Getting Started with Embroidery; Part 2

In this series of posts, I’ve taken the overly wordy introduction to my upcoming Embroidery Workshop and decided instead to offer it as a free educational tool through a series of blog posts! This is Part 2, see my last post for some ideas for developing your own designs.

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While you can pretty much embroider anything that will stay still long enough to be repeatedly punctured, there are some recommendations for choosing placement with your embroideries, especially on clothing.

This post will detail the process of getting the design we planned into the last post onto the fabric or garment, and the tools we can use along the way.


Stitching naturally gives a slight pucker to the fabric, even if you've done a great job of keeping an even tension. What do I mean by tension? I’m talking about the tightness of the stitch - too much tension comes from pulling stitches too tight. You should only pull until the threads are -almost- tight, leaving a little bit of slack in the thread.

This is barely noticeable when you've got embroidery on the back or shoulders of a garment, areas where the fabric is naturally stretched across. But when the embellishment is at the hem of a jacket, or the hip area of a dress, it may be a bit more evident, and perhaps unappealing.

This is not to say avoid these places, just keep these challenges in mind and balance your expectations. Keeping your tension relaxed, in your body as well as in your stitches, is a good way to keep the fabric from puckering.

The thickness of pre-existing seams (especially thicker, topstitched seams, like on a pair of jeans) should also be considered. While it might seem cool to stitch bright red over all the seams of your denim jacket, seams can be very difficult to stitch through.

Either test the stitch on the seam before you make big plans, or plan around this obstacle. 

Working with a fabric that will be framed in a hoop, instead of on a garment? For embroideries you plan to frame in a hoop, you’ll want a piece of fabric a couple inches larger than the embroidery hoop you’re using.

So if you are planning on using an 8” hoop, your fabric should be 9-10” wide. This accounts for the width of the hoop where the fabric will be pressed between, and also leaves enough fabric on the back to finish neatly (more on that later).


In the myriad of methods and tools available to trace embroidery designs onto fabric, I find the light box method to be most convenient and effective. You can use an actual lightbox, a window on a bright day, or even a glass table with a flashlight underneath it. 

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Start by taping the paper pattern onto the glass, then place the fabric face-up over this, being sure to center properly on the fabric. Make sure you’re keeping the fabric in the same place, taping down fabric on four sides if needed. Carefully trace with a sharp pencil or washable marker, being careful to not tear the paper (or break the glass!).  

If the fabric is darker or thicker, you may not be able to use the lightbox method. 

The transfer paper method - shown in the bottom half of image above, is another option, you can either buy pattern transfer paper from a fabric store,or make your own using chalk.

(Note: I have not had luck with graphite transfer paper sold at art stores unless the fabric is incredibly smooth and thin. Pattern transfer paper is designed for use on most all fabrics,  is washable, and comes in a variety of colors)


 To make your own transfer paper, simply rub white chalk all over the back of the pattern. You’ll need a hard surface to get a sharp line, so place fabric face-up on a hard table, then place paper pattern on fabric chalk side down, centering as needed.

Using a dull tip pencil or the back end of a small paintbrush, trace the design being careful not to tear the paper.

Keep paper in the same place, you can even tape onto fabric if you’re worried about it sliding around. 

Pull up the paper pattern and use a white pencil or washable marker to go over these lines again. The chalk will fade quickly, so using a marking tool helps keep the lines visible for the entirety of your embroidery project. 

Other methods I do not use because they require purchasing of more materials and have other downsides: heat transfer paper (makes fabric thick and plasticky), water soluble stabilizer (feels wasteful, messy) and pouncing - the old fashioned method of poking holes all along the lines of the pattern, then using powdered pigment and a pouncing tool that presses the pigment through the holes (time consuming, super messy) 


When you begin to embroider, don't be too rigid. Let the fabric and the design speak and provide valuable input. 

As you make your first few stitches, step back and consider how these threads are working with the fabric. Allow the process to be a conversation, taking time to listen to the evolving work. 

Do they seem to be puckering up? Loosen your stitching a bit. 

Are the stitches feeling too bulky or too long? Take out the last few stitches and try them again a little shorter in length. 

Considering these questions early in the process may seem to take more time, but can prevent instances like needing to rip out an entire row of stitches because they just don’t look right. 



I love Caran D’ache watercolor pencil in white or ivory because they are not waxy like Prismacolor or other colored pencils, and so can be washed out. (NOTE: I would not use a darker color of these pencils because they might bleed and not wash out.)

Crayola Ultra Clean Washable markers come in many colors and I have never had a problem with them not washing out, though I always recommend testing any markers or pencils before tracing. 

A note on any other brand Washable and Air Erase markers - these are markers that are designed to wash out or fade over time. They are fine for most applications, though I find they can sometimes air-erase before I’m done stitching, and in humid areas this can happen in just a few hours. They also do not seem to wash out of naturally dyed fabrics, and since that is a big chunk of the materials I use, I can’t really use them all the time. You’ve been warned! 

Saral Transfer Paper - comes in an affordable sampler pack of 5 colors, washes out, transfers nicely onto fabric, is reusable, and can be purchased from many different types of stores. win win win win!! 

Stay tuned for the next installment of this Getting Started with Embroidery!