embroidery sampler is created as a demonstration or test of skill in needlework. It’s the perfect way to practice different kinds of stitches and make something pretty at the same time.
There are hundreds of different types of embroidery stitches in existence. For this beginner project, I’ve chosen just seven: three basic outline stitches (Running Stitch, Back Stitch and Chain Stitch) and four decorative stitches (Threaded Running Stitch, Cross Stitch, Star Stitch and Fern Stitch). To make these stitches as easy to learn as possible I’ve included both photos with written instructions and a video link for each stitch.
- 8-inch diameter embroidery hoop:
The Heart Sampler pattern was created for an 8” hoop but if you would like to make a different size sampler, you can shrink or enlarge the pattern provided to fit your hoop. I’d recommend not going smaller that 6” for this pattern.
- Hand-sewing/embroidery needle:
You’ll want to use a medium sized needle with a sharp point and a long opening, or eye, at one end, for easy threading.
- Embroidery floss (7 different colors):
Embroidery floss comes in a small bundle or skein and there are tons of colors available (check your local craft store). A length of floss is made up of six smaller strands or plies that are twisted together. You can use all of them or divide them up and use two, three or four plies for a thinner line. For this project, we’ll be using all 6 plies on all our stitches EXCEPT the star stitch, where we will use only three plies.
- 12”x12” square of fabric (quilter’s cotton or linen works best):
The looser the weave of your fabric, the more forgiving it can be when taking out stitches and starting over. A finer weave fabric is more likely to show holes from your needle.
- Sewing scissors:
Sewing scissors are sharp and used only for cutting thread and fabric. Avoid using your sewing scissors to cut paper or anything else beside fabric so that you don’t dull the blades.
- Iron & ironing board
- Fine-lead pencil (or nonpermanent fabric marking pen):
- Crayola Light-Up Tracing Pad (or light table or sunny window)
- Washi tape (or masking tape or pins)
- Paper cutter (or scissors & ruler)
- Heart Sampler Pattern
Other Useful Tools:
- A needle threader (helpful when you find yourself struggling to thread your needle!)
- Thimble (can prevent you from stabbing yourself in the finger with your needle. Ouch!)
Step One: Prep the Pattern & Fabric
Download the Heart Sampler Pattern HERE and print out onto white copy paper. Then cut 1.25” from both the top and bottom of the page to create a square piece of paper with the pattern at the center.
Cut your fabric to size. I cut mine to be 12”x12” square leaving me plenty of extra. You could also get away with a 10”x10” piece of fabric too. Press your fabric to rid of any wrinkles using a hot iron.
How to use the pattern:
Use the lines of the pattern as a guide for your stitches. You’ll notice that each line has an assigned number to indicate which stitch to use. In this tutorial I will demonstrate how to make each stitch. There are a few stitches that are used more than once (like the running stitch, back stitch and chain stitch). Feel free to fill in these stitches as you go along.
Step Two: Transfer the Pattern to Fabric Using the Light Method
The easiest way to transfer a design onto a light-color fabric is to trace it. Place the square paper pattern face down onto the center of the square fabric and secure with washi tape or pins. Flip over and use a light table or my favorite tool, the Crayola Light-Up Tracing Pad, to transfer the pattern to the fabric using a fine lead pencil or nonpermanent fabric marking pen. You can also tape your fabric/design to a sunny window and use the natural light to trace.
Step Three: Prepare the Fabric & Floss
Place the fabric into your embroidery hoop making sure the design is centered. To make your fabric taut, spread it over the smaller inside hoop and fit the larger outside hoop over the top with your fabric in between. Tighten the little screw on the outer hoop and gently pull on the edges of the fabric until you have a taut surface to work with.
Threading your needle:
Threading the needle can be a little tricky, especially when using all six plies of floss. It may help to slightly dampen your finger and twist the end of the thread into a point, or try squeezing the floss ends flat between your thumb and forefinger. Then slide the needle’s eye onto the floss (instead of pushing the floss through the eye). If all else fails, use a needle threader.
Once you’ve threaded your needle, knot the longer end of the floss by first wrapping it around your finger, then roll it off and tighten into a knot.
