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Basic Stitches Part 2

2 January

Embroidery Tips

A stitcher could be happy using little more than straight stitch. (Look at the lovely work of Claire Wellesley-Smith, or Linda McLaughlin to see how basic stitches can be used so creatively.) On the other hand, numerous books are out there showcasing an encyclopedic range of stitches—hundreds, thousands? After all embroidery techniques & styles span the globe and the craft has centuries of tradition and development behind it.

But when I pick up a needle, select a beautifully coloured glossy thread and begin making a mark on fabric, I have all the tools I need, without needing to have thousands of stitches in my head.

To add to my earlier list of essential, go-to stitches, here are a few more basic stitches to discover and explore.

Single strand of stem stitch outlining flower

Stem Stitch

Between the time I posted Basic Stiches Part 1 and now, I have rediscovered stem stitch. Ooh, it may just be becoming a new favorite. Right off, I should point out that there are two ways to do stem stitch – the traditional (or ‘proper’ way) and my way, or ‘false’ stem stitch as I’ve been thinking of it…

It’s fun to stitch (either version) and quite bendy in a lovely way. Stem can look quite different depending on the thickness of your thread, or number of strands of floss. I’ve been using it here to make a very delicate outline using a single strand, and with three strands to make a pretty substantial stem and leaf shape. My version is very quick to stitch and uses the sewing method but does leave more thread on the reverse, using more by a factor of about 35 – 40%. In the image here, I’ve done both versions for you.

Uses: well, as you’d imagine, it’s useful for stems and leaves, but also wherever you want a smooth, graceful line, especially a very curvy one. I could see an entire piece done with just stem stitch, outlining shapes and fluid lines.

 Stem stitch – two ways

When you get comfortable with the basic stitches,  you’ll get a feel for the ones you enjoy working with, and how they fit the kind of work you want to do.

Satin Stitch

Satin is probably the most traditional fill stitch. It takes a bit of practice to get it consistent but worth the effort. It can really take on a silky smooth appearance that catches the light beautifully. The most important tip is to consider the direction of your stitches.

Satin Rose


Go ahead and mark a few lines on the fabric as guidelines to help keep you on track and consistently parallel with your stitches. It is also important to not have too large a space to fill without breaking it up a bit; very long stitches won’t stay parallel and will potentially snag.

Uses: to fill in, or even create a complete shape or alternatively fill in a background. It’s good for both geometric shapes and organic curvy ones.

Chain Stitch

Chain stitch is a useful one to know; it gives you a lot of texture to play with, it can be loose or tight, there’s even such a thing as detached chain stitch but suffice it to say you can play around a lot with it. And, no surprise, there are two ways to do this one as well.

Uses: to use as a chunky line or outline, chain can cover a lot of ground and indeed is also useful as a fill. I have an enormous antique bed cover from Turkey that is completely worked with chain stitch – it’s lovely. But it also is used as a construction stitch as in the blue flower you see here, in other words to create the form or shape. As well, the detached chain stitches can be used scattered to give some texture, or strung along a stem to create little leaf shapes. It’s quite versatile really.


Chain stitch variations


Obviously there are many, many more stitches out there. But when you get comfortable with the basic ones, and maybe just a few additional examples, you will get a feel for the stitches that you enjoy working with, and how they fit into the kind of work you want to do. It’s easy to get overwhelmed with trying to learn it all, but there is no need to go down that path if that is not what you want to do. With the stitches here, and those in Part 1, you will have a great foundation and will be able to make anything that you want.


French knots, straight and satin stitch detail

I say keep it simple, enjoy the process and develop your own vocabulary of stitch, and create shape, line, texture and colour to make something beautiful.

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 The Magpie Collective blog will serve to inspire readers to engage with their own creativity, support their interest in design and stitchery and provide a framework of tips, simple techniques and encouragement.

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