Updated on June 2, 2022 by Sarina
You do not need much to transform any piece of clothing from blah to wow. Just some embroidery thread, needle, hoop, a suitable method to transfer the image to the fabric and some hours to spare and the patience of Buddha – just kidding. Embroidery uses wonderfully vivid colored threads to depict beautiful designs on fabric – the texture, colour everything in your garment takes on a different dimension with this embellishing work.
How to hand embroider designs on clothes
Step 1 Select your garment
You may already have decided on what you want to embroider on. But it is very important to choose the appropriate fabric for your embroidery design – especially if you are a beginner. Starting your first embroidery project with a thin fabric like chiffon or net is asking for trouble and a sure-fire demise of your ambitions of becoming hooked to this craft. Your frustrations will drive you away.
Cotton fabrics are the best for embroidery of any sort. But that does not mean you cannot embroider on anything else. Any fabric can be embellished with embroidery. Check out this post on the best fabrics for embroidery
If you have very thin fabric like a cotton voile the fabric would not support heavy embroidery or weight of metallic thread along with sequins beads etc. For these materials less dense embroidery with fine thread like a shadow work is better. On very heavy fabrics a little dense textured work is more suitable than fine work
You should use stabilizers on the back of thin and/or delicate fabrics like silk ; you should also use them on regular fabric if you are using unusually heavy fabrics like gold thread. Stabilizer can be anything from muslin to store bought ones. Here is a list of the best stabilizers to use for embroidery.
Never venture to embroider on many layers of fabric like on collars, plackets or jeans hems, as a beginner- those are to be tried after a lot of practice on single fabric layers.
T-shirt embroidery is very popular and embroidering your favorite motifs on clothing that you will wear on a day to day basis is tempting but let me warn you, the stretchy thin fabric of t-shirts are difficult to embroider on. If you are embroidering for the first time choose a simple non-stretchy fabric like cotton for a number of projects and then graduate to t-shirts.
If you are sewing the garment yourself, always embroider after the pattern is marked and before the fabric is cut. If you start embroidering after it is cut the whole cut edges will start to unravel.
Step 2 Collect everything you need
Suitable embroidery needle. Look at this post on hand embroidery needles for more details on selecting the best for your project. Select thin needles for thin fabrics; big needles leave holes – this is basic.
Suitable embroidery thread. More on this below.
Embroidery hoop. Read more on the different types of hoops and frames you can use
Sharp HB pencil to draw a design on fabric.
Carbon sheet if you have to transfer the design
Step 3 Decide on the position of the embroidery
This is a topic on its own. You can embroider anywhere- on the back , on the cuffs, on collars, on pockets, on one side of yoke , on both sides of yoke, diagonally on the front . Check out this post on the popularly used embroidery placement positions.
Step 4 Choose the design
As said earlier, the choice of the design depends a lot on the fabric and the type of clothing you are making. A baby dress is asking for a baby embroidery design , not the picture of a skeleton you would embroider on your teenage daughter’s t-shirt (if she begged enough)
Small french knot flowers or bullion knot flowers are enough for small baby dresses – no need for complex designs. For kids’ dresses, you can select some of the baby embroidery designs shown here. If you like butterfly here are some butterfly designs. Floral designs are always in demand, so are peacock feather designs, butterfly designs and paisley designs. Check out some easy floral embroidery designs here. If you are confused about how to embroider flowers this post with 25 ways to embroider flowers will help you.
If you are looking for small hand embroidery motifs check it out here.
Sometimes you may decide that the design you like is not the correct size for your dress. You may want to enlarge it or reduce the size.
To enlarge/reduce the size of the embroidery design you have to draw the design as a grid and then copy it square by square onto a larger area. For this mark the design area as a rectangle around the design. You can use a graph paper or draw squares inside the rectangle you have marked. Now draw a bigger rectangle of the size you want the final design on another paper. Mark the squares/grid inside this matching the numbers on the smaller design. ie. The number of squares on the smaller original design and bigger rectangle should be the same. Now you can carefully copy the design lines on the smaller/original design to this bigger rectangle by copying the design lines
To make your embroidery pattern smaller, reverse the instructions.
