Hand Embroidery vs Machine Embroidery: Differences Explained

Do you have lots of embroidered clothes in your wardrobe?

Have you ever wondered about the process it is to create them?

You might imagine that the only way to add decorative detailing to garments is by hand, but in most cases, these have been embroidered by a machine.

I was amazed when I looked at these two sewing techniques, and didn’t realize how distinct they were. The history is rich like some of the oldest tapestries.

Join me as we learn more about the differences between the two.

Exploring Embroidery

If embroidery is a new area of exploration for you – welcome!

When you get down to the details there’s quite a few differences between these stitching techniques.

They go head to head in hand embroidery vs machine embroidery!

What is Hand Embroidery?

Hand embroidery is a needle work technique that uses a needle and fabric. Fabric is stretched over a hoop of wood or plastic to hold it taut for when a needle artist adds patterns and designs into the fabric by hand.

The process requires an investment of time and human effort to include the details to make the embroidery stand out.


The hand embroidery needle artist will make the decisions on what type of stitch to use and; as the pattern unfolds changes can be made for textured effects.

Hand embroidered work is artistic and personal. It can make a great heirloom gift.


Early embroidery can be traced back to Cro-Magnon days or 30,000BC. Archeological finds from this time period reveal heavily hand-stitched and decorated clothing!

What is Machine Embroidery?

​​Machine embroidery is produced with sewing machines that have an embroidery function, or on specific embroidery machines.

Pre-made patterns or fonts are put into a computer program that controls the stitching of the embroidery machine.

How it works

The computer pattern dictates the needle path, and the pattern is sewn with uniform stitching.

Embroidery machines can create professional looking embroidery work in a fraction of the time it takes to do something very similar by hand.

Once you decide what you want to embroider and in what colors, the machine will pretty much do the rest.

If you need more info on embroidery machines, here’s my article about how embroidery machines work.

Hand Embroidery vs Machine Embroidery?

Embroidery Pattern On Black Fabric
Embroidery Pattern On Black Fabric

These are two very distinct methods of stitching and each has a purpose; it just depends on the end goal.

There are recognizable differences between hand and machine embroidering, especially if you look at the back of the work.

You can find an almost mechanical, logical path of carried threads on the back of a machine embroidered motif whereas something that is hand embroidered may be a combination of a long and short stitch.

Which is better hand or machine embroidery?

When looking at whether hand vs machine embroidery is better it depends on the sewist.

Some sewists prefer machine embroidery due to the ease and repetition.

While hand embroidery isn’t always as neat as machine embroidery, hand embroidery is a characteristic way for a needle artist to add their own personal touch.

Hand embroidery may take more time to master, whereas if you are using a machine no previous embroidery experience is required.

Comparing Hand and Machine Embroidery


Hand embroidery will result in a completely individual piece of work every time.

There will always be subtle changes in something created by hand in terms of the way different stitches are made – even if the same pattern is followed repeatedly.

The are certain hand embroidery stitches:

  • Chain stitch
  • Cross stitch
  • Feather stitch
  • Backstitch
  • Split stitch
  • Running stitch
  • Satin stitch.

Machine stitches are going to look exactly the same, which is why it is the preferred method of embroidery for mass production.

Sewing machine embroidery uses a short stitch primarily and if the bobbin thread is loaded correctly with the right tension, it will sew perfect stitches every time.

The main three stitches with a machine embroidery are

  • Straight stitch
  • Satin / column stitch
  • Fill stitch.

The satin stitch is most commonly used with text on logos and on motifs. The stitches will be equal in length and usually uncompromising if the embroidery machine is working correctly.

Thread for Hand Embroidery

Person Stitching on Blue Fabric
Person Stitching on Blue Fabric

Hand embroidery begins with choosing the right thread. Hand embroidery thread is stranded, so that threads divided provide different textures in areas such as bulkiness for decorative detail.

Threads can be combined to create color grades such as light green tones.

Hand embroidery threads made from cotton, silk or wool. Cotton and silk threads have a wonderful smoothness to them lending them to color shade and sheen.

Thread for Machine Embroidery

The thread used during machine embroidery is heavier than that which is used for hand embroidery.

Thread cannot be separated to change texture, so the same thickness will occur throughout the pattern which gives it a flatter appearance.​​

Common machine thread materials are polyester, metallic or rayon thread.

Variegated thread (multi-coloured thread) can be used for part of the embroidery designs to offer a gradation of color.


A needle size 7 or 9 is used for hand projects. It has a larger eye and is therefore suitable for general hand sewing too.

A heavier needle is used for machine embroidery, to punch through fabric and stabilizer without the thread snapping.

They can be double pointed to sew two colors at the same time.


Hand embroidery is one of the cheapest crafts to pick up. If you have a needle, thread and fabric you can begin hand embroidering. 

An embroidery hoop – essential to hold fabric still – is pretty cheap.

Embroidering with a machine is a much more expensive craft. Obviously an embroidery machine is required which is a cost in itself.

Insurance may be an important consideration, as the price of maintenance and repairs can add up.


If for example, you want to add cute animals or famous cartoon characters that you want to sew are not preloaded into the machine, you may have to pay for different patterns. Costs in patterns will vary, especially with licensed characters.

Which type of embroidery is more expensive?

Embroidery on a T Shirt
Embroidery on a T Shirt

Along with numerous other differences, hand vs machine embroidery differ heavily in cost.

Embroidery from a sewing machine is generally cheaper than hand embroidery because of the collective value, due to the fact that the same design can be mass produced.

Hand embroidery is a keepsake, and seems to have collective value because it is time consuming, requires workmanship and artistry.


Cross stitch is a great introduction to embroidery. It’s a form of counted thread embroidery, and uses a tiled pattern that you can refer to. The pre-planned designs usually follow a coloured pattern, making cross-stitching ideal for beginners.

How can you tell if it’s hand embroidery?

Below is a quick video comparison of hand vs machine embroidery.

Hand Embroidery vs Machine Embroidery

When examined closely, even a novice would notice subtle differences between hand and machine embroidery, as an embroidery machine brings neat and consistent stitches.

Due to the stitching process, a hand embroiderer will often create stitches of different shapes. I think even if the same pattern is duplicated, there will always be minute differences between all items embroidered.


One of the most famous hand embroidered artifacts is The Bayeux tapestry is 70m long! Made up of wool thread embroidered on linen cloth, it provides information about civil architecture and armor during the Anglo-Saxon period.


Even the smallest of embroidery detail adds interest and value to all types of everyday items. I hope you are now clearer on the differences between the hand vs machine embroidery process!

Remember every person who has embroidered by hand had to start with their first piece! Check here for ideas on your first project! or try here if you’re looking for new interesting projects

Feel Free To Share!

Why not give it a try yourself, and share this information with any embroidery buffs.

If you have anything else to add to the two different techniques – let me know!

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