This section is excerpted from our book Sew & Stitch Embroidery. Available for purchase here.

Stitches for Outlining

Back Stitch

The back stitch is my go to stitch for outlining. It makes a nice clean row of stitches. Bring your needle through from the back of your fabric. Make your first stitch by putting your needle through the front of the fabric in a backwards direction from the direction you would like your line to go. Start the second stitch by bringing the needle back up through the fabric a stitch length away from your original starting point. Finish the second stitch by putting your needle through the original starting point.

Split Stitch

I like the split stitch if I want a line to look a little more organic. Bring your needle up from the back of the fabric, then make one stitch about ¼’’ in length. Bring the needle back up through the center of the last stitch, splitting the thread. Continue stitching your line.

Stem Stitch

The stem stitch is a traditional embroidery outlining stitch. It’s often used for the stems of flowers. Bring your needle through from the back of your fabric on the line you want to stitch. Make a stitch by inserting your needle slightly to the right of the line. Bring your needle back to the front, on the line and next to your previous stitch. For a thicker overall look to your line, make your stitches smaller and increase the angle of the stitches. For a thinner line, lengthen your stitches and decrease the angle.

Running Stitch

The running stitch is often the first stitch learned by a beginner. It creates a cute dashed line effect. All of the stitches should follow a line. Bring your needle through from the back of the fabric. Insert the needle a stitch length away for your first stitch. Bring your needle out from the back a stitch length away. Continue along the line. You can also weave your stitches in and out of the fabric to make several stitches at once.

Chain stitch

The chain stitch is made up of interlocking loops. Stitch several rows right next to each other to fill in shapes! At your starting point, bring your needle up from the back of the fabric. Insert the needle back in through the starting point, then bring the needle up through the fabric a stitch length away. Pull your needle up through the loop. Repeat for the additional stitches in your row. To end your row, make a tiny anchoring stitch over your last loop, securing it in place. To turn at a corner, make an anchoring stitch in the same way then come back up again on the inside of your last loop. Start stitching in the new direction.

Stitches for Filling In Shapes

Seed stitch

This easy stitch is my go to stitch for a cute, speckled fill. Bring your needle up from the back of the fabric. Insert the needle a short distance from the starting point. Continue with more stitches. Typically they are stitched in all different directions making a random pattern. However if I’m stitching something like animal hair, I often make stitches that go in the same direction.

Satin stitch

The satin stitch is the stitch I use most often to completely fill in a small space. If your space is bigger, it might be better to use the long and short stitch (see below). For a satin stitch, first determine the shape you want to fill in. Bring the needle up along the edge of the shape. Insert the needle across onto opposite side of the shape. Bring your needle back up through the fabric right next to your starting hole on the original side of the shape. Repeat the process to fill the shape with stitches.

Long and short stitch

The long and short stitch is great for filling large spaces completely with stitches. You can also change colors every couple of rows to get a blended effect. First determine the shape you want to fill. Work the first row of stitches along and edge of the shape. Alternate between long and short stitches with the short stitches about half the length of the long stitches. For the next row work long stitches in the spaces created by the short stitches. Continue with the remaining rows.

Laid stitch with cross-stitch couching

This is a super fun stitch that can fill in a large space quickly and still look pretty with an airy feel. You can use two colors of floss which will make this stitch extra special. Mark the area you would like to fill. Stitch parallel lines about ½’’ apart back and forth at a 45 degree angle across the area you would like to fill. Repeat in the perpendicular direction. You should now have very long criss-crossing stitches. Now we need a way to hold all of these stitches in place. We do this with cross-stitch couching stitches (optional: switch floss colors). Bring your needle up from the back closely above where 2 long threads cross. Insert your needle closely below where the 2 long threads cross, making a short vertical stitch. Bring your needle back up closely to the left of the 2 long threads, then insert it closely to the right of the 2 long threads, creating a short horizontal stitch. You should now hove a little cross stitch holding down the 2 long threads. Continue making cross stitches where all the long threads cross.

Decorative stitches

French knot

Wrap the thread around your needle twice. With your finger, hold the wrapped floss to the needle so it doesn't fall off. Insert the tip of your needle back into the fabric right next to the starter hole (but not in the same hole). Pull your floss so that the wrapped floss on the needle is snug against the needle and laying against the fabric. Place your finger on the wrapped floss to hold the floss in place. Slowly pull your needle entirely through to the back and continue to gently pull until the knot is secure.

