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How to Start your Hand Embroidery project


Start right for a better finish

Do you get all excited when you have picked your next project to stitch?

Do you find you can’t wait to get the design on the fabric and start stitching?

Me Too!  BUT… taking your time with the important first steps will make all the difference. Not only will it be more enjoyable to stitch but the finished result will look so much better.

Just so you know, this post may contains affiliate links.  If you click through to a website and register or purchase something, I get a commission from that sale at no extra cost to you. All opinions and reviews are my own. You can read the full disclosure here.

Step 1… Choose the right Fabric

There is a lot of choice when it comes to embroidery fabric and it makes all the difference to your chosen design. I find as I try out various different types, I end up going back to the same ones time and again.

It generally comes down to a choice between Cotton or Linen. There are many variations within each type going from the budget end to the more costly high end and it would be a whole topic in itself!

The fabrics I use and love are all in my shop! I chose these after a lot of experimenting and stitching on various types.

Once you find your favourite, I offer all my fabrics in pre cut sizes so you don’t have to buy more than you need for each project.

Step 2… Choose a Frame to stitch in that is the right size

Frame or Hoop? It doesn’t matter which one you go for but it is essential to your stitching to choose something to stitch it in. It  makes your stitching much neater and easier to stitch.

If you prefer a hoop then you can read all about choosing the right Embroidery Hoop here.

If a frame is your preferred choice then make sure you get the right size and type so you enjoy stitching as much as you can. You can read about choosing a frame here.

Step 3… Cut your fabric to the right size


These 2 steps are closely linked as you can’t really do one without the other.

Regardless of weather you use a hoop or a frame to stitch the design in, I find you need at least an inch in distance between the edge of the design and the frame/hoop. This clearance makes stitching the edges easier.

Once you have the frame chosen, you can then get the fabric to the right size – if you make the fabric an extra 2-3 inches bigger than the frame on all sides this should be sufficiant.  Too much and it gets in the way as you stitch, too little and it doesn’t hold tight in the frame or you have to keep moving the frame around the design both of which spoil the embroidery.

In the above photo, I chose a bar frame to stitch the pattern in, firstly making sure the frame fits around the pattern with plenty of space around the pattern edge. I then placed the frame on the fabric and cut the fabric at least 2-3 inches bigger than the frame.

pinking shears

You can read more about Stretcher Bar Frames in this post.

Step 4… Edge the fabric

It can take a while to stitch your hand embroidery design so prepping the edges of the fabric before you start can be a game changer. Many a time I have skipped this step and regretted it!

The main reason for doing this is to prevent the edges from fraying and puckering. These frayed edges end up getting caught up in your thread and can be incredibly annoying!

I solve this issue by using a fabulous and fun pair of pinking scissors.  I love my pair and they have been invaluable for all my projects.

Step 5… Take your time transferring the design

How you choose to transfer the pattern design to your fabric can depend on a variety of factors.

With more detailed designs, I actually prefer to trace them as it gives a much nicer end result and it actually isn’t as difficult or time consuming as you may think! It all comes down to how you do it.

I’ll take you through 2 of my favourite methods…

Method 1: Tracing the design on to your fabric using a Light Box…

If a lot of your designs are on light fabric then a light box is worth the investment. For a good tracing result you will need the following…

Light Box – make sure its a decent size and has various light settings – you will find depending on if it is a dark day or your fabric is slightly more dense you will need to change the brightness accordingly.                          

Frixion Pen – These pens are great for fabric. They draw on nice and smoothly with a nice sized line that is not too thick or too thin. The best thing is, they are heat erasable so if there are any bits of the line showing after you have finished stitching you can run an iron over and they will disappear.

(Don’t use this as an excuse though to be messy with your tracing as you do want to cover the lines as much as possible. In cold conditions the lines can reappear – not something I have found to be an issue at all since I go careful and stitch over the lines I have drawn. There are bits left on many occasions which I run the iron over to remove and it has not been so cold in my house I have seen any lines come back!!!)).

Masking Tape – low tack tape that keeps it in place as you trace.         

light box

Here’s my lovely light box which I just use with a portable charger when needed.

Here it is in action, the paper pattern has been taped to the light box and the fabric placed on top and taped in place to secure. You can see how easy the pattern is to see through the fabric due to the light box.

And here’s the fabric complete with the full design having been traced on with the Frixion Pen.

embroidery pattern traced on fabric

Method 2: Tracing the design on to your fabric using Carbon Paper…

Carbon paper comes in different colours so it is good for both light and dark fabrics.  There are lots of different ones available and they don’t all work as good as each other.

carbon paper

The ones I like to use are… White Carbon Paper and Black Carbon Paper.  

Both have given really great transfers to the fabric and they can be used more than once.

The only other items you need for this method is a red ball point pen and some masking tape.

embroidery pattern transfer

In the photo above, I am tracing a design on to black fabric like so…

  • Place your fabric right side upper most on a flat hard surface and tape lightly in place.
  • Place your WHITE Carbon paper waxy side down on to the Fabric and tape in place.
  • Place your pattern over the carbon paper right side upper most.
  • With a red pen trace over the design pushing down firmly as you go. (the reason you use red is so that you can see what you have done as you go along!)

traced pattern

Here’s the paper pattern when finished – every part has been traced over in red.

And here’s how it looked on the black fabric ready for stitching…

So, you have now got to the point where you are oh so close to getting your hands on those lovely threads. There is just one more step you need to get right before you start stitching…

Step 6… Put your design in the frame so it is nice and tight

You’ve already decided which frame you are going to use in Step 2. When you place your fabric in your frame – pay attention to 2 things…

  1. The Pattern is central! You would not believe how many times I have spent ages getting my fabric in the frame, only to turn it over and see the design is totally off center. It makes stitching so much harder if you are too near the frame edge.
  2. The fabric is tight! So so important – your stitching looks much neater if it is stitched on tight fabric plus it is so much easier to stitch when it is like this.

If you are using a hoop, you can find out how to choose the right one and how to make your fabric nice and tight when using one in my post ‘The Essentail Guide to Embroidery Hoops.’ If you want to find out how to use a stretcher bar frame to stitch your design in and have lovely tight fabric, you can find out how in my post ‘How to Hand Embroider with a Stretcher Bar Frames.’

Now you are all set to get stitching and get the best from the design you are stitching. Here’s one with all those steps taken in to account and ready to go…

Take that bit of extra time to set the project off on the right track and you will love how much better it makes your piece look in the end.

Happy Stitching!


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start you embroidery the right way for best results

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  1. I am creating a morale patch design (2 in x 3 in) for the first time in Affinity Designer that will eventually be embroidered. I noticed for Adobe Illustrator there’s an embroidery plugin available to ensure your design is suited for an embroidery machine. Is there a similar plugin we can use for Affinity Designer? Also, how large does the border width need to be in my design? I haven’t found any answers online and hope you can be of help. Embroidery Digitizing In the USA

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