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Basic Stitches Part 1

12 November

Embroidery Tips

There must hundreds if not thousands of embroidery stitches. Ok, maybe not thousands but sometimes it can seem that way. And there are many that are very pretty and interesting but that’s not my main focus when I want to embroider.

If you have a good grasp of most, if not all of these basic stitches, you can pretty well do anything you want.

Here I want to give you a little overview of the stitches and how you might want to use them. I will post a how-to for each as we go along and you can click through to get more details on individual stitches.



Variations with straight stitch

Straight or running stitch

You know this one, I’m sure. The thread follows the needle up and down through the fabric leaving a similar length stitch on the surface, and below the surface. (This takes longer to describe than it does to actually do.)

Use: While it may seem obvious that this creates a line, it is in fact a somewhat dotted line, and I like to use it as more of a filler stitch when it can be lined up in parallel rows. This also creates a little texture, as it makes the fabric ripple ever so slightly and is quite pleasing.

 Straight stitch sampler detail

If you have a good grasp of most, if not all of these basic stitches, you can pretty well do anything you want.


Backstitch makes solid line rather than a dotted line and with a little practice is very flexible for curves. The action is a single straight stitch that then works back into the exit point of the stitch from a short distance in front.

Use: This will give you a nice solid line that is good as an outline—say the shape of a leaf and its veins, that you might fill in with another stitch. It works brilliantly for curves; I nearly always prefer it to the stem stitch, which is perhaps the more traditional one to use.

White line of backstitch

Split backstitch

My fave. Works like the backstitch except you split the first stitch, bringing the needle down into it. It has the appearance of little chains and I find that is very quick to do and easy to control. I do it a little differently than the traditional way and split the stitch from the top—always seemed so much easier than from underneath. It does use more thread this way however.

Use: Makes a lovely line, but I also like to use as a fill by stitching rows close together. If you use a few threads, say 3 or 4, it can also be fairly quick to fill a space with an interesting but subtle texture


Swirly lines of split-backstitch

Knots and bumps

I really like French knots—but I know some people struggle with them. There are some little tricks, and I must admit I always use a hoop. You feel like you need three hands otherwise. I won’t try to describe how to do this as it’s so important to do it right the first time to avoid a permanent state of frustration over this stitch. There are other ways to make little dots that are also useful when you don’t want a lot of texture. Think tiny stitches in a tight star – you’ll see the dot & not a star.

Use: Let me count the ways… a line of knots, a fill of tightly worked knots, or a sprinkling of knots as accents here and there. Use variations of number of strands and/or loops and you can vary the sizes of the knots dramatically. Such fun to do when you get the knack.


French knots at play

Look for Part 2 of my list of basic stitches.

I’d love to hear which end up being your favorites.

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