Outline Stitch is a basic embroidery stitch that is commonly used – as you might have guessed – for outlining objects. This simple stitch creates a smooth, twisted rope-like line perfect for curves, circles, or any shape that you want to highlight with an outline.
Start your outline stitch by bringing the thread up at the beginning of the line(point A). For this example, we are stitching from left to right. Pull the thread all the way through and insert it again one stitch length away (point B). This time, don’t pull the thread all the way through, leaving a small loop.
With the loop positioned above your stitching line, bring the needle and thread back up halfway between points A & B (point C). Pull it all the way through to create a stitch. For those following the diagram: Bring the thread up at point A, move one stitch length and bring it down at point B. Next, come back up again at point C while making sure the working thread is ABOVE the line.
As you continue stitching in this fashion, a twisted line will form.
Curved Outline Stitch
When using outline stitch to create a curved line, reduce your stitch length to ensure a smooth curve.
Outline Vs. Stem Stitch
Outline and Stem Stitch are very similar. So similar, in fact, that many people get them confused. While both stitches create a twisted line, the direction of the twist is opposite and, therefore, some patterns look better when using Outline while some look better when using Stem. Often, it boils down to personal preference.
When stitching, the key to remembering the difference is simple. For outline, the loop of working thread stays on the top, and for stem stitch, the loop of working thread stays on the bottom.
Like all of the basic line stitches, Outline stitch can be worked in rows to fill in objects or create a thick band of stitches. Simply position the lines of stitches in close rows to create this look.
FREE Digital Pattern!
Want to practice your new stitching skills? You are in luck! I have created an entire pattern using only Outline stitch and its variations. This simple Philodendron plant pattern features curved and straight lines, lines worked in rows to create a thick band, and lines woven with a second color for a variegated look.
To download your free pattern, including a material list, tutorial for transferring the pattern, stitching instructions, and thread color suggestions, simply click on the link below. FREE Philodendron Pattern
A few essential hand embroidery supplies are all you need to get started stitching and creating works of art.
In general, you can embroider on any fabric. Cotton, wool, linen, felt, or even denim and leather, can be used as a canvas for creating beautiful embroidery. However, keep in mind that thicker fabrics require sturdier needles, and thinner fabrics have a tendency to pucker when stitching bold embroidery letters or filled in shapes. When in doubt, stick with cotton or linen-cotton blend fabrics with a medium weave.
Colored fabrics are great for embroidery. Don’t be afraid to experiment by stitching dark fabrics with light or bright colored floss. I love this fern pattern on white fabric, but I love it even more stitched on dark grey linen!
Stranded Cotton By far the most common embroidery thread is stranded cotton floss made by DMC. It comes in skeins with 6 strands that you can use either all together as a thicker floss or split into a smaller number of strands for varying embroidery effects. DMC floss comes in a multitude of colors — each with their own unique assigned number. All of the hand embroidery patterns here on Wandering Threads Embroidery include a list of recommended DMC cotton floss colors. DMC floss is sold at most sewing and craft stores.
Pearl Cotton Another popular option is two-stranded pearl cotton floss. Consisting of two threads twisted together, this floss is intended to be used as one piece and produces a result that is thicker and shinier than stranded cotton. The most common brands of pearl cotton are DMC and Anchor.
Wool, Silk, Sewing Thread & More In theory, you can use any kind of thread for embroidery. Don’t be afraid to experiment. Wool embroidery thread is commonly used in Crewelwork while silk thread can be found in Japanese Embroidery.
Embroidery or Crewel Needles This type of needle has a medium-sized eye slightly larger than the shaft of the needle. They come in sizes 1-12 with 12 being the smallest. The idea is to choose a needle large enough for your thread choice to fit through the eye, but not so large that it leaves an unsightly hole in the fabric. I tend to choose a size 3 or 4 when using all 6 strands of DMC floss (or pearl cotton) and a size 8 or 9 needle for almost everything else. Embroidery needles often come in packages containing multiple sizes which makes it easy to try out different needles.
Needle Storage Since no one wants loose needles floating around, using some type of needle storage is key. Magnetic Needle Box: These boxes are made of metal or plastic and contain a magnet inside to hold the needles. I like this option for storing all the needles I am using for my current project. Needle Storage Tubes: Another small and simple storage solution. These tubes are great for long term needle storage. Each plastic tube has a magnet at the bottom that holds the needles in place. Simply flip the tube upside down and the needles slide out in a fan shape while staying attached to the magnet. I have labels on my storage tubes so I know what size needles are in each one. Needle Minder: Since I am constantly finding my needles on the floor, on the couch, and in even in my clothing(!), using a needle minder is a must. This super simple product is basically just two strong magnets stuck together on either side of your project, creating the perfect spot to hold your needle. No more needles on the couch!
Embroidery hoops stretch the fabric tight so it’s easier to embroider while preventing wrinkles or puckering. While, technically, you can embroidery without them, I consider hoops to be essential on any list of hand embroidery supplies.
