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How to do Watercolour Embroidery

Updated: Jan 25, 2023

I am often in awe of the fantastic embroideries displayed at Home Industries Marquees at Local Agricultural Shows. These are detailed and skilled pieces that must have taken weeks, if not months, to complete. I have done a few over the past number of years where the pieces have taken months to complete.

I find embroidery meditative but often don’t have the time to start and finish big detailed projects. With mixed media watercolour embroidery, I can combine paints and stitches to create colourful pieces that would otherwise take ages if they were all stitches.

Combining watercolour paint and embroidery speeds up projects. And it’s a fun way to create fantastic decorative stitched artwork for your home.

Did you know you can combine watercolour paints and embroidery? It is a quick way to add blocks of colour and tone to your embroidery projects. Or use stitches to add texture to your watercolour painting.


· Unbleached cotton canvas fabric

· Watercolour paints (inks, cakes, tubes or pencils)

· Embroidery floss


· 6" wooden embroidery hoop

· Watercolour brushes

· Embroidery needles and heat-transfer pen

What Fabric To Use

· Like when you paint on paper with watercolour, you want a white/whitish background. Light fabrics in whites and natural colours work best with watercolour paints.

· Calico is suitable for both paints and stitches. It is sturdy enough to take paint and easy enough to hand stitch. It is an easy fabric to get drum tight in an embroidery hoop.

· Unbleached fabric is best for watercolour painting techniques as the colour bleed is better. Bleached fabrics tend to be smoother, and watercolour paints don’t bleed and mix as well.

· NOT stretchy fabrics, as these are harder to embroider.

· NOT felt or velvet fabrics; they may be easy to embroider, but they aren’t good with watercolour paints.

How to transfer the pattern

The fabric will get wet when painting with watercolours, so you can’t use water-soluble transfer pens. Also, carbon copy paper doesn’t work well as the carbon dust will smudge the light fabric. The best thing to use is a heat -erasable pen. Or, if you are confident that your stitches will hide any ink marks, use a thin nibbed ink pen to mark out your design. Place the printed pattern on top of a lightbox. Or you can use a window on sunny days. Then place the fabric on top of the pattern and trace the image with a pen.

How To Paint On The Fabric

Part of the charm of using watercolour paints is that they bleed. The bleeding can be controlled by how wet the paint is, how wet the fabric is and whether or not you add water after painting.

If you apply watercolour paint to dry fabric, the colour will not spread, but if you apply it to wet cloth, the colour floats out and spreads.

Before starting the painting, I recommend practising on a scrap piece of fabric. Check out the bleed of your paints and fabric, playing with wet and dry material and adding water later.

I, generally wet the fabric before adding the watercolour paints.


1. Transfer the pattern to the cotton fabric using a light box and heat-soluble pen.

2. Place the design in an embroidery hoop and make it drum-tight.

3. Wet the fabric where you want to paint it with watercolour paint.

4. Paint with the watercolours like you would on paper. Then add more water if you want more bleeding. Bear in mind the colours won't be as intense as they are on paper. Leave the painted fabric to dry thoroughly before embroidering.

5. Embroider the outline lines of the patterns with floss and a needle. Use a mixture of backstitches, blanket stitches, satin stitches and french knots.

6. The embroidery is to add texture and definition; the majority of the colour comes from watercolour paint.

In order to get you started, I have put together 2 kits - floral and pebble to help you experiment with this relaxing craft.

For the floral, using green floss, stitch the outline and veins of the leaves. Use a simple backstitch. With pink thread, backstitch the petal outlines. Then with the same thread, embroider one long stitch over the centre lines—finish by filling the flower’s centre with a satin stitch with orange floss.

For the pebble, embroider each pebble with a different coloured floss.

· Pebble with buttons (orange thread): Outline of the pebble and the small circles inside use a backstitch. Then fill each circle with 3-4 french knots.

Pebble with lines (red thread): Outline in backstitch. Dots in the centre with a french knot. Then one single long stitch from the french knot to the edge.

· Pebble with stamen (pink thread): Outline the pebble with a backstitch. Stitch the inner circle in a blanket stitch. Then use one long stitch with each stamen and add a french knot at the end.

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