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sewing 101: ombre embroidery sampler

by Brett

There are so many great things happening in the embroidery world these days. Gone are the old-fashioned needlepoint projects of yesteryear, replaced with a new crop of fantastic modern stitchery that ranges from quick, trendy patterns available for purchase on sites like Etsy to some amazing fine art pieces by a new generation of textile artists.

If you’ve been thinking of dipping your toes (or should I say fingers?) in the world of embroidery, it’s a very easy craft to take on. The supplies are minimal and inexpensive, small projects can be surprisingly quick to complete and embroidery lends itself to experimenting and doodling, so don’t be afraid to give it a try. In this post I’ve put together a simple guide showing some of the most basic embroidery stitches you could use to get started, which I’ve worked up into an ombre sampler, but you can use these stitches for just about any kind of embroidery you dream up. — Brett Bara

See the full how-to after the jump . . .


  • linen or cotton fabric, enough to fit your intended frame or hoop plus several extra inches on all sides
  • embroidery hoop
  • embroidery needles
  • sharp scissors
  • embroidery floss (in an ombre range or any color selection you want for your project)


Threading the Needle

To get started, the first thing you’ll need to do (after putting your fabric into the embroidery hoop) is thread your needle. If you look closely at the embroidery floss as it’s packaged, you’ll see that each strand is made up of six threads of floss. Very often, the strands are separated out for actual use. If you were to embroider with all six strands together, it would make a very thick and heavy stitch; it’s most common to work with fewer than all six. As a rule, I tend to work with three strands of threads, which I think gives a nice weight for most projects. So separate out your strands and thread three of them through an embroidery needle. Tie a small knot at one end and leave the other end of the thread dangling from the needle.

Back Stitch or Outline Stitch

My favorite, most-used embroidery stitch is the Back Stitch, aka the Outline Stitch. It makes a nice basic line, which is ideal for outlining images, writing words and letters or just drawing freeform lines.

To make this stitch, bring the needle up through the fabric from the back to front at point A. Insert it back through the fabric at point B, about a quarter of an inch from point A.

Next, bring the needle back up about another quarter of an inch from point B, at point C. Finally, insert the needle back through the previous stitch at point D. (You want to insert it right through the thread of the previous stitch.)

Repeat the last step as many times as you like.

The result is a solid, connected line of stitching.

Chain Stitch

The chain stitch is great for any type of embellishing, especially creating borders. To work this stitch, bring the needle up through the fabric at point A, then insert the needle back into the fabric at point B, which should be almost the exact spot as point A, just right next to it. Bring the needle back up at point C, which should be about a quarter inch away from points A and B. Be sure to loop the tail of your thread under the tip of the needle as it comes up at point C (this is what creates the loop we’re trying to achieve).

Pull the thread closed, and you have a little loop. To continue, keep working the same steps as above, always making your points A and B right next to each other (they’ll be just inside the little loop on each stitch).

Here’s how a line of chain stitching will appear. When you’re ready to finish off your last stitch, just make a tiny stitch over the end of the last loop to tack it down.

Feather Stitch

Feather stitch is a larger stitch that takes up more fabric space and works up quickly; it’s great for borders and embellishments. To work this stitch, bring the needle up at point A and back down at point B, which should be about a quarter inch away from A. Then bring the needle back up at C, and place the working thread under the tip of the needle as it comes up at C.

Pull the thread, and you’ll have a little V shape.

To work the next stitch, insert the needle as you did in point B in the step above, and continue as you did previously.

Stagger the orientation of point B on each stitch so that it moves from the right to the left of point A. That gives you this stitch’s distinctive feather-like appearance.

Cross Stitch

Cross stitches are a great all-purpose stitch that can be used for lettering, drawing a shape or outlining a project. To work cross stitches, simply make a row of lines slanted at 45-degree angles, all going in the same direction.

Then work your way back across, crossing each line in the other direction to make the Xs.

Then just keep practicing these stitches, in any order you like, to complete the sampler.


When your stitching is done, all that’s left is to finish off your piece so you can display it. At this point, you could frame the piece and hang it, sew it into a larger project (like a pillow or quilt square), or just frame it right in the embroidery hoop, which is what I’ve done. For this method, simply trim your fabric all around the hoop, about 2″ from the hoop itself.

Then work long, loose stitches (about 1″ long each) all around the edge of the fabric.

Pull the two tails of thread and gather the fabric in, which will keep it tucked in place and hidden from view. (Tie the two ends of thread in a knot.) You could cut a piece of felt slightly smaller than your hoop and stitch it to the fabric at this point, to hide all the raw edges, but you could also leave it like this and no one will know!

And that’s all there is to it! Happy embroidering!

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