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Don’t Be Afraid of Adding Some Embroidery! Here’s How

Fear not—embroidery is much easier than it looks, and a few carefully selected stitches can go a long way toward making your knitted piece shine.

Pat Olski Apr 30, 2024 - 10 min read

Don’t Be Afraid of Adding Some Embroidery! Here’s How Primary Image

Lazy Daisy flowers add charm to Susan Strawn’s Gaman Mittens from PieceWork September/October 2017. Photo by George Boe

Knitting and embroidery have co-existed and sometimes intersected for centuries. Put down your knitting needles and pick up your embroidery needles to try out this useful and time-honored combination of needlework techniques. Embroidery brings enjoyable new techniques to learn, and it is a way to incorporate different yarns and textures into your work. Embroidery can be sophisticated—a simple ring of gold chain stitch encircling each cuff of a black sweater; traditional—lazy daisy leaves and French knots to accent the edges of a colorwork yoke: pictorial or geometric—duplicate stitch or cross stitch designs worked from graphs; or freeform and fabulous.

Top 10 Reasons to Embroider Your Knitting

Adding embroidery to your knitted piece can enhance it in so many ways:

1. Artistic elements
A few simple embroidery stitches can elevate your knitted piece into a custom garment, which is especially nice if you are knitting something that is a very popular knit.
2. Counted embroidery
Charted designs are a nice way to dip your toe into stitching on knits—each square on a chart corresponds to one square of stockinette stitch. Graphs are a perfect way to plan complex geometric elements. That adorable cross-stitch graph can translate beautifully into a cross-stitch motif for a baby cardigan or a duplicate stitch border on a vest for an adult. Just remember that stockinette stitches are slightly wider than they are tall.
3. Personalize your piece
Stitch on a logo, monogram, or motto, or if you are so inclined, a royal crest.
4. Visible mending
Hide those holes and mistakes with cheerful designs to breathe new life into an old garment.
5. Add warmth
Knitters from cold-weather countries knew the value of extra layers of yarn. An embroidered yoke or embellished mitten cuffs will add an extra level of heat to your clothing in a most attractive way.
6. Folk traditions
From needlework on Scandinavian color work to floral accents stitched onto Bavarian twisted stitches, knitters have been enhancing their humble knits with embroidery for centuries.
7. Fun with fiber
It is fun to play with specialty fibers, such as metallics, chenille, raffia, and silk that might not be strong enough to knit with but can add a couture look to your garment.
8. Use up short pieces of yarn
All of those lovely odds and ends you have saved can be put to good use, whether as a main element or as a tiny accent.
9. Revitalize an old knit
Tired of your cable sweater? Add some flowers amidst the twists and turns, or chain stitch the outlines along the side of geometric knit and purl patterns to add an edgy look. It’s a nice way to shop your closet and to have fun at the same time.
10. Cheat
Yep. Sometimes it is easier to use embroidery to fill in small areas of colorwork patterns, such as the few stitches in a third color in a row of stranded knitting, or the narrow diagonal lines in an argyle pattern.

Delicate embroidery can enhance a basic design, as in the Gaman Mittens by Susan Strawn. Photo by George Boe

Planning Your Embroidery

It is often easier to embellish your knitted fabric before you sew the pieces together. Use care when stitching lines of horizontal elements on clothing. Please make sure your embroidery doesn’t constrict the actual functionality of the fabric—you need to be able to put your arm through that cuff!

If you are working with a finished garment, wash and block it first. Blocking your piece first gives you a better sense of the tension you need to use when adding any embroidered elements.

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