Single chain stitch

Make a single chain stitch in the same way you would a row of chain stitches. After you make your first stitch, instead of continuing to make a row, make a tiny anchoring stitch over the loop, securing the loop in place.

Lazy daisy stitch

A lazy daisy stitch refers to several single chain stitches grouped together so they look like the petals of a flower. Start your lazy daisy by making a single chain stitch with the starting point at the center of the flower. Make additional single chain stitches starting at the same starting point and working in a circle.

Fly stitch

The fly stitch is a close cousin to the single chain stitch. Bring your needle up through from the back of the fabric. Instead of inserting your needle into the starting point like you would a single chain stitch, insert the needle a stitch length to the right of the starting point. Bring your needle back up in between the two stitch points and a stitch length lower. Place the working floss behind the needle and pull up on your needle, tightening the loop. Make a tiny anchoring stitch over the loop, securing it in place.

Feather stitch

This is a pretty stitch that I like to use for a leafy look. Bring your needle up through from the back of the fabric. Insert the needle a stitch length to the right of the starting point. Bring your needle back up in between the two stitch points and a stitch length lower. Place the working floss behind the needle and pull up on your needle, tightening the loop. Your first stitch is complete. Decide if you would like your next stitch to go to the right or the left. Insert your needle a stitch length away either to the right or the left. Bring your needle back up in between the two stitch points and a stitch length lower. Now your second stitch is complete. Continue in the same way. You could make a stitch to the left, then to the right then to the left again. Or try making 2 stitches to the right then 2 to the left for a different look. To finish the last stitch in the row, make a tiny anchoring stitch over the loop, securing it in place.

Herringbone stitch

The herringbone stitch is similar to a cross stitch but has a little different proportions. The stitches will run between two parallel lines, so it may be helpful to draw the lines on your fabric with a water soluble marker. Bring your needle out on the first line. Insert the needle into the second line at a 45 degree diagonal from your first stitch. Bring the needle out still on the second line and backwards so your needle is in between your previous 2 holes. The next stitch will be the same as the first but in the opposite direction. Insert the needle back into the first line at a 45 degree diagonal, then bring the needle out on the first line and backwards in between the previous 2 holes. Continue in the same manner to make a row of herringbone stitches.

Stitches for edging

Blanket stitch

The blanket stitch makes a simple decorative edging and can also be used for surface embroidery. To start a row of blanket stitches on an edge, bring your needle up from the back ¼’’ from the edge. Bring your needle around the edge and back through from the back at the same spot where you started, creating a loop around the edge. Bring your needle through the loop you just made sideways at the edge of the fabric. Now your thread is anchored and you’re ready to start your first blanket stitch. Insert your needle ¼’’ from the edge and ¼’’ from your starter stitch. Bring your needle around to the front around the edge and through the loop. Pull the stitch tight. Repeat for more blanket stitches.

Buttonhole stitch

A buttonhole stitch is similar to and often confused with the blanket stitch. The main difference is that a buttonhole stitch makes a small knot at the edge of the fabric which helps protect it against the wear and tear of buttons. The stitches are also stitched closely together. To start a row of  buttonhole stitches on an edge, bring your needle up from the back ¼’’ from the edge. Bring your needle around the edge and back through from the back at the same spot where you started, creating a loop around the edge. Bring your needle through the loop you just made sideways at the edge of the fabric. Now your thread is anchored and you’re ready to start your first buttonhole stitch. Bring your needle around to the back and come up to the front ¼’’ from the edge and right next to your starter stitch. Maneuver the working floss so that your needle comes up through the loop. Pull the loop tight, and as you pull, maneuver the knot (or purl) made to the edge of the fabric. This is your first buttonhole stitch. Continue around your buttonhole.

Counted Cross-Stitch

Counted cross-stitch

Counted cross-stitch is usually done on a fabric that is woven evenly and the threads create small squares that form an easily countable grid. This grid mimics the squares on a counted cross-stitch pattern chart. Find the center on your chart and mark where you would like the center of your design be on the fabric with a water soluble marker. Pick what color you’d like to start with and decide what row of stitches you’d like to start with. The square furthest to the right of a row of stitches will be your first stitch. Find that same square on your fabric using the center point as a guide. Bring your needle up through the bottom left hand corner of the first square in the row. Insert it back through the fabric in the upper right hand corner of the first square. Continue across the row for the number of stitches in that row. To complete the stitches, bring the needle up in the bottom right hand corner of the last square then insert it into the top left corner. Continue back across the row. Continue in the same manner for the remainder of your pattern.