It’s very easy to become overwhelmed with the variety of embroidery stitches quickly. This beginner’s guide will cover some simple embroidery stitches to get you started, focusing on the ones that are not only easy to learn but most often used in embroidery patterns. By the end of this guide, you’ll be set to embroider just about anything – and be well on your way to tackling some of the more complicated stitches that will liven up your patterns.
Running Stitch and Backstitch
The running stitch and backstitch are the two most basic stitches in embroidery. Master these, and you can stitch pictures of everything.
The running stitch is the basic stitch on which all other stitches are based. To make a running stitch – you push the needle and thread in and out of the fabric in a line.
Here are the steps:
Poke your needle up through the fabric. Poke your needle down through the fabric near where your thread is coming up, and you have your first stitch! To keep going, poke the needle back up through the material, leaving a space between where the needle comes up and where your last stitch was. The gap between stitches is what makes the running stitch unique.
Backstitch is one of the most versatile of all embroidery stitches. You can stitch almost anything with this – and if you never wanted to learn another stitch to be able to embroider many things – you wouldn’t have to! Let’s walk through the steps.
Draw a line on your fabric, using a pencil or water soluble marker. Some people stitch without lines, but I prefer to live less dangerously. 🙂
Poke the needle up through the fabric, but do not start at the beginning of the line. Come up through the fabric along the line, as far up as you’d like the length of your stitches to be.
Then, poke the needle down at the beginning point of the line (back from where the thread came up) and pull the thread through.
Then, come back up a bit ahead of your stitch, (Step 3) and poke the needle back down in the same place you came up the very first time (Step 4).
Once you’ve done this a few times, you have a clean line, and can outline, or even fill in, any picture you like!
Split Stitch and Stem Stitch
Split stitch is another one of the basic stitches for embroidering outlines, although it can also be stitched in lines next to each other to fill in spaces. Keep in mind that stranded embroidery thread is easier than perle cotton for split stitch, as you are “splitting” the strands as you stitch. It’s easier to have an even number of strands in your thread – two or greater – but the stitch is smoother if you can pierce one strand.
There are several methods of executing split stitch, and you can work with any way that is easiest or gives you a look that you want.
The most common method steps are below:
1. Poke your needle up through the fabric from behind, and stitch a single running stitch along the line you are working.
2. Poke back up through the fabric from behind, but bring the needle up through the first stitch’s thread, splitting the fibers.
3. Finish the stitch by stitching back down through the fabric, the length of stitch that you desire along your line.
Another method is just like this one, but instead of splitting the fibers of the thread, you come up between the strands. The finished look is less of a single line, and more similar to chain stitch. You can see the difference below.
Finally, some stitchers (myself!) work the split stitch like a backstitch. Instead of coming up through the fibers, you pierce the thread on the downward stitch. Start as usual, but instead of coming up through the center of the stitch, come up slightly forward of the stitch and pierce back down into it. The fiber will indent somewhat this way – but this can be mitigated a little by stitching rather loosely.
A significant difference between split stitch and backstitch is the texture. Backstitch will always have little bumps, but the split stitch is smooth, as shown below.
Stem stitch is fabulous for making straight or curved lines, and it is an excellent and easy method to hand stitch lettering, flowers, and outlines. It’s a flowing, seamless stitch with lots of potentials!
There are several different ways to stitch it (because of course), so let’s go over the original method, and some alternatives.
1. Bring your needle up from the back of the fabric just above the line of your pattern.
2. Poke your needle back through the fabric one stitch length away and slightly below the line. Note the slight diagonal.
3. Come back up through the fabric a little past the middle of the stitch, just above the line.
4. Poke your needle back down another stitch length ahead just below the line.
If you can’t get your step 3 to work correctly, then avoid pulling step 2 tight until you’ve come back up. This will let you see what you’re doing easier, like the pictures above. Just remember to keep the thread below the needle.
You’ll find that your lines will be cleaner with smaller stitches, and more rustic or rougher with larger, longer stitches. Play around to get the texture you like for your lettering or outlines!
Chain Stitch and Lazy Daisy
Chain stitch is one of the most versatile stitches in embroidery. In its basic form, its a beautiful outline, and its alternative stitches include the detached or single chain, lazy daisy, square chain, zigzag chain, feathered chain, heavy chain… you get the picture.
There are a couple of ways to stitch the chain stitch, and I’ll teach you both of the ways that I’ve used.
One is by far more comfortable for me to do, but I know there are die-hard fans of the original way as well.
For the original chain stitch, the steps are below:
- Poke the needle up from behind the fabric.
- Stitch back down into the starting point, but don’t pull it tight.
- Poke back up a short distance away, the length of your stitch.
- Put your loop over the needle, and tighten the stitch.
