Mary Corbet

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I learned to embroider when I was a kid, when everyone was really into cross stitch (remember the '80s?). Eventually, I migrated to surface embroidery, teaching myself with whatever I could get my hands on...read more

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Teaching Embroidery to Kids


Teaching embroidery to kids is a rewarding and fun experience. This summer, I’m teaching a children’s embroidery class to ages 10-14, and I have 20 students, once a week, for two hours at a time. The number seems rather daunting, but I’ve figured out some ways to make the classes run smoothly.

The first point in teaching any embroidery class, but especially to kids, whose attention spans can be rather short, is to be prepared. These are the supplies we use:

  • 100% white cotton twill – a little bit lighter than “denim” or “jean” twill. This fabric is good for the beginner. It’s easy to pass a needle through, and the “twill” lines can help the beginner learn to gauge stitch length. I cut the pieces in 15-inch squares.
  • A design to stitch – for this age group, I used a butterfly-shaped cookie cutter for the primary “design.” I traced it onto the fabric with a wash-out blue transfer pen. Then I drew either a circle or a box around it. I put a wavy line on the outside of the circle or box. Inside the circle or box, I drew wide, straight vertical lines with a ruler, leaving the area inside the butterfly either blank or filled with closer parallel diagonal lines. This type of design is suitable for beginning with the most basic stitches.
  • Thread – we use DMC #5 cotton perle, and I pre-cut the lengths and lay them out in groups of color on a large table. The kids can then select their own colors – two strands of at least four colors, so that they have a variety.
  • Needles – each child gets two needles. They are instructed to always secure their needles in the corner of their fabric when they are finished with them. They decide which color they are going to work with, picking two. They thread both needles, each with a different color. Then they keep the extra threaded needle on their table, so that they don’t have to re-thread between every color. This saves time, and it keeps them stitching.
  • Basic stitches – decide on which very basic stitches you’re going to start with. I begin with the running stitch, and they lay a running stitch foundation over every line in their design. Then, we move on to the whipped running stitch, selecting every-other-line in the parallel groups to whip. They also whip any edges of the design – so, the butterfly gets a whipped edge, and the outside of the whole design gets a whipped edge, as well as the wavy lines. But on the inside, they do leave every other line a plain running stitch, and, if they want, inside the butterfly remains plain running stitches. This way, they can see what it is like to combine two different stitches to achieve a varied effect.

When the students enter the classroom, they wash their hands (each student brings a small package of baby-type wipes in her sewing box). Then they thread their needles. They begin working on the last stitches they learned in the previous class. Then I go around to groups of five and instruct on a new stitch. When they finish their butterfly designs, they pick a flower design or a heart design, set up the same way as the butterfly, and they work new stitches on it – stem stitch, chain stitch, etc.

After they have practiced the basic line stitches in this manner – on these very cute little colorful projects – they apply them to their basic stitches sampler (you can see an image of it here).

In the next stage of the class – after about three weeks – we go on to detached stitches, especially the “lazy daisy” stitch, which kids just love. They use French knots in the middle of their lazy daisies. They practice these on yet another cookie cutter design, and then move to that section of the sampler.

If you’re a pretty good stitcher – you don’t have to be a “pro” – and you want to do something very satisfying and fun, get together a group of youngsters in your neighborhood or at your church or local school, and teach them some basic embroidery. They’ll love it, and you will, too!

If you have any neat ideas for teaching children how to embroider, PLEASE SHARE! It would be great to hear how other people go about it, so that we can all incorporate good ideas to help teach children the art of embroidery!



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(9) Comments

  1. What a thoughtful and thorough article. I do not need to think or look further for introducing my daughter to embroidery. Thanks for taking an effort, Mary.

  2. Hi, Molly –

    There are a couple out of print books available on used books sources that demonstrate left-handed embroidery, but they’re pretty limited in their content. On the bright side, Yvette Stanton of Vetty Creations is in the process of putting together a left-handed stitch dictionary which will be very helpful for lefties.

