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Hand Embroidery Inspiration with Amy Barickman of Indygo Junction

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Hand embroidery isn't just for Jane Austen movies anymore. The art of tracing out designs with hand stitches has been making a comeback among those who grew up with most everything made by machine. The little bit of imperfection you try to avoid in other kinds of sewing is what makes hand embroidery so unique and stylish. It's a relaxing hobby. It takes minimal equipment. And it's quite easy to learn the basics... especially when you have someone like Amy Barickman to guide you. Amy's latest book, Stitched Style is the perfect resource for someone who wants to start the craft as well as for advanced embroiderers looking for new ideas. Today we have a mini-tutorial from Amy.

Stitched Style includes 20 projects and 65 hand embroidery designs to trace or iron-on transfer. Amy's inspiration for the book came from her personal collection of vintage bandanas with their wonderful paisleys, florals, and folk art geometric designs. It's the same influence that brought about her SoHo Bandana collection, which we used recently for our Reversible Pillowcases and Woven Border Pillow

While designing SoHo Bandana, Amy realized she wanted a heavier material to use with it, and her Crossroads Denim line was born. This beautifully soft and wonderfully vibrant fabric is used throughout Stitched Style as its texture is perfectly suited for embroidery. 

Embroidery: An Extremely Brief History

During the Regency period (early 1800s) when Jane Austen set her novels, a woman's skill with the needle was a significant measure of accomplishment. Jane herself was no slouch when it came to embroidery. One of her relatives said, "Her needlework, both plain and ornamental, was excellent, and she might have put a sewing machine to shame." It's ironic that now the most expensive new sewing machines advertise "hand look stitches" as a sought-after feature. 

Exactly how old is embroidery? It's hard to say because textiles don't survive thousands of years. There's evidence it was used widely in ancient civilizations from China to Babylonia to Egypt, and probably originated in its current form before 3,000 BC. Skill in embroidery was considered a god-like quality. The Greek goddess Athena could strike down evil giants as well as do wonderful needlework.

From the classical age on, the aristocracy set themselves apart with their finely embroidered robes. One of the greatest works of early medieval France is the Bayeux Tapestry. It's a 230 foot piece of embroidered linen, which depicts the events leading up to the Norman conquest of England. In Renaissance England, when colorful clothes and big frilly collars were all the rage, the Jacobean style of embroidery reached new heights of detail and precision.

Fast forward another 200 years to Jane Austen's day, when among the upper classes, embroidery was even more popular than Angry Birds is today. If you were sitting, you were busy with your "work." As you can imagine, the embroidery pieces from this time are simply stunning.

1930's Embroidery Design by Anna Zumaris

Our grandmothers and great-grandmothers embroidered tea towels, linens, doilies, just about anything that wasn't nailed down. But with more sophisticated sewing machines, handwork saw a marked decline. Today, with the popularity of all things handmade, it's becoming a trend once again.

Embroidery Equipment: The Basics

You can do embroidery with any old needle and colored thread, but you probably won't be happy with the results. Hand embroidery needles are specially shaped with larger eyes and the specially-milled thread you use is called floss. You'll also want to get a simple hoop for holding your work and some other basic necessities, all of which can be purchased on a modest budget and will fit in a small box. Amy explains what you need and why in Stitched Style.

Current Embroidery Trends

What's fun about hand embroidery is that you're only limited by your imagination, from the very formal Modern Jacobean to the kind of grungy art you might see on a tattoo. 

Here are a few of the major stitch categories:

Appliqué - sewing a decorative piece of fabric onto a larger piece of fabric. 

Crewel - a type of decorative surface embroidery arranged in a fanciful, flowing design or repeating pattern.

Cross Stitch - a composite stitch consisting of two diagonal stitches that form an "x" on the fabric.

Sashiko - a form of Japanese folk embroidery using the basic running stitch to create a patterned background.

Redwork, Blackwork, Whitework (shown above), Bluework - use of a single color of thread for a particular open style of embroidery.

All of these can be used for traditional, modern, folk, or even edgy skater-style designs. In Stitched Style, Amy shows you how to use a number of them right away. 

T-shirts with clever designs are very popular in trendy boutiques. People are paying $30 and up for a basic cotton tee with a simple line art design. You can easily knock-off a similar design with needle and thread for a one-of-a-kind fashion piece.

