Top 10 beginner mistakes in hand embroidery

top 10 hand embroidery mistakes

Little by little I've mentioned in my posts some mistakes that you might be making as a hand embroidery beginner and warned you from some other things that you can do as a rookie. But all of it is scattered around the blog, so I thought it is a high time I make a compilation and gather all of that in one place.

So here we go!

The list of the most common mistakes as a hand embroidery beginner:

1. Not taking your fabric out of the hoop after stitching session

So, let's say, you have an embroidery project. Or, you just stitch some random stuff on a spare piece of fabric, experimenting with your first stitches. And after you stitched a little, you put the hoop away with the fabric still trapped between the rings.

Don't do that :)

Fabrics are more delicate than they might seem and embroidery hoops put more pressure on them than you would imagine. So, if you keep your fabric in a hoop for a long time – several days, a week or even more – the creases from the hoop will be veeery hard to get rid of later.

The fabric will sort of “remember” that position in the hoop, and it will just stay in that state. You won't be able to iron the creases out completely. And doing some hardcore washing rituals will likely hurt the embroidery that you did on that fabric.

So the tip is: after every stitching session, take the fabric out of the hoop. Let it rest, because it was under a big pressure while you were stitching your heart away :)

*By the way, consider binding your hoop. There are some very serious benefits of doing that, and your fabric will be thankful!*

The only exception is when you want to keep your embroidery in the hoop after finishing it, or you just use that fabric as a “draft” of sorts.

2. Using the wrong needle

I know that the classification of needles can be too complicated and overwhelming to understand at first (I mean, it kind of still is for me), but choosing the right one is going to make your life as an embroidery artist so much easier.

I have a post on my blog that briefly talks about the classification of needles and points out the most important features of each type, so do check it out.

And here's a little lifehack from my personal experience. When I started out and was still confused about the needles too, I simply took some books and magazines where they publish the projects suiting my taste and style of stitching and looked at what kind of needles they recommended. And then I tried to source them.

Actually, there is a different classification of needles in my country so sourcing exactly that type was difficult even online, and impossible in my local shops. But I kind of learned to go with the flow, decided on the most important characteristics and figured out some of my favorite needles.

For my style of embroidery it is important that the shaft is thin (and preferably long) and the tip is sharp. So that's what I focus on. And, as for the other characteristic, the eye of the needle, I have them both with small eyes and larger eyes.

So, take it easy here. Read about the 4 things to consider when choosing a needle and even if you are still confused about the classification and variety of types, you can go to your local store, look at the characteristics of the needles they have there (shaft, eye, tip) and make your choice based on that.

3. Stitching in the dark

Please, don't do that, it will hurt your eyes!

The best option is to stitch in the daylight close to the window. But surely we tend to have our daytime affairs and work, so if your usual stitching time is in the evening please do get a nice lamp for that.

Like, not a ceiling or wall lamp, but a table lamp or something that is closer to your work area and with a good daylight bulb.

I can't stress enough how important it is to be careful with your eyes when stitching. I've messed up very badly with my own eyes back in the days because I thought that it wouldn't be a big deal to quickly make a couple of stitches even though it was a bit dark. And what happened after that was so scary that I stopped embroidering for a while.

Damaging your eyes for a couple of stitches is NOT worth it. Your eyes are more valuable, so be careful.

4. Bad posture

High five to everyone who has posture problems. We're in the same boat here!

Ever since high school I've always been bending my back quite low over the desk. My family calls that “writing with your nose”, is it a common saying anywhere else?

Well, the thing is, I brought this habit to my needlework as well and in needlework you tend to sit in that position for quite a while.

So, long story short... I've always tried this and that to improve my posture but nothing hard a long-lasting effect. So the habit stayed.

And a few months ago, when I was working on Needle painting for beginners course, this habit brought some health issues.

Because I've been filming the process of working exercises and the final project, and I was doing it in a very bad position (worse than usual so that the camera would have a better angle) and I stayed in that position for 5-6 hours. Every day. For about two weeks, I think.

