Embroidery on garments – a few hints

I haven’t done much hand embroidery since I wrote my name in chain stitch on my science overall, aged 11. Of course I have done the odd bit since then, but I have yet to try a tapestry sampler, or learn cross stitch.  I am pretty close to being a complete beginner. Since embarking on a 1940s blouse, I have completed two yokes and two sleeves and feel I have some basic knowledge to share.

  1. Hand embroidery is a nice, restful occupation. If you enjoy hand sewing this might appeal to you. I found it a pleasant change.
  2. Start with the right sort of fabric. I used a firmly woven, good quality, soft cotton blouse fabric. Absolutely no point doing all that work on something worthless. I found some really nice shirting fabric that is a bit like a patchwork cloth, with a variety of white on white finishes. Do the embroidery on the pieces before assembling the garment.
    White shirting fabrics
    Interesting shirting fabric
  3. Use an appropriate iron on interfacing to give a good basis for the stitching
  4. Outline the pattern with washable carbon paper
  5. Decide on a colour scheme. Embroidered garments often come with a specific colour scheme, but it is entirely up to you. I choose colours (cool, brights) so the blouse will work with the rest of my wardrobe – pink flowers,  green leaves with some blue, yellow and dark brown accents. I used several pinks to get a graduation effect.
    Embroidery cottons
    Trying some of the colours
  6. I mainly used good quality embroidery thread. Same point as point 1. I did mix in a few cheaper colours, from the market, which were fine. But the colour was not as even. For the colours which were most used (the two dominant pinks) I used more than one skein.
  7. Use a specific embroidery needle. This has a long eye, a nice sharp point and is fairly long (generally I like a shortish needle for hand sewing).
  8. You should consider using an embroidery hoop. I have got one, but didn’t use it. I stitched over my index finger, giving just a little bit of tension to the fabric.
  9. I read the instructions on what sort of stitches were required. I then practiced first on a handy practice design that was supplied. Even though I did this, my stitching improved as I went along.
    Close work
    Close work
  10. For satin stitch, which is the main way that spaces are “coloured in” stitch from right to left, bottom to top. Try and place the stitches evenly as this is what makes the embroidery look smooth. As I was doing flowers I centred the stitches so they radiated out from the middle. It maybe more correct to have the stitches all going in the same direction.
  11. I did the small details first, including the lovely French knots. Then I did the pink flowers, and finally the leaves. I did the two yokes first, to completion; then the two sleeves. We have just been away for the weekend. I was able to finish the sleeves sitting by a lake.
    woman doing hand embroidery by a lake
    Embroidery on holiday
  12. Pressing looks daunting, but isn’t. As the both fabric and embroidery thread were cotton I used a fairly high heat on the back of the fabric, using a ham to support the sleeves and yokes. The pressing made the stitching perfectly flat and improved it no end. I was so confident that I then pressed it on the front (this is supposed to be a long lasting, everyday blouse), and it was just fine.
    Pressing embroidery
    Press on reverse

17 Responses

  1. Looks like you are making good progress Kate. Did you make the sweater dress in your photo entitled “Woman doing hand embroidery by a lake”? That is what the title read as when I zoomed in on the photo. 😄 If so which pattern did you use?

    • No! The dress is from M&S. Funnily enough it was suggested for me when I did their “Style Analysis”. When it was in the sale I bought it. It is really a nice simple dress – pretty easy to copy. The back neckline dips down a bit which elevates it above the completely plain.

  2. Beautiful. I did a one-off-just-for-an-hours Swedish embroidery class in Heals over the summer..was lovely. Am hoping to go to the Swedish Christmas fair in November when they sell their work..you can’t beat a bit of hand embroidery for true love! xxx

  3. Joyce Latham

    Oopppsies, I thought that you were on your new roof top!
    I really like to do hand embroidery. I’m getting lots of wear out of my Chinese influenced house jacket with the embroidered pockets, as the temperatures have cooled down some in the early mornings and evenings here. I sometimes iron with a terry cloth towel underneath so the French knots etc don’t be flattened. I’m glad you enjoyed the process, it is fun and is easy to take with you. Looking forward to seeing the completed garment. Love how you are always trying something new!
    Joyce 🇨🇦

  4. Let me just join in the praise for your adventurous nature! You have been trying a lot of new things. The closest I have ever gotten to embroidery is doing Japanese sashiko with a running stitch.

    • The Japanese always have such a different approach to things – there is so much to learn. I only recently discovered Sashiko, and would love to give it a try – so graphic, and usually in such neutral shades – lovely!

  5. Your embroidered blouse was lovely. I was just surprised at how quick you were. I haven’t done any hand embroidery for a few years now, but you are inspiring me to have another go.

  6. Last time I did hand embroidery, I was 10 and working the the edges of pillowcases for my trousseau. Had quite a collection that eventually went into the garage sale after my divorce. Some of the Pinterest pages with hand embroidery are gorgeous and drool-worthy! Love your hand work and the M&S dress!

  7. Thanks for these tips, K. I haven’t done embroidery since my grandmother made me cross-stitch a set of pillow cases with “life is what happens when you are making other plans,” including a cross-stitched border. I was 12 and I think I wanted to be outside instead, digging for fishing worms or collecting minnows. That said, I’d really like to do something similar to what you’ve done but use some designs from First Nations (Huron) beadwork and embroidery from the 19th century, so thanks for these tips. I think I can forgive my granny for the cross-stitch work by now. 🙂 PS I, like Joyce, was pretty sure that that was “your” lake! Lucky you. And nice knit dress, too. Looks very cozy.

  8. Embroidery is a lost art. I am glad I did so much of it as a child, as I think it helped me with sewing later. I think about doing it on clothing, but have never executed it. Thanks for the reminder. Stitching outdoors makes me feel like I have normal eyesight again. It looks like you had a lovely day for stitching.

  9. A beautiful setting for doing embroidery. I love the dress too. I thought I had already commented – but clearly not! I have done some embroidery and cross stitch in the past but none recently. I was going to pick up one that’s lain unfinished for a long time but really need to divide my time in a way that won’t include that I’m afraid. I’m enjoying your progress.

  10. I’m loving this. My mother was an embroiderist by trade and I used to embroider a lot. Two tallit prayer shawls for my daughters Bat Matvahs turned me off a little, but your blouse is inspiring me to tackle a bodice.

    • I imagine the prayer shawls are amazing. Hope you show them on the blog! Also glad to know the name of one who embroiders professionally!

  11. What a lovely location for embroidering, or doing most anything, or meditating, or nothing. Your embroidery here is simply gorgeous!

  12. Much patience shown in that work. I’m not sure I have that degree of patience but the results are very impressive.

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