Video Link: How To Tie A Knot For Hand Sewing
Step Four: Stitching the Design
1. Running Stitch: To begin stitching the Heart Sampler, let’s start with the most basic embroidery stitch- the Running Stitch. Begin at the center dashed line of the heart pattern. Starting at the bottom, pull the threaded needle to the front of the fabric at A (see photo above). Then return to the back of the fabric at B. The distance from A to B can be as long or short as you want. For this project, I recommend making small, even stitches of equal length. End your last stitch so that your needle is to the back of the fabric and tie off.
Video Link: Running Stitch
On your last stitch, return the needle to the back of the fabric. To tie off, pass the needle under a previous stitch creating a loop. Bring the needle back through the floss loop, and tighten. I recommend pulling the thread gently when tying off to ensure that the knot ends up snuggly next to your fabric (and not half an inch away). Avoid yanking the floss.
Video link: How to tie off a stitch
Your thread will get twisted up as you make your stitches. To correct this problem, hold up the hoop and let the needle and floss dangle straight down so that the strand can untwist itself. Just make sure not to lose your needle!
2. Back Stitch: Move over to the next line on the pattern (from the middle running stitch). Starting at the bottom of the pattern, bring your needle through to the front of the fabric at A (see photo above). Then go backwards and return your needle to the back of your fabric at B. Next your going to move your needle forward, coming up at C. Repeat this process to create consecutive back stitches by once again working backwards, poking your needle through at the end of the previous stitch, then moving your needle forward. Be sure to make small, even stitches of equal length. Once you reach the end of the line (of the pattern), tie off.
Video Link: Back Stitch
3. Cross Stitch: Next we are going to try our first decorative stitch! Starting at the bottom of your pattern, bring your needle through to the front of the fabric at A and then back down again at B (creating a diagonal straight stitch). Next make a second stitch from C to D. Make sure each cross (x) overlap is in the same direction. Once you finish your row and tie off, notice what the back or your stitches look like. The back of a Cross Stitch row should look like the image shown.
Video Link: Cross Stitch
4. Threaded Running Stitch: First make a line of small close Running Stitches. End the floss. Start a second floss strand (in a different color) at the same spot as the first line of running stitches, bringing your needle to the front of your fabric at A. Working on the front only, without stitching through the fabric, insert the needle under the first Running Stitch, then through the second Running Stitch. Continue weaving back and forth under the Running Stitches until you reach the end of the line. End floss and tie off.
Video Link: Threaded Running Stitch (Warning: This video is not in English, but her demonstration of the stitch is all you really need).
5. Chain Stitch: Start again at the bottom of the pattern and move your way up. Bring the threaded needle to the front at A. Insert the needle back into the fabric at A and then just poke the needle back up to the front at B. Loop the thread under the needle point then pull the thread through to create your first chain. Begin the next stitch in the same way by inserting the needle back into the fabric at B (now under the loop), coming up at C (outside the loop). Bring the thread around and under the needle point and pull the thread through. On your last stitch, end the chain by inserting your needle into the end of the last chain (outside the loop). Pull the thread through to the back and tie off.
Video link: Chain Stitch
6. Fern Stitch: Fern Stitch consists of three Straight Stitches of equal length radiating from the same central point A. Starting at the top of the pattern and moving your way down, bring the thread through at A and then make a Straight Stitch to B. Bring the thread back through again at point A and make another Straight Stitch to C. Bring the thread back through at point A (for the final time) and make a final straight stitch to D. Repeat this pattern by moving the needle down and coming up through the next center stitch to begin the next three radiating stitches. The center stitch follows the light of the pattern design.
Video Link: Fern Stitch (Note: This demonstration is done differently than described above. Either method works!)
7. Star Stitch: This is an Eight Point Star Stitch. Begin by first making a basic cross stitch. Then make another cross stitch diagonally on top of the first one to form a star.
Video Link: Star Stitch
Step Five: Finishing for Display
Once finished, turn your embroidery sampler to the back and take a look. My grandma always said that the back of your embroidery project should look just as neat and tidy as the front! But don’t worry. It’s OK is yours doesn’t look so tidy, since no one is meant to see the back of your project anyway (unless you show your grandma and she wants to check your stitches lol).
You can now prep your project for display. If you plan to make your heart sampler into a pillow, for example, you can remove it from the hoop and move on to your sewing machine. Or you can leave it as ‘Hoop Art’ by using the embroidery hoop as a frame for the project. To do this, make sure your Heart Sampler is centered in the hoop and the fabric is nice and taut. Then use sewing scissors to cut away the excess fabric.