11 Hand embroidery lifehacks


hand embroidery tips

Hi, everyone!

Here's a wall of text (I didn't expect it to be so long), that I hope will make your embroidery journey at least a little bit easier!

1. Take advantage of Amazon books previews

When I only started out in hand embroidery, I was hungry for any little bit of information on materials, instruments, and other basic knowledge. How to choose fabric for embroidery, what kinds of needles there are, how to transfer a pattern. Of course, I gloated a lot of blog posts on this topic (mainly from Needle'n'Thread), but there was one more source of information: Amazon book previews.

Since I would only just start out in hand embroidery, I didn't really want to invest a whole lot and buy a whole library of books. But I did want to know what different embroidery artists say on the subject. So I went on Amazon, browsed through the embroidery books section, and studied their previews.

For the most part, these previews contain only the beginning of a book which will often include the needed information on the basics.

Of course, eventually, it is better to purchase the books and compile your own library. After all, the juiciest parts are not in the previews! ;)


As once a beginner, I totally get the hunger for this kind of information. However, from the place of several years in hand embroidery, I have to say that you will hardly really understand these matters until you try and fail yourself. I can't count the number of posts I read about hand embroidery fabrics only to fail a couple times and then just find the fabric that's right for me.

Theory is nice and important, but it will never replace practice. Few sources are enough and then don't be afraid to explore and observe these things yourself.

2. Try stitching with fabric stabilizer

At some point, I started embroidering almost exclusively on strengthened fabric. Quilting cotton (which is my favorite ground fabric) can be quite lightweight sometimes and combined with the strengthening, it works beautiful for hand embroidery.

What is a stabilizer?

A stabilizer (also interfacing or interlining) is a special type of material designed to support fabric, erase its elasticity (if it exists) and prevent it from fraying. It has a very thin layer of glue spread over one of its sides and when it is ironed to the back of the fabric, the glue melts and attaches this material to it. However, since the material is quite light itself, it doesn't make the fabric heavy and thick either. It's just that: support.

Why should you try it with hand embroidery?

Because the strengthened fabric is less prone to puckering, fraying and deformation in general. If you really like some fabric, but it is too stretchy/too thin/too loose in weaving, a stabilizer will solve all of the above.

AND in my humble opinion, it is much less struggle than lining the fabric (i.e. using a second layer of fabric underneath the ground one).

3. Bind your hoop

I hardly ever use an unbound hoop when I embroider. If I do, then it is most probably for some small stitching drabble or to take a pretty picture (the things we do for aesthetics...).

All the other times, my hoop is bound. And moreover, I actually bind the outer ring instead of the inner like most people recommend. I shared my own two cents on the benefits of binding exactly the outer ring here, and a quick binding tutorial without a glue here.

In short: binding helps to keep the fabric taut in the hoop better, but it is also makes the hooping less traumatizing for the fabric. I mean, imagine the stress our poor ground fabric goes through when it is hooped! If you stitch for a long time in a hoop and don't release the fabric from it once a while, you will hardly be able to iron out the creases, that's how imprinted they get.

Using a bound hoop makes it easier on the fabric while it is hooped and makes it easier to remove the creases afterward.

Still, don't forget to take your fabric out of the hoop once you're done with your stitching session!

4. Puckering cure

Several people let me know how this trick helped them to remove puckering from the finished piece! So I'm sharing it here in this compilation as well. You only need to dampen your fabric and thoroughly stretch it.

By the way, do you know that puckering can occur not only from under-stretching the fabric during stitching but also overstretching it? Finding the right balance can be tough, sometimes I still struggle with it despite all the experience. That's why the trick linked above is so handy!

5. Slide the needle with the eye forward

Some stitches in hand embroidery require various movements and manipulations with your needle, which involves sliding it under thread. For example, Heavy chain stitch. One important thing to remember in such cases is that it is better to slide the needle with the eye forward (not the tip) to prevent snagging on the other stitches.

Even if the diagrams show you otherwise. That's because they are diagrams. They just show you the mechanism, and as long as you get it, their job is done. Besides, switching the sides of the needle on a diagram might confuse people.

6. Archive.org vintage embroidery books

Internet Archive is a free library and it has a vast array of books on hand embroidery! I made a compilation of my favorite ones in this post, so you can check it out (it has links).

The vintage books contain a lot of information on materials and instruments, and other basics, but they also have lots of stitch tutorials and patterns that you can stitch. Some of them are literally whole encyclopedias!

7. Test it in the corner of the fabric

You know how when we hoop our fabric there are these 4 spare corners?

Very often stitchers simply cut them away to keep the fabric piece round which is indeed very handy if they are going to keep the embroidery as a hoop art. Not even mentioning that it looks neater and prettier that way.

