Paper Embroidery

Embroidery on paper is a technique in which holes are pierced in a card following a certain pattern, after which threads are drawn through to create a design.

Evolution of Paper Embroidery

The history of embroidery on paper can be traced to various phases.

Pin Pricking

In late 1700’s pin pricking was used to adorn paper cards and enhance painted pictures. The pricking was done from either side which gave a different texture. Pin pricking surely can be considered embroidery on paper because the ladies stitched the pre-printed designs using the holes in the paper and eventually out in the early 1900’s.

String Art

String art (Pierre Bezier, 1700’s) refers to an arrangement of string forming abstract geometric patterns or patterns that resemble an object.


Spirograph (Denys Fisher) produced mathematical curves using disks with holes strategically placed in the plastic circle.

Finally came the Paper Embroidery. In 1990’s Dutch designer Erica Fortgens began writing books with patterns and instructions and officially the terminology – Paper Embroidery.

How it is done

Patterns are traced on the card along with the placement of holes to be pierced.



The holes are prepunched on the paper and only after which the needle passes through the holes along with the thread. This process is critical else the paper would get damaged.

Piercing Tools

Piercing tools are available in coarse, fine and extra fine thickness. Ordinary household items, such as a needle, safety pin or push pin could also be used.

Type of thread

The pin pricked hole in the card presents an abrasive surface to the thread. Threads with a smooth, shinny surface will withstand the abrasion better than fluffy, rough or loosely stranded threads.

Machine embroidery thread is often stronger and shiner while metallic hand embroidery thread also makes a good choice.

Short lengths of thread avoids excessive abrasion from repeated passes through the holes and less likely to get caught on the corner.  The ends of the thread is usually taped to the back of the card, unlike knotting in ordinary hand embroidery.


The needle must always be thinner than the piercing tool. Number 10 embroidery needle is often recommended. It should go through the pricked holes easily.

A beading needle is useful for stitching fine beads in place.

Some shapes use holes more than once

On some designs the holes are used more than once so that the design may look more complicated than it really is.

Tips from Erica Fortgen

Make sure that the holes that have to be pierced large (because of the fact that many threads will have to join at this point) are in fact large enough.

If you make a mistake while piercing the holes, stick a small piece of adhesive tape over the incorrect holes at the back of the card

Rub a very small drop of glue onto the end of the thread to keep the thread intact.

Never use a double thread of metallic thread.

When fixing the thread at the back of the card, make sure to stick it well away from the piercing pattern.