Begin at the Beginning: Embroidery
Hints and Tips to Help Get You Started
So you want to embroider? We think you’re going to love it!
To encourage you, we thought we’d offer some helpful guidance to get you going.
Always Begin With the Design
Any embroidery project always begins with the design. So the first thing you’ll want to do is either draw a design onto your fabric or transfer an existing design.
The technique you use for transferring a design will depend on the color and the thickness/weight of the fabric you’re using. DMC offers a number of different tools for transferring your design. If you’re not using a DMC product, make sure you test your method first to ensure that the markings aren’t permanent or bleed when washed. Of course you should also always read and follow the manufacturer’s directions. There are a number of ways to transfer a design. Here are the most common methods:
- Tracing: To trace your design you should first draw it onto white paper using a black marker. Place the design under the fabric and, using your preferred transfer tool (ie: DMC soluble pen or chalk pencil), copy the design by tracing it directly onto the fabric. To see it more easily, tape the paper and fabric onto a sunny window or use a light box. The tracing method is most appropriate for light colored and lightweight fabrics. If you’re using a DMC pen, the blue ink is completely water soluble so that once the embroidery is completed, the markings can be removed with a lightly dampened cloth. For darker fabrics we recommend using DMC transfer pencils, which are chalk-based. The white pencil markings are removed with a damp cloth or by gently rubbing the fabric.
- DMC Tracing Paper/Dressmakers Carbon: Place a piece of DMC Tracing Paper (also know as transfer paper), color-side down on your fabric. Then place the pattern on top of the paper. Transfer the design to the fabric by tracing the pattern using a stylus or empty ball-point pen. DMC Tracing Paper includes four 8 ½” x 11” sheets of wax-free tracing paper—two yellow and two blue. Use the yellow for dark fabrics and the blue for light-colored fabrics.
- Your Own Computer Transfer: You can create your very own computer transfer by scanning your own design (or one that is copyright free), and printing it onto special transfer paper. Always follow the manufacturer’s directions. You can usually find transfer paper in most office supply stores and at some needlework and quilt shops.
- Iron-on Designs: Paperbacked iron-on transfer designs are also a good option. You can find these in a variety of colors and styles. As always, follow the manufacturer’s directions.
- Stencils: These are great when you’re creating repeated patterns or mixing and matching for a unique look. You can also use just a few elements of a stencil design—this will create a distinct style to your embroidery project. Tracing stencils works best on medium-weight fabrics such as cotton, lightweight denim, silk, linen, rayon, and various synthetic blends. Here is our step-by-step guide to stenciling:
- Select the stencil design of your choice.
- Position the stencil on the right side of the fabric and secure it in place (tape works well for this). Use a DMC transfer pen or pencil to trace the design following the cut out areas of the stencil.
- If the fabric has any stretch to it, it might be easier to make small dots with the DMC transfer pen or pencil along the cutout lines rather than drawing a solid line.
- Lightly use the transfer pen when tracing. Keep moving along the cut-outs without pausing. Holding the marker in one spot for too long might create a thicker line than needed.
- If using a textured fabric, you may need to apply more pressure when tracing the stencil.
- If you need to make any corrections to the placement of your design, just dab the traced lines with a damp cloth to remove the markings.
- Stitch over the traced lines with a line embroidery stitch of your choice or fill in the open areas with a filling stitch.
- Hint: for the best results when transferring a design, remember to keep your needlework fabric clean and free of any starch or protective coatings (these coatings can interfere with the ink or chalk when your transferring to the fabric).
Preparing Your Fabric or Stitching Surface
- Note: The transfer methods outlined here are removable and should not be confused with hot iron transfer ink pens, pencils, or patterns. Heat transfer methods create a permanent image that must be completely covered by stitching to be invisible. When using a hot iron transfer pencil, remember that a reverse image of the design will be created. This means that your pattern will need to be traced in reverse before transferring the design to the fabric.
- Fabrics that will be laundered should be washed before you begin stitching. This will prevent the fabric from shrinking afterwards.
- Iron out creases before stitching to make it easier to stitch evenly and ensure you don’t end up with wrinkles that you can’t get out afterwards.
- Leave ample room around the design before cutting the fabric to allow for the finishing you’ve chosen.
How to Use an Embroidery Hoop
- Finish the edges of the fabric to prevent them from unraveling. Use a seam sealant such as Fray Check from Prym Dritz. It’s a liquid that’s used to secure the edges of fabric to prevent fraying.
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Using an embroidery hoop.[/caption]
- First you’ll want to loosen the screw or nut on the outer hoop and then separate the inner and outer rings. The outer ring holds the fabric over the inner ring.
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Using an embroidery hoop.[/caption]
- Place the inner ring on a flat surface. Place your fabric over it.
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Using an embroidery hoop.[/caption]
- Put the outer ring over the fabric and press until the bottom ring is snug inside the outer ring. Tug the corners of the fabric slightly to make sure it’s taut. This is important because you don’t want the fabric to slip out of the hoop.
- Tighten the nut or screw securely.
Note: Don’t leave your work in the hoop for too long. This can cause creases in the fabric that are difficult to remove. To prevent this, take your work out of the hoop when you’re not stitching, you can put it back in the hoop in no time.
