Introduction to Hand Embroidery - Lesson One

Hello dear friends.  Over the years, I've had many requests from customers asking me to create some 'How To' video tutorials on various aspects of doll making.  So, my plan is to create a series of tutorials that you can use to refine your skills and hopefully you'll learn a few new things along the way.

Many of you already have a basic knowledge of hand and machine sewing, but for those who don't, I thought I'd begin this series right at the beginning. 

Lesson One is all about hand sewing.  It'll cover the basics, from separating embroidery threads into single strands (a skein of embroidery thread usually consists of six strands of threads) and then you'll learn a nifty little trick for knotting the thread and threading your needle.

I've also created a little embroidery project for beginner sewists which will focus on four basic stitches that, with practice, will set you on the road for the next lesson.  Once you've mastered the basics, you'll be much more confident in your ability and ready to start making your own dolls.

Stitches used in this project include Straight Stitch, Running Stitch, Back Stitch and Stem Stitch.

Materials Needed

Embroidery thread – you can use one colour, or choose a bunch of fun colours

Embroidery hoop – I prefer a hoop with an inside diameter of about 5 inches, but it’s totally up to you

Fabric – linen, quilters’ cotton or muslin work well for practicing, but don’t choose a fabric with too tight a weave as you’ll notice that the needles will leave noticeable holes in the fabric.  Your fabric should be large enough to fit within the hoop with at least a half inch to an inch of excess fabric around the edges.  For example, for my 5 inch hoop, I’d cut a piece of fabric that measures about 7 x 7 inches squared.

Needle – use one that you feel comfortable with

Disappearing ink marker or HB pencil

Sticky tape and scissors

Let's get started!

Download the Stitch Sampler Tutorial and print onto regular printer paper. 

Cut around the outer edge of larger square and tape the printed design onto a window so that the light is reflected from behind the paper.  Alternately, tape the printed template onto a light box so that the light is reflected from behind.  

Please save the Stitch Key located on the bottom of the page for reference.


Now tape your fabric square over the template, making sure to position the fabric over the design so that it’s evenly centered on your fabric .

Use your HB pencil or disappearing ink marker to trace the design onto the fabric.


Lay fabric over the inner hoop of the embroidery frame, centering design in the middle, then fit the outer ring over the top and wind screw to tighten the frame.

Separating Embroidery Strands

- To separate embroidery thread, first cut off a piece, no longer than the length from the tip of your middle finger to the inside of your elbow (this was a very helpful tip from my Nan - any longer and you'll find that your thread has a tendency to knot easier whilst sewing).
- Hold the threads firmly between your left thumb and forefinger, (right thumb and forefinger if you're left-handed), then fan the ends of the threads out.
- Pull one of the threads from either side while at the same time squeezing down on the threads between your thumb and forefinger. Voila, one strand!


Knotting Thread

- Hold the thread in your left hand (right hand if you're left handed) wrap the end of the thread around the tip of the forefinger of the opposite hand, using your thumb to roll the wound strand towards the end of your finger.  Use the tip of your middle finger to slide the knot towards the end of the strand.


Threading the Needle

- Wrap the end bit of thread around the center area of the needle.  Pinch thread between thumb and forefinger very close to the needle and slide the end out of the tiny loop. Position the eye of the needle onto the loop and squeeze it through the hole, sliding needle down the thread and bringing thread out the other side.



You're all set!  Grab your stitch key from the Stitch Sampler Tutorial and I'll show you how to do the stitches!


Basic Stitches

Straight Stitch

The straight stitch is the most basic of all stitches used in hand sewing and embroidery and it’s the foundation on which all other forms of hand sewing are based.

Video How To: https://youtu.be/6HSAqElfYeM



Insert the threaded needle up from the back of the fabric at A and then insert the needle down into the fabric at B. Bring the needle back up a stitch length ahead of B and insert again at C, and so on.

Running and Gathering Stitch

A running stitch is basically a row of straight stitches sewn along a straight or curved line.  The stitches can be evenly sized and evenly spaced or you can create different lengths of stitches with uneven spaces in between.  I mainly use the straight stitch for making little eyelashes and eyebrows on my dolls.

Gathering stitches are made in the same manner as running stitches using evenly sized and spaced stitches, but the thread is pulled firmly to create a gathered effect which can be used on the fabric, ribbon, seam binding or trim.

Video How To: https://youtu.be/fevoEEjuw8c







Outlining Stitches

Back Stitch

A stitch used primarily for outlining a design, or for sewing two pieces of fabric together.  This stitch has a slightly raised, nubby appearance.

Video How To: https://youtu.be/P4h87U6SEDM



Bring a threaded needle up through A and insert at B to make a straight stitch. Come back up at C and go down again at A to make a second straight stitch. Bring the needle up a stitch length ahead of C, then insert down at C, and so on.

Stem Stitch

The stem stitch, also known as the outline stitch, produces a slightly raised, solid line, in which each stitch slightly overlaps the previous stitch.  I tend to do mine so that they don’t overlap, just personal preference and it’s the stitch I mainly use for outlining eyes, noses/snouts, mouths and eyebrows.

Video How To: https://youtu.be/y9p91Q4x990




Bring the needle out through A. Insert the needle at B, and holding the thread down with your thumb, come up through C halfway between A and B. Let go of the thread under your thumb and gently pull the thread taut, and then insert the needle in at D, bringing it out again at B, holding the thread down with your thumb. Repeat, keeping your stitches small and neat.



You're now ready to begin a wonderful new craft which is both rewarding and relaxing!  Use the Stitch Key as a guide for sewing the stitches and be patient with yourself, practice makes perfect!💕






P.S..  Please read on if you're interested in a little back story...

Hand embroidery is really just ‘painting’ with a needle and thread.  My dear old Nan often spent hours working away on a pre-stamped embroidery design when I was growing up.  These were very popular way back when and many people would either frame their finished works and hang them on their walls, or use them as cloths for tables, etc. 

Nannykins loved embroidering and was often surrounded by oodles of beautifully coloured embroidery skeins, all sorts of needles and hoops and of course, always a nice hot cup of tea.  She found it relaxing to stitch and rewarding to see each design come to life.  I thought it was the most boring thing ever!  Only old ladies embroidered and I for one was NOT interested in learning the art.

Oh how silly I was!!  Many years later (thankfully I finally acquired a little bit of sense!) I asked Nannykins if she might show me a few easy stitches.  She was well over 90 years old at this point, but she sat down with me and patiently taught me how to sew a few basic stitches.  And then she told me to practice and practice some more.  I am not going to lie, it was not easy at first, but each time I tried, I found my stitches looking a little better than they did the last time and after a while, I noticed that my work improved dramatically with continued practice.  I was always eager to show her what I’d done and she was equally eager to see my progress.  I’m so thankful that she gave me the foundation for hand stitching that has allowed me to create the little dolls and toys that I so enjoy making!


Nannykins loved dolls just as much as I do! 💕


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