    When you teach the left-handed child to embroider, there are two approaches I’ve found useful:

    One, is to work out the stitches yourself for left-handed execution, so that you can show the child with the left hand. Many stitches that a child would start with – like the backstitch, running stitch, chain stitch, etc. – don’t require any special directions whether you’re right or left handed. The way the stitch is worked works either way, only you you start from the opposite end of the fabric. But for those that make a difference, such as stem stitch, it’s helpful if you can work it with your left hand to show the child. It’ll slow a right-hander down a lot, but that’s good, because a slow demonstration is more helpful. To figure out from a stitch diagram how the stitch should be worked for a lefty, invert the diagram. For stem stitch, for example, the left-hander would work from right to left, and keep the working thread below the needle (exactly opposite of what a right hander would do).

    The other approach is to check the child to see if he or she is capable of ambidexterity. I have several students who are lefties, but who stitch with their right hands. They never thought anything about it. I never realized they wrote with their left hands, because whenever they started learning embroidery, they automatically picked up their needles with their right hands and learned to stitch that way. They find left-handed embroidery difficult! So you could always check to see if the child will just naturally pick up the needle with the right hand…

    Anyway, you may wish to google left-handed embroidery and see what you come up with!

    Hope that helps!


  3. Hi, Char –

    If you mean project-wise, there are a few different articles on the projects that I’ve done with little kids and written about here. You should be able to find most of them if you click on this link:

    Embroidery for Children

    Anything on felt works great for the younger kids – felt and perle cotton…

    Hope that helps.


  4. Thanks for posting this. This afternoon I’m going to try and teach my Brownie troop some hand embroidery. We’ll be stitching simple button flowers/ Thanks for the tip about twill and I think running stitch is a great place to start!

  5. Do you have a recommendation for working with children that have special needs. this work would be highly beneficial for their fine motor coordination as well as focussing their eyes in one spot not to mention their attention. Is there preferred supplies (needles, fabrics, threads, etc) they should use and designs that would be easier? Any help would be great!

  6. Hi,

    It depends a bit on what type of special needs you mean. If you’re working with children who are lacking fine motor skills and eye-hand coordination, I would start them with either felt as a ground, or even plastic canvas or paper. If you use paper or felt, you can mark out the stitches using a fine tipped permanent marker. With paper, you’ll want to pierce holes where the stitches pass through the paper. By paper, I’m talking about small pieces of card stock – something heavy enough in weight that it holds the stitches and doesn’t tear or fold as easily. For thread, I’d use #3 or #5 perle cotton, since it doesn’t need to be divided, and large-eyed tapestry needles, which are blunt (rather than crewel needles, which are sharp). With needles, the lower the number the larger the needle. Go for the lower numbers. If you’re using plastic canvas, you can even use yarn, and you’ll often find, in craft stores, plastic needles that are used with plastic canvas. The idea is to make whatever project you do as un-frustrating as possible, so stick with simple stitches like running stitch, backstitch, and cross stitch. Once they’ve shown interest and ability with simple stitches and larger needles, you can adjust to more challenging stitches with smaller needles. Let them achieve a sense of confidence through perseverence before moving on to more complex tasks.

    Hope that helps!


  7. I just found this post as I was browsing info on teaching children. I will start an embroidery class in April for the kids at my son's school (aged 9-11).
    I am left-handed and my right-handed grandmother taught me how to embroider and crochet. The best way for me was if the teacher and the pupil sit facing each other and the pupil copy everything the teacher do in mirror style. That way the teacher can still use her right hand and the pupil can copy with the left hand and the directions can be things like 'facing your body, towards the window, etc in stead of right,left, etc.
    I am now a bit worried that I will confuse righthanded children with my own lefthandedness, but I will just approach it in the same mirror-style way and see how it goes…

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