When you're starting out, you want to think small. Amy's book has project instructions for little business card cases, glasses cases, headbands, wrist bands, and other kinds of accessories that look great with just a few designs. 

Of course, embroidery on denim is huge. A few single color paisley motifs across the shoulders of a denim jacket or down one leg of jeans are very cool. And Stitched Style includes a number of these larger scale projects . 

Amy Barickman's Hand Embroidery Starter Tips

Are you inspired to try your hand at hand embroidery? Let's start stitching! Although there are a myriad of embroidery stitches, Amy has selected four simple ones to demonstrate here, which work beautifully in a variety of patterns and applications. She also explains a few supply basics. 

Perfecting today's four commonly-used stitches provides a great start to your skills. Once you’ve mastered these, try your hand at new ones, until you have a whole library at your fingertips. This is where Stitched Style is the perfect resource with 20 projects and 65 hand embroidery designs to trace or iron-on transfer.


  • Embroidery needle pack
  • ½ yard of foundation fabric: any woven fabric will do; linen, cotton, denim, etc., we suggest the fabulous Crossroads Denim.
  • 1 small hoop
  • Embroidery floss

Using an embroidery hoop

An embroidery hoop holds the foundation fabric taut during stitching so stitch tension can be kept even and consistent. Hoops can be made of wood, plastic or metal and are available in many different sizes. Most hoops have a screw on the outer ring to adjust the fit of the fabric. 

  1. Place the foundation fabric over the inner ring of the hoop. Center the fabric so there is at least a 5" border all the way around the hoop. 
  2. Place the outer ring over the inner ring, adjusting the screw on the outer ring so it fits snugly over the inner ring and the fabric.
  3. Move slowly around the hoop, pushing the outer ring down while pulling the fabric taut. 

Preparing the floss 

Although there are many varieties, cotton embroidery floss is the classic choice. It's made of six strands of loosely twisted, slightly glossy thread. You can find several brands of floss at just about any major sewing and craft outlet (both in store and online). Traditionally, the skeins are available individually or in color packs. When using this type floss, you will often separate the threads from one another, depending how thick you want your stitching line. 

  1. From the skein, pull out and cut a length of floss no longer than 18". 
  2. Separate three strands of thread from this length. Thread these three strands through your needle.
  3. To secure the floss at the start of the stitching, leave a 2" tail of floss on the wrong side of your foundation fabric. Hold the end of the floss tail with one hand under the area to be stitched. With the other hand (your dominant hand with the needle), wrap your stitches around the tail. Continue wrapping your embroidery stitches until the floss tail is covered and secured by the stitches on the wrong side of the fabric.

Basic Running Stitch

The basic running stitch is one of the easiest outline stitches.

  1. Bring the needle up at 1; down at 2.
  2. Pick up several stitches on the needle before pulling it through. 

Straight Stitch

A straight stitch can be of any length and worked in any direction. It can be used to cover straight design lines or scattered for an open filling. 

  1. Bring the needle up at 1; insert it back through at 2.
  2. Work as many stitches as needed for desired design.

Stem Stitch

The stem stitch is primarily an outlining stitch, but is often used to create stems in floral designs as well. 

  1. Working from left to right, bring the needle out at 1. Insert at 2 and exit a half stitch length back at 3. The distance from 1-3 and 3-2 should be equal. Repeat the sequence. 
  2. Note that point 3 of the previous stitch is now point 1 of the next stitch. The needle emerging at 3 is coming through the hole made by the thread entering at point 2 of the previous stitch. 
  3. As you make your stitches, always keep the floss attached to the needle and below the row of stem stitches, as shown in the illustration. This insures the floss wraps over the stitch correctly each time.

French Knot

A French knot is a textured, raised stitch. This is one stitch you might need to practice a bit before you get the hang of it. 

  1. Bring needle up at 1.
  2. Holding the floss taut with one hand (your non-needle hand), wrap the floss around the needle twice as shown.
  3. Gently pull the floss so the twists are tightened against the needle.
  4. Carefully insert the needle near point 1 and pull through. Be sure your continue to hold the floss tail taut.
  5. Scatter knots as desired within your design area. 