Preparing Your Thread
Your design chart will indicate what type of thread to use. For embroidery floss, the design will tell you how many strands or plys of floss you’ll need.
Floss is a 6-stranded fiber. You will not usually stitch with all six strands of floss, so you’ll have to separate the strands before you begin stitching. To separate your strands, find the end of the thread. Slowly pull the end out from the skein until you have an 18” length of floss. Cut it off. To separate the floss into individual strands, pull one strand up and out slowly until it’s completely separated from the others. Continue this process until you’ve pulled out the required number of strands. To rejoin the threads, hold them together at one end and then gently stroke the lengths to smooth and recombine them.
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Preparing Pearl Cotton Thread
It’s no surprise that we’re fans of Pearl Cotton thread and that it can make most projects look absolutely beautiful. If you decide to try Pearl Cotton, we’ve listed two common ways to open and cut a skein of this thread. The methods are dictated by the length of thread you need.
- If you need about 19” of thread: push the two labels toward the center. Find the end with the two loops and cut through the bottom of each loop. Move the labels back into place. Pick and then pull out a single piece of thread from the top loop.
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Pearl Cotton, trimmed.[/caption]
- If you need about 38” of thread: remove both labels and untwist the skein to form an oval. Cut through all the threads at one end of the oval. Pick and then remove one thread for use as needed. To keep the threads tidy for future use, put the color number label back onto the thread and slide it to the center. Fold the threads in half and set aside.
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Pearl Cotton cut long.[/caption]
Note: Pearl Cotton is commonly stitched using one full strand for embroidery and is not usually doubled up to make a thicker thread. If you want a heavier thread for your project, choose Pearl Cotton size 3 or size 5. If you’re working a delicate stitch or using a lightweight fabric, use Pearl Cotton size 12 or 8.
Threading Your Needle
We recommend using the DMC Needle Threader to help you thread your needle. To use this tool, slide the eye of the needle onto the hook, then loop the thread on the hook and pass the hook through the eye of the needle and pull the thread through.
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Using a DMC Needle Threader.[/caption]
If you don’t have a DMC Needle Threader, here are some other ways to thread your needle:
To do this method, first cut a clean end of thread and pinch it between your thumb and forefinger, leaving only a little of the end exposed. Holding the needle in your other hand, “poke” the eye of the needle over the tip and the thread into the eye, then pull the thread through. Pinching the thread gives you more control to guide the thread into the eye. You may have to “saw” the eye of the needle back and forth slightly to get the thread to enter the eye.
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The 'pinch and poke' method.[/caption]
Loop the end of the thread over the eye of the needle and pinch the loop tightly between your thumb and forefinger. Remove the needle from the loop and press the eye of the needle down over the thread. Pull on the loop to get the thread through the eye of the needle.
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The 'loop, pinch, and poke' method.[/caption]
Note: Whenever you’re stitching, make sure your hands and work surface are kept clean. We recommend washing your hands before you begin stitching (and try to remember to keep drinks and snacks away from the area).
Starting and Stopping
We all want bump-free embroidery, and to achieve this, we recommend starting your stitching with one of the following methods:
- In-line Waste Knot Method
This “beginners” starting technique is best when you’re beginning a new design or stitching a new area of the design. Knot the end of your thread and take your needle from the front to the back about one-inch or so from your starting point, running the thread along the same line you plan to stitch. Bring the needle up to the front of the fabric at the starting point of your first stitch. Start stitching towards the knot, making sure to cross over the thread on the back with each stitch to secure it. When you’re stitching reaches the knot, pull the knot up and clip it off close to the fabric and continue stitching.
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In-Line Waste Knot[/caption]
Another easy way to start a new design or to start stitching in a new area of the design is the Away Knot. Knot the end of the thread and take your needle from the front side onto the back several inches away from your starting point. Start stitching. When you finish stitching with that thread, pull the knot up and clip it off. Turn your work over, re-thread the needle with the remaining thread, and weave the thread through several stitches on the backside to secure it.
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Pull your threaded needle up onto the front side of the fabric, leaving a one-inch tail of thread on the back. Hold the tail of thread against the back of the fabric in the direction you plan to stitch and work the first four to five stitches over it to secure it into place. Be sure to check the backside to confirm that your stitches are covering the thread and clip any loose ends before continuing to stitch. Once you’ve started a project, you can secure new threads by weaving the thread under several adjacent stitches on the backside. Continue stitching.
To end a thread, run your threaded needle under the last few stitches on the back of the fabric and clip off the excess thread. After rethreading the needle to continue, simply run the needle under several stitches on the back to secure the thread and resume stitching.
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Starting and Stopping on Clothing, Tableware, and Bed Linens
Knotting embroidery threads are not generally recommended because they can cause ugly bumps on the fabric. The exception is when you’re stitching on pre-finished items that will endure repeated wear and multiple washings. To ensure that the stitches remain secure, small knots at the starting and stopping points are recommended.
No need to panic if you make a mistake embroidering. Here are a couple of tips:
- If you notice your error right away, correct the stitches by unthreading your needle and gently pulling out the stitches.
- If you make a large error or your mistake is surrounded by other stitching, you’ll have to cut the stitches away. Working from the backside, carefully clip the stitches with the tip of your embroidery scissors and remove the threads with a pair of tweezers.
Phew! You’re finally ready to starting embroidering!