Practice basic stitches, learn techniques, and define your sense of style.

By Alexandra Churchill
February 03, 2021
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woman doing embroidery at home
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Whether this is the first time you're picking up a needle and floss or you're looking to add more stitches (and inspiration) to your skillset, an embroidery sampler is handy to have in repertoire. But what is it and how do you use one? Here, you'll learn how you can design your custom sampler and you'll master any stitch.

What Is an Embroidery Sampler?

Historically, samplers date back to hundreds of years, and they're even collectible. Samplers were pieces of cloth, oftentimes linen, that featured hand-embroidered designs using thread made of silk, wool, or cotton. In the Colonial era, young American school girls made samplers as a way of learning needlework skills that would be useful in the repair of household linens. Patterns stitched into these early samplers were often sewn as a reminder of a stitch so that the maker could refer to it later. Today, they're used in a similar way.

Prepare Your Fabric and Design

Before you begin, consider which stitches you want to practice in your designed layout. Rows of stitches, either horizontal or vertical, make a simple but effective layout. You can also work concentric circles or sections into your layout. It's helpful to use a cohesive design in your template to showcase the differences in the look and feel of each stitch, such as letters in the alphabet or a wreath of flowers.

Once done, transfer your design onto the fabric: Start by ironing your choice of fabric (for best results, choose a tight even-weave fabric such as linen or quilting cotton) and cutting it down to a size that fits your working hoop. Center the fabric piece over your design template and trace it using a fabric marker. A tip: If you can't see the design through the fabric, you can tape the design and fabric to a window for the light to shine through it.

Choose Your Needle and Thread

Experiment with different pairings of needle to thread—this will produce differing results. Embroidery needles have a medium length with a long eye and sharp point; they come in sizes one to 12, with one being the largest and 12 being the smallest. Embroidery floss 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. There is also pearl cotton and silk thread.

Start Stitching

This project is a sampler of stitches intended to be worked on over a period of time. Try one stitch or motif a day—you'll practice the chain stitch, back stitch, or running stitch one day and the French knot or bullion knot, the next. If you're a beginner and unsure of where to start, you can always use a kit. We recommend the Dropcloth Samplers Color Wheel Embroidery Sampler ($15, etsy.com) or Purl Soho's Alphabet Sampler Kit ($65, purlsoho.com)—both are good options.

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