Tutorial: Embroidering by Hand

Blog Tutorials
Date 18 April 2012
While embroidery machines are nice and convenient, they’re also quite expensive. Many costumers cannot afford them so we have to make do with doing detail work by hand. Hand embroidering is tough and time-consuming, but definitely worth it in the end! When I cosplay I prefer embroidery designs over painting them, especially when working on a historical costume. Of course I don’t have a machine and satin-stitching on a sewing machine can only go so far, so I do it by hand. And I hope to share my technique for any other cosplayers out there who are interested in this skill! Now, the way I embroider is considerably different from others and more time consuming. But it is the technique that has yielded the best results for me so far. If you’ve tried embroidering before and failed, or just simply don’t know where to start then I hope that this tutorial will help get you on track! I will try to keep the descriptions short so this post doesn’t get too lengthy!
  • You can embroider with normal thread, but I prefer embroidery floss because it is thicker and comes in many colors. The floss is actually six small threads twisted together. And you can embroider with all six if you wish but the stitching will look cleaner with less thread. Neatly unwind your floss bunch and cut into a reasonable length to work with. Then separate the six threads into three sections, you now have two threads to work with at once. Put the other four aside. It doesn’t really matter what kind of sewing needle you use, but I suggest a long, sharp one. Small scissors are also best to use for this because they remove small stitches easier.
  • I am using one of Shahkulu’s tunic flaps as an example for this tutorial. When embroidering I suggest having some sort of interfacing behind your fabric material. You usually want your stitches to be tight and the fabric can bunch badly without it. I am using craft foam for his tunic so I don’t have to worry about interfacing, thicker fabrics will be fine without it. Also, I suggest using an embroidery hoop as well, I am not in this case because the craft foam is too thick for it. Now that you have your needle threaded you want to mark your design out. Use a marking pencil or a regular pencil if you’re careful enough to clean it up later. I used a blue marking pencil so it would show up nicely against the gold taffeta.
  ^The backside of the flap to show the foam. The other side of your stitching will be messy, so make sure you can line it with fabric or hide it later.
  • Here comes the part that adds a lot of time to the embroidery process. But I think that it makes life easier and the stitches cleaner. Don’t worry, you’ll get faster at this the more you do it. It is time for the outline! You’re going to follow your markings and outline the design with thread! Remember, don’t fill anything in yet. Outline any thick shapes and lines. One line of stitching will suffice for thin lines, do another row or two for thicker lines. Make your stitches small, they should not be bigger than half an inch. As shown in the third picture: your next stitch needs to start in the middle of the one before it or when connecting to another stitch. Insert the needle between the two threads and pull tightly. It will create a nice, firm line. Then make another stitch and continue the process.
   <——How your outline should look. Notice that no shapes are filled in.
  • Now time for the fun part! The FILLING. Now that we have the outline we need to actually fill it in, well technically not fill….it is more like using your outline like a guideline. Start by pulling your needle up on one side of your outline. You want to have the needle placed on the outside of the stitching, not the inside of the stitching. Put it as close to the outline stitching as possible. Now pull the needle through and place it to the opposite side of the shape, keeping to the outside of the outline. Filling the design like this hides the outline because it is only there for your benefit, to keep your stitching as clean as a machine’s. You do the filling the same like this for lines as well.
 <—Filling in a shape.  <—Filling in a line.
  • While you fill everything in, stitch in the same direction for each shape or piece. It will keep everything looking nice and neat. Whenever you run out of thread make sure you tie it off on the backside of your material. And congrats! You completed the initial design! Now it’s time for the finishing! Right now the back of the flap looks hideous with stitches going everywhere. We can fix that by placing fabric over the backside and then finishing off the edges by machine. If you’re embroidering on something and there’s no chance of seeing the other side..then you don’t have to worry about this. But it’s always a good idea to cover up the messy backside. All the straight, lighter gold, and edge stitching you see is just satin-stitching (zig-zag stitch) done by my sewing machine.


messy backside—————-^  covered backside————-^

<—A finished flap

<—Not a flap, but this shows other detailing that you can do. All the dark gold designs were done by hand. The lighter stuff was by my sewing machine using the satin-stitch (the zig-zag stitch) on the lowest stitch length setting. You can also use the same technique of stitching for the outline to border other designs. And there you go! This is the technique I use to embroider by hand! It may not be the best or quickest way, but it certainly works with the best results I’ve had so far. If you have any questions then feel free to comment below or email me.
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  • Theli 5 years agoReply

    Thank you so much, it’s very helpful!

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  • Yuna Uisce 3 years agoReply

    While I was working on one of my own sewing project, I had figured out that this was one of the best ways to hand embroider as well. I’m really glad to see that someone else has published this and I would like to suggest to others that with time, this is a great and efficient method of hand embroidery.