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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5 Points to Consider about Hand Embroidery


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A couple weeks ago, we looked at 5 points about hand embroidery needles, and 5 points concerning hand embroidery fabric.

Today, I’d like to propose 5 general thoughts about hand embroidery and invite you to add your own thoughts. When you think of hand embroidery in general, what ideas or insights would you share with other stitchers or with folks who are just getting interested in the art of embroidery?

Here are 5 points that I think are worth considering about hand embroidery in general:

Learning Hand Embroidery

1. Easy & Fun: Hand embroidery is an easy and pleasurable skill to learn, and anyone can learn it. The ease with which you learn embroidery and the pleasure you derive from it is proportionate to the interest you have in learning the skill of embroidery. However, as with learning anything, interest does not always equal easy. The more enthusiasm you have, the more likely you will persevere even through the more difficult aspects of learning hand embroidery.

Basic hand embroidery

2. Inexpensive: Basic hand embroidery is an inexpensive hobby. Sure – like any hobby, embroidery tends to grow in cost, proportionate to the techniques pursued and the supplies accrued. As a hobby and an art, embroidery is worth investing money in, if you intend to get seriously into it. Plus, the pleasure experienced by the embroiderer and the joy embroidery brings to those who benefit from the embroiderer’s art are worth an investment. However, increased cost does not necessarily equal greater pleasure. Just as much joy (and sometimes more!) can be had from hand embroidery projects in which you invest very little money as can be had from embroidery experiences that require more serious investments.

Embroidery Tool Box

3. Tools Help: Like any other hobby or art, investing in the right tools increases both the ease of the experience of embroidering and the success of the embroiderer’s effort. It is easier to do any job if you have the right tools for doing it!

Hand Embroidery Stitches

4. Unique & Personal: There are hundreds of hand embroidery stitches, most of which cannot be duplicated by machine. This fact makes hand embroidery a unique, personal, and very human art.

Learning Hand Embroidery

5. Creative: There are specific ways to make individual stitches. There are certain steps to take when working a given technique. There are certain things you must do, if you want good results with your embroidery. However, there is no one right way to hand embroider. Once foundational concepts are learned, the individual stitcher has much freedom for creativity. Sometimes, methods in different hand embroidery techniques vary between instructors and between books of instruction. It is a limited mind that says, “This is the one and only way to do this technique, and any other way of doing it is inferior.”

Ok. That’s my 5-cents’ worth. Your turn! If you were to share an insight about hand embroidery in general, what would you say? Feel free to leave a comment below!



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(35) Comments

  1. I believe hand embroidery, as any of the hand needlework skills, is worth preserving for future generations. Learning then teaching future needleworkers, whatever their age or skill level, is key to that preservation.

  2. It’s a wonderful way to bond. My Nan gave me my first lessons in embroidery using a dish cloth and strands of wool. My sisters, mum and I had fun choosing tapestries when we holidayed in France, and I stitched along with my step-daughter when we made cross-stitched door hangers. I can’t wait for my grand-daughter to visit so I can find a project to do with her. I’m currently working on an embellished crazy quilt for her bed.

  3. Some good points, very well made Mary. If I were considering taking up hand embroidery, I’d be sold after reading that 🙂

    Hand embroidery is portable. True, there are some designs and techniques not suitable for doing on the bus but a small simple embroidery requires very little equipment and takes up very little room. Many a time, I have carried some hand embroidery in my handbag to do at odd moments of free time.

    And that is another thing, once set up, you don’t need big chunks of time to do some hand embroidery because there is no setting up or clearing away for each session.

    1. Hi, all! Thank you for your input!

      Yes, Brenda, I totally agree re: preservation! Excellent point!

      And Lisa, you’re right, it brings people together!

      Caroline – that’s an excellent idea! I’ll work on putting one together.

      And Carol-Anne – Good point about portability! As for set up, you’re right – but the set up for some of us can be a real drawback! I always see it as a huge hurdle I need to jump, in order to get on with the fun stuff. 🙂 Of course, like you said, once it’s done…. it’s done! That’s how I have to spend a good chunk of today – setting up a project. I’m trying to psych myself up for it!


  4. Purchase good scissors appropriate for the job. When doing embroidery I use scissors that are curved at the tip so that I don’t accidentally cut the fabric. I started out with a pair of Ginghers that I used for hardanger, but found a pair of Havels that I like better. The blade is slightly longer and the tip seems to be sharper and curved more. I must add that I am addicted to scissors and the Havels with the curved tip are the best ever, other than the pair that I lost in my house about 3 years ago. I’m still looking for them.
    Louise B.

  5. I do both hand and machine embroidery – I like the machine for speed and some of the patterns they have available, but to relax and for versatility, I still enjoy a good hand embroidery project. I am currently working on a hand emb Noah’s Ark top and love it because you can get as flamboyant (sp?) and creative as you want to be, can go back and add more anywhere and any size if it looks like it needs something more. And if you make yourself a little carry along, you can take the smaller pieces with you to work on – any where – no power needed! I learned decades ago from my mother and it is one of the best crafts in life she could have taught me. Love it.

