What is embroidery ?

Embroidery is the method used for decorating fabrics with a needle and a thread.  Embroidery styles and techniques vary greatly but in this tutorial DMC will be featuring free style or “surface embroidery”.  This decorative stitching technique, with its varied stitches, is worked independent from the fabrics weave allowing you to embroider any design, realistic or abstract onto any fabric you choose.  Surface Embroidery offers you the greatest versatility to create beautiful designs using DMC’s colorful threads and specialty fibers. This guide will educate you step by step on the path to becoming an embroidery expert!

    Gather Your Tools

    You are going to need some basic items to get started. DMC manufactures premium quality supplies at a great value, for any type of needlework project. See our Stitching Starter Bundle for everything you need!


    Designs can be found anywhere; get inspired with over 1000 free DMC patterns to choose from!


    You can also discover hundreds of colors to choose from with our DMC color resource



    There are many different types of fabrics and each has its own particular characteristic. You can discover which fabric would be best for you and your project with our Fabric Guide

    Once you’ve selected a fabric, try embroidering several stitches so you can determine if you’ve chosen the right threads. A threaded needle should easily go into the fabric and the embroideries lay flat without puckering the surface. If the design and threads are hard to see, you may want to increase the number of thread strands or choose a thicker thread. If the thread overwhelms the fabric or distorts the design it may be too thick and a lighter one may be preferable.


    Surface embroidery will entice you to stitch with a variety of threads and fibers.  Choosing the thread that best suits your project is part of the creative process and often depends on the fabric you will be stitching on and the depth and texture you’re looking for in your embroidery.  Whatever you choose, DMC has hundreds of threads to use.

    Tip: When choosing threads and fabrics make sure they are of similar weight. Delicate threads for light fabrics and thicker ones for heavier fabrics.



    - Fabrics that will be washed should be washed before you begin stitching. This will ensure the fabric will not shrink after investing your time stitching.
    - Iron out any creases before stitching to make it easier to stitch evenly and ensure that you won’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.
    - Finish the edges of fabric to prevent them from unravelling by either zig-zagging or cutting with pinking shears.

    See below for a step-by-step on how to easily insert your fabric into an embroidery hoop.

    How to use an embroidery hoop:

    Loosen the screw or nut on the outer embroidery hoop and separate the inner and outer rings. The outer ring will hold the fabric over the inner ring once you have inserted the fabric.

    Place the inner ring on a flat surface. Place your fabric over it, then 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 the fabric taunt – make sure this is as tight as possible so the fabric won’t slip out of the hoop.

    Tighten the nut or screw securely. Your fabric is now in place and ready to embroider.


    Refer to your design chart to see what type of thread is suggested. For embroidery thread the design will tell you how many strands or plies of thread the design calls for.

    Thread is a 6 stranded fibre.  You will usually not stitch with all 6 strands of thread so you will have to separate the thread before stitching.  To start, find the end of the thread on your skein of DMC Thread. Slowly pull the end out from the skein until you have an 50cm (18”) length of thread and cut it off. To separate the thread into individual strands, pull one strand up and out slowly until it is completely separated from the remaining strands. Continue to pull out the number of strands you need to stitch with.  To rejoin the threads, hold them together at one end then gently pass your hand over the lengths to smooth and recombine them.

    If you are using Pearl Cotton There are two common ways to open and cut a skein of Pearl Cotton, depending on the length of thread you prefer or need.

    For approximately 50cm (19”) lengths of thread: Push the two labels toward the centre.  Find the end with the two loops and cut through the bottom of each loop.  Move the labels back into place. Pick and pull out a single piece of thread from the top loop.

    For approximately 100cm (38”) lengths of thread: Remove both labels and untwist skein to form an oval. Cut through all the threads at one end of the oval. Pick and remove one thread for use as needed. To keep the threads tidy for future use, put the colour number label back onto the threads and slide it to the centre.  Fold the threads in half and set aside.


    To thread your needle it is easiest to use the DMC Needle Threader. To use the DMC Needle Threader, 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.

    Here are some other ways to thread your needle without the assistance of a threader:

    Loop, Pinch and Press     

    Loop, Pinch and Press – Loop the end of 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.

