The Very Basic Embroidery Tools: Needles, Fabric, & Thread
First… embroidery needles. To most people needles are needles, but if you really examine them you’ll find that there are differences from the sharpness of their points, their length, thickness, size of eye, and sometimes even the shape. These differences are designed with purpose to give your project the best result.
While there are some hand embroidery projects where blunt needles are better suited, for the most part, embroidery needles (aka crewel) are typically sharp with a long oval eye, and they come in different sizes. The higher the number the smaller the needle which affects the size of the eye and needle thickness.
When selecting the size needle you want to take into consideration how many threads you’ll need to pass through the eye and the weave or thickness of your fabric.
Things to Check For
- Make sure the number of threads can be accommodated by the eye so its not crammed or too loose.
- When you pass your needle and thread through make sure it doesn’t leave too large of a hole. If it does try a thinner needle.
- In contrast, if you’re having to put a little extra effort into getting your needle and thread to pass through your fabric it will fray your thread prematurely. This can happen if your fabric is too thick or the weave is too tight. In which case, you may need to reconsider your fabric or select a thinner needle. It could also be that your needle is too thin thus creating a hole that isn’t large enough for your thread to pass through. Try a thicker needle in this case.
- Before you thread your needle check the tip for burrs on the tip. It’s rare but it happens and it can cause some snagging so it’s always best to check.
There’s no perfect formula for choosing your needle & everyone has their own favorite, but with a little experimenting you’ll find what works best for you.
Fabric for Embroidery
When it comes to fabric, there are so many options! You just need fabric that is strong enough to handle the ins and out of your stitching needle without tearing or fraying your thread.
You also want fabric that is taut, not stretchy. Most of the time you’ll want fabric with a tight weave, although I’ve seen some embroidery work created with loose weave fabric. For starters, I would recommend sticking with a tight weave. Tried and true fabrics are cotton, wool, and linen. Felt is also fun to work with but it’s not as tight so it can warp your shapes a bit.
By the way, you can also embroider on paper but it can tear easier and you’ll have some limitations on what stitches you can use. A thinner embroidery needle will also work better if you decide to give it a try.
A little experimenting will get you closer to finding your favorite combination needles and fabric! My experimenting led me to loving the #6 DMC embroidery needle which I often use on linen cotton canvas or cotton fabric.
As a beginner you can grab a collection of embroidery threads on Amazon for a bargain! That’s how I started but I also recommend picking up a few DMC embroidery threads so you can compare the quality. DMC thread is by far my favorite as I absolutely love their vibrant colors and they tend to hold their shape much better but the first set of threads I purchased when I began worked beautifully as well. Still, DMC is my first choice.
Most embroidery threads come with 6 strands and if you look closely you’ll be able to see that they’re twisted together. You can use your threads as it is with all 6 strands or you can separate them for more delicate stitches. I usually use anywhere from 1 – 4 strands depending on what look I’m going for.
Before I show you how to separate your strands, it’s important to mention that because embroidery thread can fray easily you’ll want to cut off a length that is both manageable and durable.
If you’ll be doubling up your thread by folding it in half and knotting the ends together then you can cut about an arm’s length of thread to do so. If you like to knot just one end and keeping the end near the needle loose then you’ll want your thread to be the length of your lower arm.
Keeping your thread length as such means you’ll be threading your needle regularly as you work but it’s well worth it as it.
How to Separate Strands
- Hold the thread about an inch from the top and gently tap the end with your finger to loosen the strands.
- Gently pinch your thread about an inch away & hold it there as you separate a few strands off to the side.
- Continue pinching your thread as you pull those strands gently out.
- You’ll see the thread curling up below your hand as you pull the strands with the other. This is what you want. Go slow until your strands are completely out.
- Run your fingers over your strands to straighten them out a bit. I sometimes like to separate all of my strands and then bring them back together to remove as much of the twists as possible.
- Once you’ve separated your strands and threaded them into your needle just tie a small knot at the bottom and snip off the tail. If you leave the tail it could accidentally be pushed up into your embroidery as you work. You can simply pull it back out but it’s just easier to take this extra step at the very beginning.
This technique usually works without a hitch but once in awhile you’ll encounter a tangle. This is why you want to go slowly so you can fix tangles if they happen.
If you’re thread is an arm’s length, you’ll use this same technique but you’ll find that it’s much easier to start from the center of the thread. Hold the center of your thread, separate the number of strands you’d like, and pull your strands out on one end using the same technique as above. Then pull them out from the other side.
Once you’ve done this a few times it’ll become really easy and you might actually find separating your threads to be fun & relaxing like I do!
These are the very basic embroidery tools you’ll need as a beginner along with your scissors and the optional hoop, and for more on supplies take a peek at my post where I go over more.
To see how it’s done I made a little video tutorial. Watch until the end because I’ll also show you how to thread your needle without a threader.
❤️ You’ll be stitching in no time!