Hand Embroidery Stitches 101

I encourage you to use additional resources if you need more instruction than this simple guide. I have found video to be very useful in understanding stitches. Please click on the links below to watch very quick clips of the stitches. You can also find a directory of longer videos here, with more detailed instruction. Please stay tuned as I add more stitches to this index and fill out each section with more details and video. Stitches are listed alphabetically. 


Back stitch

Back stitch is worked from right to left and is great for creating solid lines. It helps to shorten the stitch length when using this stitch (and other linear stitches) to outline curved lines. You can also use this stitch to fill a shape and your stitches will look like little bricks. It’s also a great stitch for lettering. 

Start a stitch length away from the beginning of your line. Come up at A, then down at B, the start of your line. Then up a stitch length away at C, and back down at A. Up again at D and then down at C. Be sure to use the same same holes (A, C, etc) so there is no gap between your back stitches.




VIDEO: Back stitch

VIDEO: 2 ways to fill with back stitch

Lettering tutorial

Whipped back stitch

To whip your back stitch come up at A, the beginning of your line. Then weave under and over EVERY stitch until you reach the end of the line. Bring your needle down at B and anchor.

VIDEO: Whipped back stitch

Lettering tutorial 

Blanket or Buttonhole stitch

Buttonhole (also called blanket stitch) is a traditional edging stitch that creates a line with regular vertical stitches. Come up at A along your edge and back down at B, a point one stitch above the edge one stitch length away, and leave slack. Come up at C, a stitch length away from A along the edge and catch the loop from the first stitch. Continue, going down at D, a point above the edge one stitch length away leaving the slack to catch when coming up at point E. You can vary how long the vertical stitches are by how high above your edge you bring your needle down at points B and D.

To fill a shape with buttonhole stitch start at the bottom edge of your shape. Your first stitch will come up and go down the same hole (A). Catch the loop of the first stitch at point B, up the edge of the shape. Go back down at C, a stitch length away from A, leaving a loop. Catch this loop at point D, a stitch length away from B along the edge of the shape. Continue moving up the shape, modifying the stitch length on either side to change the angle and density of stitches.


VIDEO: Buttonhole

Chain stitch

Chain Stitch creates a lovely textured line and has many variations to play with. Come up and down with the needle at the start of your line (A), leaving a loop. Come back up within the loop (B), a stitch length away, and pull to tighten the loop to desired tautness. End the chain with a small stitch tacking the loop down.  This is another nice linear stitch for lettering.  


VIDEO: Traditional, reverse and detached chain stitch 

Lettering tutorial

Reverse chain stitch

Reversed Chain Stitch starts at the “end” of chain stitch with the small tacking stitch (A-B). Come up through the fabric a stitch length away (C) and slip your needle under the tacking stitch (do not pierce the fabric) before coming back down through the same hole (C). Continue in a chain.

VIDEO: Traditional, reverse and detached chain stitch 

Lettering tutorial

Detached chain stitch

Detached Chain Stitch AKA Lazy Daisy is great for leaves and flowers. You can experiment with tension here, giving a thin or more rounded leaf/petal shape.  Here you create a series of single chains.

VIDEO: Traditional, reverse and detached chain stitch 

Chained Feather stitch

Begin as you would a detached chain stitch, coming up and going back down at A while leaving a loop. Catch that loop by coming up at B and go down at C, creating a long anchor stitch. Continue to create these long-tailed detached chain stitches, alternating the angle of the stitch and lining up the anchor stitches so they appear to all be interconnected through the chains.

VIDEO: Chained feather

Heavy chain stitch

VIDEO: Heavy Chain Stitch


Couching is a great linear stitch I like to use for lettering and stems or vines.  This stitch uses two working threads which can vary in size (ply), type and color.  The couched thread is pulled up at the start of your line (a) and goes down all of the way at the end of your line (b), leaving slack.  Your couching thread is then used to tack down the couched thread along the curves of the lines.  Both threads are anchored once the desired line is created. 

VIDEO: Couching

Lettering tutorial

Feather stitch

Begin as you would a fly stitch, coming up at A and down at B, leaving a loop. Catch that loop at C, which begins the arm of the next stitch. Go down at D, leaving a loop, and catch the loop coming up at E. Continue, finishing with a small anchor stitch as you would complete a fly stitch.

VIDEO: Feather stitch

VIDEO: Feather on a leaf

Feather Twig stitch

Feather twig stitch is very similar to feather stitch with an added “twig” down the center of each fly stitch, secured with a wrap similar to a French knot. Come up at A and down at B, leaving a loop. Catch that loop at C and go down at D, leaving a loop. Come back up at E, on the other side of the original stitch from C. Wrap the loop created from stitch C-D around your needle (one to two times) and go down at F, leaving a loop to catch at G to create the next stitch. Complete the stitch at the desired length with a small anchor stitch. 

Funky Feather Twig stitch

Funky feather twig stitch is created by changing the angle of one arm and the twig stitch of every feather. This variation creates a more narrow design. Note that the backbone of stitches remains the same.

VIDEO: Feather, Feather twig and Funky feather twig

Fern stitch

Fern Stitch makes a nice addition to any florals. I think of it as a series of Y's made of back stitches. 







VIDEO: Fern stitch

Fishbone stitch

Fishbone Stitch is my favorite way to fill leaves. You can use an angle more parallel or perpendicular to the vein of the leaf to give different looks. Go back and forth from the starting stitches at the top of the leaf and working down the sides of the outline. The stitches come up at the top and cross each other mid-leaf. 