They come in a wide variety of sizes, shapes, and materials with the most common being round hoops made from wood. You can purchase them at nearly any craft store, or on Amazon in quantities or sets of sizes. Wooden hoops are also perfect for framing inside the hoop or making cute little wooden framed ornaments. How to Finish an Embroidery Hoop
The truth is that you don’t need embroidery scissors for embroidery. But you do need scissors to cut your thread ends, trim the fabric around your hoop, and occasionally, snip out a mistake stitch or two. For these purposes, it’s handy to have a pair of scissors with small blades and wide comfortable handles. Look for those with narrow blades between 1-2 inches long. It can also be useful to keep a pair of larger dressmaker scissors for cutting fabric on hand.
Fabric Marking Pens
Fabric marking pens and pencils are available in an array of options. There are air-erasable pens and pencils that disappear over time, water-erasable pens and pencils that disappear with a dab of water, and even a special pencil used for iron-on transfer.
In general, I prefer pens over pencils for marking fabric. They tend to make sharper lines and are far easier to erase than pencils. In terms of air-erasable vs. water-erasable, because I sometimes spend up to a week working on one project, I have found that the air-erasable options disappear too fast for my needs. My very favorite marking pens are the Leonis Water Erasable Pens. They have a nice sharp tip, each pen lasts for a long time, and the ink is easy to wash away with just a bit of water.
You can successfully embroider almost anything with the supplies listed above, but here are a few more optional items:
Floss Organizer: As your collection of embroidery floss grows you may find that an organizer box is a handy tool. You can buy a set of floss bobbins and use any type of box (a fishing tackle box works great). Or, you can purchase a special floss organizer that comes with bobbins and stickers to mark the floss numbers. Floss Rings: These are actually bookbinder rings, but they work well in tandem with floss bobbins for organizing floss. Since I am often embroidering more than one project at a time, I use these rings to keep my chosen floss for each project in one place. Project Notebook or Spreadsheet: I like to have a designated place to record notes regarding all my embroidery projects. I make notes on floss colors, stitch choices, and any changes I would make if I were to repeat the project. Good Lighting: Proper lighting is key for all embroidery projects. While a nice sunny window or an outside spot under a shade tree is ideal for embroidery, it’s not always possible to use natural light. If you find yourself straining to see your stitches you may want to consider a small sewing light to illuminate your space. You don’t have to spend a lot of money for a small sewing light. I like this small clampable desk lamp with a bendy gooseneck and an anti-glare LED bulb.
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This free embroidery pattern is perfect for practicing some of the more advanced hand embroidery stitches. Sharpen your skills while creating a botanical masterpiece. Frame this piece in the hoop, in a wooden frame, or turn it into a pillow, tea towel, market bag, or anything else you desire!
Three Stitches, Three Colors
This simple pattern uses only three stitches and three colors of embroidery floss.
Fern Stitch is a simple, delicate stitch that is easy to learn and quick to execute. It combines three small stitches worked in a group along a vertical or curved line to create an open lacy pattern. Fern stitch is perfect for creating leaves, branches, floral sprays, and all kinds of foliage. It can also be stitched in multiple rows to create a geometric pattern. Fern stitch is useful for all types of embroidery projects and is a snap to learn!
Straight Line Fern Stitch
Begin by drawing three parallel lines on your fabric roughly a half-inch apart. Bring the needle up at the top of the middle line (point A) and back down one stitch length below (point B). Instead of pulling the thread all the way through, set up the next stitch by angling the needle in a diagonal fashion and bringing it out at the top of the far right line (point C).
Pull the thread through and then take the needle back down in the same hole where you ended the first stitch (point B). Create the final stitch in the grouping by angling the needle and bringing it out at the top of the left line (point D).
Pull the thread through and you have just created your first grouping of fern stitch.
Start the next stitch by coming back up in the middle (Point B), down one stitch length below (Point E), and angling the needle up to Point F.
Continue making this three-stitch grouping with one straight middle stitch and two diagonal side stitches until you reach the end of the line.
Fern Stitch Tips & Variations
Once you learn the basic steps of fern stitch, the variations and possibilities are endless! For a more organic and natural look, try stitching without the outer guidelines and varying the diagonal stitch lengths and angles. Create realistic foliage and underwater seaweed by branching several lines off each other. Add small french knots on the end and you have a simple floral spray.
Fern stitch also looks beautiful worked along a curved line or made into a circular shape. You can even outline your fern stitch shapes with back stitch to create unique geometric filled shapes. One of my favorite way to embroider leaves is with a single row of fern stitch outlined with small back stitches.
You know what else fern stitch is good for? Making ferns! Fill in the branches of this simple fern pattern with varying lengths of fern stitch to create a and whimsical embroidered fern. Click HERE to view and download the free pattern.
Start by stitching the center of the fern with stem stitch.
Next, fill in the branches with fern stitch. Starting at the far end of each branch, create a grouping of small stitches. Continue down the branch, increasing the size of the stitches as you go. Don’t worry about making the stitches uniform in shape or perfectly tapering them along the branch. Your fern will be more realistic if the stitches are imperfect, just like a fern frond found in nature.
Fern Stitch Patterns
Want to use your new found stitching skills to create a fun and festive pattern? The Christmas Wreath Pattern (which includes both of the patterns shown below) uses fern stitch to create delicate leaves inside the holly wreath.