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Embroidery is ornamental needlework in thread, fiber, or leather thongs that is applied to fabric or leather. As an art, it is believed to be older than weaving since it is known that primitive people used it to embroider skins. From ancient times the East has produced rich embroideries. This art came to Europe through Byzantine influence. From the 12th to the 14th centuries, church embroideries such as alter cloths and vestments flourished. Later, secular embroidery such as that on the rich costumes of Elizabethan England reached its height. The arrival of machinery caused a decline of embroidery as an art but today this art form is showing up in shops and homes throughout the world as a hobby.

To learn to embroider you will need an embroidery hoop, embroidery needles, and thread or yarn. You will also need a piece of fabric to do your stitching on and an iron-on pattern for the picture or design you want to make. Most of these things can be purchased from a local fabric or craft shop. Some craft shops even have kits that will have most of the supplies you need inside and directions on the package that will tell you about any extras you need to buy.

To begin your embroidery project, press the fabric to remove any wrinkles. If you plan to use an iron-on design, press it on with your iron in the center of the fabric. Separate the hoop into two pieces by loosening the screw and lay the fabric, design up, on the bottom piece of the hoop. Snap the second half of the hoop over the bottom hoop and fabric. Then gently pull any wrinkles that have formed out by gently tugging on the edges of the fabric. While you are doing this, be sure your pattern is centered inside the two hoops. When the fabric is somewhat taut, begin to tighten the screw on the top hoop. As you tighten the hoop, continue to tug out any wrinkles or slack in the fabric. When the hoop is completely tightened down, the fabric should be tight and wrinkle-free inside the hoop.

Next you will need to prepare your yarn. You can do this by cutting the yarn in lengths that are 18 inches long. Do not make the strands longer than 18 inches since they tend to fray and knot when they are cut longer. Thread your needle with one strand of the yarn and you are ready to start.

First you will want to secure your yarn by holding the yarn end on the wrong side of the pattern and working stitches over at least two inches of the yarn. To finish off the yarn simply slide the needle under 2 inches of stitching on the wrong side. Never make a knot when you are working with these types of stitches. To insure that you have an even stitch tension, push the needle straight down through the fabric using a stabbing motion. Then draw the yarn through the other side and bring the needle straight up.

The most common stitches that are used to embroider are the backstitch, blanket stitch, chain stitch, cross stitch, and stem stitch. The backstitch is used as a straight outline stitch and as a baseline for other decorative stitches. To make the backstitch insert your needle through the fabric from back to front. Then run the needle through the fabric on both sides of the original thread and pull it tight.

The blanket stitch is used as a finishing stitch for edges. With this stitch you will have to make sure you keep the height of the stitches even as you work. This stitch is made by pushing the needle through the back of the fabric and pull all the thread through. Then loop the thread to the right of the original entry and run the needle vertically from top to bottom through a small bit of fabric. Be sure you keep the thread at the bottom of the stitch under the point of the needle as it comes out of the fabric and pull the remaining thread through.

The chain stitch is used for outlining or filling in areas. This stitch is made by pushing the needle through the back of the fabric and pulling all the thread through. Next pick up a bit of the fabric beginning at the point where the thread originally came through the fabric. Keep the loop of thread under the point of the needle and pull a loose loop. Enter the loop with the tip of the needle and pick up a bit of fabric again before you pull the thread through. To end a chain row take a small stitch over the last chain loop.

The cross stitch is used for outlining, filling, or forming geometric shapes. This stitch can be formed either one stitch at a time or in two rows of slanted stitches. This stitch is made by running the needle through the back of the fabric and then picking up a bit of fabric to the left of the original entry point. Next bring the needle back around the stitch to the right and make a cross with the stitch.

The stem stitch is used for outlining and for stems in floral designs. This stitch is made by bringing the needle through the back of the fabric and then picking up a bit of fabric to the right of the original entry that is horizontal to the entry stitch. Make sure the thread is kept below the stitch before you pull the thread tight.

Embroidery today is used on wedding gowns, costumes, wall hangings, draperies, and even to monogram linens. Many people have their initials embroidered on shirts or other articles of clothing and clothing manufacturers are using embroidery as a way of showing their trade names or symbols. One reason that this art has become so popular is because of the variety of colors that can be used in the work. Wedding gown designers today even add tiny beads and sequins to their embroidery to give their gowns a more shimmery appearance.