However, if you're not too bothered by the looks of it, you can keep these corners as a draft ground. For example, if you're confused which color of thread to use, try making a couple stitches and see how it matches, practice there your stitch before you work it, see if the needle matches the fabric.

And when you finish your project, the corners can be removed.

8. Choosing embroidery needle

I know, I know it is a hurdle. Trust me, I was as confused as you are. I will tell you more, I'm still confused! :D I literally wrote out the chart in this post for my own reference and I keep coming back to it to understand which needle I'm using.

Yes, the order in the previous sentence is correct. Using the needle first → finding out which one it is.

I bought some needles, checked which ones fit my style, my fabric and my thread, narrowed down the options and only then compared them to the traditional classification (“why not just look at the titles” - the needle types are a little different in my country).

Anyway, if you're confused about the needles, forget the classification. Read this post on 4 main traits you need to find in the needle for your project and hopefully, it will get clearer.

Because my embroidery style and my preference of fabric and thread are more or less established, I use the same few types of needles over and over. No struggle anymore. If you love experimenting though... keep on struggling until you get it, good luck! :D

9. Long and short stitching tips

Since there are too many tricks to mention, I will just slide this tag here so that you can check it out yourself.

Throughout the past years I've tried to share as many needlepainting tricks as I could. Some of them may seem unnecessary at first, but when you start actually practicing more and more of long and short stitching, some questions will start to arise and I wanted to provide you a timely answer for that.

As I embroider nowadays I try to track what I'm doing and think whether it is obvious for a beginner or not, and if it isn't I make a post on it. For some more in-depth information and demonstration on needlepainting, refer to my course “Needlepainting for beginners”.

10. Practice your drawing skills

Before you say “wait, I thought we were talking about hand embroidery here”, yes, your drawing skills will have direct influence on your embroidery, and vice versa.

That is something I noticed a while ago and since then I've been trying to up my drawing game, I even shared my watercolor practice results in this tag. I still practice, I just forget to post the results! :D

Have you ever noticed how some embroidery artists have AMAZING play with colors, with light and shadow, with shapes and forms? Well, that's because their drawing game is solid.

Have you ever noticed how some newbie stitchers get their needlepainting right in months while you've been struggling for years? That's because they most probably have some drawing experience and their hands and eyes are used to the similar movements and detailed work.

Personally, before starting hand embroidery, I wasn't into drawing and painting that much, but I did enjoy doodling in my notebooks and playing with acrylics once in a while. Nothing serious, but I'm sure that it played its part in why I got the hang of hand embroidery rather quickly.

So, if you feel like you struggle a lot with these sides of hand embroidery: matching colors, drawing patterns, working smooth long and short stitching – I strongly recommend you to start practicing drawing.

11. Make an embroidery journal :)

Recently I've been getting and seeing complaints from different people about what to do with embroidery. Granted, your walls can accommodate only that many hoop arts, and storing your work in drawers does it disservice. That's why I started making journals out of my hand embroidery. Now it's all in one place and it is a joy to flip through!

I understand that it is still a little unconventional and may seem as too much of an effort, but it really isn't. And how fun it is to play with all the fabric scraps, lace, and beads that we store at home!

Ah, don't get me started, I may be a little too passionate about it and strat jumping and waving arms in the air :D You know, that feeling when you have too much to say to the point that you can't find the coherent words. Well, that's me and embroidery journals, haha.

Anyways, we came to the end of this list. Did you learn anything new? Was it helpful?

I think I would like the moral of this post to be “don't be afraid to experiment and explore” because sometimes, especially when we only get started, we get a little dependent on others telling us the ropes. It is important and necessary to a certain extent but, trust me, you will understand much more from your own experince. And experience doesn't come without failures :)


  1. Hola!!! mucho de lo que has escrito lo estoy poniendo en practica, precisamente el dibujo. Cuando tenia entre 11 y 12 años fui a una maestra de dibujo y pintura. Por algun lado de mi casa deben estar los libros y apuntes sobre las tecnicas que use en aquel momento. Desde un tiempo a la fecha, decidi que en lugar de imprimir los dibujos que me gustan y encuentro en la red, mejor los hago yo misma en mi block de hojas. Es muy relajante al igual que el bordado. Todos tus consejos me son utiles y los tengo siempre presente. Gracias Amina!! :))
    Cariños desde Argentina.

    1. ¡Hola, Fabiana! Perdón por la respuesta tardía :) Me alegra que hayas encontrado útiles los consejos y te deseo buena suerte con la práctica de dibujo. A mi también me gusta mucho. Incluso si los resultados no siempre son buenos, todavía me da alegría :) ¡Un abrazo a Argentina!


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