Finishing your embroidery

To secure your floss at the end of your stitches, tie a small knot. 

When you are completely finished with your embroidery, lay your embroidered piece wrong side up on a clean white terry towel on the ironing board. Press the fabric from the wrong side. The plush nap of a terry towel protects the embroidery stitches from being flattened when pressing. 

Trim the foundation fabric to the finished size needed for your final project.



Comments (86)

stephanie uk said:
stephanie uk's picture

I am a very experienced hand embroiderer and have loads of books but my books are very specialised goldwork,Heraldy etc.......My grandaughter (now 8yrs old) is facinated by what I produce and wishes to learn to sew herself.....With my books being too advanced for her your new book would be ideal as she can learn to embroider and get on with her own projects (with a little help from grandma).....She is already asking to join sew4home as she loves your site as do I.

Klester78 said:
Klester78's picture

I love hand embroidery as it is so relaxing to sit in a comfortable glider, music or just nature to listen to. I work with patterns or just random stitches worked together such as for embellishing crazy quilts, embroidery on clothing, and counted cross-stitch. 

sweet pea said:
sweet pea's picture

I'm a machine embroiderer who would love to expand her creative horizons with some hand embroidery as well.  Love the way hand embroidery adds a delicate appeal to vintage linens.

eh.struble said:
eh.struble's picture

I've only ever cross stitched to a pattern but I love folk art free stitching and sashiko. It'd be awesome to learn how to do those!

GrannyTo8Boys said:
GrannyTo8Boys's picture

I have been embroidering since I was 13.  I love to embroider flowers on everything.  This combines 2 of my favorite things into one. 

JudyW said:
JudyW's picture

I love all forms of hand embroidery. Each one has its own purpose and where it looks best. I get great pleasure from doing embroidery and admiring that of other people. I love to collect the needlework-edged and embroidered linens of days past, everything from the simplest uneven cross-stitch to the delicate and perfectly stitched. I enjoy imagining the women who might have made them when I look at them.

mandip said:
mandip's picture

I like to hand-embroider. I've tried different styles & am currently finishing a hankerchief that my grandmother started when my grandfather was in World War 2.

mandiprout80 @ gmail dot com

Kaddyshack said:
Kaddyshack's picture

I admire and love looking at all kinds of embroidery.  Right now, the only style I really know is cross-stitch, but I'm starting to branch out and would love to win a copy of this book to give me more ideas and inspiration!

Chris's Poodles said:
Chris's Poodles's picture

I love hand embroidery! I'm working on a set of bluebird pillow cases now. I don't have any books about embroidery and would love to win one! Back in the day I made my husband a "Keep On Truckin" design on the back of a denim shirt, those guys looked pretty good there.

Mary Jane Waggoner said:

I have embroidered for years andI love the embroidery of the old fashion roses on pillow cases and I enjoy the beautiul machine embroidery. I am always amazed when I have completed a project and look at the finished product and can hardly believe I made it!  I admire the hand work Amy has presented, she is an expert!


Melissa G. said:
Melissa G.'s picture

I have been doing hand embroidery since I was a child (idle hands  . . .) I would say my style is folk art. I really enjoy doing red work.

debrajwebb said:
debrajwebb's picture

I enjoy all embroidery designs and styles am especially fond of crewel embroideries, appliqués and tapestries. I love creative designs and styles from all eras. I like using mixed medias supplies from my stash such as cotton, wool, satin, silk and metallic threads and a variety of fabric backgrounds, embellishments and trims like sequins, crystals and beads. I started hand sewing and embroidering when I was a young girl and have renewed my passion for these artisan crafts! This great prize would help me be more successful in my home studio! Blessings! ;-) <3 

christine b said:
christine b's picture

I like the new simple embroidery patterns.  The simplicity of what's available is wonderful.  It used to be that all you could find were the days of the week with cows.  

katsit said:
katsit's picture

My mom taught me to embroider table linens & pillowcases as a young girl - I still have some of them. As a 70s high schooler, of course, I embroidered denim shirts & purses! Hand embroidery always warms my heart & right now I like very simple but modernized folk art designs.

