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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10 Tips for Quicker & Easier Stitching


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A few weeks ago, I compiled this list of suggestions for how to make a stitching session easier and more productive.

I know this sounds a little weird. Easier and quicker are not necessarily two things we’re seeking when we embroider.

We pretty much already know that hand embroidery isn’t quick (in fact, that’s one of the reasons we like it, right?), and, when we embroider, we’re not normally looking for an easy way out of our chosen project. If we choose a challenging project, it’s because the challenge is part of the fun!

But the ten tips below are not really meant for speeding up your stitching to the point of machine-like production levels, and they’re not meant to simplify your stitching to the point of Boring. Instead, they’re just suggestions that will make an embroidery experience better (as in, more pleasurable and less frustrating), while at the same time allowing the embroiderer to make more progress on actual stitching during any embroidery session.

Here are my ten tips, and I’d love to hear your suggestions, too!

10 tips for quicker easier stitching

1. Take a stand!

No, not while you’re stitching (though some folks do!). I mean, get a stand! A floor stand, a table stand, a sit-on hoop, a lap stand, or just something you rig to hold your hoop or frame – whatever kind of embroidery stand suits your stitching style.

Having your work on a stand of some sort so that you don’t have to hold your hoop or frame with one hand accomplishes two things: 1. it frees up one hand, so you have both available for stitching; and 2. it eliminates fatigue and can save your joints from future problems.

I’ve reviewed several types of stands here on Needle ‘n Thread, all of which I use and like:

Needlework System 4 stand – and lap / table stand
The Necessaire from Needle Needs
Judy O’Dell’s “Just a Thought” Stand
Sit-on Embroidery Hoops (which also come in a clamp-on version for tables)

2. Gather it up!

Gather all your supplies for a given project ahead of time. If you’re working “off the cuff” – just random embroidery that is relatively unplanned – at least gather what you think you’ll use. This will save you from stopping mid-session to go foraging about for supplies.

I recently wrote an article on Craftsy about gathering and organizing supplies for embroidery projects. It covers the basics of what I gather and how and why. You might gather other things. But do gather ahead of time – it’ll save you time!

3. Snip it!

Pre-cut your threads and organize them on holders of some sort, ahead of time. Pre-cutting your threads will save you a lot of time during the actual stitching process. Using pre-cut threads allows you to separate individual strands of floss easily, if you use a “hitch” system for your threads. You can read about that here.

Here are some systems and ideas for organizing pre-cut embroidery threads using a hitch system:

Thread drops
Make your own thread cards
Annie’s Keepers

4. Thread it!

Pre-thread your needles. Especially for projects that requires lots of the same thread type in any given area, pre-threading several needles before you begin your stitching session will save you time, mid-session, when you’ve gotten into the groove of stitching and don’t want to stop!

5. Park it!

Park your needle and thread. Parking threads involves bringing an un-finished or finished thread to the front of your work, out of the way of your current stitching, so that you can either use that thread again, or you can end it off later, when you end off your other threads.

Here’s an article on parking embroidery threads, so you can see the concept in use and how it works.

6. Railroad it!

For parallel, smooth stitches, try railroading instead of using a laying tool.

What’s railroading? Railroading is a little trick that works when you’re stitching with two strands of floss, and working straight-stitch type stitches, like cross stitch, tent stitch, seed stitch, and satin stitch.

When you’re working with two strands of floss and you want them to lie parallel, a laying tool is a handy thing, but it it takes time to use.

So instead, you can railroad your straight stitches by taking your needle down into the fabric between the two strands, so that the working thread keeps your two strands of floss separate as it passes through into the fabric.

You can find an article on railroading embroidery threads here.

7. Stay in front!

Start and end your threads on the front of your fabric.

Using a waste knot and small holding stitches eliminates having to turn your work over to end or begin threads. This saves a lot of time, especially if you have your work on a stand.

Here are some articles that can show you how this concept works:

Anchor stitches on a line
Starting and traveling threads

8. Choose wisely!

In any endeavor, when you’re trying to make something, using the right tools for the job is important. It saves frustration, fumbling, and corrections.

This is especially true concerning needles for embroidery. Here’s an article to help you choose and use the right embroidery needle for the job.

9. Prepare it!

Prepare your ground fabric before you start your project. This includes, especially, neatening the edge of the fabric.

I know it sounds like an extra step, but it will save you from the bother of fraying fabric threads while you’re stitching, and it will save you from massive thread jams on the back of your fabric, if you pick up stray frayed threads unaware. This has happened to me more times than I’d like to admit, and it’s a Huge Time-Waster!

In the long-run, the extra step of neatening the edge can save you a lot of time, and it will certainly save you frustration and bother while you’re embroidering.

10. Clean as you go!

Just like when you’re cooking in a really small kitchen, there are very big advantages to cleaning as you go, or staying organized as you stitch.