  6. I think when you give a handmade gift, it shows how much you care about a person. It takes time and effort to embroider a gift. When you put that much effort into something handmade, I think a lot of the love that you have for that person goes into it.

  7. Hi Mary,
    The beauty of hand embroidery, hand quilting, hand applique lies for me in the tranquility of it. When I’m sitting in my comfy chair, creating something beautiful by hand, my mind wanders, I think about the day, about my loved ones, about patterns and fabrics. It always puts me in this wonderful happy mood. Some people do yoga, I hand embroider!!
    Thank you for everything you share with us, it’s much appreciated.
    Regards from Anita (the Netherlands).

  8. I’d also add “just do it” to the list. I love your beautiful pieces but have to remind myself every now and then that only I have to enjoy the process and the product.

  9. As a new/beginning embroiderer (or even a more-experienced one), I think the ability to connect with other embroiderers who share your enthusiasm and of whom you can ask questions, is a big key to learning (stitches, techniques, solutions that are not obvious to a beginner). And connected to this are good learning resources, whether in the form of stitch dictionaries, stitching groups (or a friend or relative) and of course, online learning resources.

  10. I also like that it’s so immediate–you know right away whether you like something or not. And if not, you can fairly easily take out a color and start over–try that with watercolors!

    And I like being connected to generations of women when I work a piece. I think about Laura Ingalls a lot when I’m stitching. When she was a girl, shirts were made entirely by hand, and by the time she was a young women, she was doing the hand work on machine-made shirts at the local mercantile.

  11. Mary, when I think about the relevance of embroidery so many things rush to my mind.

    First, self expression. Women all over the world have expressed themselves in so many kinds of work. Everything from free form in vibrant colors to structured counted thread works like cross stitch. The kind of work each individual does says something about how they see the world.

    The second thing that comes to mind is how important it is to teach future generations appreciation of hand work. The youth of today find their lives so full with social networking, education, and after school activities that only a few will actually do handwork. But, having said that, what is more important is that the youth learn to appreciate textile arts. That is why I was so excited about your class last year. Even if not one student ever picks up a needle again they have something more important than how to properly execute a stitch – they have learned to appreciation and value handwork!

    Last week at my fiber arts group we were talking about what would happen to all our needlework when we were gone. One of the ladies, who has no children to pass her work down to said. – I hope all my work ends up in a thrift shop selling, for pennies, to some young woman who falls in love with it and that inspires her to give embroidery a try for herself. That would be a perfect legacy.

    I do believe my friend gave the perfect answer, embroidery is to inspire others!

  12. All of the points raised so far are good ones, and I’d like to add “Joy” to the list. The colors of the threads, the feel of silk on my fingers, the satisfaction of stitches that turn out just right – or even better than I expected! All of these things can bring a smile on even the rainiest of days. It’s wonderful to have a finished piece that I can show off, but for me, the real joy is in the process of creation.

  13. Totally relaxing….Hand embroidery is how I relax. I can sit and immerse myself in my stitching, while my DH watches sports or a movie that we’ve seen 20 times and I’m a contented kitten.

    Portablility….I always have some type of hand embroidery with me to take out while waiting at appointments, etc. and always have some along on vacations….great for doing sitting on a beach relaxing, etc.

    Great for bonding with others….I love teaching others….including my grand-daughters and even a grand-son; not to mention the number of ladies I’ve taught.

    The Variety….There are so many forms of hand embroidery….crewel, Brazilian, gold-work, stumpwork, needle-painting, etc, etc. Almost unlimited! You will never be bored once you learn the basics and want to advance to other techniques within the embroidery family!

    Unlimited uses….Embroidery, of one form or another, can be used on clothing, linens, wallhangings, furniture, etc.,etc. so you will never run out of ways to use it, either.

    Ways to meet other people….There are so many great organizations out there to join and share your interest of embroidery with. I have gone to seminars and made wonderful friendships of people all over the world!

    Self-expression, self-esteem and expansion of our knowledge….Learning new techniques of something that you enjoy will keep your mind active and healthy. Seeing something that you, yourself, have created with your own hands is wonderful for your self-esteem and feeling of accomplishment.

    And finally….Try it! You’ll find you love it as much as the rest of us….then come back and let all of US know why YOU love it!

  14. I really enjoy your newsletter. I currently have to work two jobs and don’t have much time for sewing and embroidery. But it is a goal…. I look forward to reading your newsletters with so many ideas, techniques, threads, etc.

    You do a GREAT JOB!

  15. The one thing (aside from your points) that I’ve found I’ve had to emphasise in giving courses (especially to twenty year olds) is that it is sloooow. They usually want to jump in and learn it all right now and Get It Done and be able to walk away after a two hour course with a big, beautiful, finished item. Which, as we all know, is not feasible. So I have to get them to slow down, smell the roses and don’t expect it to happen quickly. Accept and revel in the meditative aspects of it.
    Once I get beginners over the intial disappointment that it all isn’t Finished Right Now, they learn to enjoy the process itself more and I think that’s key to keeping long-term stitchers.

