Stem Stitch

Stem Stitch

stem stitch sample 1Stem Stitch is considered a basic stitch used most often for stems or organic shapes and floral patterns. You can use it to outline just about anything. It is quick and easy to do, which is always a plus, but most of all it is incredibly useful because it can hold a curve really well. If ever you have any text that is full of curves, or something with a tangle of tendrils and flourishes, then stem stitch is your best choice of the linear stitches. It also looks good in a variety of threads. The sample above I used cotton perle #5 and #8, wool, linen and silk.

stem stitch and cast on stitch hand embroidery sample

How to work stem stitch

stem stitch step by step 1

Even though your line will be hidden by your stitching, if you need to mark a line, use an air dissolvable pen or a quilter’s pencil. Work from left to right. Bring the thread up from the back of the fabric on the line.

Keeping your working thread under your needle, point the needle to the left, pick up a small piece of material to make a small stitch as illustrated. Pull the thread through the fabric.

Make the second stitch forward along the line, bringing the needle out a little behind the first stitch. Pull the thread through the fabric.

stem stitch step by step 2Repeat this along the line. Keep your stitches the same length and the tension even. Closely spaced stitches make a tight line, and a looser line is created by lengthening the spacing.

If the thread is worked above the needle, the stitch produced is slightly different, and is known as outline stitch.

stem stitch sample 2

I used Stem stitch here on a crazy quilt Block 76 in the I Dropped the Button Box quilt

stem stitch hand embroidery sampleI used stem stitch on my hussif which you can see here. I used my templates to trace the scallops before working the lines in a hand dyed cotton pearle thread. Straight stitches were worked in the valleys of the scallops before adding a seed bead to each end. The heart shaped sequins were secured with a seed bead.

Stem stitch on my hussif

We also know Stem stitch as crewel stitch, stalk stitch and South Kensington stitch.

Close detail of thread twisties

Thread Twisties!

Experimenting with different threads can be expensive, as you would normally have to buy a whole skein of each type of thread. So I have made up my thread twisties. These are a combination of different threads to use in creative hand embroidery. These enable you to try out stitching with something other than stranded cotton. For the price of just a few skeins, you can experiment with a bundle of threads of luscious colours and many different textures.

These are creative embroiders threads. With them, I hope to encourage you to experiment. Each Twistie is a thread bundle containing silk, cotton, rayon and wool. Threads range from extra fine (the same thickness as 1 strand of embroidery floss) to chunky couchable textured yarns. All threads have a soft and manageable drape so that twisting them around a needle makes experimental hand embroidery an interesting journey rather than a battle.  I have hand-dyed many of these threads. All are threads I use. You may find a similar thread twist but no two are identical.

You will find my thread twisties in the Pintangle shop here


  1. I have posted photos of my stem stitch examples on my flicker site here http://www.flickr.com/photos/susie_w/ This stitch brought back many childhood memories as it was the first stitch I was taught. I smiled as I remembered all the dish towels, pillow cases and blouses I stitched on as a young girl. Nice to know I still find pleasure in stitching.


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