    Pinch and Poke

    Pinch and Poke – 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.
    Tip: Never leave your work in the hoop for an extended period of time. This can cause creases in the fabric that are difficult to remove. It is best to take your work out of the hoop when you’re not working on it, as it only takes a moment to place it back in the hoop.
    TIP:  Pearl Cotton is commonly stitched using one full strand for embroideries and is not doubled up to make a thicker thread.  If you want a heavier thread for your embroidery choose a Pearl Cotton 3 or a size 5.  If you are working a delicate stitch or using a light weight fabric, use a Pearl Cotton 12 or a size 8 for your embroidery.

    DMC Quick Embroidery Stitch Tips:

    - Perfectly Spaced Stitches – to achieve uniform stitch size when embroidering a line or band, use a ruler or tape measure to mark tiny evenly spaced dots along the stitching line with a water soluble marker. You will learn to gauge stitch distances with experience.
    - Stab “Up and Down” – when working with your fabric in a hoop it is preferable to stab the needle vertically up and down through the fabric to achieve well-formed and even stitches.
    - Keep your Tension Even- to create smooth uniform stitches, pull each stitch with the same amount of tension. If the stitch is too loose the stitch will appear limp and if the stitch is pulled too tightly the fabric will pucker and cause the design to become distorted.

    You can discover more stitches with the DMC Stitch Guide Book or refer to the DMC Embroidery Stitch Guide to learn how to stitch 27 different embroidery stitches.

    Start stitching

    To create beautiful “bump-free” embroidery, DMC recommends starting your stitching with one the methods described below.
    In line Waste Knot Method

    This “beginners” starting technique is best used to start a new design or to start stitching in a new area of the design. Knot the end of your thread and take your needle from the front to the back about 1” 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 cross stitch.  Start stitching towards the knot, being sure to cross over the thread on the back with each stitch to secure it. When your stitching reaches the knot, pull the knot up and clip it off close to the fabric and continue stitching.

    Away Knot Method

    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 and 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 back to secure it.

    Stitching Over Method

    Pull your threaded needle up onto the front side of the fabric, leaving a 2.5cm (1”) end of thread on the back. Hold the end of thread against the back of the fabric in the direction you plan to stitch and work the first 4 to 5 stitches over it to secure it into place.  Be sure to check the back to confirm that your stitches are covering the thread and clip any loose ends before continuing to stitch.

    Once you have started a project, you can secure new threads by weaving the thread under several adjacent stitches on the back. 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.
    Starting and Stopping on clothing, tableware & bed linens

    Knotting embroidery threads are not generally recommended because they cause unsightly bumps on the fabric.  The exception is when stitching on pre-finished items that will endure repeated wear and multiple washings. To assure that the stitches remain secure, a small knot at the starting and stopping points are recommended.

    DMC's General stitch tips

    1. Prevent the thread from twisting while you stitch by turning your needle a slight quarter to half turn with each stitch.
    2. If your thread gets twisted while stitching, drop the threaded needle and let it hang freely until it “unwinds”.
    3. Avoid running the thread across the back of the fabric to go to a new stitching area, instead start and stop in each section to assure that running threads don’t show through on the front side of the fabric.
    4.  Keep your hands clean and avoid handling food and drinks when you stitch.
    5. Mark dots for uniform stitch size – to achieve uniform stitch size, use a ruler or tape measure to mark tiny evenly spaced dots along the stitching line. You will learn to gauge stitch distances with experience.
    6. Stab “Up and Down” – when working with your fabric in a hoop it is preferable to stab the needle vertically up and down through the fabric when making each stitch.
    7. Keep your Tension Even- to create smooth uniform stitches, pull each stitch with the same amount of tension. If the stitch is too loose the stitch will appear limp and if the stitch is pulled too tightly the fabric will pucker and cause the design to become distorted.
    8. Learn How to Use Both Hands When Stitching – learning how to manipulate the needle takes practice and learning how to hold a hoop while stitching takes time. Sometimes both hands are necessary to complete a stitch and the hand holding the hoop must be used to assist in keeping a loop in place while the other hand stitches.
    9.  A floor or table stand allows you to keep both hands free for stitching.  If you find it difficult to use both hands while trying to hold a hoop, try using a stand.

    What to do if you make a mistake

    - If you make a mistake when embroidering don’t worry!

    - If you make an error and notice it right away, correct the stitches by unthreading your needle and gently pulling out the stitches.

    - If you made a large error or the mistake is surrounded by other stitching, the stitches will have to be cutaway.  Working from the back, carefully clip the stitches with the tip of your embroidery scissors and remove threads with a pair of tweezers.