Step 5 Choose the colour scheme
You can take the design you have and use some colouring pencils to see how the colour scheme you have in mind will look eventually. Check out this post on 15 colour combinations – you can use any of these or one of your own preference.
Step 6 Prepare the fabric for embroidery
Prewash the garment to remove unnecessary sizing and to prevent the problem of shrinkage -this is important because if the fabric of your clothing shrinks later but your embroidery stitches would not, there may be puckers. Dry and press all wrinkles out
If you are embroidering on t-shirts which are made of rather thin stretchy knit fabric or thin fabrics like silk you may want to use stabilizer on the back for some stability.More on T-shirt embroidery here
If the design is heavy the fabric will sag, like the ones made with metallic threads. You can use iron-on, dissolvable or tear-away interfacing on the back as a stabilizer or use muslin. Align the grainline of the stabilizer and the fabric and hoop it as one before starting work
My favourite to embroider is always denim – embroidery thread looks beautiful against the denim blue.
How to embroider on Velvet clothes and sequined fabrics?
Velvet is a napped fabric – marking it with fine designs with intricate designs is the first challenge. Then when you try to hoop it you find that the nap is all crushed – the horror. The beautiful fabric will be ruined. What professionals do is to hoop the stabilizer you mean to use under the design and then use a gum stick to adhere the fabric gently on top of the stabilizer. Now start embroidering.
To make detailed embroidery designs on velvet and other napped fabric you can use a dissolving stabilizer with the design marked on it. After the embroidery is over this can be dissolved.
Beaded and sequined fabric should also be treated the same way. You may have to remove the sequins from the area to be embroidered
How to embroider on thin transparent fabrics?
The challenge with sheer transparent fabrics is that you absolutely need a stabilizer underneath to do beautiful embroidery but after the embroidery is done, this stabilizer looks ugly as the fabric is see through. So you can use a water soluble stabilizer that can be dissolved after the work is done.
How to embroider on loose weave fabric?
Loose weave fabrics like net/metallic fabric need a good suitably sturdy tear-away stabilizer underneath to give the embroidery strength. You can cut off the extra after the work is over
How to embroider on spandex?
Spandex is a stretchy fabric and you need to apply a tear-away stabilizer without stretching the fabric at all . Hoop the fabric on the embroidery hoop without stretching it at all. Now embroider carefully without stretching the fabric – this is key. You can choose a simple and small design as embroidering on stretchy fabric is very challenging
Step 7 Choose embroidery thread
Good quality cotton embroidery thread is my favorite for embroidering on clothes. Silk, rayon etc can be difficult to work with for beginners and bright colours may bleed as well, though their sheen and beauty may tempt you to buy them.
Getting the best brand of thread is the best bet if you want your garment embroidered well. Check out this post on the 12 types of embroidery thread you can use for hand embroidery. You can get hand dyed floss in unique colors but there is a possibility that they may bleed.
Prepare the thread for embroidery. You can prewash the thread – this ensures that the thread do not bleed afterward. Some bright colours like red, pink even belonging to good brands may bleed and run on your clothing when wet. Rayon thread though they look super fine and silky almost always bleed.
You will have to ensure that the thread will not run and ruin your work. If you are worried cut out a piece of the thread, wet it and put it on white tissue to see if it bleeds. If it does, wash it till the bleeding stops and then dry it spread out. You can add some salt or vinegar in the final rinse water to act as a fixative for the dye.
Step 8 Transfer the design
The easiest method to start embroidering is to draw the design freehand. You will want to draw with water-soluble pens (The ink washes out/fades out after you have done the embroidery) or pencils. Use chalk for broad outlines but they will smudge.
Do not draw outside the design or make several shaky lines. A continuous line is what you need so if you are new to drawing freehand, practice on scrap or paper first
You can copy the design in many ways. The easiest is to print out the design and then use the carbon paper to transfer the design. Use dressmakers carbon and use light coloured ones for dark coloured fabric. You can check out this post on the 10 ways to transfer embroidery designs
I am a little wary of carbon sheets as they invariably mark the fabric, especially white. They wash off, though. But if you are planning to use the clothing without washing this is a problem.
