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Hand Embroidery: Haute Couture Your Designs

Hand Embroidery: Haute Couture Your Designs

Understanding Embroidery

Embroidery is the art of decorating fabric using a needle and thread or yarn. Apart from these materials, metal strips, quills and beads can also be incorporated in this artwork. It can be used on almost anything, including hats, coats, shirts, dresses, stockings, just to name a few.

Embroidery requires skill and patience, and so is a true mark of hand-workmanship and quality. It is no surprise that there has been a huge resurgence in the technique within high fashion. So, if you’d like your work to stand out as a Haute Couture thing of beauty, why not think about incorporating embroidery into your designs?  Here are the essentials to help you achieve Haute Couture panache.

Oscar De La Renta Spring Summer 2014

Oscar De La Renta Spring Summer 2014


Graham and Green

A Brief History of Embroidery

According to historians, embroidery has been with us for millennia. In fact, the art form can be dated way back to almost 500 BC! It is believed that the need to make and repair pieces of cloth gave rise to the sewing technique. It is also thought that the more embellished, decorative patterns were used as a show of social status, and a form of honouring one’s religion.

The decorative possibilities soon gave rise to the art of embroidery. According to Elizabeth Coatsworth in her “World Textiles” book, a garment which dates back roughly 300- 700 CE (annoyingly without accompanying photo), shows edges of trimmings which are reinforced with stitches including: back stitches, running stitches, stem stitches and buttonhole stitches. It is not clear whether this stitching was functional, as a way to reinforce the fabric, or if it can be interpreted as decorative embroidery.

One interesting thing about embroidery is that it has never changed over all the years it has existed! There have been no changes or developments of techniques. It is astonishing that even when embroidery was considered “primitive”, the stitches and embroidery technique itself never differed. These early works indicate a high level of technical and refined craftsmanship.

As embroidery began to be regarded as a sign of status, particularly in the Muslim communities; it also became a very popular art. The embroidery industry recorded phenomenal growth. The traditional techniques were passed through generations with some communities gaining recognition for their embroidery skills.

Types of Embroidery Stitch

There are various types of embroidery stitches. These range from the very basic ones (which every beginner should learn) to the very complex.

Here are a list of easy beginner stitches:

Running stitch

The easiest stitch of all!  Pass the needle from the back to the front at regular intervals.

Running Stitch

Back Stitch

Back stitch is great for outlining the shapes which are to be filled using other types of stitches such as the satin stitch (see below). Pass the needle up at 1, down at 2 and up at three. Work from right to left filling in the gaps.

Back Stitch


Blanket Stitch

Blanket stitch is often used as an edge stitch. It gives really gives garments beautiful finishing touches and can be seen regularly on authentic Scandinavian clothing and soft furnishings. Bring the needle out at 1, down at two and up at 3. When you bring the needle up at 3 make sure the thread is looped under the needle.


blanket stitch

Cross Stitch

A very traditional and beautifully effective decorative stitch. You can do individual crosses or they are also great for filling large areas close together.  Bring your needle up at 1, down at 2, up at 3 and down at 4.


cross stitch

Satin Stitch

The Satin Stitch is ideal for filling in shapes. It just requires stitching really close together in a shape. Bring needle up at 1, down at 2 and up at 3, as close to the last stitch as you can.

satin stitchSatin Sitch Method

Other types of embroidery stitches include: cable, chain stitch, split, herringbone,stem and Bosnian stitches.  The trick with stitches is to keep the spaces and size of your stitches constant. Having said that, many textile artists exaggerate different stitch lengths and spaces to create a haphazard, dramatic effect.


Types of Embroidery

While there are different types of stitch, there are also different types of embroidery altogether. These usually require one of or a combination of the embroidery stitches above, to create different patterns. The following are some of the most common types of embroidery:

  • Cross stitch is normally two diagonal stitches which make an X sign on a piece of fabric. One stitch is made over each square in a fabric. Cross-stitch is called “counted”, so each stitch is uniform, ie. the same length and distance apart. To help the stitcher, this style is often done on an easily countable evenweave fabric called aida cloth – many Offset Warehouse shoppers like to use our hessians for this stitch because of it’s lovely open weave, which is very easy to count.

cross stitch

  • Sashiko Embroidery is a type of Japanese embroidery where a running stitch is used to create a repeated pattern. Originally, sashiko 刺し子, which literally translates to “little stabs”, was a form of decorative reinforcement stitching, reinforcing areas likely to see lots of abrasion, or to repair wear and tear with patches. Now, this running stitch technique is often used for purely decorative purposes in quilting and embroidery. A white cotton thread is used on a traditional indigo blue cloth. This is what gives sashiko its distinctive appearance, though decorative items sometimes use red thread.


  • Blackwork Embroidery is thought to originate from Spain. It involves using a black thread on white or natural fabric to create distinctive patterns. Nowadays, designers are not restricted to the specification, and there has been a shift to other colours as well.

black work

Bluework Embroidery involves using a blue thread on a natural or white colored fabric, it can be worked on any embroidery including cross, crewel or surface.

Redwork embroidery involves using a red thread on a natural or white fabric; it is common in different surface and cross stitch embroidery and has been used in traditional embroidery since the coming of the stable dyes.

  • Crewel embroidery is a form of decorative art which features animals, and even people, arranged in a flowing, fanciful and repeating pattern. Wool is always used for the stitch, and is mostly worked on woolen and linen fabrics. Usually, an outline is created, and then the colour is filled in with a “free” stitch technique, so the stitches aren’t exact or calculated beforehand.The origin of the word ‘crewel’ is not clear, but some say it comes from an ancient word describing the curl in the staple, the single hair of the wool. Crewel wool has a long staple; it is fine and can be strongly twisted. Modern crewel wool is a fine, 2-ply or 1-ply yarn available in many different colours. Crewel embroidery was used to create the Bayeux Tapestry!



Bayeux Tapestry Crewel Stitch

Example of Crewel embroidery: the Bayeux Tapestry


Crewel Embroidery

Georgian example of Crewel embroidery, thought to be used as a seat cover.

Header image and embroidery techniques by Jaime Greenly. 

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  • Fantastic post! I loved reading about the history of embroidery and your diagrams are great visuals. I love embroidery, and it takes a lot of time and patience to make these beautiful designs.

    • Love that the art of embroidery is respected and cherished! Anything that is created by hand should be more valuable than anything that is made by machine. I hope that is stays valuable.

  • […] Repairing a seam is fairly straightforward and simply requires you to resew the seam and catch your fabric a little further into your garment. For more details take a look at this great article from the Guardian’s how to mend series – How to Mend a Ripped Seam. The way that you should repair a seam will alter depending on whether you are mending by hand, or you are using a sewing machine. For those that prefer to use a machine, you can use a running stitch for woven (non- stretch fabrics) and a small, zigzag stitch for jerseys (stretchy fabrics). If hand stitching, you will probably prefer to backstitch. […]

  • […] You may have an interest in sewing and want to encourage your children to have a go to, or your kids have expressed an interest themselves. Whichever way, just go for it!  Get some fabric and a needle and thread and teach them some basic hand stitches.  (If you need a few pointers check out this article on Hand Embroidery.) […]

  • […] We also have rug makers, quilters, and fibre artists who use the yarns for wall hangings, murals, embroidery work, blankets, and macramé. It is a very versatile bunch of yarns, and the artist can advertise […]

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