Essential Hand Embroidery Stitches

Essential Hand Embroidery Stitches main article image
Posted on June 10, 2021 by Samantha Cullen

If you’ve never forayed into the world of hand embroidery, your first thought may be to a past time of intricate collars and fancy tablecloths. If this is the case, you’re in for a treat when you discover the amazing art form that modern embroidery has become.

Hand embroidery is a versatile and satisfying craft. It’s easy for a beginner to get started and create gorgeous works of art with minimal equipment and experience. But it can also be incredibly complex, accompanying your creativity as you further your knowledge and experience to create ever more intricate designs. If you’re just getting started, this is a great resource to refer to in order to find the stitch that will best compliment your work. There are no rules to say which stitches must be used for what, but I’ll give you some guidelines for what each one is typically used for to help you get started.

Experiment with different thicknesses of embroidery floss and length of stitches to see the different effects you can get with the same stitches.

Running Stitch

Running Stitch is the simplest stitch of all. It simply requires you to bring the needle up and down, either at regular or intermittent intervals. It can be used to create a dashed outline or embellished by adding alternating stitches between the originals. It is also the stitch that you’ll use to gather the back of your embroidery if you’re framing up your work in an embroidery hoop.

running stitchBack Stitch

Back Stitch is an essential stitch to know for hand embroidery. It is the easiest way to outline any design, creating a continuous line. Ideally, the stitches should all be of a similar size to give the illusion of an unbroken line. If there is any curvature to your lines ensure that you keep your stitches smaller so that you don’t get any unwanted angles in your curves.

To achieve the look make your first stitch, then bring your needle up from the back as far away as you would like the length of your stitch. Stitch backwards finishing in the same hole as you finished your first stitch in.

back stitch

Chain Stitch

Chain Stitch is another great option for outlining. It creates a thicker line than Back Stitch and also adds texture and interest to your creations.

Start by bringing your needle up from the back at the point you want to start your stitch. Push the needle back through the same hole, but don’t pull the thread all the way through. Bring the needle up as far away from the original hole as you would like the length of your stitch to be and bring it through the loop you have left with the thread. This is your first stitch. Continue by bringing your needle back through the same hole you just came through and repeat.


Detached Chain Stitch

This one’s all in the name! Use these delicate stitches as drops or flower petals. It’s commonly used to make the Lazy Daisy.

Stem Stitch

While the Stem Stitch is definitely a great option for making stems, don’t let that limit your imagination! The end result looks a bit like intertwined threads and is great for outlining curved edges.

Start by making a straight stitch, then before you have pulled it completely flat bring your needle back up between the two points of your stitch. Pull it tight before bringing your needle down to make your second stitch. Bring it up again at the point where your first stitch finished. Repeat.

stem stitch

Satin Stitch

Satin Stitch is ideal for filling in. Letters, centres of flowers and small shapes work great with Satin Stitch as it creates a smooth “satin” finish. To achieve the look, make stitches that stretch from one side of your shape to the other, varying the length to accommodate the changing width. It is helpful to outline with a Chain Stitch or Back Stitch first, but stitch over any outline so that it’s not visible at the end.

satin stitch

Long and Short Stitch

As its name suggests, Long and Short Stitch is a combination of long and short stitches which vary their length. It is generally used for filling in large areas and is especially common in needle painting. It’s preferred to Satin Stitch for bigger areas as the single stitches used can lose tension and get snagged on things. With Long and Short Stitch you can create even coverage with even tension.

To achieve the stitch make straight stitches of varying length, making sure that you stitch in the direction of your shape—if you’re stitching a triangle don’t keep your lines parallel. Work in layers, filling in empty spaces as you go. Pack your stitches in tightly to avoid empty spaces and holes.


Feather Stitch

A beautiful option for creating texture and interest, it can be used to mimic water, leaves, and scales, and makes a lovely border. Although it looks wonderfully intricate, it is actually quite simple to stitch.

Start by bringing your needle up at your starting point, then the point where you bring it back down will form the “open” ends of your first triangle. Leave the thread a little loose and bring your needle back up at the point you would like to have the bottom point of the triangle. Catch the loop you have left with your needle and pull it tight. Make the next stitch in the same way, alternating sides as you go.

feather stitch

Couching Stitch

Couching involves wrapping stitches around a thread that is placed on top of the fabric. You can use it to form shapes and letters with the thread, or simply to add a decorative effect. You can use straight stitches or cross stitches, group them close together or far apart, or stack rows of them together. Your imagination is your only limit!

couchingFrench Knot

These little points are cute on their own or grouped together. Use them any time you need to make a single dot—they are great for the centre of flowers.

To make the French Knot bring your needle through from the back at the point where you would like to make the knot. Twist the thread around the end of the needle three times, then push it back through the same hole or very close to the same hole. You may need to hold the top of the knot loosely as you pull the thread through.

frech knotStraight Stitch

Simply bringing your needle up at one point and down at another you have created a Straight Stitch. It’s the base for lots of other stitches, but on its own it can be very effective to create stars and other decorations.

straight stitchFly Stitch

The Fly Stitch is simply an unlinked version of the feather stitch. Use it to embellish and add texture, simple leaves for flowers, or as distant birds.

Fly stitch

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