VIDEO: Fishbone stitch

Full fishbone stitch tutorial

Fly stitch

Fly stitch can be used for "U" or "V" shaped decorative accents or as a filler for shapes like leaves. Think of this stitch as a wide based detached chain stitch. Come up through your fabric and back down a stitch length away, leaving a loop. Come up at C and tack the loop down to create your fly stitch. Stack them on top of each other to fill a leaf, creating ridge down the center that will look like a vein. 

VIDEO: Fly stitch

French knots 

A textured filler and accent stitch. You can wrap the thread around the needle one to three times to change the size of your knot. The key is to keep the floss taut and the wrap pulled down to the fabric surface as you pull the needle through. 








VIDEO: French knot


VIDEO: Granitos stitch 

Interlaced herringbone

Interlaced herringbone is a fun weaving stitch used for decoration or filling a shape. Outline the shape first with back stitch. Next, come up through your fabric under the first stitch on the left (A). Weave (do not pierce fabric) your floss through the second back stitch on the right (from left to right), then through the first back stitch on the right (from right to left). Repeat on the left, weaving first through the second stitch, then coming up and back through the first stitch. Repeat all of the way down your shape, weaving through each back stitch. Finish by tucking your needle down under the last back stitch. 

Long and short stitch

Long and Short Stitch is a great way to fill a shape with multiple colors and it is often called needle or thread painting.  Use this stitch to create smooth color transitions and shading. 

Row 1 (A) is filled with alternating long and short stitches.  The remaining rows (B - D) are filled by piercing through the previous row, creating overlap.  Because the original row is staggered, all remaining rows will also have staggering which helps create a blended look between colors. When possible pierce the stitch in the previous row (like a split stitch), but if your stitch ends up between stitches of the previous row that's okay, too.  For the final row (D) you will use compensating stitches to line up with the edge of your shape. 

Create more staggering to give a more blended look between your colors.  Instead of just long and short stitches, create extra long and extra short stitches, too.  Adding more random lengths will blend the colors more successfully.  Also, to create even more realistic blending use more colors in very similar shades. 

Please enjoy the full tutorial and the quick video

Oyster stitch

VIDEO: Oyster stitch

Pistil stitch

VIDEO: Pistil stitch

Running stitch

VIDEO: Running stitch

Satin stitch

A smooth fill stitch requiring patience. Go slow and experiment with tension to keep the stitches smooth.   Using fewer strands of floss will result in a more satin look but will obviously take more time. You can outline and even pad your shape beforehand to give a more three dimensional look. 

Full satin stitch tutorial

VIDEO: Satin stitch

Split stitch

Split stitch is worked left to right and the needle actually pierces (or “splits”) the previous stitch as it comes up through the fabric. It makes a nicely textured line or can be used to fill.







VIDEO: Split stitch

Stem stitch

Stem stitch creates a rope or vine-like line and is stitched left to right. Hold the thread of the previous stitch loose and above your row as you bring the needle up through (or near) the hole made by the stitch prior. This allows you to needle through the correct location and enhances the twisted look of the threads.







VIDEO: Stem stitch and back stem stitch 

Back stem stitch

Back stem stitch is how I used to do stem stitch until I watched a video demonstrating the correct way! It is stitched similar to back stitch (right to left) but the needle goes down next to the previous stitch rather than in line with it. A good stitch for curvy lines, like vines or stems, and lettering.  


VIDEO: Stem stitch and back stem stitch 

Tulip stitch

Tulip stitch. Begin as you would a detached chain stitch, coming up and going back down A while leaving a loop. Catch that loop by coming up at B and go down at C, creating a long anchor stitch. Add two diagonal straight stitches on either side, coming down at C.

VIDEO: Tulip stitch

Turkey work

Turkey Work is a fun way to add texture or fringe to your work. Start above the fabric and bring your needle down (A), leaving a tail on the top side of your work. Come up with your needle very close to the tail (B) and make a small stitch over it. Bring your needle up right next to the tail (D), from under the tacking stitch (you can split it if desired), and go back down a stitch length away (E) while leaving a loop. Next, add another tacking stitch to secure that loop by coming up at F and down at G. You will be creating a base that looks like back stitch. These stitches are securing our loops. You can cut the loops or leave them intact, trim them or keep them long. Using rows of turkey work you can fill a shape with lots of texture.

VIDEO: Turkey Work 

Wheatear stitch

Create a straight stitch from A to B and C to B. Come up at D to create a reverse detached chain stitch, weaving under both original stitches. Do not pierce the fabric. Go back down at D and recreate the original two stitches, this time converging at the base of the chain stitch (D). The next chain stitch will weave under these straight stitches and the previous chain stitch. Continue to make a chain of stitches. 

VIDEO: Wheatear stitch

Woven cross

Come up at A and down at B. Create another straight stitch (C to D), crossing over the original stitch. Make another stitch up at A and down at B, over the second stitch. Finally, come up at C and use your needle to create a path over one horizontal stitch and under the other as you come down to D. 

Woven wheel

Woven wheel roses start with a scaffolding of 5 stitches in the shape of a star.  I like to start by drawing a circle and then doing these stitches ("spines" or "spokes" of the wheel) from the perimeter, all converging in the center (B).  Next, come up with your needle near that center (A, diagram #2) and begin to weave counter clockwise, over and under and over and under the spines.  You will not be piercing the fabric, just weaving. Continue until the spokes of your wheel are completed covered.  Bring your needle back down through the fabric and anchor.  Play with tension to get more volume in your rose.  Larger roses (quarter size) do well with additional spokes, but remember to always use an odd number, such as five or seven. 

VIDEO: Woven wheel rose

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