The embroidery world is full of rich history and includes so many interesting techniques and styles. It’s amazing how visually different some of the styles and techniques are even though they generally use the same sorts of materials: fabric, a needle, and thread. If you’re looking to learn more about some of the different kinds of embroidery, this article will go over many of the different types of embroidery that exist. And if you find something in this article that you want to learn more about, additional resources are linked.
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What is Embroidery?
Embroidery, according to Merriam Webster, is “the art or process of forming decorative designs with hand or machine needlework“.
While embroidery can indeed be made by machine, this post will focus on different kinds of hand needlework.
Basically, hand embroidery is anything you can make on a piece of foundation fabric or background material using a needle and some sort of fiber (thread, floss, yarn, etc.). It is the embellishment of fabrics or garments with embroidery stitches (i.e. back stitch, running stitch, satin stitch, the list goes on and on.)
There are 3 general categories that embroidery can be grouped into:
- Surface embroidery
- Counted-thread embroidery
- Canvas work
These are “loose” categories, as there can be crossover between them. However, I think it’s helpful to learn about their defining characteristics.
The word “surface embroidery” is commonly used to describe most modern day hand embroidery. This is a very broad term that many different techniques and styles fit under. There are some peculiarities and gray areas with what is and isn’t considered surface embroidery. You can read this wonderful article by NeedlenThread if you want to do a deep dive. However, we’ll be going over many of them in depth in this article!
Some examples of surface embroidery include:
- thread painting
- ribbon embroidery
Some basic stitches (among hundreds of different ones!) that are commonly seen throughout surface embroidery are:
- chain stitch
- stem stitch
- split stitch
- French knot
- decorative stitches such as the lazy daisy
Looking to learn hand embroidery? I teach classes online and I also have a blog post linked below that goes in depth with resources, tools, and tricks to learn how to embroider.
Canvas Work (Needlework)
Canvas work, also known as needlepoint, is a form of embroidery that is stitched on an open canvas. Open canvas can be made out of materials like cotton, linen, or plastic. It is a stiff grid-like material that has large and evenly spaced out holes in it. Many varieties of needlepoint stitches are worked through this canvas to create beautiful patterns and textures.
Since the holes in the canvas are much larger than tighter weave fabrics, yarn is typically used and the entire canvas must be stitched. Reader’s Digest Complete Guide to Needlework explains that “All needlepoint stitches are worked in conformity with the grid-like structure of the canvas”.
Counted-thread embroidery is any form of embroidery that uses the grid of the fabric, which is comprised of evenly woven warp and weft fibers, to count and keep track of each stitch.
This is generally a more precise and methodical way of embroidering as opposed to the more freeform nature of surface embroidery where the threads sit on top of the fabric and the embroiderer isn’t particularly concerned about the number of fibers each stitch is covering.
What are all the Different Types of Embroidery?
Now that you have a general understanding of the broader categories of embroidery, we’ll talk about specific styles and techniques. Some of the different types of embroidery can fall into more than one category, which is why they won’t be siloed into only one of the three categories that are listed above.
Crewel embroidery, or crewelwork uses wool fibers and yarns for the thread, but it uses the same types of stitches surface embroidery uses. Crewel embroidery has a bit more texture and dimension to it because the wool thread is thicker than cotton floss that is generally used with embroidery.
Drawn Thread Embroidery
Drawn thread embroidery uses even-weave fabric and is another form of counted thread embroidery. Portions of the rows of thread in a piece of fabric are cut or “drawn out” and then reworked into the fabric, leaving holes. Groups of threads are left which are then stitched or woven together to form intricate patterns. Resources are somewhat slim for this type of embroidery, as it is a very old art form, but I found this beginner’s guide to drawn thread that might be worth checking out!
Cross stitch embroidery commonly uses aida fabric, a stiff even-weave fabric with holes in it. It uses a series of cross stitches as well as a few different types of embroidery stitches (including back stitches and French knots) and is worked on a grid or graph format. This type of embroidery is a type counted thread embroidery form, which is less free form than surface embroidery. Cross stitch pieces are more uniform looking because of the even-weave fabric, and the stitches are completely even.
Check out this blog post all about learning how to cross stitch which includes a free pattern you can stitch along to!
This type of embroidery is another counted thread or surface embroidery technique that, like the name, traditionally uses black thread on white fabric. Blackwork embroidery commonly uses repeating patterns, but there are instances of it that are more freeform as well.
This website has a ton of information and patterns that I’d love to try!