Use a pincushion or something similar to stick needle into. Use some kind of receptacle for orts (thread scraps). Have a consistent place to put your scissors.

There are lots of handy gadgets available to help you keep organized while stitching, but really, a little tray will do the job. If you’re prone to searching for scissors, you might consider using a scissor pull – I love mine and use it constantly.

One More and Over to You

One more thing that helps me accomplish more in a stitching session: I listen instead of watch. I accomplish more stitching in a shorter amount of time if I am listening to music or an audio book, rather than watching TV or a movie.

Of course, most of the time, when watching and stitching, we aren’t really watching – we’re listening, with an occasional bit of watching. But even then, when you’re watching, you do tend to pause and get sucked in once in a while.

For many, that’s the whole fun of stitching – you can do it while you watch TV or a movie. After all, it’s nice to do something with your hands when relaxing in the evening.

For those, though, who are trying to be more efficient with their stitching, try listening to something that doesn’t have a visual component. You’ll see a huge difference in what you can accomplish!

So, how about you? What are some of your tips for making the embroidery experience more pleasurable and more efficient (insofar as being able to accomplish more in the stitching time that you have available)? I’d love to hear your thoughts, tips, ideas, and suggestions – and so would everyone else! Join the conversation below!


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(26) Comments

  1. Love the tips – they make so much sense!!

    Question – I work mostly with floss and I use the wrap around bobbins and usually cut the floss as I go. I travel and need my floss to be tidy and portable any other suggestions and am I abusing my floss or causing wear?



    1. Hi, Debbie – oh, I think if the bobbins work well for you, then they’re fine. I don’t necessarily think they cause wear on the thread, unless they’re somehow rubbing against the bobbin. If you don’t mind the kinks, and the system works, use it!

    2. Mary, may I add two portable methods of storing thread that will eliminate kinks for Debbie? The first is a plastic bobbin that looks like a 1/2 bagel. It comes in three sizes. For full disclosure–I have no interest in the company & I’m not even sure who makes them. Vendors at EGA seminar & various Lace Days usually sell them. The plastic is soft & malleable & the domed side peels open to reveal a plastic hub. After the thread is wound on the hub, just curl the top closed. As an added bonus, the 1/2 bagel shapes snap together to make a long roll. To be sure, they are more expensive than regular floss bobbins but worth the investment IMHO. They are great for specialty threads. In case Debbie wants to add metallic highlights, the JEC (Japanese Embroidery Center) method works well for pre-cut lengths. Make a tri-fold “tube” out of heavy glossy paper, tie a heavier thread one end of the metallic thread hank, cut thru the other end of the hank & place the whole thing in the folded paper with the tied end peeking out. Fold shut & tape in several places. This may require an extra set of hands so make sure a stitching friend is availableto help! Use the method you described a few days ago to tease out one or more strands from the tied end as needed. It really tames those flyaway fine metallic threads that seem to have a mind of their own.

    3. Hi, Suzette – yes, the donut-shaped bobbins (they’re called EZ Bob or Bob-eez, depending on the brand) work great. I wrote about them here, some years ago: https://needlenthread.wpengine.com/2006/07/floss-thread-organization-storage-part.html You can find them at JoAnn’s and similar places, too. Look for “bob-eez” at JoAnn’s, or Google EZ bobs. Weir Crafts sells them on Amazon, too, for those who don’t have a local needlework shop that carries them. They stack together nicely. The only disadvantage to them that I’ve found is you can’t label them very easily. You have to label the flat side of the donut, using either a very small sticky label or a permanent marker (which limits the use). I’ve used them for hand-held Kumihimo and I’ve stored thread in them for long periods of time without any problems.

  2. Mary – Great tips! I’d like to add three more:
    1. Not being tired. I can stitch twice as fast and twice as nicely in the morning.
    2. Good light. Poor lighting makes me have to re-do stitching.
    3. Knowing what you are doing. Having good directions or if it’s your own design, knowing what you are doing now and next really helps. Also, you are much faster if you know the technique you are doing. While I hate to practice new stitches, I’ve found that doing a few practice stitches on a doodle cloth really helps.

    Great list.

    1. Judy, I certainly agree. I always take the time to make a stitch plan and work out the order of stitching before I start a new embroidery. Of course, I may change the stitches as the piece evolves, but it is an invaluable reference to have at hand

    2. Great additions to the list, Judy. For No 3 I would add that I always keep a small cut of a similar ground fabric on a small hoop as a practice piece – useful for trying out new or rarely used stitches before plunging the needle into the work!

  3. I am normally right handed, but have taught myself to work with either hand under or above the embroidery hoop or frame, as I stitch. By using both hands interchangeably depending on whether or not I am stitching on the left or right hand side of the project, I can go quicker than if I only use my right hand for the same motions above the cloth and the left hand underneath. Hope this communicates.

