Handstitch Tips

  • Managing embroidery threads
  • Six strand embroidery floss
  • Begin stitching with Waste Knot
  • End stitching without knot
  • Preparing fabric
  • Basic Chainstitch

Managing embroidery threads - When you purchase embroidery floss or thread, it is a good practice to cut your bundled floss and threads into approximately 15” lengths to make it easier to stitch with as well as store them.  If you are using pearl cotton that comes in a ball, cutting and storing it in short lengths is not necessary.  No matter what type of threads you are embroidering with, stitching is much easier (and less tangly) with a manageable length.  

Six strand embroidery floss - The benefit of stranded floss is that you can adjust the width of your stitches by varying how many strands you choose to put through your needle.  This increase in flexibility is only mildly offset by the need to separate the threads.  The trick to separating strand-able embroidery floss gracefully is to select only one strand at a time.  Holding all the other strands at one end between the fingers of your opposing hand, pull the single strand in the lengthwise direction away from the others.  If you pull more than one strand, they will all want to tangle.  

Begin stitching with Waste Knot -  So that you don't have a bunch of lumpy knots on the back of your embroidery, you can start and finish your stitching with some clever tricks.  To begin stitching cleanly, tie a loose knot at the end of your thread and insert the needle from ABOVE the fabric, at least 1/2" past where your design begins.  Work back toward the start of the line with a number of straight stitches until you come up where the design starts (photo 1).  Then, proceed with your stitching like normal, covering the straight stitches.  When you get back to the "waste knot,"  snip it off and continue stitching as usual (photo 2).  The end will be secure.

End stitching without knot -  When you come to the end of your design (or you need to change threads), it is best to end without a knot at the back of your work.  Knots make lumps that can be problematic.  To end cleanly, pull your thread to the back of the fabric, and either take a number of straight stitches and then one back stitch in an area that will be covered by further stitching, or stitch in and out of existing stitches on the back of your work (without coming through the fabric) before cutting your thread.  (see photos below)

Preparing fabric - With sewing and embroidering, it is always best to wash your fabric before starting your project.  Fabrics often have sizing on them straight from the factory, and they very well may be dirty from the fabric store.  Also, if you will be stitching on something that you intend to wash later, pre-shrinking the fabric is a good idea.  This doesn't apply if the fabric is dry clean only. 

To make sure you cut your fabric on the grain so that your piece is square and your horizontal and vertical lines are truly straight, pull a thread out at one edge (see photo).  When the thread has been pulled out, there will be a line in the fabric that will guide your cut.


Basic Chainstitch - To work the chain stitch, bring the needle up through the fabric at your starting point.  Insert the needle down again at the starting point and bring the tip up through the fabric a short distance away (photo 1).  Place the working thread under the needle and pull the needle through the loop (photo 2). Repeat the process to make additional stitches, in either a straight line or a curve (photo 3).  End by making a small, anchoring straight stitch at the end of the final chain loop to secure  it in place (photo 4). To make a sharp turn (like at the tip of a leaf), end the stitch as seen in Step 4 to capture your chain link, then come up again inside it and continue on in the new direction (photo 5).