Hand Embroidery Basics

Hi, welcome to the Sew Jewish page for hand embroidery basics. Here you’ll find information about equipment as well as how to begin and end your stitching. You’ll also find a separate page showing how to sew particular embroidery stitches.


Floss: For most Sew Jewish patterns and kits, I use cotton embroidery floss. You can also use polyester.

Needles: Choose a size 5-10 embroidery needle, also called a crewel needle. The eye of the needle should be large enough for the thread to pass through, and the shaft of the needle should be small enough that it doesn’t leave visible holes in the fabric.

Hoop: An embroidery hoop holds the fabric while you stitch. To hoop the fabric, start by separating the smaller and larger pieces of the hoop. Lay the fabric over the smaller hoop. Push the larger hoop down over the smaller one, catching the fabric in between. Make sure that the hooped fabric is taut and that the threads lie neatly horizontally and vertically. If the hoop is of the type that needs to be tightened manually by turning a screw on the side, do that now.

Tip: Embroidery scissors, which have narrow blades and sharp points, are convenient for snipping the ends of the thread. They also come in handy when cutting the fabric from the center of tzitzit holes on a tallit.

Beginning and Ending

Cutting Single/Double Threads: Embroidery floss comes in skeins of six threads twisted together. Without untwisting the six threads, cut a piece that is 18”-20” (45-50cm) long. If you are going to embroider with a single strand, pull one thread from the six. Pulling down on the other threads and twisting them a bit between your fingertips helps. Thread the strand into the needle and pull it through at least a few inches or whatever length is comfortable for you as you stitch.

If you are going to embroider with double threads, remove two threads together. Thread them into the needle at the same time, or at least starting with the same end, so that the twists run in the same direction to create the best effect when you embroider. The diagrams in the Sew Jewish patterns and books usually show one thread, so just treat the doubled thread as if it’s a single thread as you work.

1. Beginning: Anchor the end of the thread by holding it close to the wrong side of the fabric and working it into the back side of the first few stitches.

2. Moving Between Sections: Avoid carrying the thread from one object to another across the fabric. Instead, begin embroidering each object with a new thread. However, you can move from one point of a design to another point that is only a short distance away without starting a new thread by bringing the needle to the wrong side of the fabric and weaving the needle and thread between the fabric and stitches.

3. Ending: To end a set of stitches, leave a few inches (10cm) of thread. Pass the needle and thread to the wrong side of the fabric and weave the remaining thread into the back side of the last stitches. Trim the thread.