Question: Any Tips for Learning Embroidery?

Needlecraft Projects for the Nerdist Hosts

The lovely Nicole (@nlentine) asked if I had any tips for learning embroidery. I sure do, as long as you promise to remember that I, too, am a beginner. The sum total of my embroidery and needlepoint work (minus two small kits) is up here; you'll note it totals five projects. I am not speaking from a point of authority on needlecraft here; however, I am a serial self-teacher of craft. That, I know.

Here's a general piece I wrote over on the Nerdist site about the methods I use when learning a new craft.

The Best Way: Find Someone to Teach You

Obviously, finding someone to teach you is ideal, but where do you find such a person? I lucked out big time, in that there is a lovely needlecraft boutique, Rittenhouse Needlepoint, a block from my work. My lucky streak continued; I happened to stop in on a Friday after work, when they had an open project "happy hour." I bought a small kit and one of the owners sat me down with a lovely cup of tea and taught me the basketweave stitch. It was all I needed to execute the project vision I had in my head.

Now, I recognize that most people won't have access to a needlecraft boutique with a patient owner, but all is not lost. Here are some places where you may have luck finding someone to teach you:

  • Craftster City Guides: Craftster is a fantastic website for finding and sharing project ideas on any craft you can imagine. Besides hosting boards for each craft, they have city guides organized by country (and then by state). Put up a post asking if anyone knows of organized classes, or if anyone is willing to teach you one-on-one.
  • Local craft store: The big box craft stores like JoAnn's and Michael's host classes on different crafts. Even if they don't have an embroidery class posted, ask at the customer service desk. They are in touch with local craft teachers and may be able to recommend someone (likely one of their employees). Avoid asking questions on Saturdays around noon when they are full of coupon-shoppers that need 9 yards of fabric cut from 6 different bolts. I've found that I get great service on weekday evenings when they aren't busy.
  • Ravelry message boards: Ravelry is an online knitting community with fantastic, responsive message boards (you need to register to access the content). While it is a knitting and crochet community, most of the users are into multiple crafts. Find the message board(s) for your city and ask for help finding a teacher.
  • Skillshare: This is going to be a big-city option, but Skillshare is rapidly spreading across the country. Dedicated enthusiasts (like you!) teach classes. If you don't see a class on embroidery, send a tweet to @Skillshare and they'll send the request out to that city's followers.
  • Craigslist: This is a crapshoot, but Craigslist does have a crafts section under the discussion forums. Good luck and may the crafty force be with you on that one.

But I'd Rather Teach Myself

Me too. Learning a new craft is problem-solving at its best: I have a vision in my head that I want to create and I have a vague idea of the materials involved—now, go! If you've elected this route, I'd like to refer you back to the methods article on the Nerdist site.

YouTube is full of videos on crafts. I looked through a handful before settling on Mary Corbet's Needle 'n Thread videos. The videos are clear and her instructions are detailed. It gave me the knowledge necessary to make The Walking Dead project for Jonah, which is a mix of the back stitch and the stem stitch.

Needlepoint-For-Fun has a good video on the basketweave stitch, which is the only stitch I used for the Doctor Who/007 project. She has a good set of diagrams for basic stitches on her website.

I'm a big fan of learning crafts from books, but I don't have any embroidery or needlecraft specific recommendations. If you do, or have any resources, please post in the comments below.

A Few Miscellaneous Tips

Pay attention to the stretchiness of your fabric. Proper needlepoint fabric like Aida cloth isn't stretchy, but knit material like t-shirts is very stretchy. It's easy, as you're working on a t-shirt, to accidentally stretch the fabric. Your design will end up skewed and puckered, and it will make you sad.

To avoid the sadness, use a piece of fabric stabilizer on the back side of your project. I draw my project in reverse on the stabilizer, then pin it in place, making certain my t-shirt isn't stretched out. This helps minimize the puckering. You'll find the stabilizer behind the cutting counter at the fabric store. There are a dozen different kinds; just ask the lady cutting your fabric for advice on which one to purchase. (I didn't use iron-on stabilizer because I was lazy, but it might be a good choice to hedge against puckering).

Embroidery floss is really cheap, so buy a bunch in your color even though you won't use much (I only used two skeins for The Walking Dead picture). The Doctor Who/007 piece used yarn from the needlepoint shop. Sadly, I don't have a much advice on picking Aida fabric and yarn; the nice folks at the shop talked me through my entire purchase.

Good luck! If you make anything, send me a picture! If you have experience with embroidery and needlepoint, I'd appreciate any advice you have to offer; share it in the comments.