Embroidery Fabric For Beginners
The art of embroidery has been traced back to mankind’s earliest civilizations. Almost every type of clothing or blanket material has been embellished with embroidered designs to highlight prestige, rank, opulence, or just a simple love of color and design.
Among all levels of society, embroidery has been and remains a creative and enjoyable way to add your own unique touch to clothing or home decor. It’s easy to learn, and beautiful examples have become family heirlooms around the world.
One of the first questions for beginners is what type of fabric is the best for learning basic stitches and practicing new skills. If you look at kits available at local craft stores, you’ll find most include materials with a well-defined weave that makes it easier to track stitches and keep them even, especially for projects like cross-stitching.
If you have a particular goal in mind–such as a pillow or an article of clothing–try to choose a medium-weight fabric that’s not woven too tightly or is too slippery to handle easily. Here is a summary of various fabrics and how they rate for embroidery work.
Top 10 Fabrics Beginners Should Use For Embroidery
100% Cotton is the most recommended fabric for beginner embroiderers. The material is soft and smooth but the weave still has an even definition to assist in uniform stitching. The weave is tight enough to accommodate a large variety of stitches. Cotton also is available in almost any color for an interesting and complimentary background.
Cotton is widely available in some looser weaves and natural colors, such as unbleached muslin. Aida and Hardanger are two of the best embroidery cottons. Whether you’re goal for your first embroidery venture is home decor, clothing, or gift crafts, there’s probably a cotton fabric that will meet the parameters of the project.
Linen, or art linen, is another popular embroidery fabric. A good selection of 100% Linen has become harder to find in some fabric stores in recent years. But this wonderful material can also be bought online. Shop for smaller pieces for embroidery on Amazon or other craft sites.
A 19-36 thread-count art linen is best for embroidery work. Linen is more expensive, so the budget-conscious shopper may want to stick with cotton for beginner projects. And keep in mind that different types of embroidery, such as cross-stitch or crewel, work best with specific weaves and weights, so read the instructions carefully before purchasing your fabric.
Linen has a plain, even weave with a nubby texture that adds class and depth to any embroidered project. It’s available in either a very loose thread count, such as linen canvas, or a denser thread count commonly used for clothing. A basic definition of what is meant by thread count can be found on the Online Fabric Store website or other websites specializing in fabrics.
Linen feels slightly stiff when new, making it easier to embroider. However, the material softens quickly for comfortable wear if you’re using it for clothing or pillow covers. Hand-dyed linen is also sold online and offers old-style charm to wall art or other period projects.
Most denim is 100% cotton, but the twill weave and texture places it in a category all its own. Embroidered denim jeans, skirts, and jackets never go out of style and can be a good place to cut your embroidery teeth.
Embroidered denim patches are also a great way to repair or breath new life into worn items or repurpose them as crafts when their wearable days are over. Denim embroiders well with straight or crewel stitches. You’ll need a heavier needle to accomodate the weight of the fabric.
4. Canvas (Duck Cloth)
Once again, canvas for embroidery should be 100% cotton. Canvas, or duck cloth, is heavy, durable fabric that works great for projects such as decorative tote bags. Canvas has a definitive weave, making it easy to embroider accurately.
Canvas is a heavier cloth, so make sure you choose an appropriate needle–a size 1 or 3 sharp might work– and use a thicker embroidery thread count. Canvas comes in a variety of thread counts, from extremely open to closed but still loose. You may need a backing fabric for the looser weaves.
The loose weave of canvas may also cause it to stretch a bit in an embroidery hoop. You may want to research ways to prestretch or stabilize this type of material to prevent embroidered patterns from becoming misshapen.
Wool, especially wool felt, is also popular for more craftsy embroidery projects. It’s not difficult for beginning embroiderers to use, but some stitches don’t work as well because small details can get lost in the fuzziness of the material. But wool is strong and doesn’t stretch. It works really well for appliqué or crewel embroidery with bold designs. Wool felt is popular for ornaments, so it can be a great gift project idea for beginners.
Burlap is loosely woven from jute, hemp, or other natural fibers. Burlap is highly versatile for crafters. As an embroidery material, try more unusual embroidery threads such as yarn or tapestry wool to cross-stitch, crewel or straight stitch a design.
