How to Add Embellishment by Embroidering Printed Fabrics

  • 01 of 03

    Enhance Quilting Cottons with Hand Embroidery

    Embellishing Printed Fabric
    Embellishing Printed Fabric. © Mollie Johanson, Licensed to

    Most of the time, it's best to choose a plain fabric to embroider on. Printed designs on the fabric can be distracting when stitching a pattern over them. However, if you use the elements printed on the fabric as a guide for your embroidery, you'll end up with something truly special!

    The key to this is embroidering over a printed design and using that design to inspire your stitching. In fact, your embroidery should become an extension of the fabric, enhancing and embellishing what is already...MORE there.

    Just about any printed cotton fabric can be used with this technique, and because there are so many designs to choose from, each time you try this, it will be unique. That's part of the charm!

    Some fabrics have patterns that seem to call out for an obvious embroidery addition, such as this Dress Me fabric I used to make a pillow. You might add rows of stitches to striped fabric, or embroider lazy daisy petals around tiny polka dots. 

    Paisley and floral fabrics often have large or detailed designs, offering plenty of opportunity to embroider over the "pattern" provided.

    When it comes to stitching on printed fabrics, there's so much room for creativity. Let's look at a few ways to create and use your embellished material.

    Continue to 2 of 3 below.
  • 02 of 03

    Follow the Printed Lines when Stitching

    Stitch Over Lines
    Stitch Over Lines. © Mollie Johanson, Licensed to

    An easy place to start when stitching on your printed fabric is to look for outlines. These are going to be just like the lines you would transfer with a regular pattern, so they are a natural for embroidery. 

    On this house fabric, I added straight stitch branches to the large trees. Stitching down the middle of the tree would have also worked, as would embroidering the small trees. I chose to keep some of the fabric showing.

    And that's something to consider. Do you want a lot of fabric...MORE showing? Or do you want to fill it in as much as possible? Either one is okay! 

    The other thing you can do is select one area in a larger piece of fabric and only embroider over that area. In the fabric above, I'm stitching over only one row of houses and trees. 

    Continue to 3 of 3 below.
  • 03 of 03

    Fill Areas with Stitching and Be Creative

    Stitch Over Solid Areas
    Stitch Over Solid Areas. © Mollie Johanson, Licensed to

    Solid printed areas also make a perfect base for your stitches. You can embroider a design within the area or stitch over the entire space as fill stitching.

    For the roofs of the houses, I did some with a few straight stitches to look like little ridges. On others, I used satin stitch so they are more solid. The texture of both of these options enhances the design that's already there.

    The embroidered fabric can now be used for small sewing projects or framed in a hoop to show off both the fabric...MORE and stitching!


    Give your printed fabric some stitching stability by ironing stabilizer to the back.

    Try different types of stitches, looking for stitches that both mimic and contrast with the fabric designs.

    Think about your embroidery as paint-by-number, matching floss to printing. 

    Look for ways to use color differently than the printed fabric in bold or subtle ways.

    Have fun with it!