All kinds of embroidery techniques are employed when trying your hand at this very old craft. In fact, there are far too many to mention in a guide, though this article explains the basic techniques used for hand embroidery, so that the novice can gain a little expert advice which will put them on the right track for the kind of work they intend producing. The most important elements are universal and used for all kinds of hand embroidery.
The tools required for hand embroidery are good quality embroidery needles of different sizes, depending upon the thread to be used. For example, while silks are used for many projects, some involve wools, and these would be embroidered with the use of a needle with a large enough eye, but one which has a sharp point as opposed to the bluntness of a darning needle. The difference between using the two kinds of needle for coarser thread is that a darning needle may leave marks in the fabric being used for the embroidery.
Another tool which is particularly useful is an embroidery hoop. This is what holds the fabric in place and the techniques employed here are to loosen the hoop and move the fabric so that the area being worked on is central to the hoop. The fabric is stretched over the inner hoop, and a screw fixing tightens the hoop in place, with the fabric held flat for embroidery. The reason that a hoop is used is that if you try to embroider on fabric which is not fastened in some manner, the tendency is for the fabric to stretch or be pulled too tightly when embroidering.
Although it's very tempting to tie a knot in the end of the embroidery thread and leave this at the back of the work, this is the lazy way. It is far more professional to start the stitching at the front of the work. Place the needle into the fabric and up again making a very small stitch. As you pull the thread and the end meets the fabric double stitch over it, so that the end is hidden on the outside of the fabric. By doing this you neaten up the inside appearance and are more aware of loose ends.
Learning the basic stitches
It's a good idea to learn how to perform the basic embroidery stitches. In this chart, you can see each of the basic stitches in picture form and can practice on fabric to achieve good results. The lazy daisy stitch is a good stitch for floral work which requires very little detail, forming the petals with a simple chain, rather than filling in all of the detail. This is useful for an addition to a floral design as background flowers. Satin stitch is a very useful stitch, because worked in wool or thicker thread, areas can be highlighted or made to look padded. The outline stitch is used to accentuate the outer area of an object and is well worth practicing. If you intend to do a lot of floral work, then the most important stitch to learn is long and short stitch as this allows you to incorporate different shades of silk to produce a realistic look to petals or leaves, and is more detailed than a simple fishbone stitch.
When you are new to embroidery, it helps to perform your embroidery on a fabric which has a weave which is even. If you look at this image, this shows three different fabrics and the easier it is to see the weave, the simpler counted thread stitching becomes. Counted embroidery patterns are a little like knitting patterns and the embroiderer works from a chart. They need to count the number of squares to know where different colors are to be used. Thus the easier the weave is to see and count, the easier the work will be. For those with more experience, work can be done on a tighter weave. It's a good idea to invest in an embroidery magnifier which comes on a chain of string which can be put around your neck to keep the magnifier in place while you work.
Ribbon embroidery techniques
In this technique, ribbons are incorporated into the embroidery to give the embroidery a three dimensional effect. This is effective on knitwear, where traditional embroidery may sink into the knitwear and be less noticeable. Patterns are available for ribbon embroidery techniques, and it's worthwhile trying a kit to get accustomed to the intricacy of the work required.
Although this is more suited to the experienced embroiderer, for a beginner, gold thread can outline initials on pillow cases or gifts, and instead of using very complex techniques, simply using outlining stitch after the main initials have been embroidered with satin stitch gives a very satisfying result. Gold thread is available at retailers who sell embroidery threads, and if you prefer silver and copper colors are also an option. These come on a spool in general and are not split, but used as they come off the spool.
Split thread work
With most embroidery silks, your pattern will dictate the thickness of silk used. When splitting silks, make sure that you do not cut your lengths too long, or they will knot. The thread is usually split into two which gives two equal three ply threads. This is the standard thickness used for silk embroidery unless your pattern specifically asks for more threads to be used.
There is a whole world of learning to be done, and if you are a beginner do purchase a book of embroidery stitches. It's an essential part of the equipment that people who take embroidery seriously will have. Don't be afraid to try new stitches and techniques and to incorporate your own original ideas into the projects you attempt to embroider. It's a wonderful hobby and although this guide is aimed at beginners, if it has given you food for thought, then it will have achieved its purpose.