Keep repeating this as your outline, and when you’ve stitched to the end, secure the chain with a small, straight, anchoring stitch in the last loop.
My favorite way to make chain stitches is much easier and faster for me. It starts with your last stitch, the anchoring stitch, and works backward. This sounds more complicated – but for linework, it’s faster.
1. Make a small stitch.
2. Come up through the fabric along the line you’re stitching, the length of the stitch you want.
3. Pass the needle through the stitch.
4. Poke the thread back down in the same hole it came up.
5. Come from the back of the fabric where your next stitch will be.
6. Pass the needle under both threads of the previous stitch.
7. Poke down again in the same hole. Voila!
Which way is your favorite to make chain stitches?
Once you’ve mastered the chain stitch, lazy daisy stitches are a cinch! You’ll be making beautiful flowered hoops in no time!
To make a lazy daisy, draw a circle on your fabric as large as you’d like the center of your flower to be. Then, from the back of the material, poke up, then stitch down right next to where you came up. Before you pull it tight, poke your needle through the loop. Recognize it? It’s a single chain stitch!
Anchor that chain down by finishing that needle-through-the-loop as a tiny straight stitch. Then, right next to that petal on your circle, come back up from behind the fabric and do it again. If you repeat around your ring, you’ve made a flower! Congrats!
Satin Stitch and Feather Stitch
Satin stitch is a classic stitch for filling in shapes. It consists of carefully laid flat stitches right next to each other to form a solid shape. It’s straightforward to execute, but it can be challenging to master. One tip that I have for you is to separate the strands from the embroidery floss before you use them. If you separate them, you can lay them flat together, which results in a much neater stitch than when they are wound together.
For satin stitch:
1. On your shape to fill, come straight up on the line, and lay the thread flat in a straight line on the fabric.
2. Stitch straight down, and repeat.
3. Come back up and stitch down next to the previous stitch as close as you can without using the same hole. I try to leave one thread of the fabric between each stitch.
Feather stitch is a beautiful and open decorative stitch that is fabulous for a border, or to decorate a curve. It’s very easy to work, but takes some practice to get the flow and symmetry right.
For feather stitch:
1. Come up from the back of the fabric, and stitch down horizontal to that hole.
2. Don’t pull the thread tight – but bring the needle up between the two points and slightly lower.
3. Make sure the loop is on top of the needle, then pull the thread tight.
4. Stitch down horizontal to where you brought the thread up, and again don’t pull the thread tight.
5. Bring the needle up between and slightly lower than the two points, and pull it through the loop.
6. Repeat, going back and forth from left to right, always in the middle and slightly lower.
Feather stitch has several variations, and once you’re comfortable with the rhythm, try the straight feather stitch for beautiful accents and flowers, or the closed feather stitch for geometric patterns.
Seed Stitch and French Knots
Seed stitches might be tied with the running stitch for some of the easiest embroidery stitches out there, but they are, in my opinion, underused and undercelebrated! It is a fabulous fill stitch and is very forgiving. The look that you’re going for is a handful of seeds tossed onto the ground. It is essentially individual running stitches, pointing random directions and all over the place.
For seed stitch:
Stitch up and down through the fabric, trying to keep the stitches similar length, but all different directions. You will fall in love with this textured, simple stitch!
From the easiest to one of the more “daunting” stitches! French knots are some of my FAVORITE stitches. They are satisfying, textured, and beautiful for a variety of uses from hair to flowers to bees. When I first started embroidery, I fell in love with them immediately and haven’t looked back. They take some practice, but it is so worth it!
For French knots: (I use two hands, so either set your work down or use a stand!)
1. With the non-needle holding hand, hold the thread taught straight up from the fabric.
2. Take the tip of the needle and place it in front of the thread. Putting it in front rather than behind prevents wonky knots and hard-to-pull-through grumpiness.
3. Wind the floss around the needle twice, holding the thread taut to prevent it from falling off, then stab back into the fabric close to where your thread is coming up.
4. With the hand holding the coils tight, tug a little to bring the almost-knot down to the fabric surface, and keep it steady.
5. Poke the needle through and pull it from behind the fabric to tighten the knot.
6. CELEBRATE! Look at its cute little nubbiness!
It may take a time or two to practice, but these will become second nature to you, and maybe one of your favorite stitches too!
What Are You Going to Stitch With Your New Knowledge?
Now that you have an arsenal of embroidery stitches at your disposal, what are you going to stitch? My favorite place to start is a sarcastic saying, or one of your favorite quotes. Practice with all of these stitches in a sampler with a bunch of lines, or start stabbing away without a pattern!
I hope you’ve learned something new and found this guide to be useful. I’d appreciate any comments about how to make this easier to follow, what you love to stitch, and what your first stitch was when you started embroidering! Let me know below!