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What Are the Basic Hand Embroidery Stitches That Every Beginner Should Learn?

Hand embroidery is an ancient craft that has been practiced for millenia. Archeological evidence of embroidery dates back to 2000 BCE, although the art of embroidery is much older than this! Whether you are looking to learn a new hobby or start creating your own designs, hand embroidery is a useful skill. This blog post will introduce essential hand embroidery stitches that every beginner should learn. It will also answer some common questions related to each stitch. There’s video tutorials linked to almost every stitch, to help you learn each one!

By mastering these foundational stitches, you'll be able to create intricate designs with just a needle and thread.

1. Running Stitch

Simple two step photo of a running stitch
Simple two-step photo of a running stitch

The running stitch is the most basic of all embroidery stitches. It is commonly used for outlining, creating patterns, and even as a base for other stitches. The stitch is formed by passing the needle up and down through the fabric at regular intervals, creating a dashed line. Despite being simple, running stitch is foundational to embroidery techniques such as Sashiko.

One concern with running stitch can be maintaining consistent stitch length and spacing. To ensure evenness, you can lightly mark your fabric or pattern with an erasable pen. I find it easier to use the tip of your needle - or even a finger! - to measure the distance between stitches. With practice, you'll develop a steady rhythm and create neat, uniform running stitches.

2. Backstitch

Photo of back stitch examples
Photo of back stitch examples

Backstitch is a strong and durable stitch, perfect for outlining and creating text. It's the easiest way to create a continuous line, and is the first stitch I teach beginners. Backstitch is formed by going back to meet each previous stitch. This creates a solid, continuous line.

Like running stitch, backstitch usually looks best with consistent stitch lengths. The only exception to this is when stitching curved shapes or letters. In this case, using smaller stitches on curved sections creates a smoother effect.

3. French Knot

Close up photo of French Knots example
Close up photo of French Knots example

The French knot adds texture and dimension to your embroidery. It's ideal for creating dots, eyes, and small decorative elements.

To form a French knot, bring the needle up through the fabric, and wrap the thread around the needle a couple of times. Insert the needle back down close to the original entry point, and leave it halfway through the fabric. Tug the wrapped thread, to make sure the knot is tight; and finally, pull the needle all the way through.

The size of the knot can be changed with different numbers of wraps around the needle.

Two problems are commonly encountered when learning French knots. First, is knots pulling all the way through the fabric. To prevent this, make sure your needle isn't going up and down through exactly the same hole. When pushing your needle to the back, make sure you go back down a millimetre or so away from your original hole.

The second problem is loose knots, or loops of thread sticking out from the knot. This is all about the tension. Make sure you tighten your wraps around the needle, before pulling your needle to the back of the fabric. My tutorial here can show you how!

4. Chain Stitch

Photo of chain stitch examples
Photo of chain stitch examples

Chain stitch creates a looped line that resembles a chain, making it suitable for outlining and filling shapes.

I like to do chain stitch in reverse: the end effect is the same, and it's easier to keep tidy this way! Chain stitch (or the reverse version, at least), is formed by first doing a tiny anchor stitch, just a millimetre or so long. Then, bring your needle up, and pass it through your tiny anchor stitch, before going back down the previous hole.

It's important not to pull the loops too tight. Leaving them slightly loose will emphasise the chain effect and help to keep your stitches even.

5. Satin Stitch

Photo of satin stitch example being completed
Photo of satin stitch example being completed

Satin stitch is used for filling in shapes and areas with a smooth, even layer of thread. This stitch is simply a series of straight stitches worked in parallel, packed tightly together. Satin stitch is ideal for filling small shapes. Larger areas may work better with a padded satin stitch or other filling techniques.

To create a shiny finish, keep the stitches totally parallel and close together, without overlapping. I find it helps to lay down some parallel guide stitches first, spaced apart. Then you just need to fill in the gaps!

One common issue with satin stitch is fabric puckering and stitches loosening. To prevent the stitches looking loose, make sure the shape you're stitching isn't too large. The larger the shape, the more likely threads are to look loose! To avoid puckering, first make sure you're using a non-stretchy, strong fabric. Don't pull your stitches too tight, as this will warp the fabric. Finally, try to minimise the amount of thread criss-crossing over the back of your shape.

6. Stem Stitch

Photo of Stem Stitch example
Photo of Stem Stitch example

The stem stitch is a versatile outline stitch that creates a slightly twisted line, making it ideal for curved shapes, stems, and vines.

To create a stem stitch, bring the needle up through the fabric and make a short stitch forward. Then, bring the needle up halfway between the start and end points of the previous stitch, just to the side, and continue stitching in this manner.

To maintain a consistent twist, always bring the needle up on the same side of the previous stitch and keep the thread tension even.

Sometimes on curved lines, gaps and inconsistencies can appear. To prevent this, focus on making shorter stitches around tight curves to avoid gaps or distortion. If the stitches still look separate, try doing stem stitch in reverse! Bring your needle up ahead on the line, then come back down to the side of your previous stitch.

7. Lazy Daisy Stitch

Photo of three Lazy daisy stitches as examples
Photo of three Lazy daisy stitches as examples

The lazy daisy stitch is a simple looped stitch that forms petal shapes, making it perfect for creating flowers and leaves. It’s essentially a single chain stitch!

To create a lazy daisy stitch, bring the needle up through the fabric, at the centre of your flower. Then bring it back down close to the starting point, leaving a loop. Bring the needle up again through the loop at the desired petal endpoint and secure the loop with a small anchoring stitch.

To make sure your petals don't twist, hold the loop in place with your non-needle hand while pulling the thread through. Make sure you don't pull the loops too tight, or the teardrop petal shape will look like more of a straight line!

8. Blanket Stitch

Example photo of blanket stitch
Example photo of blanket stitch

Blanket stitch is an edge-finishing stitch often used to create a decorative border on fabric, appliqué, or felt projects. It is created by making a series of evenly spaced, interlocking loops along the edge of the fabric. To create a blanket stitch, bring the needle up through the fabric, then back down a short distance away, leaving a loop. Bring the needle up through the loop and pull tight to create an even edge.

A key part of blanket stitch is keeping the loops lying flat against the fabric. To keep the loops flat, focus on consistent tension - like the other stitches, don't pull too tight!

9. Long and Short Stitch

Two examples of long and short stitch
Two examples of long and short stitch

Long and short stitch is a great filler stitch for larger shapes. It's also use for shading, creating smooth colour transitions and gradients. This stitch is often used in needle painting to create realistic, detailed designs.

It's easy to do, too! It's essentially made of long and short straight stitches, which can be interspersed with a second color or shade. The more random the stitch length, the better!

The trick to long and short stitch is achieving smooth shading and blending colours. To create smooth shading, plan your colour transitions in advance. Use a gradual shift in shades, and scatter single stitches of each colour around your blocks of colour.

10. Split Stitch

Close up photo of example of split stitch
Close up photo of example of split stitch

Split Stitch is another great technique for creating textured lines for vines or text.

Split stitch is made by splitting each previous stitch with your needle before creating the next one. You can create a chunkier effect (almost similar to chain stitch!) by using more strands of thread when you’re stitching. Again, the key to a good split stitch is keeping your stitch lengths consistent, and not pulling too tight!

Learning these basic hand embroidery stitches will give you a solid foundation for your embroidery journey. Even the simplest stitches can create stunning, intricate designs!

As you practice and become more comfortable with these stitches, you can combine them and explore more advanced techniques. Remember, patience and practice are key in mastering embroidery.

So, grab a needle and thread, and start stitching your way to beautiful hand-embroidered creations.

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