Embroidery Blog

4 Decorative Stitches for Hand-Embroidered Letters

Hand embroidery can add great personalization to nearly any project. From a quilt tag to a favorite quote, there are plenty of possibilities. My personal favorite is to add monograms on anything from handkerchieves to handbags and shirts.

embroidered letters

Hand embroidering letters can sometimes seem daunting or intimidating, especially when it comes to the curves of each letter. But with a little maneuvering of the needle and floss, you will be stitching phrases in no time.

I have some preferred stitches that I enjoy using for letters and will share those with you here, but once you get into the hang of stitching letters, you will find something you might like better and it will be just as good, if not better. Let’s get started!

What kind of font should I use to embroider letters?

Choosing a font is completely up to you. I really love the way cursive embroidery looks with a stem stitch, and I think the backstitch and running stitch are stellar for print.

My recommendation is to play around with fonts and stitches until you love the look of the font with your chosen stitches. Sometimes I just open a word processing document and play with the fonts. When I find one I like, I print it off and transfer it to fabric using a light box. Then I stitch and re-stitch, until I find one I really like.

Cross Stitch Letters

Tips and tricks for how to embroider letters

One of the greatest tips I learned early on was to shorten my stitches at a curve. Keeping the shorter stitch allows you to capture the curve of the letter without an odd straight line where the curve should be. Something I really love about using the stem stitch for letters is that you can manipulate the previous stitch to give it a little more curvature as you move forward with your line of embroidery.

Quick embroidery lettering tutorial

[New to hand embroidery? You might like our free guide, The Beginner's Guide to Beautiful Hand Embroidery, which includes tips for selecting the best materials, stitch tutorials and more.]

Want to practice embroidery letters? This quick and easy exercise will help you gain confidence with this technique. Follow along!

For this tutorial, I used the same word — "Hello" — in print and cursive to show you the different stitches that work for hand embroidering letters. I used full six-strand embroidery floss to demonstrate the texture and dimension that different stitches give the letters and words. 

Back stitching letters

The standard back stitch provides a great outline in hand embroidery. This makes it a great stitch for lettering, both in a single or double layer, or for outlining block lettering.

Hello Written in Back Stitch Embroidery

To begin the back stitch, come up underneath the fabric and pull the needle and floss through. Make your first stitch, then bring the needle back up underneath the fabric a full stitch length, leaving a space between the needle and the previous stitch. Many stitchers recommend a length the same as a grain of rice. 

Backstitching LEtters

Then, as the stitch name indicates, you bring the needle back and pass through the same place as the previous stitch to create a full line. 

back stitch lettering

Pull the needle through, and move forward in the same way, until you stitch the whole letter. Using shorter stitches around the curves will help to keep the letter shape.

stem stitched letters

Stem stitch letters

This is my favorite stitch for lettering. I think it makes the letters look like twisted rope and adds a great surface dimension. Stem stitch is often used for the stems of flowers because it looks a bit like twisted vines or the stems of plants. 

To begin, bring the floss up though the fabric from the underside for one stitch. Bring the needle back up just to the side of the stitch you just made. 

how to stem stitch lettersstem stitching letters

Continue in this same motion until you complete the letter. This is a great stitch for the curves of the letters, because you can move the floss over a bit and add a nice curve to the letters. 

stem stitch letters

Split stitch letters

Just like the stem stitch, the split stitch adds great texture and dimension to the word or letters you are stitching. This works great for cursive or for print. This stitch is worked similar to the stem stitch, but instead of coming up underneath the side of the stitch, the needle is pushed through the center of the previous stitch, literally splitting the floss. This stitch gives the appearance of a plait or braid, which can make this stitch a bit elegant.

split stitch letters

Similar to the previous stitches, bring the needle and floss up through the underside of the fabric to make one stitch.

split stitch letterssplit stitch letters

Then bring the needle up through the center of the previous stitch, splitting the floss. 

split stitch letters

Continue on in the same way until you complete the letter. It will develop a braided look that is really pretty and full of great texture. 

hand embroidery for letters

Running stitch letters

The running stitch gives the appearance of a dashed line. It can be worked completely on the surface or using one stitch at a time. It is completely up to you. 

running stitch for letters

To begin, bring the floss and needle up through the fabric, then bring the needle in and out catching a bit of the fabric with each stitch. 

running stitch letter

Pull the needle through, and it creates the look of a dashed line. 

how to running stitch letters

Continue on until you complete the letter and word. 

how to hand embroider lettershow to embroider letters

These are just a few of the stitches I like using for letters and words. You might find you prefer one stitch over the other. Experiment until you find one you love!

Beginner’s Guide to Beautiful Hand Embroidery

Beginner’s Guide to Beautiful Hand Embroidery

From supplies to popular stitches, get the essentials you need to know for beautiful hand embroidery!Get My FREE Guide »

3 Comments

Pamela

Do you write out your pattern in pencil first? Does it get the thread dirty?

Reply
Rachel

There are washable marking pens and pencils you can use. always do a test strip just to make sure.

Reply
Lexie

The lettering on this is so gorgeous – I was wondering if the second ‘hello’, in the green-blue stem stitch was a font, and if you could tell me which one? (Uni design student slaving away at embroidered typography) Thank you!

Reply

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