You can also buy preprinted embroidery designs which you can just iron on the fabric. Easy peasy
You can also use a dissolving stabilizer to embroider. What you do with this is scan the picture you want , print it on the stabilizer with your inkjet printer . Keep it on the face of the garment. Embroider on this – ie you embroider on the design lines of the stabilizer and the fabric together. After you are done soak the area in some lukewarm warm water (or as written in your instruction sheet) and the stabilizer dissolves.
Step 9 Start embroidering
Wash hands before you start embroidering – after every break you take; especially if you made a short trip to the kitchen. Oil stains, turmeric and even sweat can stain your clothing.
Cut out the thread of 25 inches and thread this on your needle. If you have difficulty threading needles, check out this post on correctly threading needles
Keep the design area on the hoop/ frame – it should be stretched taut so that you can embroider smoothly. But sometimes you want to skip this which is alright. You can still embroider fine without the hoop. It is just more of a challenge.
If you want fine and delicate work that lays smooth as satin you should use only one strand of embroidery thread on your needle. But if you are in a hurry or you are embroidering on thick fabrics like denim you can easily fill the design with three strands of thread on the needle but it wouldnot be as fine as done with one single strand
For smooth filling stitches like satin stitch use hand embroidery floss and not perle cotton thread. But for textured stitches perle cotton is good.
To knot or not ?
When I started to embroider, my practice was to make a knot at the end of the thread and leave it in the back. A better way to make the back neater is to not knot at all – start from the face of the design /fabric and leave the end of the thread inside the design.
Make tiny stitches at the base of where you emerged , so that the thread is firmly anchored there. Check out this post on the different ways to make a thread knot when you embroider.
If you run out of thread in the middle of the design ( you will invariably) start stitching the same way as you started (without leaving a knot and start on the same hole that the stitching ended last
How to fill the designs
There are so many embroidery techniques you can use to embroider your garment. And hundreds of embroidery stitches to fill your designs. Here is a post on the best filling embroidery stitches that you can use on your embroidery design.
Using satin stitch you can fill any large design easily enough. Make rows of satin stitch inside the design. Then make connecting stitches between them.
Make another row of satin stitch
Connect between them with straight stitches filling the void smoothly and neatly
After you have finished the embroidery cut stray threads on the back and neaten them. There are brushable products that protect the back of embroidery – they make the thread on the back non fraying .
If you are concerned about the embroidery irritating your skin you can use a special interfacing ironed on the back of the embroidery. This will act as a barrier between the skin and the stitches. This may especially be needed for embroidery with metallic threads
Step 10 Washing and caring for the embroidered garment
If you did not prewash the embroidery thread there is a chance that the embroidery thread especially the deep reds, purples, blues etc might bleed into the nearby areas. But even if they do, you do not have to panic. It is resolvable. If you rinse it, soon enough in cold water, the colour which runs will wash out of the fabric.
Wash the embroidered garment separately by hand , atleast the first time you wash it, after embroidering.
The washing process should go like this. Use very mild detergent and mix this in some lukewarm water to wash the item first. If there are stains in the clothing use some dishwashing liquid to spot clean the stains. Now soak the clothing in a solution of one tsp vinegar and some cold water. Take it out and then rinse a lot of times in plain cold water. If the thread is running rinse as many times as it takes to wash out the bleeding. Dry the garment soon enough.
Instead of wringing which will ruin the embroidery, Keep the clothing between thick towels so that they soak up water. You can use a hair dryer to speed up the process because so long as the cloth is wet the thread colour may spread again. Lay the clothing some where flat instead of hanging it in shade to dry
After the first wash, you may want to wash the garment in the washing machine – you can. Use a laundry washing bag . Check out this post on making an undergarment washing bag. You can make one in a bigger size for bigger garments. Keep the garment inside this bag and use a soft/delicate cycle in the washing machine with mild detergent. Brighten up colours by adding some vinegar in the final rinse.
If you have done textured stitching or made beautiful 3-d flowers you may want to preserve this dimensional feel and not crush it as you iron your clothing . Do not iron over the embroidery ever – especially dimensional stitching. You can lay the embroidery wrong side up and press.
Keep the embroidery part cushioned on top of fluffy towels to protect the textured surface, while ironing. Use the steam setting in your iron with caution with embroidery especially if the thread is running/bleeding.