A Guide for Hand Embroidery on Denim

  • 01 of 04

    How to Add Embroidery to Denim Clothing

    Embroidered Denim Pocket
    Embellish Jeans With Embroidery!. Mollie Johanson

    Love the look of embroidered denim? There's no need to purchase new embellished jeans or other denim items when you can embroider them yourself! This technique is easy to learn and a great way to update used clothing or customize the new.

    You're likely to see embroidery on the runway, in clothing departments at big box stores, and everywhere in between. Yes, you can buy those pieces of clothing, but you'll have more options and take more pride in the clothes you stitch yourself.

    Buy a fresh pair of jeans (wash and dry them first!), pull out the denim jacket you haven't worn in a while or stop by a ​second-hand shop so you have something to stitch on. Then reach into your stash of embroidery floss to get started. 

    Not only is this a good way to create your own version of a popular style, but it's also a great way to fix up some clothes that need a bit of repair. Embroider over a stain, cover areas that are looking extra worn or stitch over a patched hole.

    You might add something bold to make a statement on your own clothes or embroider fun characters for your kids. Whatever you choose, read on for tips, ideas, and technique basics for embroidering on denim.

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  • 02 of 04

    Materials for Embroidering on Denim

    Marking the Pattern on Denim
    Marking the Pattern on Denim. Mollie Johanson

    One of the first challenges for stitching on denim fabric is getting the pattern onto the material. The fabric is too thick for tracing and often it's too dark to see the markings. 

    Several methods work well in this situation. One method uses white or yellow carbon transfer paper. This does work, but often the lines smudge or are difficult to see. Another is the tracing paper method, which will work but can be tricky as the paper may tear as you work.​

    A third method uses water-soluble stabilizer, which soaks away when you're finished stitching. This is the method shown above.

    With water-soluble stabilizer, you can print or the pattern onto the material and adhere it onto the denim. If you want to embroider over areas where there is a seam, pay close attention to how the pattern lays over the seam to avoid creating a gap in the stitching where the fabric has varying layers.

    The simple pattern in the sample stitching is a collection of triangles that fits on the back pocket of a pair of jeans. Download the geometric pocket pattern as a PNG file.

    Choosing a Needle & Thread

    Denim is a strong and thick fabric, so you should select a strong and thick needle. Chenille needles in size 18-22 are good because they are both sharp and strong. The specific size you use should be a good fit for the thread you are using. 

    Most embroidery threads will work on denim, but it's best to choose those that are both durable and washable. If you find that the thread is looking more worn than usual, use shorter lengths of thread and coat them with thread conditioner.

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  • 03 of 04

    Stitching on Denim

    Stitching on a Pocket
    Stitching on a Pocket. Mollie Johanson

    Depending on the size of the embroidery you are doing, as well as the placement of it, you may or may not be able to use an embroidery hoop. The good news is that denim is stable enough that you can work without a hoop.

    When holding the denim and stitching without a hoop, be careful about how you grip the fabric so you avoid hand cramps and RSI. Take breaks as needed.

    Embroidering on jeans, whether on a pocket or the leg of the pants, often requires working at different angles and with your hand at an open edge. Because of this, it's helpful to embroider with the sewing method, dipping the needle through the fabric, while keeping it on the front of the work.

    If you are stitching near the front pockets of jeans, take care that you don't stitch through the actual pockets. Pull them out so they are out of your way while you work and check that they stay that way.

    As you work, if you get to an area that is difficult to pull the needle through, try using a different size needle or working with a needle puller. 

    Because most embroidered denim items will be worn and laundered, be careful not to make stitches that are large and will snag easily.

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  • 04 of 04

    Ideas for Stitching on Denim Items

    Geometric Embroidery on Denim
    Geometric Embroidery on Denim. Mollie Johanson

    Bold and beautiful florals are a popular design on jeans and denim jackets. You can work with pre-made floral embroidery patterns, using them just as they are or clipping and grouping them to create your own design. Flowers can even be as simple as a scattering of lazy daisies.

    Geometric designs, such as the satin-stitched triangles in the sample above, are modern and often easier to work in less time. They are great for adding some embroidery to a corner area or along a hem.

    Tattoo motifs, emblems, cute patterns or favorite characters look good on jackets, similar to adding an embroidered patch. To make them stand out, embroider them with fill stitching. 

    For something a little simpler and more subtle, stitch borders around front pockets of jeans or along the bottom hem of a jacket.

    Placement Ideas

    After you choose a design to embroider, choose the best placement for your stitching. Not all patterns are ideal for every location on a piece of clothing.

    Pockets and hems of jeans are good places for stitching, as well as along the side seams.

    Symmetrical embroidery on the fronts of jeans is also popular, especially just under the front pockets. For this, mirror the design on each side of the jeans.

    On denim jackets and shirts, the placement possibilities are nearly endless. You can add a large design to the back or tiny stitching to the collar or button placket.

    Once you've started embellishing, you might just find yourself wanting to add some stitches to all of your clothes!