Print Products

A Brief History of Embroidery

The Beginning of Embroidery

Various methods of sewing begin emerging at least 4000 years ago from cultures spread all over the world. From humble beginnings when animal sinew, strips of leaves, or even grasses were used to stitch together animal hides, sewing techniques were refined and became a widely adopted skill for necessarily mending or altering clothing and shelter items. With the advent of cloth weaving and the growing accessibility to stronger and more desirable thread types, the access to quality materials allowed sewing to evolve from a practical skill into a decorative art. Enter embroidery. Examples of embroidery can be found in China as early as 500 BC and a wide variety of styles can be found in textile art history almost anywhere. Embroidery can be anything from the simple decorations of an amateur to an extravagant artwork commissioned by royalty. The piece below is from the Yue School of Chinese Embroidery (200 BC – 200 AD) and uses peacock feathers and horse tail hair.

There are many ways that traditional embroidery can be made, but the most common manual method involves the use of fabric, an embroidery hoop, thread and a needle. The desired fabric is stretched tautly by the embroidery hoop to stay flat so that the artist doesn’t stretch or pull the fabric when pulling stitches through. Once the needle is threaded it is as simple as strategically stitching the thread through the material to achieve the desired pattern or design. The concept is simple; however, embroidery can be extremely complex with dozens of stitch types, thousands of stitches, sometimes miles of embroidery thread, and endless possibilities. Larger works can take years to complete. Below is  hand embroidered piece that he worked on 3 hours a day for more than 10 years.

Modern Methods

Sewing became mechanized during the industrial revolution and it wasn’t long after that that embroidery followed suit. Hand embroidery is still a popular hobby but industrial embroidery machines now consistently embroider multiple garments at once and at high speeds of anywhere between 250-900 stitches per minute. Imagine hand sewing 900 stitches in one minute! This capacity for productivity has allowed the time consuming process of complex embroidery to be made widely available and for reasonable costs. Industrial embroidery machines work with the same basic concept of hand embroidery but the process is mechanized. Pictured below is a Tajima industrial embroidery machine capable of sewing 20 of the same design simultaneously.


Industrial embroidery begins with the design. A graphic designer converts a logo or pattern into a program that includes layers of colour to be read by the embroidery machine computer. Once the design work is finished, the process works similar to hand embroidery with material being stretched and set in embroidery hoops and those hoops firmly secured to a mount below a machine head. Each head has 8-15 needles threaded with unique colours. Once the machine starts the design is read one colour layer at a time and the embroidery machine computer moves each head to drive the needle with the corresponding colour of thread for that layer. The machine sometimes leaves ‘thread trails’ between lettering but these are manually removed with small scissors during the quality control process. With a 4 head embroidery machine, what would take an individual hours, days, or even weeks or months to complete can be exactly replicated 4 times over in a matter of minutes.


Embroidery has always been one of the more complicated means of decorating clothing, but, with its wide availability today, it is a great way for businesses, schools, sports teams, and clothing companies to market their brands or represent their group with a professional and stylized look. Now that you know a little more about the art of embroidery don’t panic! Embroidery has had varying levels of complexity in the past and today’s methods require specialized equipment and software, but CleverPrint has more than a decade of experience producing embroidery and has all the equipment, design knowhow, and commitment to quality to make your custom embroidery projects simple and straightforward to plan and look as beautiful as you can imagine. If you have any further questions or want to know what embroidery can do for you then don’t hesitate to call your new best printing friends and we’ll be happy to answer your questions and help you with all your embroidery needs.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *