I got some requests for help with embroidering on knitwear the other day, so I thought I’d put together a list of some things to help you get started. I want to point out that this isn’t the “bible” for embroidering on knitwear, but simply a starting point to highlight what I think are basic and helpful tips. If you do have something to add that works for you, please feel free to add your tips and tricks to the comments below.
1. Get comfortable with executing the stitches on fabric first. Mary Corbet has video tutorials for many stitches on her website. Knitted fabric is lumpy and bumpy, and can be unpredictable. Being comfortable with the stitches will take away some of the frustration.
2. Use a milliner’s (straw) needle. It’s longer, and the entire needle is the same thickness. These are necessary for making great knotted stitches (bullion, french knots, colonial knots, etc). This is the pack I purchased and use the two in between sizes.
3. I use two to four strands of embroidery floss, usually two. If you use an even number of strands you can secure your strands as shown in the photo below, no knot is needed. I cut about a 36″ strand and fold it in half; it’s now an 18″ double strand. Thread both cut ends through the needle. There are other ways, but this way is my favorite. (I learned this from my cross stitch model stitcher 20+ years ago, thank you Geri.)
4. When embroidering, bring your needle through (or splice) the middle of a strand of yarn, not between knit stitches. Sometimes you can get away with going through the stitch spaces if your embroidery stitches are bulkier than your knitting, but most times the stitches will get lost between knit stitches, or worse, pull to the wrong side of the knitted piece. When working with lace weight yarn it can seem impossible to splice a strand of yarn with your embroidery needle, so put on your reading glasses or work with a magnifier. You will be happier with your work if you can see it properly.
5. I use a large cushioned quilter’s board to work on; it acts as a pincushion for quickly setting your needles into and keeps things from rolling around. I also use it to hold my piece in place when trying to create the perfect stitch. Use straight pins as you’d use thumb tacks to secure a corner, one is all you usually need. The board is also what I block my knitwear on, so it’s a great investment.
6. When ending a color, tie 3 half knots (the strands need to be coming out of different spots on the reverse side). To do this, take a tiny stitch on the reverse side and allow only one strand to pull through, now your tails are coming out of different places. Rethread the knotted tail onto a needle (this needle can be easy to thread, and larger in size) and “hide” the knot in embroidery threads or partial strands of yarn to keep the knot from sticking out. Cut your thread leaving about a 1/8″ tail.
7. FYI, there isn’t any way to draw your design on knitwear; at least none that I know of—it’s all freehand work. Sometimes it helps to draw your design on paper and follow your sketch as a rough layout. I draw circles for bullion roses, ovals for buds, petal shapes for lazy daisy stitches, etc.
8. Be willing to rip out stitches that you aren’t happy with. After years of embroidering on knits, I still quite often rip out stitches. And by quite often, I mean almost every project! Either a color isn’t working for me, or the stitch is not laying correctly on the fabric. It’s part of the process, so expect it.
9. Learn from your past work and the the work of others. What did you like, or not like about it?
10. Practice, practice, practice! Your style will start to emerge the more you practice.
In case embroidering on knits seems overwhelming to you here’s a photo of one of my first sweaters/hats from 2011; it was for Kish Bethany. I remember this embroidery being quite a challenge for me, and took ages to complete. At the time, I was very happy with how it turned out. When I look at this photo, I see numerous things that I would do differently today. It’s okay, those thoughts help us better our work.
And, here are some photos from the past year or so.
I have also made three embroidery albums in Flickr: Floral Embroidery, Christmas Embroidery, and Other Embroidery. Nothing new here, but I grouped the photos into themes and picked the photos to best show the embroidery. Enjoy!
If knitwear embroidery is something you’ve been wanting to try, I hope these tips will help you. Let me know if you have questions; I’d be happy to help.
Bye for now! Enjoy the weekend!
Your embroideries are really beautiful!!
I wish you a sunny week-end!
Thank you, Catherine. I hope you’ve had a sunny weekend. We haven’t seen the sun since Wednesday. Needless to say, it had better make an appearance tomorrow! It’s so dark, my photos are a disaster.
Thanks so much for this Cindy , your embroideries are so cute and so delicate …
Have a good day .Catherine Guérinet .
