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Designing your own embroidery?

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Before we start working on the actual embroidery design, we have to think about a few important questions:

  • What is it for?
  • Where will it be displayed?
  • Who is it for?
  • Does it need to be washable?
  • How much it will cost me?

Most of the time, when we design something, we get a brief that mostly answers these questions. From a professional point of view, these are straightforward questions with our clients, and we always must think about these five points when designing something.

Let’s talk about them.

What is it for?

Before we begin designing the piece, it’s crucial to understand its purpose. Will it serve as a decorative piece for a wall or interior, or will it have a functional role like a fashion accessory or item of clothing? This understanding will guide our choice of materials and the overall design process.

Let’s say we are planning to embroider a pair of sneakers that will be used often, almost daily. We won’t generally recommend using heavy beads and metal thread as it is quite impractical. Instead we will use materials what more durable and easy to wash like stranded cotton.

Embroidered Convers Canvas shoes with floral motif.
Embroidered Converse shoes commissioned as Birthday present
Where will it be displayed?

We know what the piece is for. We need to determine where the piece will go, as this will also give us the finishing options. If it is a decorative piece that will go on the wall, we can discuss how big it will be and how it will be finished. We mostly mount our pieces and get them ready to be professionally framed. Still, the piece can also be displayed in the decorative hoops.  If it is made on a piece of clothing, we get precise information on the size of the piece. So, usually, the display’s location will determine the piece’s size and composition.

Who is it for?

This is simple to answer as the end user will give you information like what they like and dislike, their favourites, like colours and styles, whether they like florals or not, and, in general, their preferences. It is like a first-date questionnaire, as every embroidery design is personal. The same questions apply if the client is an adult or a child.

Does it need to be washable?

 This question is very straightforward as it will determine the material for stitching. If we are designing something that will be worn often and needs to be washable on a regular basis, we don’t recommend using delicate materials. Anything on a baby or children`s garment needs to be easily washable and secured. In this case, we recommend using a range of stranded cotton, like DMC or Anchor, as they are durable and easily replaceable.

Suppose it is decorative and does not need to be washable or minimally. In that case, you can use any material you wish.

How much will it cost me?

This is important as you need to know how much money you can invest in the materials required to create, such as fabric, threads, and any specific technology needed. It is good to find this out before you start making something, as when you start making something with expensive thread, what you are planning to use a lot might get costly. Just because you really like it doesn’t mean it will be within your price bracket.

  If you are working on the commission, this calculation is used when quoting the client for the piece. We will be talking about how to price your work in the future.


opened Sketchbook with pencils with embroidery stitches book and colouring pencils
Colouring the embroidery design for Coffee Cup crewel work kit

Once we have all this information, we can start the embroidery design process by making mood boards containing the inspirations, choosing colour palettes, materials, and even rough sketches based on the ideas and inspirations. We can also research other embroidery artists and what they are working on for inspiration.

As we design the piece, more factors are involved than “I like it, I will stitch it, but I don’t know where to start.” We are now talking about the composition, colour planning, and stitch plan.


As we mentioned earlier, the piece’s size determines the composition.  You can start turning your drafts into sketches. Usually, we take the ones we like the most and start redrawing them in the correct size designs. The background fabric you are stitching on is also a colour and material. You need to take that into consideration. We call the background fabric “negative space”.  Designs with too much negative space tend to look unfinished and empty. Embroidery design with very little or no negative space give the opposite feeling of being crowded.

Choosing the right font is crucial if you plan to use text in your piece. You don’t want to make it look too frilly, and you don’t want to make it look like it still needs to include something. It just needs to be right. A beneficial tool for designing with text is the use of a grid layout. It can be any square paper, or you can use a cutting mat with an already drawn grid on it. Just ensure you follow the same rules of negative space and balance.

Composition options for Coffee cup Crewel work
Various compositions drawn for the Cofee cup crewel work embroidery design

That’s why we tend to create up to 5 different compositions of the design, mostly in pencil. The composition develops as you work and perfect it until you draw the right one—balanced and pleasing to the eye. As you reach this stage, you can start working on the colour plan. When you have the final design, make a few copies of it. I make up to 10-15 copies for the colour plan and stitch plan.

Colour plan

Take the colour palette from your mood board and start colouring your design. Please make a few copies of your design and create a few versions again. At the same time, you can start thinking about the stitches in those colours.  When colouring, the same rules apply to creating the composition. You can find matching colours in the threads when you reach the right colour plan. Nowadays, embroidery thread companies like DMC or Appletons have extensive colour options, so it should be easy; you can even play with shading. Use the copies you made for colouring.

Stitch plan

This is the final part of the embroidery design as you plan what stitches you will use and where you will use them. There is one specific book we always use. The Stitch Bible by Betty Barnden. This book has lots of stitches and instructions on how to stitch them. Plenty of books with specific techniques and YouTube videos for tutorials exist.  Make a list of your stitches, what you like, what will look good, and which part of your design. Take one of the copies of your design and start writing them into your piece. This might take a while and a few copies as well.  When you reach the point where you are happy with your final design, you can start by transfering your design onto the fabric and start stitching.

Filling the stitch plan using embroidery stitch book
Creating the Stitch Plan for Coronation Sampler Crewel work using The Embroidery Stitch Bible by Betty Barnden

If your stitching starts to differ a bit from your original design, don’t worry. This happens, and it is a natural process of creating. It happens that you are not satisfied with the colour placement or with the chosen stitch. You have some copies of your design, and it is time to return to the planning. It also helps if you discuss this with help or even with an embroidery group on Facebook (we have one, too), and we go through the same steps with every single project. As your design evolves, you evolve.

Enjoy designing your embroidery piece and remember the Five P`s.
"The Five P`s - Proper planning prevents poor performance" James Baker, former Secretary of State.

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