Hand Embroidery

Don’t have an embroidery machine, but want to use something to express yourself that's a little more sophisticated than clip art? Hand embroidery is your happy medium.

It's traditional enough for those that like playing with needles and other pointy objects, but less expensive than an embroidery machine. The hand embroidery designs at Urban Threads download as PDF files, and can be traced and transferred on any fabric. So how exactly do you use them? It's super simple...keep reading!

You'll need just a couple of special supplies: a design (of course), an embroidery hoop (found at craft and fabric stores), hand embroidery thread, fabric or embroiderable item, and a way to transfer your design.

How you decide to get your design on your fabric can vary greatly. There are numerous ways of transferring a design to fabric. Most of these methods can be found in your neighborhood craft or sewing store.

I bought the run-of-the-mill “fabric transfer paper”

for my design. Easy to find at Michael's. Other options are iron on paper, transfer pens, dress-makers carbon, etc. The things to keep in mind when transferring your design are: 1) whether it’s going to be on light or dark fabric, and 2) if you need to mirror the design or not. Also check to make sure your transfer method isn’t permanent, unless you don’t care if the design marks stay on your fabric.

If you’re new to hand embroidery, pick a simple design with not too many tiny details. The difficulty level can vary with different designs, so choose one that is best for you.

Print out the design on regular paper. If you’re using a type of transfer paper to transfer the design to the fabric, place the transfer paper carbon side down onto your fabric. Place the printed design on top of it. Keep in mind when you’re placing your image that you need enough room around it to be able to hoop the fabric, so don’t put it too close to an edge.

Use a pencil, stylus, or anything firm and vaguely pointy to trace over the design. Don’t use anything too sharp, or you might punch right through your fabric. Take extra care not to let the design move while you’re tracing it.

Keeping the paper in place, pull it back now and then to make sure the design is transferring properly. Mine came out a nice pretty blue, light enough to be subtle but still visible. If you can’t see the design well enough, trace over it again.

Find a hoop big enough to accommodate your spiffy stitches and you’re ready to go.

With hand embroidery you don’t usually need stabilizer, but if you feel your fabric is super flimsy, you can use some tear-away stabilizer to help give the fabric support for the stitches.

Time to put those nimble fingers to work! Following your transferred lines, stitch away trying to follow the lines as best as possible. As for colors, it’s all up to you. Plan ahead or just play around.

Hand embroidery is nice because there’s no deep mystery to it, especially if you’re just starting out. A needle, thread, and a few knots are all you need to make your design. I used a very basic running stitch to make my little birdie. We’ll go into more fanciful stitches later, but for now, basic stitches work just fine to embellish any design.


If there are any areas you want to “fill in”, like the sparrow's little, a simple satin stitch is useful. You simply stitch across the area you’re looking to fill. When stitching, don’t come back up right next to where you went down. For instance, stitch from bottom to top, then go back to the bottom again to start your next stitch. Otherwise it’s difficult to keep those wayward threads straight.

In no time at all, you have a beautiful newly hand embellished item. When you’re all done, remove your hoop, and follow your transfer method's instructions as to the best way to remove your marks.

Some transfer methods become more permanent if you iron them, so make sure the marks are all gone before you use some heat to neaten up your fabric.

Huzzah! I now have a beautifully decorated, hand stitched pillow for those days in the studio when coffee doesn’t quite do its job. Give them as gifts and your friends are sure to appreciate the hand-made touch!

Want a printer-friendly PDF of this page? You got it, bud.
Suggested designs for this tutorial: 
Sparrow Tattoo_image
Sparrow Tattoo $1.00
2 Available Sizes:
Machine Embroidery: 4.21"w x 6.54"h | 2.48"w x 3.86"h | Hand Embroidery