You’re very welcome, Catherine. I hope it helps someone with their embroidery. And, thank you for the compliment on my work. ❤
Hope you've had a great weekend.
Thankyou – I have so needed some guidance on this – S
ue from England
You’re welcome, Sue. I hope it helps you some. Sometimes one little tip is all it takes help clarify things. Hope you’ve had a great weekend! 🙂
Thanks, Cindy, for the tips. Do you have any tips on getting the milliner needles threaded? This is what I struggle with the most!
You’re welcome. I’m glad you found my tips helpful. I keep a tiny bit of water nearby and wet the ends first. Then, with my reading glasses on it’s not so hard. What about a magnifier? There are needle threaders, but I don’t know if they’d work on two strands of embroidery floss; it is quite thick compared to sewing thread. Thanks for commenting.
Thank you so much for tips to your beautiful embroidery Cindy, Londa
You’re welcome, Yolanda. Hope it helps you. I feel embroidery on sweaters is like icing on a cake, it makes them delicious! I hope your having a great weekend and thank you! 🙂
Great tips! I’ve only gotten as far as the beginning knot, great idea. I’m going to have to look for a quilting board too. Keeper post for sure.
Thank you so much for this!
You’ve probably heard, but some of the Modern Doll convention dolls have turned out to have dye transfer from black tights. Probably the thread used as you have mentioned before. Think Oxy Cream sales are going to go up. Does not sound nice to find on a new doll.
You’re welcome! I’m glad you enjoyed the post and will be able to use a few of the tips. I love my quilter’s board and also use it for blocking knitwear.
Yes, I did hear about the poor dolls with black staining. I haven’t made black tights since I had a problem with the thread many years ago. It wasn’t cheap thread either, but the basic Coats & Clark polyester stuff. I have a feeling, but am not sure, that it’s the polyester that causes the staining. I bought a spool of black cotton thread, but don’t have a doll that I’d be willing to sacrifice, just in case it also stained. When I make red socks and tights, I use a bright pink thread, never red, for that reason. I always wondered if my customers thought I was too lazy to change my thread when they saw the pink. For the record, it really is a thought out decision. lol
Hope it’s sunny in CA. Not here, it’s day 4 of rainy gloominess! Ugh! I’ve had enough!
I so appreciate your time with the helpful hints and tricks of embroidery! Your workmanship is impeccable. Many thanks!
You’re so very welcome! Thank you for the compliments on my work and for commenting. ❤
Thank you for posting these tips. Your work is lovely.
You’re welcome, SJ. Thank you for reading them and thank you for the compliment on my work. ❤
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Thanks for the tips. Don’t know if I’ll ever embroider a sweater of not – perhaps if I’m ever lucky enough to own a Little Darling. I DID however recently use your free pattern to knit an AG size sweater – Thank you very much!!!
I AM surprised that you double your thread over to embroider. I’m more of a sewist and former member of SAGA (although I’m sure I STILL don’t have anywhere NEAR the experience you do) and took many classes with national teachers, some of whom taught embroidery stitches – a couple that come to mind at the moment are Wendy Schoen, Judith Adams, and Jeannie Baumeister. Can’t remember which one it was now, but she drilled home the importance of the twist of the thread, especially when it came to boullion knots (I remember having an aha moment!) so if you double over your thread, you will have twists going in opposite directions, no?
I have never had the opportunity to take classes from the teachers you mentioned. That being said, I’ve also never noticed a problem with the twist of the strands affecting my stitches. I’ll be sure to give your tip a try though and see if there is any difference. It’s always nice to learn new ways, thanks.
Hi Cindy. I am glad to have happened upon this post. I could (and have!) spend hours looking through Pinterest pins of your work, they are beautiful and so inspirational. Embroidery is a weak area for me- very weak but, I have decided 2019 is going to be the year I put forth more effort. I would be happy, ecstatic even, if something turned out remotely close to your starter piece! Thanks for sharing your progress!
Hi, Jeanne. Thanks so much for letting me know you’ve enjoyed this post. Good luck with your embroidering. It takes awhile to master on knitwear, but well worth the effort. And, a little bit goes a long way.