Embroidery for beginners: Choosing fabric and thread

Since I get asked quite a lot, I want to cover some of the basics many beginners in embroidery have questions about. If you have additional questions, feel free to ask!


The Fabric

There is not THE fabric for everything. So the answer for which fabric to choose is very much depending on your project. However there are some rules of thumb:

The smaller and finer your project is, the finer your fabric should be. There are exeptions though, for example there are small scale cross stitch designs with looser weave.

For cross stitch, bargello and other stitch forms which require a certain proportion of threads per inch in lenght and width, evenweave linen or aida are the choice of fabric.
However, you can cross stitch on every fabric, but if the squares are not perfectly identical your motifs will differ from the perfect grid you have on your pattern e.g. stretch in lenght or height, have differences inbetween the size of each cross due to unsymmetric weaving.

For outline stitching or fill stitch embroidery you can use anything. Here it largely depends on the relation between fabric and thread. The thicker your thread the larger the wholes in your farbic have to be. If you use a thick thread for a very fine fabric the thread will displace the fabric. This results in puckering and funny looking bumps in your fabric. So if you want to give crewel a try, use a medium weight, if you work with perle cotton or embroidery floss choose a lighter weight fabric.

For most of my embroidery patterns (except cross stitch) I use fine linen or cotton fabric with 3 strands of 6stranded embroidery thread. The finer your fabric the less strands you take. For most quilting fabrics for example I would choose 2-3 strands of thread.

For my cross stitch patterns I use an 20ct evenweave which results in 40 crosses on 4inch and use 6 strands of threads.

What’s the best beginner fabric?

Is your head spinning when you want to just buy a piece of fabric and see the vast amount of options? I get that! Here is what I find the easiest and cheapest fabric to start with: muslin (called calico in the UK). There is another fabric called muslin that is more of a cheesecloth – very thin and loosely woven. That’s not easy to use for embroidery, so check the work calico to be on the safe side.

I know the terminology of fabrics will make you run away pretty fast, so I’ll spare you the details and give you a list of search terms which you can use to get the right fabric in your local shop or online.

Beginner friendly fabrics:

• quilting fabric (cotton)
• middle weight linen
• plain cotton muslin (or calico)

Fabrics to avoid as a beginner:

• satin and other very smooth and shiny fabrics
• jersey and other stretchy fabrics
• velvet, corduroy, and fleece
• gauze and very thin and transparent fabrics


embroidery floss color wheel

The Thread

Like with fabric there are a lot of different varieties of threads available. To make the searching process easier for you here are the two commonly used types of embroidery thread. There are many more, both these two are the most commonly used ones in modern embroidery patterns.

6 stranded embroidery floss

This is the standard material used for embroidery. The thread consists of 6 single cotton threads that you can divide easily.
The separate threads make it very simple to adapt the thickness of your thread so you don’t need a huge variety of different threads in each color.
Stranded embroidery floss is available in a huge variety of colors and commonly accessible in stores locally and online.

Pearl cotton

Pearl cotton is a twisted thread looking a little bit rope-like. It has a beautiful texture and behaves slightly different than stranded embroidery floss. Pearl cotton thread is not dividable and is available in different thicknesses.
The higher the number of the thread (e.g. Pearl no. 5) the finer/thinner is the thread. So Pearl no. 3 is thicker than no.5.
The pearl 3 is about the thickness of a full 6 strands of embroidery floss. A pearl 8 is about the same thickness as 3 strands of embroidery floss.

So which one?

Most modern patterns call for stranded embroidery floss. If you want to start out, choose your favorite colors and go with embroidery floss.
However, the pearl cotton tends to be a little bit sturdier, so if you plan to embellish simple motifs on bags or other items that are going to be used rather than displayed on a wall, the pearl cotton might be the better choice.


The Beginner Route – learn the basics

Step 1 // Tools Step 2 // Materials (you are here)Step 3 // Pattern transfer  – Step 4 // Dressing the hoopStep 5 // Start & end threadsStep 6 // first stitches Step 7 // Framing in the hoop

Don’t know what this ‘route’ thingy means? Start here.

Would you like to get everything in a nicely arranged PDF file to print out?

I have prepared the rookie’s guide to embroidery for you!



embroidery for beginners: choosing fabric and thread






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