Kathy A said:
Kathy A's picture

My mom taught me to embroider table linens & pillowcases as a young girl - I still have some of them. As a 70s high schooler, of course, I embroidered denim shirts & purses! Hand embroidery always warms my heart & right now I like very simple but modernized folk art designs.

bluetwigg said:
bluetwigg's picture

My favorite kind of embroidery is sashiko, although I like the colorwork, too. And this book is timely! I've been looking for an intro to embroidery, since I find that lately I want to embellish my knitted items with it.

khaila009 said:
khaila009's picture

I used to love all the embroidery my grandmother did. It makes me proud I can carry on her tradition and maybe pass it on to my daughter. I like doing traditional decorative stiching on clothes and towels and such.  I would love to win this book. I can be contacted through my email which should be attached to my login. Hope that's right

SONJA HANSEN's picture

Learning to hand embroider was how my love for sewing began.  And, it is still very portable!

SW said:
SW's picture

I just started embroidery about a year ago. I suppose what I do is applique. It's quite addictive.

LLBell said:
LLBell's picture

I love to add hand embroidery to my quilting and hand knit items...makes them really stand out as one of a kind! I really like the look and unique ideas that Amy has and am looking forward to trying several in the near future! Thanks for the opportunity for a chance to win her book!

cburroughs said:
cburroughs's picture

As a child, we used to hand embroider pillowcases. You know these, the pre-printed kind! My mother made two twin size quilts for our beds, both hand embroideried. (And yes, I still have mine!) But, with the purchase of my sewing/embroidery machine, I have found I really love the precision of machine embroidery. Hand work has never been my cup of tea. But I have hand embroidered on my daughter's jeans to give them a high end look.....and it worked! The simple sort of hand embroidery. All of her friends want those jeans. Needless to say, I see more of it my future!

Louise Marie said:
Louise Marie's picture

Embroidery has been my least favored of all the needle arts. However, i recently picked it up because i just do not like the precision that the machine exhibits. The artistry is just not there for me when every stitch is perfect. Don't get me wrong, i know that some people can stitch as well as a machine. For instance, the pediatric surgeon who operated on my son's head left stitches that i thought were done by machine! That was thirty years ago. So, this year, with all the new colors and the ability to stitch anything the heart desires, i am developing an attraction for embroidery that I have never had. In fact, i want to get as proficient at embroidery as possible so that i can teach my little granddaughters. Just an aside, those French knots are still giving me heck!

BonnieB757 said:
BonnieB757's picture

Love this work and am looking forward to adding handwork to some of my current wardrobe.

Lorijean13 said:
Lorijean13's picture

I love the "modern Jacobean" style of embroidery.  The stitching can be random and quickly add personalization to your projects. Thanks for the inspiration.

Cindyld said:
Cindyld's picture

I was taught embroidery by my Grandma's and Mom, so my style is probably simple. I prefer to take tiny stitches, and do it all by hand, no machine. I love both multi-color designs, and simple one color designs. I would like to find a jean jacket for spring and embroider modern designs on the back. I would love to win the giveaway, and really need to get the book somewhere.

lydianna said:
lydianna's picture

I love to applique children's clothing and then embroider on top of that.  Makes for very sweet outfits that are a pleasure to see them wear.  There is a little red jumper that I created for my daughter that I would love to recreate for my granddaughters.  But I am drawn to all textiles, all embroidery and love love the old stuff.  It is so finely drawn and stitched.  Am sometimes tempted to incorporate these old textiles in a new piece but have a hard time cutting into them even when they are not wearable as is.  

iambuzzyma said:
iambuzzyma's picture

I have been embroidering since I was a child, but I still like very simple designs, especially birds and flowers.  I am also a quilter and recently started embroidering flowered scenes on 8 inch squares which I will evetually border with sashings made of 2 inch colorful   squares.  They will then be assembled into a quilt top.

auntbarky said:

Back in the 70s, I embroidered and cross stitched everything, especially denim and chambray. Then when my children were born, I cross stitched their clothes and Christmas stockings. I love the folksy type and really do hope to pick it up again. 

Diana W. said:
Diana W. 's picture

I have loved and done counted cross stitch for years!  I also do alot of embroidery and some crewel work and enjoy every single one of them. I am loving the look of the patterns in her book!  I have also been looking at the Sashiko needlework style for several months. I am planning to do a couple fo pillow covers for our bed when we redo our bedroom. I hope I win, but congrats to whoever does!


