Hand embroidery is something of a lost art, now that much embroidery is done by machine. However, hand embroidery has seen something of a renewed popularity along with craft fairs and online markets like Etsy. The earliest surviving examples of embroidery come from Ancient Egypt, Zhou Dynast China, and Northern Europe during the Iron Age. Throughout the years, artisans and crafters have done stunningly beautiful and intricate embroidery on tapestries, clothing and linens. Embroidery is generally defined as the addition of decorative stitches to fabric.
Much contemporary embroidery is done with a computerized machine, into which the patterns are programmed. This is indeed a faster way to do it, but while it can imitate hand embroidery, there is still a demand among collectors and appreciators of embroidery for work done by hand.
Probably the two most common types of embroidery are surface embroidery and canvas embroidery. Surface embroidery includes techniques such as the chain stitch and laid-work, and is more economical in that it uses less yarn. In canvas embroidery, large amounts of yarn end up on the back of the work. Although it can be more expensive because it requires more materials, it usually provides a sturdier and more finished textile. Canvas work usually uses symmetrical, counted patterns using one or only a few stitches in a variety of colors. Surface embroidery, conversely, uses several different stitches in one piece of work.
The fabrics and yarns used in embroidery greatly, and embroidery materials are available in the more traditional wool, silk and linen, as well as the newer cotton, rayon and novelty yarns. If you wish to get started in embroidery, you will need an embroidery hoop, which is a ring with two parts. The fabric to be embroidered is stretched between the two rings to keep it taut. In addition to the embroidery hoop, thread or floss and scissors, you will need embroidery needles, which have a larger eye to accommodate the decorative thread.
Local craft stores usually have all of these materials, as well as patterns to work from. Magazines and books are also available on the subject.