Embroidery is basically doodling with a needle and thread. It’s surprisingly easy, and it is a vehicle for endless self-expression. Today I’ll be showing you how to stitch words onto a pillowcase, but you can use this same technique to stitch a pineapple on a tea towel, a spooky, all-seeing eye on the back of a cotton blouse, or practically anything else your heart desires! Well, anything made of fabric that belongs to you—Rookie does not endorse your embroidering DORK FACTORY on your school flag. (Wait, actually, we totally do, that would be amazing.)

Given my bedtime-based canvas, I thought a tender “sweet dreams” note would be a good choice. But whatever you choose for your pattern or message, all you’ll need for this DIY are some basic, affordable supplies, a lot of patience (embroidery can be time-consuming!), and a desire to make the thing you’re sewing 10,000,000% cuter. Now, shall we? We shall!

What you’ll need:

  • A set of pillowcases made of 100% cotton. Stretchier, less sturdy fabrics will make your stitches warp and look messy.
  • Embroidery floss in at least two colors. I got mine here, but most local craft/sewing stores should carry a good variety.
  • A pencil.
  • An iron.
  • An embroidery hoop, like this one. Wood or plastic is fine.
  • An embroidery needle, like these. The eyes of these needles are larger than those on typical sewing needles so that the thicker embroidery floss can be threaded through easily.
  • A seam ripper, like this one.

How to do it:

Step One:


Sketch out ideas for your design on paper so you know it’ll look good on your fabric. If you’re not confident in your freehand drawing abilities, there are plenty of iron-on embroidery designs and alphabets available to give you a helping hand.

Step Two:

Even if you’re not using an iron-on design, iron your pillowcase beforehand. It can be hard to sew through wrinkled material. Once I decided on my final design—the words Sweet Dreams in cursive with a few ’50s-style starbursts scattered around them—I drew it onto the pillowcase in very light pencil so it wouldn’t be visible once I stitched over it.

Step Three:


Fit the side of the pillowcase on which you’ve drawn your design (not both sides—you don’t want to stitch it closed!) into the embroidery hoop, which pulls the fabric tight as a drum so that you get the tidiest stitch possible. The design probably won’t fit at first, but that’s OK—you can readjust the hoop as you move along.

Step Four:

Pick your first floss color and thread it through the eye of the needle. Unfurl a decent length of floss from the spool before you start stitching—it’s always better to have more than you need than to be halfway through and run out—and tie a sturdy knot at the ends.

Step Five:

Diagram via Sublime Stitching.

Diagram via Sublime Stitching.

For this project, we’ll be using a split stitch, which is the easiest one to master and creates a nice, even line. As you’ll notice, embroidery floss is made up of six strands. When you thread your needle, those six strands all go through the eye. When you pull your thread up, those six strands all come up too. But for a split stitch, separate those stitches by stitching back up through each one after you make it. It sounds complicated, but I promise it isn’t: Just refer to the above diagram, or check out a very basic explanation here.

Step Six:


Now it’s time to make your very first stitch! In this tutorial, we’re going to refer to the side of the pillowcase where the design appears as the “front” and the side where we’ll tie our knots as the “back.” (I understand that this is very technical and scientific language, but I trust your intelligence). Starting at one end of the your design (for mine it was the first S), poke the needle through the back and bring the floss through to the front. Keep that stitch going, sewing through each prior stitch as you continue along your line, split-stitch style.

Step Seven:

My stitches and knots as seen from the back.

My stitches and knots as seen from the back.

As long as you’re going along a continuous line in a single color, sally forth in this way until the line ends. Because the S was not attached to the weet in my first word, I knotted the floss in the back when I was done with the first letter, and started anew with the rest of the word. This is super simple: Once you’ve got your floss hanging on the back side of the fabric, divide the threads of your floss into two strands and tie those together in a tight knot like the one you use for shoelaces, but without the bow, as many times over as you can. Keep the knots as close as you can against the fabric to ensure that your design doesn’t unravel. You can use as many different colors as you like; just remember to start and finish all your lines with knots on the back side to preserve your hard work. If the back side of your fabric starts to look like a total mess of knots, that’s OK! It’s the front you want to look pretty.

It’s also totally normal to make a stitch (or 10) that accidentally go a little wonky. If your design isn’t looking how you planned, grab your seam ripper and slip it through the loop of the mislaid stitch on the back side of your material, then gently pull the floss out. Now you can try that part (after quietly muttering curses to yourself) with no harm done. It can be frustrating, but it happens to everybody!


Once you’re finished, put that sucker on your bed and take a well-deserved beauty rest! When it comes time to launder them, your pillowcases should be able to withstand machine washing in warm water on the gentle cycle as long as you’ve use 100% cotton fabric and tied your knots nice and strong—just be sure not to use bleach and to wash them with like colors for the best results.

I’m pretty confident that this is by far THE BEST lazy-day winter activity, so you have my full encouragement to make cold, dreary days into full on EMBROIDERY PARTIES! One warning, though: Once you start, you may find yourself stitching up everything in your linen closet/wardrobe. Maybe think twice before deciding to “customize” your mom’s newly reupholstered couch, for your own safety. Otherwise, have fun, and happy stitching! ♦