Brazilian Embroidery

Brazilian embroidery is a type of surface embroidery that uses rayon thread instead of cotton or wool. It is called “Brazilian” embroidery because the use of high-sheen rayon thread in embroidery was first popularized in Brazil, where rayon was widely manufactured. Brazilian embroidery patterns usually include flowers formed using both knotted and cast on stitches. Although many of these stitches are used in other forms of embroidery, the technique used to create them is slightly different.

The difference is caused by the method used to manufacture the rayon thread. For example, cotton thread uses an S twist when the fiber plies are combined into a strand. Rayon thread uses a Z twist. One type of twist turns the fiber plies clockwise; the other turns them counterclockwise. When forming the knots of Brazilian embroidery, the embroiderer must wrap the thread onto the needle in the opposite direction from that used in other types of embroidery. Otherwise the fibers of the thread will unravel and make the resulting stitches and knots unattractive. (wikipedia)

This particular style does not have the "rules" Hardanger Embroidery or Canvas work. The Brazilian embroidery pattern usually outlines the major stitching and features of the design and it is up to the stitcher to fill in areas or make adjustments as s/he sees fit.


Rayon was introduced in the mid 1800’s and by the turn the century, was the first man-made fiber in full production in France. The thread had a wonderful sheen and was very smooth which made it the perfect fit for making the dimensional stitches.

In the 1960’s a woman in Brazil began dying the native threads creating a palette of colors. From that humble beginning, it grew in popularity until companies in Brazil began to manufacture rayon threads in various colors and weights. Because the threads were dyed in variegated colors, the embroidery became known as Vari-Cor embroidery. However, as the popularity of this embroidery technique spread, it became know as simply "Brazilian Embroidery".

Rayon has long been the preferred thread for this style of embroidery because of its sheen and smoothness. Most stitches, especially bullions (which are used extensively for their dimensional effect), are much easier to make because of the thread’s smooth texture.

In 1979, the EdMar Company started manufacturing variegated rayon thread in the U.S. The threads are spun in their factory in Meridian, Idaho. They spin the thread using specially designed smaller spinners to help insure a quality product. Their 200 plus color combinations are created by hand-dying in small lots.

Work Basket

Brazilian embroiderers use a few different tools, so let’s review what we need in to have in our basket for Brazilian Embroidery:

Fabric needs to be firmly woven, such as Trigger cloth:

Basic Brazilian embroidery uses Milliners needles. Milliner needles tend to be longer than your standard needle, but the critical difference is that the eye is the same size as the needle shaft making it easier to get the specialty stitches to slide off the needle easier.

If you become addicted to making bullions, then you will want a set of 5" and 7" bullion needles:

Hoops of various sizes will come in handy to hold your fabric taut as you work on certain stitches:

A needle grabber can be used to help pull the needles through the bullions:

You will need a water soluble marker to transfer your pattern to the Trigger cloth:

There is not a specialty scissors for Brazilian Embroidery, just be sure your scissors are sharp and cut well so they don’t pull the threads when cutting.

Some of the threads work best when they have been stretched before using them. This can be a killer on your bare fingers. Stretching is a snap with thread straighteners:

You will want to develop a storage method for your threads as once they are opened, they have a tendency to tangle. My recommendation is the EdMar plastic organizer:

  • Plastic Thread Storage Sheet
  • To insert the thread into the slot, use a skein threader (330-262-0001). Each plastic organizer will store 16 skeins.

The threads are the key to this particular style of needlework. The Brazilian Dimensional Embroidery International Guide has created a wonderful summary of the threads as shown below:

Thread Comparison Chart

Throughout the years there have been several manufacturers of Z twisted rayon thread, but currently we know of only one, EdMar Co. Use the chart below to compare the weights, twist, yardage and suggested needle size.

Thread Name Weight Twist Length Needle size
Nova Extra heavy Loose 10 yds. Darner #18
Bouclé Heavy Bumpy 10 yds. Darner #18
Lola Heavy Tight 19 yds. Milliner #1
Ciré Heavy Very loose 10 yds. Milliner #1
Frost Medium Very tight 15 yds. Milliner #3
Iris Medium Somewhat loose 15 yds. Milliner #5
Glory Fine Somewhat loose 20 yds Milliner #7

Tips & Tricks

EdMar has been the leader in Brazilian Dimensional Embroidery. Below is a condensed version of their Tips for Stitching with Rayon. If you would like to see their complete, unedited tips, please go to

  1. Rayon threads are to be used as they are, never split the plies.
  2. Work with the fabric held taut in a hoop.
  3. Strive to use uniform tension to prevent the fabric from puckering.
  4. Stitches should be worked clockwise and from left to right. This will keep the thread from unraveling and fraying.
  5. Try to keep the back of your project clean and organized. Avoid “jumping around”, threads will show onto the front like a shadow if you do.

