Corinna Rhodes shares her lovely sewing at She always has an embroidery or smocking project in the works, and she spends some time at her sewing machine just about every day. Learn more about Corinna and her happy family life in her introduction, and learn how to embellish clothing with embroidery below. This is a great way to make your designs or ready-to-wear pieces extra-special, and it’s a fun project for back-to-school clothes!

If you want some tips about different embroidery stitches download our Pocket Stitch Book!

My daughter enjoys wearing feminine clothing, as I’m sure most girls do. But with three brothers to keep up with, her clothing needs to be practical as well. A pair of plain denim shorts in her wardrobe passed the “practical” test but failed the “pretty” test. To remedy this situation I’m sharing three patterns that I have embroidered along the hemline of pre-made shorts.

This tutorial will show you how to embellish the hemline of pre-made shorts. A PDF pattern is provided for three different designs. These embroidery designs could be used to embellish almost anything really– shorts, skirts, tablecloths, napkins, bags, pockets… Enjoy experimenting with your own creative ideas!

You will need:

  • 1 pair of shorts
  • Embroidery cotton in colors of your choice
  • Size 8 crewel needle
  • Thimble
  • Small scissors
  • A printed copy of the PDF Embroidery Templates

Extras, depending on the chosen method of pattern tracing and stitching, include:

  • Mesh transfer canvas
  • Fabric pencil
  • Iron-on transfer pencil
  • Small embroidery hoop

Start by transferring the design onto the hem of the shorts. Tracing the design onto the heavy denim fabric won’t work in the traditional method using a light box or window, but there are four different techniques given here. Different projects will work better with different techniques so choose the approach that best suits your situation.

Technique 1:
Place the Mesh Transfer Canvas over the pattern. Trace over the design using a dark colored pencil. Line up the Mesh Transfer Canvas on the shorts. Trace over the design once again using a fabric pencil. This is probably the best technique to use on most projects if you have access to the Mesh Transfer Canvas.

Technique 2:
Cut the pattern along the wavy line. Using a fabric pencil trace that line onto the shorts hemline and draw the other design elements freehand.

I used this technique for the folded-up cuff shorts so the design could be lined up exactly the same on both cuffs and the curves extended a bit to fit across the cuff exactly.

Technique 3:
Using an iron-on transfer pencil, trace over the design on the pattern sheet. Turn over and line up on hemline of shorts. Iron over design.

Technique 4:
Using a fabric pencil, rule lines showing the top and bottom of the design. Draw the curved lines by tracing around a rounded object. Draw the other design elements freehand.

I used this technique on my first pair of shorts since I was making up the pattern as I went. I have also found it useful to work this way when it is important to line up the design with some other element on the shorts or to adjust the size of the pattern.

Now it is time to begin stitching! Using three strands of embroidery cotton in the colors of your choice start by stitching the main, solid line of the design– scallop, wave or straight.

Stitch the other design elements in backstitch, running stitch or lazy daisy stitch.

Stitch the French knots last.


  • This can be worked in a small embroidery hoop if you prefer. Loosen the screw as far as possible and the heavy fabric should fit in. Shorts made from a heavy fabric such as denim are usually firm enough to stitch without needing a hoop. But a hoop can be helpful in keeping stitches even and without puckers on lighter fabric.

  • Use a slightly bigger needle than usual (maybe crewel, Size 7) if it is hard to pull the thread through the heavy fabric.
  • Use four strands of thread instead of three if working with a light color to make it more visible.
  • Change the stitches used to personalize your design. For example, use chain stitch instead of back stitch or use buttons instead of the french knot “flowers.”
  • Wear a thimble as it can be tough pulling the needle through the heavy denim fabric.
  • Working on pre-made shorts means the back of the stitching will be visible and not covered. Tie off the threads securely with a couple tiny backstitches through the threads on the back of the work and the shorts should withstand many trips through the washing machine.
  • If you wish to cover the back of the stitching, you could slipstitch a lining over the back of the stitched area. Cut a piece of fabric slightly larger than the area you wish to cover. Join to make a circle the same size as the shorts. Fold and iron a small hem along the top and bottom raw edges then I would suggest using Visoflex to attach the fabric wrong sides together before slipstitching it onto the inside of the shorts, making sure the stitches can’t be seen on the front.

Now that you have some shorts which are both pretty looking and practical you can experiment and use these designs on a multitude of other projects. Have fun!