An introduction to wired slips

Stumpwork is a three dimensional embroidery technique utilizing padding and wire. This tutorial will focus on wired slips which are 3D elements created using wire, fabric and floss. You will need plenty of patience to tackle a stumpwork project but you only need to know a handful of stitches to create these dynamic additions to your hand embroidery art.  

For some incredible inspiration please go check out embroidery artist Pippa Haynes of Lemon Pepper Studio. Her work is inspiring me to keep playing and pushing this amazing technique to create more realistic and three dimensional art. You can find her on Instagram (@lemonpepperstudio) and her website is 


Let's get started! Skip the text and watch the video tutorial here:


Supplies for wire slips:

  • Floral Wire. Look for smaller gauge (30) for a less bulky edge. Green wire is great for leaves but you can also color white wrapped wire with archival ink to match your floss color.
  • Fabric. Match your fabric to your floss and avoid light or bright colors. Some fabric edge will be visible after you cut your slips out so you want pick a color that will blend in. I use Kona cotton (double it if you want a thicker fabric) but sheer fabrics (organza, tulle) can be fun for clear insect wings. 
  • Needles. Use a small size embroidery needle (8 – 10) for single ply work.
  • Floss. To avoid bulky edges use a single ply of six stranded cotton. Use more strands for added texture and for filling the shape. Use a full strand (6-ply) for couching the back of the wire to the main embroidery. Some people like to splurge on silk floss when filling slips with single stranded thread painting.
  • Wire cutters, needle nosed pliers and tweezers may be useful for cutting and shaping the wire. Thin wire (30 gauge) is easily manipulated by hand and can be cut with scissors.
  • Darning needle or some other large eyed needle will be useful for inserting the wire slips into the main embroidery piece.


Before you start…

Assuming you want to attach your wire slips to a surface embroidery you’ll need to remember to use 2 layers of fabric for the main project. The back fabric will never be seen, its purpose is for the attachment of the wires and also to provide more support for these heavier elements. If you want to transfer your main surface embroidery design to your fabric with the light transfer method, you may want to wait to hoop up that second layer of fabric until after you’ve traced your design. I usually use a neutral colored cotton fabric for my back layer.


  1. Shape your wire. The wire should be thin enough to easily manipulate by hand but feel free to utilize needle nosed pliers and other tools. Use your diagram as a guide for creating the desired shape. It’s okay to skip transferring your diagram to the fabric. Simply use your print out and once you have the desired shape you can move to the fabric. Feel free to trim excess wire but keep a 1-2 inch wire tail for securing the slip to your surface embroidery.
  2. Couch. Using a single ply of floss couch down the wire to your fabric. This step secures the wire for our next step. The wire will be the "couched thread" in the diagram below.
  3. Buttonhole. Using a single ply of floss use buttonhole stitches to secure the wire to the fabric. Stitches should touch to completely cover the wire. Be consistent with the direction you pull your stitches (up from the hoop or parallel with it) so your edge is clean. See the diagram below. Starting at the base of your shape, come up at a, on the outside edge of your wire. Go down at b, over the wire and leave a loop. Come up at c, right next to a, and pull the needle through the loop to tighten. Next, go down at d, again leaving a loop. The next stitch will come up right next to c and pull through the loop made from c-d
  4. Split stitch. Use a single ply for floss to create a split stitch border on the inside edge of your buttonhole-covered wire. This border should be right up to the wire and will help to with coverage of your fill stitches.
  5. Fill the shape with your desired stitches, using your desired floss thickness. Filling with a single ply using long and short stitch will give a realistic look, but you can pick any stitch you want. Be sure to cover the split stitch border from step 4 with your fill stitches to ensure full coverage of your fabric.
  6. Cut. Once your slips are complete, remove the fabric from the hoop. Use small, fine tipped scissors to cut out each slip. Return with smaller scissors if needed to trim all fabric from the edges, avoiding cutting the buttonhole stitches. If you do cut a stitch you can try to repair it with a pH neutral glue. You can also utilize glue to tame any fuzzy fabric that may be disrupting a clean edge.
  7. Shape and placement. Play with the 3D shape of your slip and decide on the best placement in your surface embroidery piece. When working with multiple slips you may need to plan out where each of the tails will be stitched down to avoid any traffic jams.
  8. Insert and secure. Use a large eyed needle to make a hole in your surface embroidery project. Insert your wire tail through this hole. Bend the tail so it lays flat along the underside of the work in the appropriate placement. Before couching down the wire tails be sure that the nearby surface embroidery work is complete as it will be difficult to add more elements above the wire. Using a full strand of floss couch half of the tail down, piercing only the backing fabric so that your couching stitches do not show through to the front of your work. Bend the tail back on itself and couch the doubled up tail.


Find my stumpwork patterns and kits here.


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