The Essential Embroidery Tools and Materials
Ready to begin embroidery? You'll need a few things. First: a lesson in how to embroider. Second: a pattern to inspire your own project. Third: all the tools and materials needed to make the first decorative stitches.
Some of the essentials are a given: Even a beginner knows that you need a needle and thread, a hoop, and your choice of fabric. But what about the other practical accessories that pique your curiosity at the crafts store? We demystify them in this extensive guide. Take, for example, the differences between a sashiko needle and a milliner's needle: One is meant for heavy-duty mending; the other, for pleating, tying French knots, and ribbon embroidery. Hoops are another essential that come in all sizes—how do you choose the right one? And how do you compare types of thread versus floss? Pearl cotton is a a single-ply embroidery thread with a lustrous finish used for an array of needlework projects, while metallic thread is a finer material used to add glitz and shine to stitches. Wool yarn is commonly used in crewel embroidery. Some tools are helpful across needlework techniques such as detail scissors, fabric glue, and bobbins for winding loose threads.
Ultimately, you will be inspired by the selection of tools and materials available to make your embroidery go smoothly. As you progress in your skills, you will add to your stockpile of supplies. Start with these essentials, master the basics, and soon you'll be itching to add more to your kit.
An embroidery hoop holds your fabric taut and securely in place as you stitch, which allows for even stitching and prevents puckering. Hoops come in many sizes, marked by their diameter in inches. For your project, choose one that encircles the entire design. To mount fabric into the hoop, loosen the screw join and separate the two rings; then, layer the fabric over the inner ring and press the outer ring down around the inner ring; tighten the screw again, and this should secure your fabric in the embroidery hoop.
Round Wooden Embroidery Hoop, starting at $7, hoopandframe.com
Embroidery needles have a medium length with a long eye and sharp point. They come in sizes 1 to 12, with 1 being the largest and 12 being the smallest. They're a solid go-to choice for general embroidery projects, especially if you're a beginner.
Loops & Threads Embroidery Needles, $2.69, michaels.com
You'll want to keep a few types of scissors on hand for different tasks. For one, a pair of embroidery scissors are small in size with a sharp point, making them perfect for snipping threads and removing unwanted stitches. For another, fabric shears are good for cutting fabrics. All-purpose scissors are good for cutting out patterns on transfer paper.
Classic Embroidery Scissors, $50, garrettwade.com
. Teeny Tiny Scissors, $10,
Embroidery floss (also called stranded cotton) is most popular and comes in a rainbow of colors. It consists of six individual plies that can be separated or combined to achieve a thickness that best suits your project.
DMC Mouliné Étoile Embroidery Floss, $2, dmc.com
Pearl cotton is also made of twisted strands, but they cannot be divided. It's commonly packaged in both spools and skeins. Because of its heavier textured feel, line stitches—like the stem stitch or chain stitch—usually sit higher up on the fabric, making it a good choice for surface embroidery.
DMC Pearl Cotton Ball, $2.75, dmc.com
As with needles and thread, there are endless options for choosing a fabric for your next embroidery. By far the easiest, woven fabrics will hold their shape with added stitches and come in an array of materials: aida cloth (a natural mesh good for cross stitch), muslin, linen, and canvas.
Charles Craft Classic Reserve Aida Cloth, $5.49, joann.com
. Natural Lightweight Cotton Muslin, $3 per yd.,
Felt has a thickness and texture that holds up well to embroidered stitches. It will not fray at the edges. It comes in natural wool as well as synthetic fibers like rayon or acrylic.
Camel Beige Felt Sheets, $13 for 24 sheets, factorydirectcraft.com
Wool Felt Gray in Dove, $180 per yd., bandjfabrics.com
Soft and fine, silk thread is ideal for embroidery. Of all the natural fibers, silk is not only the strongest, but it also has the highest sheen. The prime benefits to working with silk are that it doesn't leave holes, takes well to dyes, and comes in two forms: spun (heavier strands) or filament (single strand).
Trebizond Silk Thread, $5, purlandloop.com
A signature tool of the Japanese mending method, sashiko needles are long, sturdy, and specially made for the running stitch. In other words, it is designed to let you load multiple stitches onto it before pulling it through the fabric. They come in a range of sizes; traditional ones measure about 2 inches while modern ones tend to be shorter and have a larger eye for easier threading.
Olympus Sashiko Needles, $2 for set of 2, f
Chenille needles have a larger eye and a sharp point, measuring thicker than embroidery needles. They come in sizes 13 to 28, with 13 being the largest and 28 being the smallest. These needles are useful for chenille embroidery, crewel embroidery, or any technique in which you need a large, long eye to accommodate thicker thread.
DMC Chenille Hand Needles, $3 for 6, acmoore.com
This natural fiber is long-lasting, colorfast, and wears well over time. For embroidery, wool thread is categorized into three main varieties: fine crewel yarn, divisible 3-ply Persian wool, and tapestry wool (the latter of which is most commonly used).
Koigu KPM Needlepoint Yarn, $3.75, purlsoho.com
Milliner needles have a small, roundish eye and a long shaft. They come in sizes 1 to 10, with 1 being the largest and 10 being the finest. These needles are ideal for techniques that required wrapping thread around the needle multiple times such as bullion knots, the drizzle stitch, or French knots.
Gold Eye Milliner Needles, $2 for 16, clover-usa.com
Satin and Rayon Floss
Satin and rayon threads are both synthetics with a high sheen. While they glide easily through fabric and stay soft even at high stitch counts, they are not recommended for machine embroidery.
DMC Satin Floss, $1, dmc.com
Quilting needles have a small, roundish eye and a short shaft. They come in sizes 3 to 12, with 3 being the largest and 12 being the smallest. They're the needles of choice for traditional hand quilting because they allow for quick, precise stitches between layers of fabric.
John James Quilting Needles, $2.65 for 20, missouriquiltco.com
As its name implies, "over-dyed" non-divisible thread features multiple colors that harmoniously progress from one to the other. This is differentiated from variegated thread or floss, which features subtle shades of a single color.
DMC Pearl Cotton Variation, $3, dmc.com
Tapestry needles have an extra long eye and blunt point. They come in sizes 13 to 28, with 13 being the largest and 28 being the smallest. Primarily used for cross stitch, these needles are good for fabrics that have a looser weave or open holes for predetermined stitches.
Japanese Blunt Tapestry Needle, $9 for 2, fringesupplyco.com
Metallic thread is used to enhance embroidery with added shine, and they come in colors of gold, silver, and platinum as well as antiqued finishes. These threads can be delicate and fairly difficult to handle, so it's best to work with shorter lengths.
DMC Metallic Embroidery Thread, $3.55, dmc.com
Beading needles have an extra small eye and long, flexible shaft. They commonly come in sizes 10 to 15, with 10 being the largest and 15 being the smallest. Due to their flexibility and fine size, they are the prime choice for threading seed beads and other small holes.
Somore Beading Needles, $3.42, firemountaingems.com
Novelty Embroidery Floss
Beyond the basic embroidery floss and pearl cotton, there's a wide assortment of specialty fibers available in the market: glittered thread, multi-colored matte thread, even glow-in-the-dark thread—often as polyester. Experiment freely, but just remember to pair your thread with the right size needle.
DMC Light Effects Pearlescent Thread, $14.65, dmc.com
Ribbon, as it is used in ribbon embroidery, adds bright luster and dimension to floral designs, romantic vignettes, and more. Silk and satin are the preferred material, since it glides smoothly with every stitch of the hand.
MJ Trimming French Double-Faced Satin Ribbon, 3/8", $1.59 per yd., mjtrim.com