Hand Embroidery

hand embroidery

When most people think of Victorian times, they think of hand embroidery. Ladies, in the Victorian age, loved to beautify their homes and showcase their artistic talents as well. Hand embroidery was one of the easiest arts to learn as it can take only a few simple stitches executed with precision and flair to make a mundane item look exquisite. Of course, those who excelled in the needle arts continued to learn, experiment, and develop new stitches, new styles and new uses for the myriad of fancy stitches available. Unlike today, machines were not widely used. If used at all, they were used to make clothing and not much else

Hand embroidery was considered a must for any female to know. Girls were started at a very early age on the practice of sewing and other fancywork. Most girls would make an embroidery sampler which usually consisted of the alphabet or a verse from the Bible. Women's roles in society were rather limited. Embroidery, and other fancy needlework, became a perfect way for women to express themselves as well as keep themselves occupied.

To see some of the hand embroidered items Victorians loved to make, check out the links below:

Victorian Fireplace Screen

Fireplace Screen

Victorian Apron

Victorian Aprons

cross-stitch sampler

Embroidery Samplers

narcissus table runner

Narcissus Table Runner

embroidered piano cover

Piano Cover

Victorian fireplace mantel lambrequin

Fireplace Mantel Lambrequin

VEAC place holder


Ladies not only had to learn the various stitches but other factors that affect the outcome of any hand embroidery done. These include:


If the embroidery silk does not work smoothly and looks rough on the linen, the embroiderer's hands or her needle may be at fault. In every case the difficulty is pretty sure to be attributed to a fault in the silk or needle, because everyone is more ready to find a defect in some external object than in themselves, and this makes it most pertinent to draw special attention to the fact that the embroiderer should take care of her hands - to keep them as smooth and soft as possible.

Choosing the correct needle is very important. The best needle for hand embroidery is one which has a smooth eye that allows the silk plenty of play, without pulling it to pieces or roughing it in the least. Be sure your needle is adapted to the size of the silk.

To see more about making the proper choice of needle, see Choosing the Right Needle and Choosing the Right Size Needle for Embroidery.


Victorian ladies needed to make their own tracing paper and perforated patterns before they could transfer their embroidery designs to fabric. Here are the instructions they followed to make their perforated patterns. It will make you very thankful that today we just need to walk into a fabric or craft store and pick up colored tracing paper and a tracing wheel!


Once the pattern was made, a solution or powder of some sort needed to be pounced on the holes created by the needle to transfer the pattern to the fabric. Victorian ladies needed many different methods based upon what type of fabric they were using and what color the fabric was. Here are some stamping pattern methods very popular at the turn of the century.


Embroidery hoops are also an important piece of equipment. It is equally true that many small pieces of work do not require that use of embroidery hoops, and that most of the larger pieces cannot be nicely done without them. They keep the work from drawing and are an assistance in shading, because an embroiderer cannot observe the shades properly, if obliged to hold her work in her hand. To learn how to decide which hoop, if any, is best for for your project, see Embroidery Hoops.


Selecting the right kind of silk or floss can be confusing. Here is some information for 1898 that might just help you out. Selecting Embroidery Silk or Floss.


In doing hand embroidery there are some points, by the observance of which it is possible to add much to the attractiveness of a piece of work.


After drawing a thread from the skein, pass it lightly between tip of forefinger and thumb, to assure yourself which way the twist runs. This can easily be distinguished with very little practice, and upon this depends the regularity of your shading and the smoothness of your work. Insert the thread in the eye of the needle so as to have the twist seem to run down from the needle. If the opposite end of the thread is inserted in the needle, then the thread will be drawn through the linen against its twist which causes roughness and knots.


Never knot your thread, as it causes the work when finished to have a lumpy, rough appearance. Fasten the thread by running it in the cloth or sewing it over and over on some portion of the material that is to be covered by the work. In finishing up a needleful of silk, fasten it in the same way, always clipping the silk short, else it will work to the surface and give a ragged appearance. Never bite the silk, as it pulls and gives it a drawn look.


The leaf or petal which laps under should be worked first. Some begin at the center of a petal and work out, others at the edge and work in, and still others begin at the base and work up. Whichever way is most convenient will become your way, for solid embroidery always allows wide scope for individuality. A simple method is to begin at the base of the leaf or petal and, after making a line of stitches up the center, work to the right until the right half is finished; then going back to the base again, work to the left until the other half is completed. If the work calls for delicate shading, begin at the base and gradually work upward on the whole leaf or petal until completed. Some outline the veinings first and fill in around them, but the better way is to put such veinings as may be necessary in last, over the finished leaf.


The question is often asked as to how petals and leaves can be worked so that they will not seem to run together. Many hand embroiderers make each leaf and petal stand out distinct from the rest by outlining its edges. This treatment raises the work and develops its lights and shadows better than the flat treatment. It should be noticed, however, that this outlining can raise the work only moderately and that the work is padded with White cotton or silk when very high effects are to be produced.


Shading must be done so artistically as to leave no sign where one color begins and the other ends. This is easily done by running the stitches of one color well up into the other, so as to leave no decided line where they meet.


A common question asked is "Should a single or double thread be used?" This is what the Victorian experts had to say on the subject of the Single vs Double Thread dilemma.


After all the time it takes to nicely embroider an item, not to take care of it would be a shame. Here are some hints on how to wash your embroidery to maintain its beauty. How to Wash Embroidered Linens


All embroiderers can use a few pointers now and again. Here are some tips you'll find interesting. Embroidery Pointers for Beginners

Hand embroidery is one of the oldest and most beautiful of arts. Machine embroidery is now possible and the work is wonderful but somehow, I think, deep in every Victorian lovers heart, hand embroidery will always have a special place.

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