Hand embroidering shop bought clothes

Finished linen top 2.jpg

Adding a touch of hand embroidery to items of clothing that you have bought from a shop, can be a great and reasonably quick way to have a totally unique and bespoke garment. I think it is something people don’t often think to do and yet it is incredibly effective. I love the history of costume and there have been many periods when embroidery was used on both male and female clothing. Think of the foppish styles of the late 18th century when men wore embroidered waistcoats and lace trimmed cuffs and floral embroidery has been constant and very feminine embellishment for women’s fashions. I especially love some of the early 20th century art nouveau and art deco clothes that had wonderful stitched panels on them. These days modern fabrics and the styles that are dominant, mainly because of the comfort factor, for me, often lack that sense of prettiness that was there in days gone by.

I am not really a dressmaker, which of course I should be, because this would offer lots of opportunity for adding stitched panels but working with shop bought clothes can be very successful and probably quicker. I have seen at the Knitting and Stitching shows some amazing embroidery machines that make beautiful stitched motifs, but I don’t have one and even though I think they are very clever, it is not on my wish list because I simply enjoy the process of hand sewing and being able to take the stitches exactly where I want them to go. In fact I don’t do this nearly enough because I love embroidery and the charming look it gives tops or jackets, but in the January sales, I bought a beautiful linen smock top from the swedish designer Gudrun Sjoden (there’s a link at the end of this post) and it just seemed to be whispering to me to add a little stitching.


The key thing to remember when selecting a garment for embellishing is to be sure that the fabric is sturdy enough to support it. I like to use perle cotton thread for embroidery and this is a reasonably strong thread but it isn’t super fine, so you need an item of clothing that won’t pucker or pull when you start disturbing it’s weave with a needle. This linen top is a heavier weight linen and the pleated front means that it has layers underneath which also add support, so it should be fine. I just love the pockets!!!!

There is so much inspiration out there to help you decided what sort of thing you want to embroider and in this case I am going to stick with some fairly traditional floral imagery. The Japanese, with their eye for detail have some completely wonderful embroidery books for ideas and you can find these on Etsy. It doesn’t matter at all that they are not in english, if you have mastered a few types of stitches and in fact I find the japanese writing so beautiful to look at, it sometimes adds to the inspiration. (It’s an ambition of mine to one day understand it). I have a few absolute favourite books and this time I chose something from this gorgeous book.

Wool Stitchembroidery book.jpg

The panel I selected was mainly in one colour and I wanted to try this. I used a chalk pencil to draw an outline. The wonderful thing about this kind of work is that there are no rules. You don’t have to be absolutely precise and you can alter it to suit stitches that you enjoy. In this case, I swapped the bullion buds for colonial knot berries and I was happy with this choice.


One thing that always concerns me about working on clothing that is already constructed is how to manage the tension issue. You can just stitch with the fabric in your hands and in this case, I did just this for the flower stems. However, depending what sort of motifs you are working, a very small hoop or a darning mushroom can be useful to help keep your stitching even and neat. I used a little hoop for the colonial knots and then when I decided to add the butterfly, I used a darning mushroom. Darning and the lovely wooden mushrooms or toadstools that can be used has been a recent revelation to me and I will be writing a post about this subject soon as it has opened up a whole new stitching concept to me.


The yellow butterfly was a last minute decision - settled upon after I saw the most lovely sea of yellow and navy blue shop displays in John Lewis….might as well keep up with the trend and it is pretty combination. I also love butterflies and now that it is finished, I think it rather gives the impression of a brooch.

embroidered butterfly.jpg

Floral embroidery is probably the most traditional choice of style for doing a project like this and I have several other examples of clothes I have embellished.

embroidered jacket collar.jpg
embroidered linen jacket.jpg

All of these clothes are from high street stores and none of them were expensive to buy. I feel now though that they not only reflect my love of embroidery, but also me….we all make colour choices based on our instincts and natural tendencies. They are fun to wear and always a talking point and even the tiniest touch on the back of a garment can transform it into something very special. The power of the needle rules…….