Folk Embroidery Design: What’s your Secret?

If you  love embroidered garments, especially those beautiful 70s folk chemises, you’re in the right place. Through these simple steps, you’ll soon be able to develop intricate and beautiful folk embroidery to your taste and by yourself. Why not spruce up an old garment of yours with it? I promise it will be  heaps of fun and buckets of satisfaction! And you know…less waste too!

Hand drawn Polish Folk Flower

A lot of the amazing vintage folk embroidered garments out there come from South America, but I’m  also a big fan of Polish folk embroidery, from which I often draw inspiration. Mostly worked with satin stitch, the flowers are stylised, the leaves are generally in the shape of a simple drop and more often than not the bright floral needlework stands out against a plain fabric background, looks familiar?

STEP 1: The Drop Design

So how to get the same results? First thing I suggest is that you start practicing drawing the traditional drop: it’s a super versatile shape that works as: a leaf, petals in flowers AND can be used as abstract embellishments. How hard or easy it is depends on how often you use pencil and paper: a rubber might become a friendly companion and not one to be ashamed of. 

As you can see, the same shape can be tweeked to become many different types of leaves or petals.

STEP 2: The Floral Vocabulary

As you become a little more confident with your drop, why don’t you start developing your own ‘FLORAL VOCABULARY’? What I mean by that is: practising drawing different flowers that become more complex as you train your imagination to add detail. If your mind goes blank, look at designs you like online and try to recreate some elements of them! Make sure you start small: only grow in complexity little by little. Not only will it be more satisfactory, but it will also look better. 



Here’s an example of what I mean by ‘floral vocabulary’ practice. Why do’t you plan a relaxing evening, listening to a podcast and drawing simple flowers and leaves. Lack of pressure is often key to creation. You can look back at them when you plan bigger compositions.

STEP 3: Deconstruction of Designs You Like

Now that you’ve been doodling and practising some ‘floral words’ it’s time to get designing.  Look at lines and movement in traditional designs: try and deconstruct the composition: how is the symmetry between elements achieved? Where’s the centre of the design? Which lines are secondary to it?

If you worry this way might take too long, think again. You can start designing simple necklines using just the drop shape: for instance, you can make daisies and leaves to begin with. Work with what you have! It’s honestly all about repetition and symmetry (and your imagination, of course!!).

STEP 4: Use Tracing Paper to finalise your design.

I keep saying this, but tracing paper is a designer’s best friend. A little useful tip? Why don’t you draw just half of your design? If you like your embroidery to be perfectly symmetrical, you can mirror your design on tracing paper so that you ultimately have two halves (see picture underneath).

I don’t always use this method, just because I don’t often want perfect symmetries, but it definitely makes your life easier.

Step 3: work out lines that make the composition. Step 4: Tracing half a design can save time.

Step 5: Choose your garment and get embroidering!

Try and use cotton if you’re a complete beginner, this doesn’t mean it’s impossible to embroider on stretch fabrics: you just have to be delicate, as you might pull your stitches too tight and create an uneven shape. You might also want to consider the location of your embroidery design: cuffs and sleeves might require a smaller hoop or no hoop at all. If the fabric is jersey, take into consideration the amount of stretch you need to put the item on and off.

You can stabilise your design, but this too will stop your garment from being stretchy, something worth thinking about.  Another fabric that can be tricky and requires extra thinking is denim. Spend hours embroidering it by hand and you might find that you’re slower than usual. Your fingers might hurt too. So what’s the secret?

You could work your embroidery as an appliqué! And then hand-stitch it to your garments afterwards (you could use fabric glue too, but I don’t do that. If you hand-stitch, it will look prettier and if you end up ruining your garment (because of years of wear, of course!), you’ll be able to take your embroidery off and sew it onto something else, effectively making your embroidery work reusable! Ideal right?).

That’s it really, but if you wanna know more and would enjoy having a first hand experience of this process and extra tips: I teach embroidery classes in London, so why don’t you come to one of my next workshops? All classes are super friendly and have a step-by step approach ideal for beginners. I also always try to include exclusive material in the price, and you get a chance to talk to like-minded folk embroidery lovers, which is a plus!



Journey Through Folk Embroidery Traditions

at The Create Place, Bethnal Green, 21 Old Ford Road, E29PJ – tickets available here.

Feminist Embroidery

at The Create Place, Bethnal Green, 21 Old Ford Road, E29PJ – tickets available here.

And if you’d like a full day of folk embroidery love, come to:

The Moody Bright Spring Equinox Celebration

at Fabrications Hackney,7 Broadway Market
Hackney,E8 4PH, London:  A FULL DAY of folk embroidery and upcycling!! This is exclusive ONE OFF, so hurry up to get your ticket: here.

 More workshops to be confirmed soon!

FOLK EMBROIDERY DESIGNS DOWNLOAD (available if you have attended one of the Moody Bright Workshops! Password is should be in your ‘thank you’ email).




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