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7 Reasons Your Embroidery Looks Bad

Embroidery is a delicate and nuanced craft that is easy to mess up. Even when you’re a more advanced embroiderer, it can feel like your needwork can go sour in an instant. If you’re a beginner, this feeling is amplified to the max.

So, what are some possible reasons why your embroidery looks bad?

1) Your Fabric is Puckering

Puckering happens in embroidery when the fabric starts bunching up around the embroidery stitches instead of laying flat. This can distort your stitches and design, leaving an embroidery project that doesn’t look crisp and neat.

Puckering can be a big issue when using embroidery machines, but it can happen with hand embroidery too. 

embroidery fabric puckering
If you notice that your fabric is being pulled whenever you make stitches, you likely are noticing puckering.

If puckering is your issue, there are a few things you can do:

1) Make sure your fabric is tight inside of your hoop. If your fabric is loose inside of your embroidery hoop, it’s easy for your stitches to inappropriately pull on your fabric. 

The fabric doesn’t have enough tension in it to counteract the strong pull of the stitches.

To fix this issue, tighten your fabric within your embroidery hoop. Next, remove any puckered stitches and redo them.

loose fabric in embroidery hoop
All of these lumps and bumps are a good indicator that the fabric isn’t pulled tightly in the hoop

2) Slip your needle underneath your stitches and see if you can loosen them. This technique doesn’t work for large sections of puckering, but it can be helpful if you only have a stitch or two that are causing a problem.

Slide your embroidery needle underneath your puckered stitch and gently move it around to see if you can loosen your stitch a bit.

Be careful and gentle. Pulling on one stitch may have unintended consequences on your other stitches. Make sure you aren’t loosening one stitch while causing the stitch next to it to tighten to the point of puckering.

loosening embroidery stitches

3) Undo your stitches. It could be that your embroidery is puckering because you pulled too tightly on your stitches. In this case, you’ll want to remove the floss from your puckered areas and redo them.

Puckering aside, loose fabric can cause big issues with your embroidery. Enough so that it’s worth its own section.

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2) Your Fabric is Loose

Loose fabric in your embroidery hoop can cause puckering, uneven stitches, and warped designs. It’s important to regularly check that your fabric is tight inside of your embroidery hoop and not becoming loose as you work.

If your embroidery fabric is too loose, it’ll be challenging to create your design. You’ll put your stitches down, only to realize that it wasn’t where you intended. Your may mis-interpret when your stitches go and end up with a funny looking design. You may end up with puckering.

Because embroidery is so delicate, small movements can make a big difference. If your fabric is a little bit loose, it may not seem like a big deal. In reality, it can have big consequences.

The fix for loose fabric is to tighten it. If you can’t tighten your fabric, or you constantly run into this issue, consider buying a new embroidery hoop that can hold your fabric properly.

It might be obvious that your fabric is loose. If the looseness is more subtle, a good way to check is to put your embroidery at eye-level. From there, you can more easily see any hills and bumps. Ideally, your fabric should be flat.

loose fabric in embroidery hoop

3) Your Stitches are Uneven

Uneven stitches can make an embroidery project look disheveled and messy. It’s important to lay down your stitches slowly and intentionally so they end up where they need to be.

When you’re first starting out with embroidery, it can be tricky to put every stitch in the proper place.

It’s also exhausting! After agonizing over every single stitch, it’s tempting to move more quickly. The consequence? Messy stitches that aren’t placed as intentionally as they should have been.

The fix for uneven stitches is slowing down, having patience, and practicing. 

Honestly, precision will come with time. When you’re just getting started, it’s tricky to put every stitch in the right place, especially for stitches that are intended to be perfectly aligned with each other.

Slow down, enjoy the process, and trust that your stitches will get better with time.

uneven embroidery stitches
The fact that these embroidery stitches aren’t perfectly aligned drives me nuts. More about perfectionism later.

4) You’re Using the Wrong Stitch

The types of stitches you use for your embroidery project will make a big difference in how it looks. Think ahead about what stitches you’d like to use, and how they will all come together to create the cohesive embroidery project you’re looking for.

Before you make even one stitch in your project, it’s important to plan out all of the types of stitches you’d like to use and where they’ll go. 

Are there certain types of stitches that won’t look good together? Are the types of stitches you’re choosing appropriate for your design?

Remember that all of your stitches need to work together to convey the image that you’re creating with your embroidery project. 

