One of the questions I’m asked most often on social media is, “What type of fabric do you use with your embroidery?” There are so many different options to choose from so I wanted to break down my favorite fabrics, tips for stitching on them, and a few other mediums that could be fun to embroider!
Preparing to Stitch
When deciding what type of fabric or medium to stitch on, first you want to decide what the end product will be. In other words, do you want to create wall art? A pillow for your home? Or maybe an embroidered item of clothing that will be washed? For any item that will be laundered after the embroidery is completed (such as an embroidered denim jacket), you want to make sure that you wash and dry your fabric first so that it does any shrinking before you put your precious time into stitching it. For items that are purely decorative, laundering and shrinking the fabric is probably not needed.
So what types of fabric are suitable for stitching? The best fibers for embroidery are usually natural, rather than synthetic. Synthetic fabrics can be too stretchy for embroidery and result in a distorted pattern or loose stitches, so I tend to stay away from them.
My favorite fabric to stitch on is 100% cotton. Cotton tends to have a nice, tight weave that lends itself to a variety of stitches and is great for beginners to work with. It comes in a huge variety of colors and prints and is fairly reasonable in price. A nice-quality quilting cotton is ideal for embroidery projects because of the weight, but I’ve also used a lighter weight unbleached cotton muslin for projects. Avoid cottons blends unless they are combined with other natural fibers such as linen.
Pro Tip: If your fabric is too thin or is light in color, try backing it with fusible embroidery stabilizer. For a more budget-friendly option, stretch a piece of white Kona cotton underneath your chosen fabric. Stitch through both your chosen fabric and the white cotton to keep the back of your stitches from showing through the fabric.
Linen offers a gorgeous texture to complement your stitches and can really add a classy look to your embroidery. For my embroidery projects, I prefer tighter weaves and 100% linen so that it doesn’t stretch while I’m stitching. Recently I purchased some beautiful, hand-dyed linen from Colour and Cotton and I cannot wait to give it a go on an upcoming project!
Pro Tip: Try pairing linen with crewel wool thread for a vintage look in your embroidery.
I wanted to include denim on this list because although it is a cotton, I view it as an entirely different fabric because of its twill texture and heavy weight. Stitching on denim opens up a whole world of opportunities, not just as embroidery hoop art, but also in decorative stitches on jean pants, skirts, jackets and more. Embroidery on clothing is also great for hiding stains, tears or other blemishes (a great book on mending here). For ideas, take a look at this Pinterest board for denim embroidery that I’ve put together.
Pro Tip: If your old jeans are too beat-up to wear, cut up the fabric and use the pieces for embroidery hoop art. Denim makes a great canvas for acrylic paint as well if you want to add some mixed media elements to your stitching.
Duck Cloth (aka Canvas)
Although duck cloth is also made of cotton, I wanted to include it separately because of its heavy weight, sturdiness, and use as canvas for painting. Similar to denim, stitching on duck cloth, whether it’s been gessoed and stretched for painting or is raw cloth, will take a little bit of extra muscle. But stitching on this strong fabric will give you the chance to decorate a canvas tote bag or add stitches to a painting or stretched canvas.
Pro Tip: Try stitching with a sharp, large needle (size 1 or 3) and thicker thread to make working with the heavy fabric a bit easier.
Wool is another great fabric that doesn’t stretch, nor does it have a weave. It’s great to stitch whether in the form of clothing, like a baseball cap, or on wool felt. The fuzziness of some wool felt can make stitching details on it a bit of a challenge, but it is wonderful for ornaments, plushies, appliqué work, and any number of other projects because the fabric does not fray.
Pro Tip: Using more strands of six-strand embroidery floss, or a heavier thread when stitching on felt may help the thread to stand out more on fuzzy fabrics.
Burlap is a loosely woven material made from jute, hemp, or other fiber. Because the weave is so loose, it frays easily and is tough to embroider on by itself, however there are endless possibilities when combining it with other media and embroidery techniques. Some of my favorite burlap embroidery projects have included this sunflower where I treated the burlap like a plastic canvas and used needlepoint stitches. Another project I created with burlap included this citrus embroidery hoop art. Here I first covered the burlap with a thick layer of acrylic paint, and stitched through it after it was dry.
Pro Tip: When using a loose-weave fiber like burlap, think out of the box about how it could be used with embroidery. For example, consider a cross-stitch project with chunky yarn or needle weaving with tapestry wool.
Other Fabrics and Materials
The fabrics listed here are just scratching the surface of what you can try with embroidery. I love the work of Helen Wilde of Ovo Bloom and the stitching she does on velvet, organza and more. Or try working with stitchable mesh and stitchable cork from DMC if you want to try a different embroidery-friendly medium.
And of course you can try stitching on materials that aren’t even fabric, like Danielle Clough does on things like rackets, fences and punched steel, or Solange Nunes does on dried leaves! Browse alternate materials for embroidery over on this cross stitch Pinterest board or this mixed media embroidery board and try stitching paper, wood, plastic and more!