EdMar has provided a very comprehensive section on washing your piece at Please read through their entire article when you are ready to wash your project. Here a just a few of their tips:

  • EdMar rayon threads are colorfast, meaning the color will not fade or change under normal washing, handling, and exposure. However, bleaches, solvents, acids, alkaline substances, and prolonged exposure to sunlight may fade or change certain colors.
  • Some colors are more prone to bleeding than others, such as reds, due to the large amount of dye needed to color the thread. Bleeding occurs when excess dye is released from the fiber and drawn onto the fabric. Excess dye is not permanent and will wash out completely. (If this happens, read their suggestions on how to handle the bleeding.)
  • Wash completed embroidery only, never the skeins by themselves or unfinished projects.

Inquiring Minds

Q. Is there a right or wrong end to tie the knot and how do I tell?
A. I was taught to remember it with this saying "Two to tie, three to thread". The thread will unravel if you twist it back and forth between your fingers 3 or 4 times. Then look at the number of plies that have unraveled and make your knot in the end that has two plies.

Q. People talk about the bullions and I have watched people make them, but they look complicated. What tips do you have about bullions?
A. You just have to jump in and start making them. If you make a mistake, you can unthread your needle and pull it out. The most important tip I can pass on is bullion and cast-on stitches should be wrapped loosely on the needle. If you get them wound too tight, it is a struggle to get them slid off the needle. If you want thicker bullions you need a thicker weight of thread. You can’t make the bullion any thicker by adding more wraps. Here is a "sanity saver": When you have finished your bullion or cast-on stitch, make a knot on the back to secure that bullion. Sometimes bullions get so tight that they will burst open and it will unravel your work back to the last knot.

Q. I really like to do ribbon embroidery. Can I adapt a Brazilian Embroidery pattern to Ribbon Embroidery?
A. Yes, if you have a little bit of experience in Ribbon Embroidery. You will need to decide which stitches you know to use in place of the traditional Brazilian stitches. It would also be a wonderful opportunity to mix the two techniques and create something totally original.

Techniques to Try

Most designs and flowers are created using a relatively few stitches. Here are a few of the basic stitches. Click on the link and you will be redirected to the B.D.E.I.G. website for their detailed instructions.

  • The suggested order for stitching is as follows:
    1. Stems, branches and most leaves are done first. These create the backdrop of your piece. Vary the shapes and colors, just like in nature. Remember there should be more leaves than flowers. Here’s an extra hint, things most often appear in odd numbers in nature. You’ll want to do things in odd clusters like five leaves or three buds. The stitches used are the Stem stitch and various leaf stitches, usually stitched using Iris weight thread.
    2. Flowers are added next usually with Lola or Iris weight thread. Be bold in your choices of color!! Some of the most common stitches for flowers are bullions, cast-on buttonhole, pistol stitch, and French knots.
    3. The fine growth is added last. This is where your individual creativity really comes through as most patterns do not indicate where to add the fine growth. You’ll use the finer threads for the flowers such as Iris and Glory for the couching. Fine growth is needed to complete your pictures, so even though it is not on the pattern, don’t forget to include it!! The stitches used here are couching and French knots.

There are many different types of stitches in Brazilian embroidery that complement its flowery and organic feel. Here are a few of the most popular stitches you will see (links provided to stitch tutorials courtesy of the B.D.E.I.G.):

Ready to try Brazilian Embroidery? Click here for some free patterns courtesy of B.D.E.I.G.

Additional resources to assist you in learning Brazilian Embroidery:

Brazilian Dimensional Embroidery International Guild, Inc. B.D.E.I.G. was formed in 1991 as a non-profit organization to promote the art of Brazilian embroidery through seminars, newsletters, website, and workshops and has worldwide membership.

Membership to BDEIG is open to all stitchers, amateur and professional, novice and experienced. The only criteria for membership are a love of Brazilian embroidery and the desire to learn more about this needle art. For complete information on the B.D.E.I.G. go to

We hope this guide makes your stitching easier and more enjoyable!

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2 thoughts on “Brazilian Embroidery

  1. I love Brazilian Embroidery and am trying to improve my skills after a several-year hiatus. I am left-handed and am struggling to get a smooth, clean bullion. Often I have a loop of thread when I insert the needle at D.

    1. Susan, as far as left- vs. right-handed for Brazilian, I would try not thinking about handedness at all, as this is very much a technique where you use both hands quite a lot, together! Make sure you have your work in a hoop or frame so you are not holding your work in one hand. Here is a great video with a very up-close view of how to do a bullion:

      Once you’ve done all your wraps, make sure to pull very gently down on them to make sure they are pushed all the way to the bottom where the thread exits the fabric, then what I typically do is use the body of my needle to ‘stroke’ the bullion to make sure all the wraps are even. I hope this helps! Good luck!

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