The fix for using the wrong stitch type is to plan all of your stitches ahead of time. Using a pattern can be helpful with this, as it will tell you which stitch to use for each part of your design.

Don’t be like me and ignore your pattern’s stitch suggestions.

embroidery stitches
The pattern had me switch stitch type for the white mountain, but I ignored it, which left a weird effect with the trees below it

5) You’re Using The Wrong Amount of Strands

Embroidery floss comes with 6 strands that are twisted together. Embroidery projects can use anywhere from 1 to 6 strands, depending on how thick the thread should be in a particular area of the design.

The amount of strands you use will impact how your final design looks. I mean, 6 strands is a lot more than 1. 

Deciding how many strands to use depends on the type of project you’re working on and the stitches you’re using. For example, knot stitches work best with 6 strands because 6 strands will give you more volume.

On the other hand, smaller and delicate stitches may look better with fewer strands.

One of the perks of using fewer strands is that your embroidery floss will last longer. For example, if you use 2 strands instead of 6, it will last 3 times longer.

Don’t let this be the deciding factor of how many strands you use though. Saving a little embroidery floss isn’t worth it if you end up with an end result you’re unhappy with.

embroidery strands

Also, the fewer strands you use, the less coverage you’ll get. Your project will likely take more time and require more stitches than if you had used more strands.

The fix for using the wrong amount of strands is to plan your strand count before getting started. If you’re using a pattern, read it carefully because it will tell you how many strands you need to use. 

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6) You Took on a Hard Challenge

It’s important to align your project choices with your skill level. Challenge yourself to learn new techniques and become better at embroidery, but don’t choose projects that are so far beyond your skill level that they are demoralizing and can’t be completed.

Especially as a beginner, it’s easy to dream big. I’ve fallen prey to this MANY times. I get so excited about learning new skills that I take on a project that was too big for me to handle.

I’m all about taking on challenges and pushing myself to my limits. 

That said, when learning a new skill, it’s important to go slowly and take on projects that are appropriate for your skill level so that you can master the foundational embroidery techniques you need to know. 

If you speed ahead to a challenging embroidery project, the uphill battle may be so intense that you give up before it’s finished. You may give up on embroidery altogether. 

Even if you do finish the project, you may be unhappy with the result and miss out on learning a lot of the beginning skills you need to know to progress your embroidery knowledge. 

You don’t want your embroidery projects to be too easy either. If you don’t challenge yourself at all, it will be hard to move forward and learn new things.

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What we’re looking for is a “just right challenge.” A just right challenge is above your skill level, but it’s not so far above your skill level that it’s impossible and endlessly frustrating.

For an embroidery project, a just right challenge may involve taking on a project that has 1 or 2 new stitches you’ve never tried before. Or, has some unique design elements you’ve seen before – like blending or shading.

Choosing a “just right challenge” project will make a big difference in your overall embroidery journey by allowing you to identify projects that will help you grow, instead of frustrating you enough that you quit.

The fix for this embroidery issue is to evaluate every project you take on and ask yourself whether it’s too hard, too easy, or a just right challenge. This will help you choose embroidery projects more intentionally, which will ultimately lead to more embroidery success.

7) You Need to Change Your Mindset

Self-doubt and perfectionism plagues every artist at some point. Given the precision that’s required with embroidery, these negative feelings can be especially strong. Shifting your mindset around your embroidery can make a big difference and help you realize that your project isn’t as bad as you thought it was.

As someone who struggles with perfectionism, I had a rude awakening when I started embroidery. I wanted every single stitch to be perfect, but none of them seemed to be.

Hundreds and hundreds of stitches later, I was disappointed with the results. Sure, I was a beginner and I knew that I had to accept some level of imperfection but, what the heck?! My work was awful!

To stop myself from throwing my embroidery supplies in the trash and never looking at them again, I had to start embracing the imperfection. 

No, I don’t love all of my crooked stitches, but I’ve started looking at them as a natural part of the learning process. Slowly, I’ve started to see them as beautiful and necessary. 

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My uneven, crooked little stitches are better than giving up and having no embroidery work at all. 

The fix for this issue is to take a long hard look at your mindset. Are you being perfectionist or too hard on yourself? Is there a way to change your perspective and see your “mistakes” as a natural part of the learning process?

There are a lot of different reasons why your embroidery work looks bad and not as you hoped it would. At the end of the day though, art isn’t meant to be perfect. Do the best you can to love the embroidery journey you’re on, with all of its ups and downs.

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