Embroidering with Yarn: How to Do It and What Type of Yarn to Use

how to embroider with yarn

We generally think of DMC or similar embroidery floss on woven fabric when we think of embroidery. But yarn is also an excellent thread medium, especially for crewelwork. And heavier yarns allow greater depth and unique color options for all kinds of materials.

Yarn quickly fills fabric with generous, dimensional designs with fewer stitches. The weight and color draw the eye. Yarn can be used on woven fabric or knitted/crocheted garments, blankets, or wraps to create an artistic statement and fashion flair. 

Best Yarn for Embroidery

Many sizes of embroidery “yarn” are designed for crewelwork and needlepoint. Smaller-weight knitting/crocheting yarn (sizes 1-3) can substitute for wool yarn in some cases. But even heavyweight yarn can be used to create larger, unique designs.

If you’re considering embroidering with any size yarn, an instructive crewel embroidery book would be a worthwhile investment. Basic crewel stitches can be adapted to any yarn embroidery project.

Some of the more common embroidery yarns include:

  • Crewel yarn: Most crewel yarn is 2-ply wool, though there are acrylic varieties. The yarn can be separated for finer details. There are also finer, 1-ply crewel yarn options.
  • Persian yarn: Persian is the most popular wool yarn for needlepoint. It comes in loosely-twisted hanks with hundreds of color choices. Again, more economical acrylic versions are available, but some quality will be sacrificed.
  • Tapestry yarn: This heavier, tightly-twisted 4-ply yarn cannot be separated. Tapestry yarn is ideal for heavy needlepoint canvas, filling the space without a need to double the thread. Either Persian or tapestry yarn can be used to embellish knitted/crocheted items.
  • Lightweight knitting yarns: Lightweight yarns can be used with many fabric mediums, from table toppings to denim clothing. 

Needles, Fabrics, and Stitches

As with any embroidery, woven fabrics work best. Canvas cloth, Aida, needlepoint canvas, cotton/linen, Irish linen, linen twill, or twill weave wool are excellent choices for yarn embroidery.

It is essential to match fabric weight with the yarn used. Use heavier yarns with sturdier fabric, finer yarns with lighter weights and tighter weaves. The same applies to knitted/crocheted projects. Fine machine knits should be embroidered with a more lightweight weight yarn to prevent pulling and stress on the stitches.

Use as large a needle as the fabric and yarn can both handle. A tapestry, chenille, or crewel needle is recommended for needlepoint and loose weaves. A yarn needle is a practical choice for hand-knitted/crocheted pieces.

Crewel stitches are the popular choice for yarn embroidery, although some regular embroidery stitches cannot be ruled out. When changing from thread to yarn, simply make the stitches larger. How big depends on the pattern and yarn weight. 

For those already familiar with basic stitches, the following are some to consider for yarn designs:

  • Split or satin for filling spaces
  • Stem or Backstitch for lines
  • Couching for applying cord or other embellishments
  • Lazy daisy for flowers
  • Fishbone for leaves or other curved spaces
  • French knots for accents and fillers
  • Basketweave for filling needlepoint or canvas spaces

Yarn Embroidery Uses

There are unlimited possibilities for yarn in the embroidery world. Almost any fabric can be embroidered, and woven or sturdier materials can easily support the extra bulk of yarn products. Bold embellishments can be added to canvas bags or even shoes. Denim jackets and jeans are certainly fair game. Pillows and kid’s hats and clothes call out for a splash of color and style. 

Consider any of the following embroidery styles with yarn.


Crewelwork has already been mentioned several times in this article because of its ability to completely fill empty design spaces. Traditional crewel patterns include nature, floral designs, and intricate art nouveau created with 2-ply wool yarn. 

Flowers and animals are probably the most common crewel designs. But not all animals and flowers are crewelwork. Stylized patterns cover many personal preferences, from cartoonish to realistic, and combine crewel with other embroidery stitches and styles.


Needlepoint is a more defined embroidery style. It requires a needlepoint canvas and stitches to create a textured motif. The yarn size depends on the canvas size, but 3-ply yarn is generally the largest yarn used with needlepoint canvas.

Large Designs

Large, simple designs on canvas or other woven fabrics are quick and easy when using yarn instead of thread. Even beginners can find filling in block letters or simple shapes doable. 

Cut your simple design out as a stencil, then transfer it to the material with a fabric pencil or marker. Use as large an embroidery hoop as can be fit comfortably inside the bag or article of clothing. Use a satin stitch to fill in the design. Insert the needle between warp and woof stitches to help stitches lie smooth and even. 

Giant Stitching

Impressive embellishments can be created by using extra-large backstitching to outline a large design. The stitching can be in a single color or several, or use a variegated yarn. 

Use a needle large enough for the yarn that will still pass between the fabric weave without piercing it. Draw or trace the design on the fabric. Woven fabric works best, or a machine or hand knitted item can also be embellished this way.

Knot the yarn on the backside and backstitch the design using at least 2X the normal-sized stitches. Giant stitching can be used to add a stylized initial or a favorite animal outline as a personal touch.

Yarn Scrap Embroidery

If you’re looking for a way to use up a lot of little balls of leftover yarn, consider using it for a scrap embroidery project. Use a large weave fabric to embellish a pillow or create placemats or other home decor. 

You don’t even need a pattern for this one. Be creative. Use varying colors to create a loose design of whatever you choose: flowers, shapes, or writing. Improvise a unique border or add patches of designs. Group related colors together, or keep it completely random. It’s up to you.

Cover a shopping bag with motifs of fruits and veggies, or stitch the names of kids or grandkids on an apron. There’s no limit to the ideas. Although woven materials work best, don’t feel limited to them. 

Choose a needle that can handle the medium you’re using. And if you’re embroidering a knit material, use stitches that will not limit movement. Add a fusible backing if you need to add stability for your embroidery work. 

Punch needle yarn work

Punch work requires a punch needle and accessories. Punch art is a unique way to use up more significant amounts of scrap yarn. Online tutorials offer plenty of helpful hints for controlling the yarn and preserving your fingers from a very sharp, very large needle. 

Punch needle embroidery also works best with a large-weave fabric. It creates a tapestry-like stitch, and different textures can be used for a three-dimensional effect. Once you get the hang of it, the punch needle method moves along very quickly, easily filling large areas.

The density of the stitches keeps punch needlework from unraveling, but it’s also bulky, so this type of crochet is best for wall hangings or other displayed art.

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