An Embroidery Sampler Is Your Ticket to Better Stitching

embroidering hoop Embroidery samplers are fun to make and retro in the coolest possible way. The oldest surviving European versions date all the way back to the 1500s, and they played one basic role: showing off stitches and demonstrating skills. While samplers still serve that purpose — like the mandala sampler from textile artist Kat McTee’s class Startup Library: Hand Embroidery — now they double as beautiful hoops all on their own, and are more likely to score a spot on the living room wall than get stashed away in a drawer. There are two main types of embroidery samplers: the more common band sampler, which has designs, motifs and designs worked in lines, and the spot sampler, which has small vignettes worked randomly in spots all over the fabric surface. One of the best things about embroidery samplers is they aren’t confined to any set rules or patterns. Think of them as a playful learning tool, a record of your stitch mastery, a useful way to explore threads and fabrics, and an excellent method of honing techniques and discovering your own favorite (or less-than-favorite) stitches. The sampler is kind of like scratch paper, except the end result can be absolutely beautiful — and something you’ll definitely want to frame.

What You Need

Whether you have a specific plan for your sampler or you’re just randomly exploring, you’ll save time by thinking ahead about the embroidery supplies you’ll need. First up: your pattern. You can buy a sampler pattern or even design your own, like the freeform map sampler from artist Robert Mahar’s class. From there, you’ll want to keep these tips in mind when shopping.

Pick Your Fabric

No matter what you’re embroidering, you need to choose a ground fabric that will support your stitches and show them off without being distracting. A medium weight, high thread-count linen is usually the best bet. Because linen is resilient, it’s less likely than cotton or cotton-poly blends to show wear and tear if you do any “reverse stitching,” a.k.a. tearing out a section of stitching. Linen also stands up better to heavy, dense stitches, like long and short stitch.

Choose Your Thread

DMC, Anchor floss or perle cotton are a better (if slightly pricier) choice than generic craft threads. The well-respected brands tend to deliver a happier overall experience, and you’ll usually avoid the fraying, knotting, pilling and breaking that can happen with low-quality threads.

Grab the Right Needles

For general surface embroidery, crewel needles (also called embroidery needles ) are a must. If you’ll be experimenting with various weights or thicknesses of thread or fabric — like when embroidering on denim — you’ll need to have a few different needle sizes on hand. Also take into account any specialty stitches that might need different needles — bullion knots, for example, call for milliner needles.

Decide On a Hoop

Embroidery designs typically look better when you work in a hoop or a frame with the fabric pulled taut, as it helps prevent your material from puckering. If you’re just getting started in embroidery, a simple plastic hoop is all you really need. Another option is a wooden hoop with sturdy hardware, making it easier than ever to tighten that fabric.

Top Tips for Samplers

detail of embroidery sampler Whether you’re working your first sampler with basic embroidery stitches or making one that’s a bit more complex, keep these pointers in mind.

Don’t Let Stitches Scare You

Some stitches are more difficult than others. For instance, there’s a big difference between stitching a backstitch and learning how to pull off the perfect French Knot. But don’t let the more advanced stitches scare you — with patience and practice, you’ll be able to stitch anything.

Keep Experimenting

Playing around with stitches is such a fun part of creating your own embroidery sampler. Give yourself tons of leeway to experiment with the sizes, spacing and orientation of stitches, and try out different types of threads to see how they look and behave with various stitches. Ask yourself questions and explore the answers as you go. How does a stitch look when you work it with a single ply of floss? What about with 6-ply? With wool or silk instead of cotton? What will happen if you combine two stitches? What will it look like if you mirror two rows of that particular stitch? How well does a stitch work on a curve? How can I make that stitch turn a corner? Be curious!

Be Free

detail embroidery stitches on sampler As you explore stitches on your sampler, you’ll get more and more comfortable with taking risks and your embroidery will benefit from all that confidence. The more surefooted you get, the more freedom you’ll feel and the more fun you’ll have as you go. And that’s the whole point, right?
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66 Responses to “An Embroidery Sampler Is Your Ticket to Better Stitching”

  1. Alex Austin

    I’ve read your blog. It was really fantastic and the way you described it is also professional. Will love to read your incoming blogs too, really appreciate your work and dedication.

  2. Lesley Palmer

    am trying to improve me stitching as havent done embroidery for many years

  3. Suzanne McCann

    to the embroidery realm . thank you for the colored illustration/ embroidery sampler.

  4. Barbara

    I would love to get any free samplers that I could to try to get refreshed on doing embroidery. I am self taught with a little help from my grandmother. Then purchase other projects to do.

    • Nina

      Hi. I’d love to refresh and relearn embroidery, I used to spend a lot of time with my grandmother making my clothes very pretty! Thank you

  5. Gaynell Bowie

    I see that you have a lot of different types of stitches (The English version, but do anyone of your Instructors have any classes in Chinese Embroidery?!? I would also like to have that free Embroidery Sampler (I haven’t done that in years and I’m out of practice)!?!

  6. Gaynell Bowie

    I see that you have a lot of different types of stitches (The English version, but do anyone of your Instructors have any classes in Chinese Embroidery?!?

  7. Catherine F Wingfield-Yeatts

    I bought the 12 days of Christmas to do with cross-stitch. I think I will end up doing one a year, so as not to get overwhelmed. That will be my sampler!

  8. Mary

    I love embroidery. I don’t know when or why I stopped doing it. Lately I have wanted to find instructions on what I learned in elementary school. THe teacher called it Swedeish Embroidery. I looked on Amazon and the ratings of the lower priced books were poor and the one the had the highest rating was around $100. Has anyone have any suggestions?

    • Marylyn

      Have you tried your library? Thrift Books is an on line seller of used books with great policies and accurate assessment of the quality of the books they are selling (eg how much wear or underlining that may make the book unacceptable)

    • Kathy

      Mary, I would try your library. You can call them. I have found them most helpful. If you find a book you like, you can then order one. Hope this helps you.

    • Pat G.

      Maybe what you are looking for is huck weaving. I think I have heard it called that. You can also try Googling it and click on images and see what you find for free.

  9. Marilyn Withers

    I have always loved and admired the sampler made by very young ladies so beautiful and technical