ELNM said:
ELNM's picture

I like modern geometric embroidery or ethnic-inspired styles.  Can't wait to see this book!  Many thanks!


lanslady said:
lanslady's picture

I am learning machine embroidery right now but would love to relearn hand embroidery.  I used to do much more by hand when I was younger.  The projects in this book are lovely!

asimplehomestd said:
asimplehomestd's picture

I'd have to say that blackwork/redwork is my favorite ... and whitework is awesome too!  I really like the Sashiko style - I'd like to try that.

Linda O'Neill said:
Linda O&#039;Neill's picture

I think I'm having a flashback. My mother taught me how to embroider and that morphed into other needlearts. But I stopped and now seeing this book has made me want to pick up a needle and start stitching again. The projects look fun and contemporary. How perfect. This book will be a great addition to my library.

Jennifer Suits said:
Jennifer Suits's picture

I love primitive folk art stitching, and crazy quilt stitches.

Leesa said:
Leesa's picture

I love all kinds of embroidery both hand and machine.  I like to collect old hand embroidered items like pictures and linens.

tenajl said:
tenajl's picture

I enjoy doing crewel, counted cross stitch, bargello and just being creative with hand stitchery.  I once made a quilt for my daughter with each block designed to represent something about her.  The individual blocks were all hand embroidered, the quilt was sewn together and hand quilted.  It was a lot of fun to do and she loves it.  

labedaelaine said:

I love to hand embroider. The reason is that hand embroidery looks like art. Machine embroidery looks the same to me. I love the flow of a person's hand when they embroider. Any 2 people can hand embroider the same pattern and it will look different. That is what I love about hand embroidery. You can see the passion in the stitches. It is my great love. I try to learn new stitches all the time. I always let my project "tell" me what kind of stitching to do. Thanks for the chance at this lovely book. labedaelaine@gmail.com

Rosalie Jean Young said:
Rosalie Jean Young's picture

I learned embroidery (self taught) when my first husband, a Marine, was away on long deployments.  It's very calming and I love to gift others with my embroidery.

lummikat@yahoo.com said:
lummikat@yahoo.com's picture

I think embroidered items are so beautiful. . . I especially love the Jacobean type of designs.  And I really like that embroidery is used to add beauty to objects that are used everyday. .   towels, clothing, bed linens,  not just special occassion or display items. Hand embroidery on clothing was popular in the '60's too.  I don't care much for machine embroidery but I do see that the machine embroidery now is much nicer than it used to be.

Jane Coombs said:
Jane Coombs's picture

I have been putting together an embroidery kit to give my niece for Easter. I have a huge number of plain white handkerchiefs she can practise on.

I go through fads with this art form. When I heard about Semamori, I had to put a mandela on my grand daughter's t-shirts. I made a couple of reverse applique T shirts for "lil sis" and "big bro." On an extended travel trip I embroidered a backgammon cloth/board which I still use.

Embroidery is good creative fun and instantly satisfying. Don't forget to park your needle!

sandra l massey said:
sandra l massey's picture

I love the time it takes to make a project. I'm a tradionational stitcher and this is a great offer. Tea towels are some of my favorite work.  :)

GranChris said:
GranChris's picture

I am a traditional embroidery person. I learned a very, very, very long time ago. I like the towels I still do them to tell you the truth.

lmeisenheimer said:
lmeisenheimer's picture

I enjoy all forms of hand embroidery, especially cross stitch and doing floral designs. I just began teaching my daughter to embroider so this article is timely.

Billie Petty said:
Billie Petty's picture

My sister brought me a slouch-type bag from Italy about 10 years ago. The bag has folk/Indian style embroidery on it which I really love. I've been trying to learn to create my own purses and bags and love to incorporate embroidery in the same style. Haven't quite mastered it yet, but am still working on it. I'm always looking for embroidery tutorials of all kinds. I really enjoy doing embroidery.

dstitchgal said:
dstitchgal's picture

I have been doing machine embroidery for the last several years, but lately have been wanting to try hand embroidery again.  Need hand projects to take traveling, etc. and will have to get out supplies and try again.  Thanks for the great tips.