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Why You Need an Embroidery Sampler Project  **not only for beginners


Starting out with an embroidery sampler project is a great way to practice stitches you are learning and have fun while you improve your technique.


Samplers -both antique and modern have a long history and so many uses for stitchers today.

Antique samplers have always fascinated me, of course. Over the centuries samplers have served different purposes, but what usually springs to mind are the delightful pieces worked by young girls in the 18th or 19th century to show off or prove their stitchery skills. It is good fun – though sometimes humbling to explore the lovely examples of these in museum collections.

Samplers have also served as a means of documentation for embroiderers, showing the working of new stitches or materials to refer back to. Or as demonstration pieces for teaching or selling purposes.

The modern stitch sampler


For me, a sampler is all of these (although not for showing off I hasten to add) and I have discovered that developing samplers for myself can be quite liberating.  The great thing about deciding to work up a sample piece is that suddenly the (self imposed) pressure to create something ‘special’ evaporates. It’s play time! Time to explore an idea, a new technique, see how colours work together or don’t, or simply practice a stitch.

You don’t always need to focus on an end product and you’ll find it is just fun to enjoy the process.

50 Weeks, 50 Samples?

It’s been a bit of a thing lately for folks to set themselves a specific challenge. A weekly or daily task. Usually characterised as a ‘challenge’. I think that word is a bit…challenging, so I’m trying to avoid it.

But the concept is one I’d like to attempt as I’m so rubbish at doing things with any consistency and I’d like to work on that.

I decided to see how I’d get on with a weekly ‘endeavour’: an exercise to create a stitch sample each week. To explore ideas, designs, stitches, whatever. I have dedicated a notebook to that, but from time to time will share in these pages.


So, first go: an exercise to use ONE skein of floss on a piece to see how much coverage it provides, and to more or less keep track of the time taken. It was basically to be a ‘data’ piece: 8 meters of 6 strand floss over 6 days. Hah!

Well, this one spilled over into the second week, so not off to a brilliant beginning but still, it kept going.  I added in a little bit of a complication by working with the hoop frame and deciding I’m liking it a bit more now that I’ve resolved a few issues with it. Colour used —  Anchor 308.


Playing with geometric shapes in my first exercise reminded me that a real limitation is that any ‘imperfections’ will be far more apparent than in an organic form. The next sample was for practicing circles. It was composed of a number of circles, just 2 or 3 size variations and worked with a limited number of stitches – back stitch, split back stitch and stem.  I wanted to use more colour though, as last week’s restriction to a single colour was a tough one for me. Chosen colours: A72 – D158 – D783 – D931 – D3753.

It’s a quite simple design now that it is complete, and could be embellished more at a later stage but it is fairly dynamic as it is. As a sampler it was a good exercise for me to practice being as accurate as I can be stitching circles.



The theme here was to explore a leaf shape and I chose my favourite -the gingko. It was to be a simple composition of two leaves based on some that I have dried, and the tricky bit was that that I wanted it stitched on a dark ground. The stitching is not tricky but transferring the drawing onto dark fabric is.

I decided it needed something more so continued to play around with it adding some French knots as texture to the background. I really do like the way the leaves came out and will develop this into another design at some point.

When you dive into a piece without worrying about the end product, you get into the rhythm of stitching, enjoying it for what it is and that in fact, often sparks new ideas to explore. Voila – it’s working. And yes, you are creative.


Here are some ideas to get you started on a sampler or series of samplers of your own:


  • Draw a shape – a square or triangle on your fabric and fill it with parallel lines. Pick a stitch – straight, back stitch or split back stitch to go over each line then fill in between with a variety of stitches – chain stitch, French knots, whatever you would like to practice.
  • Fill a square or a circle with a large X and use each triangle to play with a fill stitch. You could use different stitches in each with all the same colour, or variations of the same stitch in all one colour.
  • Mark out rectangles of about 3cm x 6 cm (1-inch x 2 inches) or whatever size you prefer and fill each section with a variation of one colour. So, you could transition from a deep scarlet through to pale pink. Try the same exercise with a pair of complementary colours for example tints and shades of blue and orange.
  • Experiment with the same shape – outline and some fill stitch, on different colour base fabrics.

It’s great to have a mini-project like this on the go to pick up whenever you have a little piece of time. I hope you will try one for yourself and see how a little sampler stitching can give your creative confidence a lift.

 The Magpie Collective blog will serve to inspire readers to engage with their own creativity, support their interest in design and stitchery and provide a framework of tips, simple techniques and encouragement.

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