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How Difficult is Embroidery?

Banner picture showing multiple embroidery designs by Paraffle This is one of the most commonly asked questions when it comes to getting started with embroidery. And, to be honest, I get it. The fear of starting something new often puts us off doing it. The unknown of how hard it’s going to be makes us doubt whether we should even begin.

Well, I’m here to put your minds at ease and hopefully get more of you stitching, because my answer to “How difficult is embroidery?” is – “it’s not!”. If you take embroidery right back down to the most basic elements, it’s literally just pushing a needle and thread through one side of fabric and pulling it through the other. Over and over again. And when you put it like that, it seems totally doable, no? I find this really simple description is pretty hard to deny.

Of course, in reality, the answer is – “it depends”. As with anything related to embroidery, or crafting in general, there are so many different variables at play. I’m going to talk about five of the key things to consider and hopefully make the embroidery process much easier to understand.

The type of stitch you use

I sometimes think of embroidery stitches as being on a spectrum of difficulty. From the basic back stitch, through to lazy daisy, chain stitch and French knots, there’s always an option out there to suit every level of crafter - in fact there are hundreds of types of stitches. I recommend just starting with one you feel comfortable tackling and working your way forward from there.

This spectrum is one of the reasons why my kits cover 10 of the basic stitches. I really want to help people learn and progress, as well as allow them to create something beautiful.

I’ve got a stitch guide here plus tutorial videos on my YouTube channel here if you’d like some guidance.

The design itself

Here we’re mainly talking about size and complexity. Are you starting off with a giant wall-hanging, or a small hoop? Are you trying to create a photorealistic portrait of your cat or a simple outline image? These may seem like super obvious points, but they’re important to think about in terms of context and perspective!

To remove the fear of embroidery feeling too hard, start small and simple before building your way up to something more complicated as you learn and improve.

A good place to start is with an embroidery sampler pattern - these are basic patterns that aren't difficult to follow, and primarily designed for practicing stitches with. I recently made a sampler pattern to help me test different colour schemes - feel free to use it to get you started.

How accessible the equipment is

I think it’s important when talking about difficulty to also consider things from an accessibility angle. We need to think about how easy tools are to find, how much they cost, and how physically demanding the craft is.

One of the great things about hand embroidery is that all the basic equipment is usually very affordable. No fancy, expensive machines required. Just a hoop, a needle, threads and some fabric. You can even experiment with old clothing or other textiles if you want to keep fabric costs down.

In terms of where to buy your supplies, pretty much any local haberdashery should stock what you need. You can always buy online, too, if you don’t have a shop near you. So, from that perspective, I hope you’ll agree that it doesn’t feel too difficult!

Photo of embroidery accessoriesAnd when it comes to physical ease while stitching, there are various tools out there that make things more comfortable, such as needle threaders or hoop stands. I personally use an embroidery hoop stand most of the time and it’s really revolutionised the way I sew. It allows me to have both hands free and I find my posture is better when I use it, too. For anyone who may experience joint pains or back issues, it’s an ideal solution for making embroidery feel less challenging.

The colours you choose

Still talking tools, but focussing just on threads, colour choice is also something to think about. And, once again, there are a couple of things to consider. Changing thread colours is very straight forward – all you really need to be able to do is master how to start and then tie off your stitching (watch my tutorial for tips here). It sort of goes without saying, though, that having only one colour will make your life even easier. No risk of running out of a particular colour for part of your design or getting things mixed up. Just one colour. Simple! Something else to think about when choosing colours, is how reliable the supply is. If you go for a limited-edition colour, for example, you’re upping the risk levels from the get-go. No one wants to be caught without enough thread midway through a make, only to find that it’s impossible to get more! I know it’s a bit of a worst-case scenario situation, but I just wanted to point it out so you know to be prepared. Stock up with plenty of thread and it won’t be a problem. Or, play it safe and start with easily available, permanent collection colours that you know will always be easy to find. If you want to know more detail about thread selection, I’ve put together an extensive guide here.

If you've already tried Cross stitch

Without a doubt, one of the most common questions that comes up within the conversation about whether embroidery is difficult is – “I’ve done cross stitch before, can I do embroidery?” My answer is, of course, yes! While they’re not exactly the same, there are plenty of similarities and I’m convinced that the crossover can be easy. Here’s why.

You’ve already got stitch experience
This point takes me back to that initial rationale of - if you can pull a needle and thread through one side of some fabric, and push it back through the other, then you can embroider! Any experience with hand sewing tools and materials will stand you in good stead to try a different variation.

You have basic pattern knowledge
Most cross stitch tends to follow a strict pattern. There’s a lot of stitch counting and precise positioning. If your first foray into embroidery will be using a pattern, then this will be the perfect introduction as you’ll already understand stitch descriptions and colour coding, for example.

Embroidery gives you more freedom
Most cross stitches are done on fabric with grid-like weaves that make it easier to create even crosses. Embroidery fabrics are usually a much tighter, less obvious weave. From a difficulty level, you can take this in one of two ways – easier because it allows you more freedom to place your stitch wherever you want, or harder because of said freedom!

I personally just find that embroidery opens up so many more style options. Obviously with cross stitch you can still get super creative and come up with something new, but at the end of the day, every finished piece will have that recognisable, somewhat tapestry-like look.

Embroidery can have so many different outcomes. Some people just start stitching and see where it takes them. There’s some really awesome abstract embroidery art out there, for example. It’s all about giving it a try and seeing what suits your creativity. And of course, you always have the option to follow an embroidery pattern if you want a bit of structure.

I also think embroidery gives you more freedom to make mistakes! With cross stitch being so regimented, a single miscount can throw off the entire design and lead to a whole lot of unpicking. Embroidery can be more forgiving, both in terms of ability to adapt your design, and how easy it can be to unpick. The grid structure of cross stitch fabrics can also get distorted if you have to do a lot of corrections.

So, it turns out that answering the question “How difficult is embroidery” requires a little more than just saying “it’s not”! I hope this has been helpful, demystified key parts of the process and armed you with all the necessary things to think about before you start. That way, when you do get going, you’re prepared for success and things won’t feel difficult at all.

Most of all, what I really hope shines through is that, whatever your situation, I’m certain that there’s a stitching solution that can work for you!

1 Response

Carol Collison

Carol Collison

January 24, 2022

I am finding it difficult to get the needle through the transfer paper .
Have you any tips .I am a fairly experienced sewer and find it takes much longer to do even simple stitches.
I wonder what I am doing wrong.
Paraffle Embroidery replied:
Hi Carol, thanks for your comment! The paper does make the fabric feel a little thicker – but there’s a few things that can help! Make sure that your fabric is as tight across the hoop as possible – if there’s extra give in it, then it’ll be harder to get your needle through. Check your needle tip too, just in case there’s any adhesive stuck to it that might be causing extra drag. Otherwise, I find that using something to hold my hoop, like a hoop stand, can take most of the strain for me and makes it feel much easier! Let me know if you have any other questions – happy to help!

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