Huck embroidery is done on huckaback toweling and uses a darning stitch. Cotton floss and a blunt needle are normally used, and geometric designs are commonly created with this style of embroidery.
Pulled Thread Embroidery
This is another counted thread embroidery style that involves creating patterns with stitches that pull the weave of the fabric, which then forms holes in the fabric. Contrary to drawn thread, this technique doesn’t involve cutting or removing thread. To learn more information between drawn thread and pulled thread, Nordic Needle has a good article.
This is a type of counted thread embroidery that involves drawn thread techniques and cut work. It is worked on even weave fabric and most frequently uses white Perle cotton thread. A series of Kloster blocks are made, which are essentially grouped together satin stitches and squares of the fabric are cut out, forming elaborate patterns.
Cutwork embroidery involves cutting holes or shapes into fabric and using stitches (such as a hem stitch pictured here) to decorate the border of the hole and prevent fraying.
Originating from Japan, this form of embroidery, this uses a running stitch to decorate fabric. A dark fabric and light thread color is normally used. I think it looks so minimal and pretty! This Skillshare class goes into how to create your own Sashiko embroidery project.
This type of embroidery is more three-dimensional. There are a variety of raised embroidery stitches that are used for this tyle of embroidery to add depth and texture to it. Wire is normally used to create elements that literally pop off of the fabric!
Thread painting, also known as needle painting, is a a form of fine embroidery that has characteristics similar to painting. This technique can achieve a very realistic look and it’s a great way to produce intricate embroidery designs. Click the button below if you’d like to learn the basics of how to thread paint and visit the shop for more embroidery patterns that are available to stitch.
Punch needle is definitely reemerging and I can definitely tell why! It’s beautiful and really fun to do. This involves using a punch needle tool and an even weave fabric, such as monks cloth. Depending on the size of your punch needle tool and the size of your fabric’s holes, you can use different weights of threads and yarns. Your finished product creates kind of a chunky look made from the loops of thread your punch needle creates.
White Work Embroidery
Whitework embroidery uses white thread on white base fabric. This monochromatic embroidery style can be seen in conjunction with many different techniques. It’s commonly seen on linens with flowing floral embellishments. Hardanger and cutwork can also be a type of whitework embroidery. As you can see, it doesn’t necessarily fit into one category.
The key to whitework is creating interesting texture since colors and contrast are limited.
Check out this beginner sampler if you’re wanting to learn!
Another fascinating kind of surface embroidery is goldwork, which uses metal threads. One of the most commonly used stitches is the couching stitch. (The gold thread is laid on top of the fabric and stitches are made across it to anchor it.)
While gold threads can be used, there are metallic threads that can also be made of copper or silver.
Historically, this artform was seen on clothing and furniture, and it was prevalent in China, Europe, and India
Check out this beginner’s guide to goldwork embroidery if you want to learn more.
Ribbon embroidery uses silk or satin ribbon to embellish fabric. This style of embroidery is unique because it is more 3 dimensional and is a beautiful way to embroider flowers. You can use a variety of normal surface embroidery stitches but there are also a few extra techniques for folding and positioning the ribbon that is unique to this type of embroidery.
Learning New Forms of Needlecrafts
The list I’ve created isn’t even ALL of the different kinds of embroidery art, but I tried my best to include as many as possible. I am not an expert in all of these different forms of embroidery, but I really like to try out each one of them at least once. I absolutely love finding new embroidery books to use as resources, and some of the best ones are older books.
Here’s a list of some of my favorites that cover most, if not all of the different types listed above:
- Complete Guide To Embroidery E-book
- Reader’s Digest: Complete Guide to Needlework
- RSN Book of Embroidery
- Good Housekeeping: New Complete Book of Needlecraft
- Stitch Step By Step
Everything You Need To Learn Embroidery In One Place
Any new skill can leave you feeling overwhelmed with where to start and let’s face it: your time is limited.
I created this guide with you in mind!
It has everything in it that you need to know to get started stitching. Comes with tips, material recommendations, and 6 fun projects that will build your confidence and allow you to not just learn the art of embroidery but have something to show for it!
Continue reading more about embroidery:
- Embroider Flowers By Hand
- Embroidery 101: Learn How to Embroider
- How To Cross Stitch
- Basic Embroidery Stitches PDF
Amanda is a hand embroidery artist and teacher. With over 15 years of experience in the craft industry and embroidery, she owns and runs Crewel Ghoul, sharing tutorials and patterns to help inspire fellow crafters to get inspired and creative. In addition to running this website, she teaches on Skillshare and Youtube.