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What Fabric is Best for Hand Embroidery?

A question I often get asked is – how do I choose the right fabric for my hand embroidery project?

This is a great question – the fabric you choose can make a huge difference to not only how enjoyable a design is to stitch, but also how good the completed design looks when you have finished.

Just so you know, this post may contain 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.

For this blog post, I will concentrate on fabric best suited to Surface Embroidery (not counted thread) since this is the type of embroidery I mainly focus on.

Surface embroidery very often features curved and flowing lines so it makes sense to choose a fabric that allows you to stitch these with ease. The type of fabric that does this has a full weave – what this means is the warp and weft threads of the fabric fill the surface with no noticeable gaps.

Surface embroidery often requires you to stitch areas where the stitches are worked closely together such as satin and long & short stitch – these also need a fabric that has a bit of weight to it in order to support the stitches. Again, a fabric with a full weave meets this criteria and is more able to support the stitches.

So what type of fabric should you choose?

There are a lot of fabrics out there and very often it comes down to personal preference. What I can share with you is my experience based on the fabrics I have stitched with.

There are 2 main considerations I take into account when choosing a fabric:

  1. The Fibres the fabric is made from.
  2. The Weight of the fabric.

Natural Fibres

I don’t like to stitch with polyester or synthetic fabrics as I find them harsher and less giving when it comes to stitching and simply put, I don’t like the results you achieve with them.

Fabrics made from natural fibers are a much better choice and the ones I like for hand embroidery include 100% Linen, 100% Cotton or a Linen/Cotton blend.

There are several differences between these 3 which helps you decide which one you prefer.

100% Linen

100% Linen Fabric
  • More Rigid and feels stronger – softens over time
  • Wrinkles easily – has more natural creases
  • Has a ‘slubby’ texture due to the longer fibres
  • More likely to have a visible lined pattern in the weave
  • More interesting look and feel.

100% Cotton

  • Smooth texture
  • Softer and Washable
  • Resists Wrinkling
  • Clean and Smooth Looking with less character

Linen/Cotton Blend

  • Soft and Strong
  • Nice interesting texture not as ‘slubby’ as 100% Linen
  • Slightly visible weave
  • Resists wrinkling
  • Nice drape

The Weight of the Fabric

I have found that the weight of the fabric is also a big factor when it comes to not only the stitching experience but also the stitching results.

When you are looking at different fabrics online they very often say the weight – either by the terms light, medium or heavyweight or by the GSM number (put simply the gsm number refers to the weight of the fabric.)

Having played around with different weights of the above natural fabrics I prefer a medium weight fabric for hand embroidery. In terms of the gsm number, this is usually around 150-200gsm. My absolute favorite fabric is 190gsm and I use this in the majority of my stitching.

The reasons for my preference include…

  • Better stability for surface stitches
  • Nicer to stitch with
  • Smoother result and harder wearing

Do bear in mind though that a lot of my designs are quite densely stitched therefore a ground fabric that can support this is needed.

The Fabrics I like to stitch with…

Having gone through all of the above the only thing that will truly make up your mind is to stitch on a few different fabrics and compare your results. You will soon find out that there are a few favorites that you tend to stick with. Here’s mine …

Robert Kauffman Essex Linen

Uk Supplier US Supplier

This is the fabric I use the most. It is a cotton Linen Blend (55%Linen / 45% Cotton) and has a weight of 190gsm (so a solid medium weight). It comes in an array of beautiful colors although I tend to stick with Ivory for most of my designs as it is easier to show how stitches are done for pattern and blog purposes.

I love the interesting texture of linen more so than smooth cotton. The cost of pure linen can be quite expensive (especially if you do a lot of stitching!) so this cotton/linen blend gives me the feel of linen with a cost that is much more easier to cope with on a regular basis.

Robert Kauffman Kona Cotton

100% Cotton. Gorgeous colors and lovely fabric to stitch with. This is 150gsm so a light-medium weight.

Another couple of 100% cotton fabrics I have come across recently and found them to be really good quality and a nice weight to stitch with are…

Moda Bella Solids

Makower Linen Texture

Stockists

I am based in the UK and use a few stockists – I am not an affiliate for any of these but use them regularly and from personal experience have always been happy with the service and goods received…

  • woolwarehouse.co.uk
  • cloudcraft.co.uk
  • thesewingstudio.co.uk
  • empressmills.co.uk
  • doughtysonline.co.uk

If you live outside of the UK and have a stockist you can recommend then feel free to share.

Purchase just the right amount for your next project…

If you don’t want the expense of ordering more fabric than you need, then you can purchase a 12 or 16 inch square of Robert Kauffman Essex Linen from my shop on Etsy. These squares are sized to accommodate most embroidery designs so perfect for one-off projects.

There is a minefield of information out there on this subject so I hope this has helped you to simplify the process. Once you find a fibre and weight that you like to stitch with you will be able to choose the best fabric for your hand embroidery every time you start a new project.

Happy Stitching!

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