4 (Surprisingly Easy!) Stitches for Perfect Embroidered Letters

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Hand embroidery brings a personal touch to just about any project — from a quilt tag to a favorite quote. But hand embroidering letters can feel mighty intimidating, especially when it comes to the curves of each character. We'll help.

What kind of font should I use?

Choosing a font is completely up to you. I really love the way cursive embroidery looks with a stem stitch, and I think the backstitch and running stitch are stellar for print.

Play around with fonts and stitches until you're happy with the look. Sometimes I just open a word doc on my computer and check out different fonts. When I find one I like, I print it off and transfer it to fabric using a light box. Then I stitch and re-stitch, until I find a style I really adore.

Tips and tricks

One of the greatest tips I learned early on was to shorten my stitches at a curve. Keeping the stitch short lets you capture the curve of the letter without a weird straight bit poking out. Something I really love about using the stem stitch for letters is this: You can manipulate the previous stitch to give it a little more curvature as you move forward with your line of embroidery.

Let's get lettering

For this tutorial, I used the same word — "Hello" — in print and cursive to show you the different stitches that work for hand embroidering letters. I used full six-strand embroidery floss to demonstrate the texture and dimension that different stitches give the letters and words. 

Back stitching letters

The standard back stitch makes for a nice outline in hand embroidery. It's perfect for lettering (both in a single or double layer) or for outlining block lettering.

To start the back stitch, come up underneath the fabric and pull the needle and floss through. Make your first stitch, then bring the needle back up underneath the fabric a full stitch length, leaving a space between the needle and the previous stitch. Lots of stitchers recommend using a length the same as a grain of rice. 

Then, like the name suggests, you bring the needle back and pass through the same place as the previous stitch to create a full line. 

Pull the needle through and move forward in the same way until you stitch the whole letter. Using shorter stitches around the curves helps keep the letter shape.

Stem stitch letters

This one's my favorite stitch for lettering. I think it makes the letters look like twisted rope, which adds a cool surface dimension. The stem stitch is often used for the stems of flowers because it looks a bit like twisted vines. 

To start, bring the floss up though the fabric from the underside for one stitch.

Bring the needle back up just to the side of the stitch you just made. 

Keep going in this same motion until you finish the letter. This is a prime stitch for the curves of the letters, since you can move the floss over a bit to help create those shapes.

Split stitch letters

Just like the stem stitch, the split stitch adds texture and dimension to the word or letters you're stitching, and it works for cursive or print. It's similar to the stem stitch, but instead of coming up underneath the side of the stitch, the needle's pushed through the center of the previous stitch, literally splitting the floss. This stitch gives the appearance of a plait or braid — pretty elegant if you ask me.

Like the previous stitches, bring the needle and floss up through the underside of the fabric and back down to make one stitch.

Then bring the needle up through the center of the previous stitch, splitting the floss. 

Continue on in the same way until you complete the letter. You'll end up with a braided look that's beautiful and full of texture. 

Running stitch letters

The running stitch looks like a dashed line. It can be worked completely on the surface or using one stitch at a time — totally up to you. 

To start, bring the floss and needle up through the fabric, then bring the needle in and out catching a bit of the fabric with each stitch. 

Pull the needle through, and you'll see your dashed line.

Continue on until you complete the letter and word. 

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