Embroidery For Beginners: Tools of the Trade
5 Tools You Need to Start Embroidering
My favorite way to up breath new life into old clothing is hand embroidery! With phrases like Konmari (Marie Kondo Method), sustainable fashion, refashioning, and up-cycled fashion becoming more and more popular people are looking for simple ways to add some panache to well-loved or thrifted items, enter: hand embroidery.
There are a million and one different ways that you can use simple basic embroidery stitches to update your clothing. I’ve been embroidering on clothing for 5 years now and if there is one thing I can say about hand embroidery on clothing it is: less is more. Simple designs are not only less time consuming, they add that little bit of extra to an item. There’s no need to go over board. Below are some of my favorite simple designs.
Now that I have your attention, let’s talk about tools of the trade. Luckily hand embroidery isn’t too cost prohibitive, and BONUS because it has been around for ages and everyone’s grandma has embroidered before, you can find some of the essentials at…drumroll plz…the thrift store!!! Some of my favorite hoops I have found at the thrift store AND I found a bag of embroidery floss at the thrift store that I used to embroider for the first time (after I tried to re-learn how to make friendship bracelets from 12 yr olds on YouTube and quit #truestory). Now I’m not encouraging you to seek all of these items out at a thrift store, but I am suggesting that you take a peek in the odd & ends area of your favorite thrift store. You can usually find hoops, thread, patterns, zippers, fabric and all sorts of other awesome sewing items from the past.
Hoops: Most embroiderers prefer a 3 ply bamboo hoop with metal screws, and I agree with them it is a nice hoop to use when you can find them. The only hoop I consistently use like that are the 3” hoops that I buy from JoAnn’s. I have also used plastic embroidery hoops (and buy them for my workshops) you can find them here, I find that they are also pretty durable. What I think are a better deal and will get you more bang for your buck is this assorted pack of bamboo hoops (here) that range from 4”-10”. I use my 4” hoops for smaller text on shirts, bandanas and small little details. I use the 6-10” hoops for larger back pieces where I do not want to move around the hoop as much and distort my embroidery. My one warning for beginners with hoop size is that the larger the hoop, the more difficult it is to hold and work with. When working on clothing, you usually can’t utilize the hoop stands, so you’re going to want to use something that is comfortable to hold. As for thrifted hoops (pictured above) my favorite to use have been the metal tension hoops, meaning there aren’t screws but springs. They are a litter easier to hoop and I feel are more sturdy than the new stuff we find these days… that just might be my unwavering “things were made better back then” old lady mantra talking there, but it is my opinion.
Needles: I have used a fair number of needles in my day and my favorite by far are the DMC embroidery no. 5 needles. They are strong, sharp, and I can punch through fabrics like denim and even the brim of a hat with out too much trouble. There are also larger eye alternatives for those who are just getting started and do not have “young eyes” as my kids call them. These large eye needles are the ones that I have used, they are not as sharp and take a little more effort punching through fabrics, but they get the job done and are easier to thread.
Scissors: So there is some controversy over scissors, what kind you need, how cute they need to be, and should you spend money on them or not. I’m team both. I have some cuteAF scissors (Pictured above shop here), some really good/sharp/fancy ones with a sheath (shout out to my MIL for the awesome gift) and I also use my Fiskars nippers when they are handy. As long has you have small sharp scissors you’re good! There is also the classic bird ones that also coveted and useful (again, not needed but you can find them here).
Marking Utensils: I have had quite the evolution and trial and error with ways to transfer or draw on fabric. I think I’ve really nailed it down now so here are my top choices. My number one pen that I use all the time now is the Pilot FriXion erasable gel pen. This pen is AWESOME!!! It disappears when you touch heat to it, like an iron, and is washable & erasable. I always tell my class that your work is only as good as your line, and this pen gives you a clear concise line, bonus it’s not permanent like other ink. I also use a blue fabric pen that disappears when washed, which is good for marking out where you want to work or guidelines for text. One other gold mine of a tool I have stumbled upon in my quest to find something that SHOWS UP ON DARK FABRICS! I have tried many many pens, and white markers and nothing really shows up. I’ve even resorted to drawing in pencil on black fabric, and sitting by a light embroidering on the shimmery parts. This tailors marking pencil is the only thing i have been able to find. Fair disclosure it is not perfect, or is it precise, but it works. Do I think you’ll knock out a fully detailed master piece on black denim? Probably not, but you can for sure write some text out and embroidery it, or trace out a simple outline.
Thread: I’m not going to go too much into detail here, I pretty much just use DMC embroidery floss. It is what they sell at my local craft store and from my experience have the best colors, and do not fade or bleed when washed over and over again. I would not recommend using unknown sold in a pack of 100 for $12 thread on clothing if you have never tested it out in the wash before. I have had thrift store red thread bleed all over a white shirt and I learned my lesson fast, goodbye hours of work.
Extras: These are a few extra things that you do not need to get started but will certainly help ya out once you get going.
Transfer Markers: My recommendations are Sulky markers and Sublime Stitching’s marker. I like the Sulky markers because they definitely work, but they do leave a solid thick line. You can make the line finer with less pressure, but I use some templates over and over again and I find they get a little thick, but they work well and they are permanent, all of them are FYI. Sublime Stitching’s marker also works as described. It is a fine tip, which I really love because you sometimes you can still see the thicker lines around the embroidery, but I will say it is a fairly faint line. I can get more transfers out of the Sulky markers, but I kind of prefer the fine tip one. It depends on how you are using the marker that will determine which is your favorite. More transfers with sulky, more detail with Sublime Stitching but less transfers.
Backing/Stabilizer: I use one backing and one only, Sulky cut away stabilizer. I have used it on my own clothing and can attest to the fact that it is super soft, non-itchy material that stabilizes your work on thin materials with ease. You will want to use it when embroidering t-shirts, vintage pearl snaps, army jackets and more. It was recommended to me by an embroiderer I trust, and I have not had a reason to try anything else. Bought and sold.
Thimble: I can’t use metal thimbles because I need to grip the needle and it bothers me not to feel it, but I did buy these silicone thimbles. They really help when my hands are tired or I am embroidering something tough like a hat or denim.
I hope this helps you get started on embroidery and if you already dabble I hope that it gives you a few extra pointers on some useful tools of the trade. Hopefully you’re inspired to finish out your embroidery kit and start embroidering on and up-cycling some clothing.