Soon after that I started literally having problems with breathing – I couldn't take a deep breath, only very shallow ones and I was yawning all the time. I guess my body needed oxygen? I don't really know, I just know that I didn't have enough air, I felt like my ribcage was squeezed. And my pulse also increased. Usually, you don't feel your heartbeat as you go with your day, do you? But I was feeling its beating and was conscious of it, and, not going to lie, because it was beating faster than usual, I got pretty scared there :D

Anyway, after that I started doing yoga and jogging and it helped with breathing and heart beating.

You might think that, well, this is an extreme example of an extremely bad posture for an extreme period of time. But I think it is simply a fast-forwarded example of what can happen in the long run.

So, let's be careful!

Personally, yoga became exactly what I needed. You can do some sets and compilations on Youtube for beginners. There are special videos for back and shoulders. Even just after several sessions I already felt like my back muscles were holding themselves upright and I didn't need to remind myself to sit correctly. On the contrary, it became inconvenient to sit in a bad posture and bend all the way down.

Maybe you can find some other exercises for back, or wear special vests. But do consider starting to work on this problem right now!

5. Overstretching or under stretching your fabric

Okay, back to embroidery-specific matters!

When you hoop your fabric, the most important is that it is drum taut. For that, you will probably have to adjust the screw on top of it. It is not hard, I'm sure you will get how to achieve that.

And while you are embroidering, it is normal that the fabric's tension will weaken a little bit. When it happens, you can adjust the tension again by pulling the fabric a little in the vertical or horizontal direction (not diagonal).

However, under stretching your fabric is just as harmful for your embroidery as overstretching it. Both can result in puckering.

You can usually see if you overstretched your fabric when the grid of the weaving gets wavy. It means that you pulled the fabric in one place more than in other places.

Actually, I have this problem too!

If I'm embroidering for a while and need to adjust the tension of my fabric, I just can't seem to be able to do it evenly. So I either pull the fabric very slightly, or take the hoop off completely and put it on again.

And if the fabric still started puckering, here's what you can do to fix it.

6. Thread is too long

This mistake is also what I remember from my own experience as a newbie. I used to think that it is easier to cut a long piece of thread and work with it until it finishes rather than cut shorter ones and start and end them again and again.

Well, that was wrong of me to do :D

First of all, your thread wears down while you are stitching. The end which you use when you just start stitching will look fresher, shinier and “healthier” than the other end after some stitching is done. You will surely start to notice it if you pay some attention.

And the length of thread will not improve anything in this situation. You will just have about a half of that length completely worn out and not looking so pretty on fabric.

Secondly, the longer thread you are using, the more prone it is to tangling. Which is another headache (here are some tips on how to avoid thread tangling).

So, cut the thread shorter. With time you will figure out the length that you prefer the most but it definitely shouldn't be more than two forearms. Besides, starting and ending thread extra time will not actually take you that long :)

7. Dirty hands

Be honest, do you drink tea or coffee with cookies at your desk while you are embroidering? ;)

Because I do :D But I'm careful!

It is really hard to resist to have some snack by your side while you're working/doing homework/doing any brainwork or even physical labor. Maybe that's why many of us crave to have a cup of favorite beverage and a treat when we embroider.

But let's be smart about it, okay?

We don't want to smear the fabric or thread with greasy and dirty hands. That's why cookies, candies, and fruit are allowed at the desk when the needlework, fabrics, and thread are hidden in the drawer/put away in a safe distance. After we have our snack and get a bit of rest, we wash our hands (+optional: apply hand cream), and only then we take our embroidery out again and continue.

By the way, don't forget to have a bottle of water at your desk and keep hydrated.

8. Clumpy thread, long thread stretches at the back

We don't look at the back of your embroidery all the time so sometimes there are some “amazing” things happening there that we discover too late.

For example, clumpy thread. It's when your thread tangles on the backside but you don't see it and you continue stitching happily. And if you are attentive then you will probably wonder why your thread suddenly feels shorter. That's because a chunk of it got stuck at the back.

