Embroidery on Paper

Embroidery on Paper

The history of embroidery on paper may be traced back to the late 1700’s when pin pricking was used to adorn cards and enhance painted pictures. The pricking was done from either side which gave a different texture. Also, different size needles and tools were used to create various size holes. Sometimes the needle did not pierce the paper, but only is an example dating back to 1780 in a London museum. Marie Antoinette used pin pricking on stationery she sent while imprisoned. This art form was most popular around the 1850’s.

Pin pricking surely had some influence on the Victorian fancy-work designs that used a pre-punched paper. This can certainly be considered embroidery on paper because the ladies stitched the pre-printed designs using the holes in the paper. Many of these designs were used as Christmas ornaments or wall hangings. The larger designs were of the mottos of the day, often spiritual in nature. As with many needlework techniques, this one began to die out in the early 1900’s.

The next notable period to impact today’s art form would be the string art craze of the 1970’s. String art really happened as a result of mathematicians and engineers trying to find a way to express a 3-dimensional curved surface. Pierre Bezier created the model to draw the curve, which later was used in Computer Aided Drawing programs developed in the 1970’s. The result is an optical illusion that creates curved designs using straight lines. Here is an example of a Bezier curve using three points. Several resources called Pierre Bezier the father of string art. Math teachers began to create projects for their students to learn this theory. Math Cats has a fun website that shows how to create your own string art projects. While many of the designs are quite simple, it is possible to create fabulous works of art. Prepare to be amazed when you browse through the string art on this website.

Another contributing factor was the invention of the Spirograph by British engineer Denys Fisher. This new toy debuted at the 1965 International Toy Fair. The Spirograph produces mathematical curves using disks made of plastic with holes strategically placed in the plastic circle. Create your own designs using the on-line spirograph.

In the 1980’s people started creating scrapbook pages and handmade cards. They got more elaborate and it was only a matter of time before embroidery on paper began appearing. A lot of the credit goes to Dutch designer Erica Fortgens. In the early 1990’s she began writing books with patterns and instructions. She branched out to include tools and templates. Today the sky is the limit to what you can do with embroidery on paper, so let’s get started!!


Piercing or Pricking tool is needed to make the holes in the paper. The tools come in grades: extra fine (348-271-0007), fine (348-271-0008), and coarse (348-271-0009). The grade determines the size of the hole. We also sell them as a set (348-271-0006). You can use a needle, but it will dull quickly. You will need to use emery to keep it sharp.

To cushion the paper when piercing, you need a good piercing pad (348-271-0010). We do carry a starter kit that will make 5 cards, includes the envelopes, piercing pad, 2 piercing tools, and instructions.

You will need a variety of needles to match your fibers and holes. You don’t want the eye of the needle to be much larger than your fiber or the punched hole or the fibers won’t cover well.

Papers are available in all weights from parchment to cardstock and can be plain or patterned. Experiment with layering and embellishments to create a look all your own!

The threads you choose should be appropriate for the design. For example, if you are creating a lacy edge, you would probably want a fine thread or metallic. Some of the overdyed threads enhance the patterns with their color changes.

Templates come in a variety of styles and help you with the placement of the punched holes. There are templates that create borders (348-271-0027, flowers (348-271-0029), even Hardanger borders (348-271-0021), corners (348-271-0022), stars (348-271-0024), and kloster blocks (348-271-0025).

A good cutting mat and knife (6748) help to trim your designs or do the cut work of the Hardanger design.

Have a pair of scissors available that you will use only to cut the paper. Don’t use your embroidery scissors!!

Start collecting a variety of embellishments including Mill Hill beads , crystals, Mill Hill treasures, buttons, charms and silk ribbons.

Glue and tape will complete your basic basket of supplies.

If you wish to do stitching on paper that is already pre-punched, try our perforated paper selection.


First you need to determine the design you want to use. You can lightly draw your design on the paper or use a template. The template could be one of the brass ones mentioned above, or a Xeroxed copy of a design from one of the books. Laminate your Xeroxed copy and you will be able to use it for future projects. A lot of specialty stitches work well with paper embroidery. For example, a Rhodes heart is an excellent choice for corners of the design. Make a copy of the stitch so you know where to punch the holes.

Depending on the paper you are using, you may not want to secure your template to the front of the paper. You can use double-sided tape or masking tape. Just take extra care when removing the template after piercing the holes. Before you remove your template, it would be helpful to hold the template and paper up to the light to be sure you have punched all the holes. If you make a mistake and punch a hole in the wrong place, you can place a bit of clear tape on the back of the paper, covering the wrongly punched hole.

When punching the holes, you want to keep the tool vertical. This will help keep the holes even. If you don’t like the ridges turn your card face down and gently rub over the holes with the back of a spoon to help flatten the ridges.

The punched holes have rough edges so they will wear on your threads. Keep your stitching length about 12". I found a great tip on the Card Embroidery website on how to secure metallic threads on your needle so they won’t keep sliding through the eye.

One nice thing about this technique is there are no KNOTS on the back of the piece! You will use a piece of tape to secure the beginning and end of each thread. Also, when you finish the card or the page, you will back it with something else, so no one will actually see the back of your piece.

Many of the stitches you already know are used for paper embroidery including the straight stitch and stem stitch. Many specialty stitches lend themselves well to paper embroidery. For example, a Rhodes heart can be used as a heart or a leaf. Stitching Card has a wonderful tutorial about paper embroidery stitches.

Stitching Cards has a butterfly pattern with instructions to show you how a card goes together.

We have a fabulous selection of books to choose from.

Embroidery on paper is fun and fast. This technique is wonderful for making cards, announcements, scrapbook pages, ornaments and gift tags. Start now and be done early for the holiday season!

We hope these "helpful hints" make your stitching easier and more enjoyable!

For those interested in using this article or others published by Nordic Needle, Inc., please use this copy when referencing the information:

“The following article was written by Debi Feyh of Nordic Needle and published in their weekly e-mail newsletter. Permission was granted by Nordic Needle to share this article in (name of your publication). For information on subscribing to their weekly e-mail newsletter, visit www.nordicneedle.com. A free mail-order catalog is available to you upon request if you live in the USA or Canada.”

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