  16. When I was young, my mother taught me to embroider on dish towels but, only with basic stitches. It wasn’t until several years later that I learned from looking at embroidery books and in magazines that there were so many decorative stitches and different types of embroidery.

    Mary, that is one of the many reasons that I really enjoy your blog posts. Even though I will have the skill to do needlework on the same level as you do, your tutorials are fascinating and inspiring.

    Thank you!

  17. Still really enjoying your daily updates. I really cannot add anything to today’s comments however I ran into a problem this past week when teaching my granddaughter hand embroidery (cross stitch). The ground fabric was not suitable as suggested for the pattern for a beginner so I purchased 14ct. aida for her to use-but wow-how does one translate the amount of aida one needs when it is 14ct and the pattern written for a different ground fabric. I finally was able to come up with hopefully a good count. Maybe you would consider doing an article on this especially when we need to teach our grandchildren who have no knowledge of stitching and need to use simple fabric-easy to see etc.
    It does not seem that embroidery is being taught in any schools anymore.
    Daphne (Dee) Mullins.

  18. I propose learning good posture while stitching. Learn some exercises to stretch muscles in the back and hand. Take breaks and do the stretching often. Always have a good light source. Use magnification instead of bending over your work.

  19. Embroidery is a gift I give to myself. Even in making and creating something for someone else, actually that makes me the most happy.

    I love the process, the sense of accomplishment, I love the learning and exploring and doing something I didn’t think I could do. I love to create beauty. I have really bad anxiety and depression that comes with it. I take medications for it. My embroidery helps me emensely. It helps me to calm down, to relax, to see the brighter side, to be happy. It is almost a form of meditation for me. It always makes mendeel better when I am down and also brings joy to others when I give them my work it is like giving them a piece of myself that they can always hold in to. It makes me happy to be able to create something that makes someone else happy.

    I could go on and on. I love hand embroidery.

  20. For me it would be to stick with one teacher to learn how to embroidery well. I think if you get to many instructors it could become confusing..

    I like learning here. Thank You Mary.


  21. I enjoy embroidery as part of a wider interest in sewing, and knitting etc. I’ve noticed that if I’ve had a break from making then usually embroidery is the first thing that launch into :-). My nan taught me to embroider with lazy daisy and stem stitch, a lovely memory to have as her health fades. And you might be interested to hear that my 2yo has an embroidery project 🙂 a big plastic needle, colourful wool, hessian, a big hoop and a bit of patience and guidance from mummy is all that’s required 🙂

  22. Hi Mary, I am just beginning the embroidery experience. What would you say are the foundational concepts? Your website usually gives me all the answers I need when I am stitching away all on my own not sure if I am doing it correctly or not.

  23. Hi Mary.
    I do enjoy your daily messages . Embroidery must be one of the most in-expensive hobbies/passions to get started on.
    Cloth, needle n thread and scissors. Thats it. The real basics. Anything from there is an add-on. I love to encourage beginners so that the art/craft doesnt die out.In this modern world it is a perfect craft to add the “personal” touch to your home and gifts.
    I could rave on for ages about embroidery. 🙂
    Keep doing what you are doing. I’m a great fan.
    Regards Phillipa

  24. Hi Mary,
    One of the ladies at work has twin daughters (8th grade.) They wanted to learn how to embroider after having seen me show a bit I had done to their mother. So I volunteered to meet with the girls for an hour a day before summer band camp at our school. They loved it and I have proposed that we meet once a week after school during the school year. As for the beginner’s tool box, I used a large zip lock baggie and in it I put a small hoop, a couple of needles, some plain cloth, a small pair of inexpensive scissors and a few bits of DMC floss. It was all we needed to start. Their mother tells me that they are stitching all the time. What fun! I am having fun too. I used your videos to help myself learn and am passing the knowledge on to others.

  25. My suggestion is to use the best quality materials (threads, ground fabrics) you can afford; your greatest expenditure is always your time, and your finished embroidery should be worth your time.

  26. I was looking around on the internet today..I found out aug. 12th is St. Clair of assi feast day…..the parton saint of embroidery….neat..love your site…Romona

  27. I love to hand embroider. I’m glad that I found a embroidery guild I could join. This is a dying art. People love the work, but don’t want to get involve doing it, because it is time consuming. We have an open every year, people come and love the work, but they don’t join. Thanks Mary for this web site!!!

  28. I’m crazy about hand embroidery and would do it all day if I could. I don’t believe it’s a dying art either. There are a ton of new embroiderers out there who’d love to learn more.

  29. Appreciating the time and effort you put into your website and in depth information you offer. I love embroidery and do a lot of free hand sewing and stitching, so I think this tutorial is an awesome idea! Thanks for putting it together so that more people can learn this awesome art and craft form!

  30. I like that you said that it is an easy and pleasurable skill to learn hand embroidery that anyone could learn embroidery. With this in mind, I will consider shopping for embroidery patterns so I could start learning the ins and outs of them. My husband and I decided that I should stop working so I could focus on my pregnancy. Since I find it too boring without doing anything at home, and I still want to be productive, I will do your tips.

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