Or, when the stretches of thread are too long at the back. That's not good because in case you pull your thread even just slightly too much, it can result in puckering. And if you keep the stretch weak, the last stitch before that would weaken and get loose.

So, our prevention methods:

To avoid clumpy thread and other “surprises” at the back, constantly feel it and track it with the free fingers at the back. In case the tangle happened after all and it annoys you, here's a way to fix it.

To avoid long stretches of thread, when you need to travel from one point to another, couch your thread under some stitches in between. I have an old post here which is not exactly about it, but it shows how you can do it. I do that with small stitches there, but you can slide your needle under the body of long and short stitching, for example, too. Just slide your needle under some stitches until you get to the desired destination. You can also make a few tiny anchoring stitches on your way to the next point. Or simply end the thread and start it at the new place :)

9. Investing too much

I already warned about it in my tips for beginners post, but I thought it is still important to include here too.

At the very beginning, when you are still not sure which style of embroidery you like the most, what kind of fabric you actually enjoy working on, which thread brings you joy, when you still don't have a clear idea what exactly you want to do, it is better to be a bit more modest in your expenses.

Because chances are that you will see beautiful Crewel pieces there on Pinterest, and being so in awe and inspired, you will buy wool thread, crewel needles, twill fabric, books, and kits, only to discover after a couple of weeks that the experimental blackwork stitches you made a day ago actually brought you more joy.

You know what I mean?

10. Focusing on earning money / followers

If you are into it because you want to have a following or you want to earn good money... I personally think it is better to do a self-check here. That is definitely not something that should be your priority, especially at the very start.

Dear friend, if that is your main goal, then I'm afraid that the embroidery you do will be lifeless, lacking personality and spark.

Instead, focus on what brings you joy, what makes you feel better and how you can actually spread that joy and happiness with people around you :)

Popularity and money might come, or they might not. But at the very least, you did something that you enjoy!

Don't get me wrong, having long-term goals and aspirations is cool. Making embroidery your main occupation is cool. But don't let it cloud your vision so much that you lose your own individuality and betray your passion. Focus on your art, be sincere, work hard and the rest will come, God willing!


11. Overthinking

This is actually common among all newbie artists, whatever art form they are pursuing. But we all tend to think low of ourselves and that we will never reach the same level of skills as that one cool artist.

But have you ever sat and considered that all the “cool” stuff from that one artist you see in the books or online is actually a result of thousands of hours of training?

We all started somewhere. There is not a person who was born with a needle and thread in their hands and started making masterpieces in the crib. It's all the result of work and practice. You just don't see the start of that journey. You only see the result.

I ramble more about this topic in my Fear of talent post, so if you need an extra reminder that no, you are not talentless, and yes, you can achieve the same level of skills and even more, then head there :)

Wow, looks like this essay came to an end. Congratulations if you made it this far!

Keep embroidering, don't be afraid of making mistakes and enjoy this journey!


  1. How do you secure the threads in the back? I knot the floss once, leave a long tail that I thread through the stitches in the back.

    1. It mostly depends on a situation, but I don't leave my tails too long.
      Usually I just slide the needle under a couple stitches. When it comes to lines, I slide under one stitch, then slide the needle in the forming loop to get a knot, then slide under one more stitch. That's usually enough.

  2. I'm so glad I am across your blog! this was so helpful. I have been procrastinating starting my first job... but I am really excited to have it done! inshallah, I will start soon!

  3. Do you need to secure the thread ends differently for items that will be laundered (pillow cases) than for art?

    1. Well, generally speaking, it should be secured well enough to withstand laundry. But that doesn't usually require any soecial acrobatics. You can slide the needle under a couple of stitches at the back and make a knot (I have a blogpost on ending thread with pictures, you can find the link on the START HERE page).

  4. This is EVERYTHING I WAS LOOKING for weeks ago! THANK YOU!


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