  4. Lovely tips! You’re absolutely right about listening while stitching.
    My laptop is always by my side listening to BBC Radio 4 and BBC Radio 4 Extra while I stitch. I especially love BBC Radio 4 Extra because they replay all sorts of wonderful comedies, dramas, book readings and fun documentaries. I especially like the crime dramas – at the moment there’s a dramatisation of a V I Warshawski book I’m enjoying, with V I played by Sharon Gless (Cagney!).
    I’m going to try cutting my threads in advance following your tutorial, I’ve never done that before.

  5. WOW!!! you must have read my mind I am about to start a big project and was wondering how to keep my threads neat

    clicked on your email and low and behold you answered me like magic


  6. So help me out here: I just recently learned about railroading but does it work for things like outline stitch? I’ve been doing outline and frustrated with how the thread (2 strands of floss) twists as I work, stopping fairly often to untwist or even gently pull the two strands apart. How can I railroad outline? Or can I?

    1. Hi, Carla – yes, you can, but it isn’t as easy as it is with straight stitches. As long as you’re stabbing your stitches, though, instead of seeing them, yes, you can railroad. It might take a little bit to get used to it. And you probably should still drop your thread now and then and let it unwind, because even if you’re railroading, if the twist tightens too much, railroading won’t solve the problem like letting the thread untwist will.

  7. This article is a keeper. Not just on your site, either. I’m going to copy and print it to keep in my embroidery drawer, so I can remember these tidbits each time I start a project.

  8. I have a special playlist for embroidering on my iTunes – long ago I noticed that European medieval music puts me in the mood, helps to keep the steady rhythm, calms and balances the mind.

  9. Here’s my tip…

    Keep everything organized and together.

    –Keep a scissors in with the project so you don’t have go hunting for one when you’re ready to pick it up (a stitcher can NEVER have enough scissors).

    –Don’t raid the materials in the project for something else. Way too many times I have “borrowed” a thread from one project to use in another, then forgotten to put it back.

    –Keep the needles that come with the kit with the kit. They are usually the proper size, and once you put them in with the rest of your needles, you’ll never know what size they are (unless you are really organized with your needles, which I am not).

    –If you need other supplies (hoop, beading thread, wax, whatever), keep those with the project as well.

    Nothing ruins a stitching session faster than having to hunt for something in your stash that is supposed to be with a project.

    Carol S.

  10. Thank you so much for all the information. I am just now getting back to embroidery after about 20+ years off. I love having the links to past sessions and being able to go back and read what you have posted in previous years. My husband says I spend more time researching than I do stitching! Thank you again for all the helpful tips and information!


  11. In the last few years, I have discovered the benefit of a disappearing ink pen for counted work. Focusing on a small area, I study the pattern and put small dots on the fabric where my stitch will center. In that small area or on a single row, I mark the stitches for whatever is my current color. Then I am able to count once and stitch freely in that small area, rather than looking back and forth from pattern to fabric over and over. To cover large areas of stitching, I mark the perimeter, stitch it in a timely manner before the ink disappears. Then I can fill the section in at a time when I cannot concentrate on counting. This tactic has sped up my work significantly. I hope my explanation makes sense. The small dots disappear and if, per chance, they don’t the stitches cover them.

    Also before I begin, I enlarge the pattern so my old eyes can track it fairly easily.

  12. Love today’s post! But come to think of it, there have been a number lately that are super helpful–pull skeins 9/25, one strand 9/23, stripping floss, etc. etc.

    You have a lot on your plate, but is there any chance you could gather these up into an e-book?

  13. This tip concerns counted stitch and I use it with Blackwork and the Holbein stitch. The tip is to always start the embroidery to the left of a “bridge”, that is, a fabric thread that goes *over* the cross-thread at the top right of the square hole one comes out of. This rule not only makes the stiches easier and prettier, it also helps find errors rapidly. If one sees that the stitching thread comes out of the wrong hole one can feel it because the thread doesn’t slide as easily, and by going back one will find the error, probably where the stitches were on the diagonal.
    So by keeping aware of the correct hole to go in and out, the speed of stitching is increased and the rate of error decreased.

  14. I sure appreciaate this article as I preparing to get back into needlework this winter. I had shoulder surgery preceeded by months of therapy and schlepping around to doctor appointments. It’s been about 9 months since the complete shoulder surgery and I finally feel like I can sit down and work without discomfort for a period of time. So this article and all the links on one place, give a me a great starting point to review the literature in preparing to get going again. Thank you so much Mary!!

  15. “Stay in front!” <– This one's worth the price of admission. I am constantly wasting time, energy, and thread because I park in the back of the piece and then manage to catch the unused thread in the current stitches. What a mess. Just leaving them in the front where I can see them will save so much hassle. Thanks!

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