Basic Embroidery Stitches: 4 Line Stitches

posted in: Stitch Tutorial | 5

Basic embroidery stitches are the backbone of all embroidery stitches. Once you master the basics, the rest is easy. The most basic of the stitches are called line stitches. They are – you guessed it – worked along a line! The line can be straight, curved, angular, or just about any other shape.

Basic line stitches are nearly universally present in all embroidery patterns. Whether you’re working on a simple or elaborate pattern, chances are, at least one basic line stitch will be present. Fortunately, line stitches are easy to learn and simple to master. Let’s start with the four most common basic embroidery stitches.

Basic Embroidery Stitches ~


Running Stitch

Of all the basic embroidery stitches, running stitch is the easiest to master. This quick stitch is perfect for borders and outlines. You can change the look by lengthening or shortening the stitches.

Basic Embroidery Stitches ~

Start by making a single stitch. Next, move the needle one stitch length away and make another stitch. Try to keep the spaces the same length as the stitch. Follow this pattern until you have a line of stitches with spaces between.

Need help with embroidery stitches? 

You can also create running stitch with an alternate method that is reminiscent of hand sewing. Instead of making each stitch separately, weave the needle in and out of the fabric several times before pulling it all the way through. This method is much quicker, but it can sometimes be harder to make uniform stitches. Try both and see which you prefer.

Basic Embroidery Stitches ~

Back Stitch

Back stitch is similar to running stitch except it creates a solid line. Depending on what kind of thread you use, it can make delicate or heavy lines. Back stitch is commonly used for outlines and borders but it’s also great for embroidering text or filling in small spaces.

Basic Embroidery Stitches ~
Begin by bringing the thread up through the fabric one stitch length away from the starting point. Now, go back and bring the needle down at the beginning. Think of it as stitching in reverse.

Basic Embroidery Stitches ~

The next stitch is made in the same manner. Come up one stitch length away from the previous stitch and bring the needle down at the end of the previous stitch. Once you get the hang of it this stitch becomes almost like second nature.

Basic Embroidery Stitches ~

Split Stitch

Split stitch also creates a solid line, but with a bit of added texture. I use split stitch when I want a to add something extra to my outlines. Trees, leaves, flower petals, and anything else that could benefit from extra texture look great with split stitch. Varying the stitch length will result in different looks. Small stitches give a nubby texture while long stitches look more like a braid.

Basic Embroidery Stitches ~

Begin by making a single stitch. Now, bring the thread up in the middle of the stitch you just made.

Basic Embroidery Stitches ~

Pull the thread all the way through and make another stitch. Once again, bring the needle up in the middle of the previous stitch. That’s it!

Basic Embroidery Stitches ~

Stem Stitch

Stem stitch is similar to split stitch except instead of coming up in the middle of the stitch, you come up next to it. The result is a twisted stitch that turns corners beautifully and makes excellent lettering. Stem stitch can also be worked in rows or a continuous circular shape to create a really interesting filler.

Basic Embroidery Stitches ~

There are many ways to work stem stitch. I’m going to show you my two favorite methods. We’ll start with the method that is similar to split stitch. First, make a single stitch. Without pulling the thread all the way through, bring the needle back up halfway between two points and just above the line. It’s easier than it sounds, I promise! If you’re following the diagram you come up at A, go down at B, and back up at C. Remember that C is just above the line. Also, be sure to keep the working thread below the line.

Basic Embroidery Stitches ~

After a few stitches, you will see the twisted line pattern form.

Basic Embroidery Stitches ~

The second method is the sewing method. the first time you went all the way in with the needle and then back up. This time you will insert the needle one stitch length away and then angle it backward and bring it back up right above the line. Just the like with the first method, the spot where the needle comes out is about halfway between the points and a little above the line.

Basic Embroidery Stitches ~

For most people, one method comes more naturally than the other. I like to use the first method for times when I need small stitches – such as when embroidering letters – and the second method for longer stitches on larger objects. Give both a try and see which one works best for you.

Basic Line Stitch Patterns

All of the Wandering Threads patterns contains at least one of the basic line stitches. Running Stitch is used to create ribs on the cactus in the Saguaro National Park Pattern.

Saguaro National Park Pattern
Back stitch is used to outline all the State and State Flower Patterns as well as for some of the lettering in the National Park Patterns. The Iowa state pattern below uses back stitch for both the state outline and the corn stalks.

Iowa State Hand Embroidery Pattern
Split Stitch can be found in many of the patterns with trees and leaves. These trees in the Colorado State Pattern are worked with split stitch.

Colorado State Hand Embroidery Pattern
Stem Stitch is one of my favorites for curved lines. In fact, I like it so much that I’ve probably used is at least once in all of the Wandering Threads patterns! Most often stem stitch creates an outline like in the Yellowstone National Park Pattern. In this pattern, stem stitch is used to both outline and create the inner smoke of the Old Faithful Geyser.

Stem stitch is also an interesting filler stitch for curved shapes. This sun in the North Dakota State Pattern features the twisted lines of stem stitch worked in rows.

North Dakota State Hand Embroidery Pattern

With these four basic embroidery stitches, you can tackle nearly any pattern. Happy Stitching!

5 Responses

  1. Noreen Lovett
    | Reply

    I love your web site. Thank you.
    I am leaving for AZ in March and lookingvto learn how to embroider while there. I think your tutorials will be a big start!

    • Amanda Watson
      | Reply

      Thanks so much Noreen! I hope the tutorials are helpful and please feel free to reach out with any questions.

  2. Steph
    | Reply

    This is so amazing! Thank you so much for such a thorough tutorial!

    • Amanda Watson
      | Reply

      You are so welcome!

  3. ofitserovi
    | Reply

    I love how straight forward your lessons are. Thank you for that! Thank you for sharing !

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