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Machine Embroidery – A Beautiful Technique

May 31, 2021

Machine embroidery adds a beautiful touch to clothing. The variety of effects can be astounding and its effects much like hand embroidery, at a fraction of the price.

Machine embroidery – self coloured black on black

For example, here’s a wrap-fronted dress that shows a technique at once subtle and flamboyant. The self coloured embroidery, where the colour of the embroidery thread is the same as the background, is here black on black. This means that they don’t stand out as much as colours that contrast, say red on black.

However, the bold motifs and ruffles employed here mean that this outfit is still not for the shy.


Machine Embroidery

Machine Embroidery – black on black blouse with ruffles


Machine embroidery – Oriental Style Dressing Gowns








An excellent canvas for machine embroidery is an oriental style dressing gown. Based on traditional garments, such as kimono or hanbok, the beautiful wrappers are often covered in high quality graceful designs. These ones show floral motifs, as well as a crane, which is a symbol of happiness and eternal youth throughout Asia. Not a bad thought to carry around with you when you hop out of bed in the morning.

These gowns are never afraid of colour, either. A very common combination is scarlet, gold and white, as above. Whereas that might be a bit much for every day, it’s perfect as a morning pick me up. And, as the other examples show, you can go sophisticated with pink and green on black, or even more colourful with russet oranges and green on royal purple.


Machine Embroidery – Peasant Style blouse




Here’s another very striking multi colour on black design. This one is reminiscent of traditional Russian garments. The smocking at the waist helps to pull it in and create a more flattering outline than the usual billowing shape. Poppies, cornflowers, daisies and roses are featured.

I think that this would also be great for a Frida Kahlo inspired look. Her blouses were a traditional Mexican garment, a little bit different in shape but also colourful and heavily embroidered.




Tapestry embroidery featuring floral designs











Tapestry embroidery is a very popular style for soft furnishings. They can depict all sorts of subjects. Florals are incredibly popular. You will also see hunting scenes, and stylised designs. It is very hard wearing, often made in wool on canvas.

The interesting thing about tapestry embroidery is that it is created on a grid. The background canvas has regular holes. So the design is formed of tiny squares. The limitations create a very particular style of embroidery, which is somewhat rigid, although clever designs mean curves can still be created. that The stitch most often used is tent stitch, and it isn’t actually a tapestry, which are woven, but resembles one.



machine embroidery - an appliqued tree detail.

Machine embroidery – an appliquéd tree detail.


Machine embroidery - an appliqued hunt scene

Machine embroidery – an appliquéd hunt scene

Appliqué is a lovely technique. It consists of pieces of fabric cut out and stitched down onto a background. This produced bold, block colours. Free motion machine embroidery is often added on top for detail.

This technique is much quicker than trying to fill in areas of colour with embroidery alone. Reminiscent of paper collage, you can insert as much expression as you like though. This piece is very charming. It’s made in felt – reminding me of the Fuzzy Felt Game! It’s a similar principle, except this one has been sewn down in blanket stitch so the picture is preserved forever. Felt makes the technique easy so that the edges don’t fray, but any kind of fabric can be used. You can also add beading or any other kind of decorative flourish to the finished piece.


Sequins and padding


Machine embroidery

Machine embroidery – detail of a padded and sequinned scene with an elephant

This piece is probably Indonesian or possibly Indian. It shows a glorious elephant made from silver sequins. Stitching sequins by hand is incredibly time consuming. But with machine embroidery, the job is done much more quickly. The effect is just as gorgeous. This piece also contains laid work. This is a type of embroidery made from cords laid down on the background surface. Then they are stitched down. It’s a little bit like appliqué, but using thread instead of fabric. The cord can be manipulated into all kinds of shapes and patterns, like drawing a line. They can also be used to fill in background areas, like colouring in. Free machine embroidery designs are often employed.

These wall hangings are popular, for good reason. Especially when they are vintage, the sequins dull to a lovely subtle shimmer, and the colours are harmonious. The overall effect is rather joyous but not obtrusive.

Tambour embroidery

This is a very typically Indian embroidery. It can be made with a sewing machine for speed, but is a traditional skill of hand embroidery.  If sewing machine feed dogs cannot move the fabric, it can be done by hand. The fabric, which can be anything from a thick wool felt to a fine silk voile, is stretched over a frame until it is tight like a drum. A special tool, like a very fine crochet hook, is used to puncture the fabric and bring the thread up into loops. The effect is like chain stitch. The lines of embroidery can be laid very closely together to form designs. It also allows a subtle graduation of colours, or bold stripes if that is preferred.

This technique is used in Parisian couture as well. The famous embroidery house Lesage uses it. It can be very effective for beading and sequins.


machine embroidery

Machine embroidery – detail of a chain stitch piece of fabric


Satin Stitch

Satin stitch is also often used to great effect for colour graduations too. It is excellent on big pieces, like bedcovers, for example. There is a special quality to a day when you wake up beneath a heavy satin coverlet covered in embroidery patterns like palm trees, animals, and flowers.


Machine embroidery - detail of a satin stitch palm tree

Machine embroidery – detail of a satin stitch palm tree

Images from Blue17 vintage fabrics archive.