Tutorial: Hand embroidery on clothes

What better thing to do on this part rainy, part sunny Saturday than to put together my first tutorial. Now, I am not in any way an expert in what I’m about to show you. But, I have tried and tested these methods, and am happy with the results.

I am very fussy about any kind of prints and embellishment on clothes that I wear. I don’t like when it’s OTT or when it’s too ‘cute’. On the other hand, I really like flowery patterns, so perhaps some people will think that’s an odd statement! Even though I’ve lived in the UK for almost 10 years, I definitely think that famous Scandinavian style, is firmly rooted in my sense of… er.. style. You know, clean lines, neutral colours, functional clothing…

Therefore, I find embroidery on clothes tricky. I’ve seen some beautiful examples out there, but also quite a few that looks quite ‘old’. But this is completely a matter of opinion. As we say in the motherland, tastes are like the arse, divided.

1. Finding your pattern

This took me forever when I made my Archer shirt. The pattern I use below is actually an early iteration that I decided to scrap in the end. Your best buds here are Google images and Pintrest. There is absolutely no need to buy specialised embroidery patterns (although I highly recommend checking out Sublime Stitching for inspiration), unless you want to make it easy for yourself and get a ready made iron on pattern. I’m going to take you down a different route here.

When I say pattern, I mean anything with clear outlines. It can be clean and simple and consist of mainly straight lines, or you can choose something a bit more complex. I prefer to keep it simple, as my embroidery is still a little bit messy.

I’ve put together an embroidery inspiration board on Pintrest with a few of the designs I looked at (a few examples below). I found most of these by googling ‘minimalist tattoos’.

But go with whatever tickles your fancy. For this tutorial, I’m going to use the image below, a tattoo on someone’s ankle.

2. Tracing and colouring your chosen pattern

What you’ll need:

  • Your pattern printed out in the size you want
  • Baking paper
  • Pencil
  • Coloured pens (make sure you have the colours you want your embroidery to be in)
  • Ruler
  • Scissors

A. Trace the outline

Now, you could in theory use the photograph or printed image to transfer  the lines directly onto your fabric (using one of the methods below), but I would recommend taking some time to play around with it first.

Cut out a suitable sized sheet of baking paper (a bit bigger than the pattern to make it easier to handle). Put it on top of the print-out, and trace the lines  using a pencil, ruler and any other tools you like.

DSC00949Now is the time to make any changes and additions to your pattern that you like. Perhaps add a few more shapes, or change some of them to make it easier to embroider.

B. Choose your colours

This is when the baking paper really comes in handy. Put another piece of baking paper on top of the one you already made, and draw the outlines again using the colours you would like to embroider your patterns in. I ended up doing a few versions here to get it right.

Please ignore my awful drawing skills..


When it comes to doing the actual embroidery, your final version will work as your colour guide.

3. Transferring the pattern onto your fabric – 2 options

A few things to keep in mind

  • If your embroidery pattern is going on a garment pattern piece (e.g. a sleeve, pocket), make sure you take into account the direction of the grain line, seam allowances, and measure the placement very carefully. Or you’ll end up with a wonky design once you’ve sewed your piece of clothing together.
  • If you include writing, or need an image to to appear as it does on your screen, make sure you transfer the embroidery pattern correctly onto the fabric, or you might end up with a mirrored end product:

sailor tattoo

Option A – Carbon paper and tracing wheel

What you’ll need: Carbon paper,  tracing wheel, fabric

This works best on patterns that have straight lines, like the geometric reindeer I used for my Archer. It’s really easy, and you get very clean lines. I would recommend using a very light coloured carbon paper, like this yellow, as it will be much easier to hide it behind your stitching. What I also liked about this method, is that the tracing wheel gives you evenly spaced dots – which is great for a beginner like me who’s still struggling with even stitches.

Tip: When using the tracing wheel, make sure to do it on a hard surface that you don’t mind leaving marks on e.g. a cutting board.  

Option B – Transfer pen

What you’ll need: transfer pen, iron, ironing board, fabric

This is a great option for when you have a pattern with more detailing. Now the trick here is to draw very thin lines, or you won’t be able to cover the lines once they are transferred with your embroidery. Beware of any smudges as they will transfer as well. I would practise this a few times on scrap pieces of fabric before ironing it onto your garment pattern piece.

Optional Extra –  Freehand using a water soluble fabric pen

If you have a steady hand this is a great option, as you can draw straight onto the fabric, and simply wash off the marks with a damp clot after you have finished embroidering. You can also combine this with the tracing wheel, using the pen to draw the finer details. I seriously love this thing.

4. Embroider

What you’ll need:

  • Embroidery floss
  • Embroidery needles
  • Embroidery hoop
  • Scissors


And then go for it! I won’t say anything about embroidery stitches, but instead refer to Sublime Stitching again. She’s got great tutorials on how to do basic stitches.

And here is my less than perfect final version of the pattern above. Like I said earlier – I’m still a messy stitcher when it comes to details. The reindeer had longer straight stitches which were much easier.

First tutorial over (any feedback would be much appreciated)! I hope this gave you some inspiration to give embroidering clothes a go yourself. I’d love to see anything you make.


16 thoughts on “Tutorial: Hand embroidery on clothes

  1. Thanks for compiling these great tips! The tattoo pic search is brilliant. I love the effect you’ve gotten from incorporating embroidery into your clothes sewing. I really want to start focusing on techniques like this, I feel like that’s a whole new level of personal sewing. I’ll have to start compiling some embroidery ideas on Pinterest too to start the ball rolling. Thanks again! :)

  2. Thankyou for this inspiring post, I really like both of your designs & would never have thought to embroider the back of a shirt but your archer looks great & so individual. I’m definitely inspired to have a go & think outside the box :)

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  7. I really like this tutorial. I have embroidered a blouse recently and I did some notes on embroidery, but I think your are better. For me I got a line drawing and used dressmakers carbon paper, which I used to transfer the picture to the fabric. It didn’t need reversing. I was worried at first as it didn’t seem to wash out, but once I laundered the blouse again all the blue carbon colour came away.

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