Combine embroidery stitches with background paint, beads, ribbons, or other media with burlap to create truly unique craft ideas for around the house or as gifts. If you’re really imaginative person, burlap can help you make a big splash into the world of embroidery.
Silk is another fairly expensive fabric, but can be an excellent starting place for a beginning embroiderer who is already a sewer. The expense is really not so bad for smaller projects, such as a scarf or wall hanging.
Embroidered silk has been popular in dressmaking for centuries. In fact, there are at least 50 types of dressmaker’s silk to choose from. Silk is not the easiest fabric to work with for embroidery, however, so absolute beginners may want to steer clear.
One issue with silk is its tight weave, requiring a small, sharp needle with a very small eye. Using too large a needle can result in permanent, over-large holes. Also, some types of silk are extremely lightweight, so threads beneath the surface may show through. In that case, a backing may be needed to add strength and hide understitching.
Ramie, sometimes called ramie linen, is similar in appearance and texture to linen, but is made from the stem of a Chinese nettle called China grass. The fabric is classified along with cotton and linen as a cellulose fiber. It’s one of the oldest and strongest vegetable fibers and has been in use for thousands of years. It was even used for wrapping mummies!
Like linen and cotton, ramie is available is many weave sizes. This fabric is a little thicker than cotton and has more shine, making it a good substitute for silk for beginners. Ramie is suitable for both clothing and decor. The fabric is extremely absorbent, making it a good choice for embroidered dishcloths or towels.
9. Fabric Blends
For the most part, natural fibers are preferred for embroidery work, especially for beginners. Natural fibers offer the best weight and weave for many elementary embroidery stitches. However, there are some synthetic or blend fabrics that are suitable for simple projects. A few to consider are
- Klostern: A 60% rayon and 40% cotton blend
- Lugana: another cotton and rayon mix (52% Cotton/48% Rayon)
- Satin: Originally, satin was a purely silk fabric, but that is rarely true these days. Most satin is made from nylon, polyester, or some other blend of synthetic filament fibers. Using satin has the same difficulties as silk, except that it’s usually heavier than silk fabric. It also has a unique weave that results in “floating” fibers on top. These floating fibers can pull to the side, making some embroidery results less than satisfactory.
- Velvet: Although I’ve seen some lovely embroidery work on velvet material, I don’t recommend it for beginners. If you do decide to go for it, choose stitching that won’t disappear into the nap of the fabric. And a hoop is not recommended when embroidering velvet, as it may leave a nearly endelable mark.
10. Non-fabric embroidery mediums
It’s amazing really, the types of mediums crafters have managed to embroider over the years. Although these may not be ideal for beginners, they’re something to think about for future endeavors.
- Stitchable mesh
- Dried leaves
- Suede or leather
Embroidery Tips for Beginners
- I’ll say it again–natural cellulose fibers such as cotton, linen, or a cotton/linen blend are the best choice for beginning embroiderers. These fabrics are more forgiving and stable and will give the best results for even the simplest patterns.
- Learn the importance of thread count–how many woven threads per inch or centimeter. This is important to the type of embroidery you’re trying to learn.
- Always pre-wash natural materials. Avoid future damage to your hard work by properly preparing the fabric. Most natural fibers will have a certain percentage of shrinkage, so buy more than you’ll need.
- Use an embroidery stabilizer or backing such as Kona cotton if your fabric seems especially lightweight or your pattern uses heavier embroidery stitches. Some backings may be removable, but it’s often better to use a permanent backing that will help your work hold up over time.
- Choose the right needle and number of embroidery threads. DMC, one of the largest manufacturers of embroidery thread or floss, has a fairly comprehensive online guide for choosing the best needle for any fabric. Embroidery thread usually consists of 6 threads loosely strung together. These threads can be divided into two threads, three threads, etc., as appropriate to the project.
- Try a sample. If you’re unsure how a type of fabric will handle embroidery work or how many threads will work best, try a simple pattern on a small sample before jumping into a major project.
- Take full advantage of YouTube and website tutorials to get a clear understanding of fabrics and methods of embroidery. Don’t just watch one, as an overall view from different crafters will help you prepare yourself for a complete and successful venture.