fabric in embroidery hoop with title.

How do I stitch this design?

The fun of embroidery is expressing your creativity and stitching things however you want. But sometimes if you have a design or picture to embroider, you don’t exactly know where to start. Here are some ideas to get you started.

The sample embroidery piece is an iron-on transfer design stitched on a tea towel, but the principles can be used to help choose stitches for any embroidery project.

Stitching lines

Most designs have lines. Outlines, stems, strings, whiskers, legs and more are are all just lines.

The most popular option for stitching lines is back stitch. It is simple and classic. It can be used with modern or traditional designs and is great for beginners.

gold back stitch embroidery

But don’t forget stem stitch. This is slightly more challenging to do, but it gives a nice, smooth line – especially with curves.

green stem stitch embroidery

Running stitch can be fun if you don’t need a solid line. It is quick and easy to stitch too.

purple running stitch embroidery

If you want more texture to the lines, wrapped running stitch is a good option. It is also a good way to add multiple colours.

pink wrapped running stitch embroidery

For bold lines, couching is a great option. This allows you to add fibres that would be too thick to stitch with.

gold couching embroidery

Another option for bold lines with lots of texture is chain stitch. This can be easily made larger and smaller by changing the weight of the thread you are stitching with and adjusting tension to make the chain “links” more round or more flat.

purple chain stitch embroidery.
fabric in embroidery hoop with marked flower design.

In the sample embroidery piece, there was the option of stitching everything as a line. If you are nervous, stitching everything with back stitch is always a nice option.

But after thinking about it, the only thing I stitched as a line was the outline of the leaf. It is stitched with backstitch. For the veins in the leaf, I used feather stitch.

stitching a leaf.

Stitching Parallel lines

Parallel lines offer even more options. Even if your design doesn’t have parallel lines, you can sometimes make your own parallel lines by drawing or imagining a line parallel to one in the design.

Chain stitch is nice to fill in between parallel lines.

purple chain stitch embroidery.

Blanket stitch is an outline and an embellishment in one. The look changes if the spokes of the blanket go in or out.

blue blanket stitch embroidery.

Straight stitches can be used perpendicular to the lines to join them together. Changing the spacing will change the look.Tightly packed straight stitches make satin stitch, which will result in a smooth line. Straight stitches with spacing might look like fur or hair.

orange straight stitch embroidery.

Herringbone stitch is a good option with parallel lines. It can be used with both straight and curved lines.

green herringbone embroidery

Feather stitch is another fun choice. This is easily adapted to different widths of lines.It can be very narrow or very wide.

blue feather stitch embroidery.

In the sample, there are many examples of parallel lines. I stitched them in different ways for different effects.

embroidering chain stitch.

The stem was printed with two parallel lines. I decided to stitch with a chain stitch because it would be wide enough to cover both lines.

embroidering herringbone stitch in a flower.

The flower petals aren’t technically parallel if you ask a mathematician, but they can be treated as parallel lines. I stitched them with herringbone stitch.

stitching an outline with cross stitch.

For the outline of the flower centre, I chose to ignore the dashed line in the design and treat it as parallel lines. I stitched it with overlapping cross stitch. This is a variation of the edge stitch often used in 3-dimensional pieces.


Stitching Filled areas

Most designs also have areas that can be filled. You always have a choice between filling in the parts of the picture or just stitching the outline as a line. If you choose to fill it in, here are some great choices.

Satin stitch is the classic option. It might seem difficult when you begin, but with practice it gets easier and more smooth.

pink satin stitch embroidery

There are many ways that couching can be used to fill in a space. One nice way is a lattice grid.

To do this, take long stitches across the shape in two directions. Then tack down each intersection with a small stitch. The tacking stitches can be the same colour or different colour. Often they are done in a more light-weight thread.

gold couching embroidery

Running stitch is often overlooked as a decorative embroidery stitch, but it can be used as a filler stitch.

Vary the density add more or less colour. You can even use multiple colours in the same shape.

purple running stitch embroidery

Chain stitch is common filling stitch.

Chains can be worked around the shape and in to the middle like a spiral, or back and forth across the shape in rows.

purple chain stitch embroidery.

French knots are a beautiful but time-consuming way of filling a shape. Just make sure that your fabric is sturdy enough to support all the stitches.

green french knot embroidery
butterfly embroidered with satin stitch.

The butterfly was filled in with satin stitch. I stitched the wings in different directions to distinguish between them.

flower embroidered with couching.

The flower centre embroidery was inspired by the cross hatching in the design. I took long yellow stitches across the centre and then went back and tacked down the intersections with one strand of orange floss.

Get inspiration from the design, but you can always stitch over the lines however you want. There’s no right and wrong answer.


Stitching Lettering

Many embroidery designs include lettering, and sometimes you want to add your own lettering to projects. Lettering can be done with many different kinds of stitches.

To decide how to stitch the lettering, determine what kind of lettering it is. Is it made up of lines, parallel lines or areas to fill? Some fonts involve a combination. 

Once you’ve determined this, you have the same options as the other parts of the embroidery design. You can either choose similar stitches so the lettering blends or different stitches so they stand out.

In the sample, I used backstitch for the lettering because of the block capital font that was used.

back stitch embroidered lettering.

Embellishments

Once the basic design has been stitched, you might want to add embellishments. These are fun additions that add interest and texture to embroidery. Use these stitches to highlight areas. They tend to draw attention to themselves.

Lazy daisy is traditionally used for flower petals, as the name implies. But it can be used for lots of other things – bugs, raindrops or edgings. A lazy daisy is basically a single chain from chain stitch. 

pink lazy daisy embroidery stitch

French knots have a reputation for being difficult to stitch, but with practice they become easy. They can be made in all different sizes by changing the thickness of the thread and the number of wraps.

green french knot embroidery

Bullions can be straight or curved, long or short. They are used in groups or on their own. They are a beautiful way to add highlights to embroidery.

pink bullion embroidery

French knots were used at the end of the back stitch antennae on the butterfly. Bullion was used for the body.

embroidered design on tea towel.

Don’t be afraid of making the wrong decision when you are deciding how to stitch an embroidery design. Every piece will give you the chance to learn and improve, and every piece will bring beauty and joy to your life.

Relax and enjoy the process of making beautiful things.

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Elizabeth DeCroos

Elizabeth DeCroos

designer, teacher, speaker

Elizabeth enjoys doing all types of sewing and needlework and teaching others new techniques. For more information or to have her speak to your group click HERE.

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