What is hand embroidery?

Hand embroidery is the art of decorating fabric using a needle and thread. Though it uses many of the same skills, tools and materials as sewing, embroidery is decorative art, rather than one you would use to create or repair clothes or other items. This means it’s more purely creative and expressive which could be the perfect hobby to give stress and anxiety an outlet.

While an embroidery machine can help you complete more ambitious, impressive projects, you might find it more satisfying to begin with embroidery crafts you can do with your own hands.

Different kinds of embroidery

There are three main kinds of hand embroidery, which use slightly different techniques and produce different results. There are lots of different traditions and techniques, but each of them can be filed under one of these three headings.

Surface (or free) embroidery doesn’t take account of the fabric’s underlying weave – rather than counting the threads, you simply measure the distance of the stitches you want to make. This is a good technique when you’re using embroidery to decorate and upcycle old clothes or accessories, or if you’re using embroidery to disguise a repair.

Counted thread embroidery is more systematic. This involves following a pattern and counting the threads in the fabric you’re sewing into, and sewing between those threads. Counted thread embroidery uses specially woven fabrics to make this easier and is most often used to create decorations and artworks for display.

Needlepoint (also known as canvaswork) uses similar techniques to counted thread embroidery, but involves covering the whole canvas with thread – you are painting with needle and thread, creating an image or pattern with no negative space.

Key embroidery tools

If you’re interested in starting with embroidery there are some key tools you’ll need.

  • A Needle

Not all embroidery needles are identical, and the key difference to understand is between needles intended for free embroidery and needles for counted thread work. A crewel needle is ideal for counted thread embroidery because it has a large eye, for threading multiple strands of embroidery floss and a sharp point, for puncturing the various materials you might embroider onto.

A tapestry needle is suited for counted thread embroidery because it has a blunt tip, so it’s easier to sew between the threads of fabric than to punch through it.

  • Thread

Embroidery mostly uses a specialised kind of yarn called floss. This has more strands than standard thread and means that you can quickly build up a library of different colours and appearances to work with.

  • Underlying fabric

The foundation you’re sewing into. For counted thread and needlepoint, you’ll need a special thread with a regular weave, but for surface embroidery, you can sew onto anything: scraps of fabric in the bottom of your box, old clothes and accessories, or even some furniture!

  • An embroidery hoop

A must with counted thread and needlepoint, a wooden or plastic embroidery hoop holds your fabric taught, so you can sew into it regularly. Some embroidery hoops even make great frames to display your work in when it’s complete!

If you choose an embroidery box from MakeBox+Co, you’ll receive everything you need to complete a project, from tools and materials to clear, comprehensive instructions to see you from your first stitch through to displaying your finished embroidery.

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