How to design embroidery – 10 great sources of inspiration

Many people I know love sewing, is fascinated by embroidery but choke when they think about finding and drawing the designs on fabric. They look for shortcuts or look out for the simplest designs.

That does not mean that simple designs are not beautiful. They are the most stunning in my opinion. But the embroidery lovers should not be afraid of design and stay away from attempting original and more complex work, not just copies.

There are many different ways you could find different designs for your masterpiece. 

Checkout this post on the 9 different ways to transfer the embroidery designs on to fabric

Embroidery techniques are so varied that even a beginner sewist can come up with beautiful work easily. Checkout a kantha quilt. Does it have any other stitch than running stitch running all over it. But it is such a beautifully embroidered piece despite its simplicity.

kantha quilt

The beauty of embroidery is not fully dependant on the design itself. It depends on the quality and type of the thread used, thickness of the thread, the way the stitches are executed, the surface of the fabric, neatness of the work, the proportion of the design in relation to the article, combination of stitches used, distance between designs on the cloth etc.

If you are a beginner at embroidery a test trial on a muslin the same way as in sewing is a good idea before the final work is done on the main garment. Even better is the idea of making samplers of embroidery stitches ( examples of different stitces on a fabric) for future reference

You can make samplers with designs stitches/ combination of stitches done side by side to see which would suit you best. These can be saved for future reference. You can also note down your ideas in a special notebook and clip the samplers in it. You can make samplers in different embroidery techniques like counted cross stitch, satin stitch, kasuti etc

How to make samplers

You can make a simple sampler with a cotton fabric and embroidery thread ; Or on a more complex level, You can have different fabrics with different textures and weaves and embroidery thread in different shades of colours

Start making single colour embroidery in one type of fabric. Then do it on different types of fabrics. Then try the embroidery with different colours. Get different tones of the same colour and work on the same design. Write down the stitches used and your feelings about the colour scheme to the side of it. It will be interesting to see what you think about it at a later date.

If you are planning to embroider a design on a garment or anything, you can take out your notebook and make a sketch to see that the placement of the design would be optimal. Different placements can have completely different effects ; change the placements and see which suits you the best. It is a good idea if you can cut out similar cutouts in paper ( coloured) and keep it on the fabric so that you can see the placement clearly

How to find embroidery designs – 10 easy and simple sources

1 Find your designs from Nature

Nature is a treasure trove of beautiful things . You will have to sketch them on your own but it will be original and very special to you.

Sketch it in such a way that not all the elements of the things are translated. That will be too overwhelming. You can draw the silhouette and add certain specific characteristics which you find fascinating about the thing. Making the real life thing to a flat drawing will stretch your imagination and creativity and will make it all the more special and original when the final embroidery is done

design embroidery

2. Stained glass designs

This is a favourite choice for finding designs. These patterns have very bold outlines and mostly floral designs all ready-made for embroidery designs well suited for shadow work, applique etc

design for embroidery

3. Designs from simple shapes like circles, diamonds, squares

Most of the geometric forms can be adapted very easily for embroidery. You can add your own details to it. Making paper templates and tracing with it on to the fabric will make it easy for you to transfer the patterns on to the fabric.

4 Kids’ colouring books

Another great way to get cute embroidery designs. I have found that these are best for designing on home accessories.

design embroidery

5 Cliparts

You can find a large number of clip art collection free online which are great for making embroidery designs

design embroidery

6 Embroidery design as part of the pattern on the fabric

When you embroider a patterned fabric it is a matter of emphasizing or altering the design already on it. You can use contrasting thread to bring out a different value to the whole colour scheme of the fabric or add complementary / same colour but different tone colours.

It is indeed not an easy task to balance the designs on a heavily patterned fabric with embroidery design. You do not want the embroidery to make the fabric look crowded and overworked. Subtlety should be maintained by means of colours used as well as the stitches used

Check out the post on the 80+ different types of patterns and prints you will find in fabrics.

7. Mosaic patterns

I love mosaic and think it is very similar to embroidery- arranging different blocks of coloured tesserae to create beautiful patterns on a blank canvas. When making bold patterns you can checkout the mosaic patterns for inspirations.

design embroidery patterns

8 Wallpaper designs

Checkout the wall paper designs available and you will be astonished at the variety. These can be made into stencils and used to make beautiful embroidery designs

9 Freehand or doodles

Imagine yourself as the artist and draw abstract doodles. They make great modern embroidery designs. Simple shapes can be drawn freehand from imagination. Ask your kids to draw and donate their special drawings for you.

design embroidery patterns

10 Embroidering without a design

A way for starting a design without drawing it first is to make a central unit first like a french knot or an eyelet hole or a mirror and then surround it with other stitches like the chain stitch or herringbone stitch as a border. Then scatter other stitches like rays from this . Check out this post on decorative border stitches for examples of how you can make two or three simple stitches and make a great combination stitch which takes on a beauty of its own

Checkout this pinterest board for some beautiful and simple embroidery designs inspirations

Another great resource I always turn to is this collection of free images put out into the public domain by Britsih Library on Flickr -yes, over a million public domain illustrations and other images for you to find our inspiration from.

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