6 Tips for Choosing the Right Hand Embroidery Fabric

Blank embroidery ring

Floss often gets the spotlight in hand embroidery, but the fabric that floss is stitched on is just as critical to the finished look of your project. The right background fabric (or “ground”) will support and showcase your gorgeous stitching. But if you use the wrong kind, you can stretch, pucker and even distort your design, ruining all that hard work. Continue reading to learn tips for choosing the right embroidery fabric.

So if you’re not a fan of unpicking hundreds of stitches (and we’re guessing you’re not), here’s how to choose — and prep! — the best foundation for your floss every time.

1. Know Your Thread Count

Just as in bed linens, thread count (the number of threads in one square inch) matters in embroidery fabric. The difference is that we’re looking for a lower number so that the weave isn’t too tight. (If it is, it’ll be tough — possibly even painful — to do your stitching.) Generally, fabrics with thread counts under 150, such as muslin, cotton, Aida, linen, Flour Sack and Osnaburg, will allow you to pull a needle and thread through without any problem.

Good to Know Some of our favorite embroidery fabrics are muslin and Osnaburg (both cottons): Osnaburg has a neutral color, which allows you to embellish it with all sorts of brightly-colored flosses, while muslin comes in natural unbleached or bleached white. Both have looser weaves (though muslin is a bit tighter), making them winners for hand embroidery.

2. Go Au Naturel

You can keep your clothes on, but look for fabric made from natural materials, like cotton, linen, silk, wool or a blend of these. Natural textiles tend to be soft, yet are sturdy enough to support decorative stitching. Plus, they have fibers that run both horizontally and vertically, which allows a needle to easily pass through. With synthetics, your needle may perforate threads, causing it to fray over time.

3. Consider Kona for Quilting

If you’re hand embroidering a quilt, you can’t go wrong with Kona (or “quilters”) cotton. It’s lightweight, will stay taught in a hoop, and has an embroidery-friendly 120 thread count. It’s also less sheer than other types of cotton, which means your stitches won’t show through.

4. Pre-Wash to Avoid Puckering

Always launder your fabric before you start stitching. This tightens up the weave, making sure it’s consistent across the panel. It also pre-shrinks the fabric, which is key if you’ll be incorporating your embroidery onto a shirt, quilt or other fabric project that may get washed.

5. Stabilize the Situation

If you’re planning to make any heavy or layered designs — or you’ll be embroidering with beads, buttons or other accents — consider adding a stabilizer or interfacing to the back of your ground fabric. This will make it strong enough to handle heavier stitching, but won’t change the look of your project.

6. When in Doubt, Try It Out

Really, the best way to choose a fabric is to pick up a few samples, do some stitching, and see which one works and looks the best for your particular project. Every textile you try adds to your embroidery expertise, and pretty soon you’ll intuitively know which fabric is the right choice.

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10 Responses to “6 Tips for Choosing the Right Hand Embroidery Fabric”

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    I've read your article. Honestly, I've never read this type of informative and efficient article before. I love to read your incoming blogs too. Really appreciate your work and dedication. We have <a href="https://crystaldigitizing.com/usa-digitizers-embroidery/">online embroidery digitizing </a> to fulfill your digitizing needs.

  2. dienw

    For needle painting and very fine embroidery, you absolutely need a thread count higher than 150!. 200 count is the minimum recommended for this, whether it is calico, cotton satin, linen or otherwise.

  3. Maty

    Great advice, thanks!

  4. cindy gatz

    haven't done any embroidery since High School...lol 40+ years...need a knew hobby, as TV

  5. Frances

    Embroidery on linen napkins, absolute beginner

  6. Helen Rodriguez

    This was the most helpful info I have found yet.

  7. Anita Zhang

    My name is Anita Zhang from An Shen Manufacturing Ltd., We are a manufacturer for the arts and crafts for more than 44 years since 1976, with headquarter in Taiwan and factories in China. We learn from your website that you carry many Cotton Bag, Embroidered Cotton. We specialized in manufacturing the Cotton Bags, Embroidered Cotton, and we can ship these from India to you. If this is not your responsibility, please help to forward it to the person in charge. Many Thanks.

  8. Linda Hampton

    thanks for the help, I want to try out some more advanced stitches so this is a good start

  9. Norma Hamilton

    I am anxious to see what I already have in my library

  10. Norma Hamilton

    I have a library but forgotten what I have. I could not deal with the other company so I am anxious to see what I have and go from there.