Choose your fabric and a simple pattern. Fabrics made from 100% cotton, such as calico, are the easiest to embroider on for beginners. Remember most patterns are copyrighted and their uses can be restricted so check carefully before using them. There are many free patterns available from talented designers, though as you learn from your new craft you may very well start creating your own designs to use, as I do for some of my hand embroidered cushions.
Trace your pattern onto your fabric using a sharp dressmakers pencil or washable marker.
I use a disappearing marker (or fade away) for my embroidery as I found that sometimes the traced design did not disappear without vigorous washing which is not always practical. You may very well not be able to see the design clearly enough by simply placing it underneath your fabric. If not you can use a well lit window. Tape your pattern to the window pane with masking tape and then tape your fabric over the top. Make sure the design and your fabric are both straight and stretched taut. This will make tracing a lot easier and your design should be clearly visible. Some crafters use a light box to illuminate their pattern but I found these are very expensive for occasional use. Dean made me a simple light box from scraps of wood with a Perspex top and an energy saving bulb within.
Place your embroidery hoop onto your fabric. The fabric should be taut. Always remember to take your fabric out of the hoop when you are not working on it. I always used wooden embroidery hoops until a friend lent me a plastic hoop. I find these hold my fabric much tauter but every crafter has their own preference including lap frames and for larger projects floor frames.
Choose your coloured embroidery threads to compliment your design and fabric. Most embroidery thread, also known as floss, is made up of 6 strands. Use 2 or 3 strands. I always wash red threads before using them as I find they have a higher tendency to bleed. I then rinse the threads with a mild vinegar solution to ‘set’ the colour fastness. I also always use good quality thread such as Anchor or DMC as snagging is less frequent and they are much easier to sew with. I would highly recommend avoiding using metallic threads until your experience has built up and your patience has increased at least tenfold! These threads although very beautiful are very difficult to embroider with due to their delicate make up.
Always, always use a sharp needle!
Crewel needles are used for most embroidery stitches, as the sharp point & large eye make them easy to work with. They are medium- length and are used for embroidery on plain weave fabric. Choose a needle that takes the thread easily. Whilst a small needle will help to keep your work fine, if the needle is too small for the thread you will find it hard to pull the thread through the fabric. Thread your needle and start to embroider using your chosen stitch. I start my embroidery within the main colour area, unlike cross stitch in which you should start work from the centre.
Backstitch is a very simple stitch to master for beginners which I will add instructions on how to do in a later guide.