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What are Some Basic Embroidery Stitches?

By Jeri Sullivan
Updated May 17, 2024
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The basic embroidery stitches include cross stitch, back stitch, split stitch, chain stitch and stem stitch. Most sewing projects involve at least two of these stitches to complete. To learn these basic embroidery stitches, a needle, thread and fabric are required. For beginners, it is best to embroider on material designed for hand sewing, because it has squares in the weave of the fabric and small holes at each corner.

The most popular of the basic embroidery stitches is the cross stitch. To complete a single cross stitch, the threaded needle is pulled through one of the small corner holes of the square and pushed through the opposite corner. The needle is then pulled through one of the remaining holes and pushed through its opposite corner resulting in an "x" of thread on the front of the fabric. The process is repeated for the number of squares needed to create the desired design.

The back stitch is another of the basic embroidery stitches often used. To create a back stitch, the threaded needle is pulled through a corner hole but instead of pushing through the opposite corner, the needle is instead pushed through a corner that is parallel. The back stitch is mostly used to outline previously sewn cross stitches so the design is better defined.

One of the basic embroidery stitches that is a variation of the back stitch is the split stitch. To create a split stitch, the needle must be threaded with at least two lengths of thread. A back stitch is sewn first, then for the second stitch, the threaded needle is pulled through the previous corner hole. When it is pulled through, the needle is positioned so the thread "splits" and creates a space before being pushed through the next corner hole.

A chain stitch is another one of the basic embroidery stitches that is a variation of the back stitch. To create a chain stitch also requires at least two lengths of thread to complete. The needle is pulled through the first hole and the thread is held with the left hand. The tip of the needle is then pushed through the same hole and the thread is wrapped to form a loop. When the needle is then pulled back through the next hole, the loop creates a "chain" effect on the front of the fabric.

Along with the other types of basic embroidery stitches, the stem stitch can be used to either outline a cross stitched design or own its own. As the name suggests, it is often used to create stems of flowers in botanical designs. To create a stem stitch the threaded needle is pulled through a corner hole, then pushed through the opposite corner. The next stitch then starts not in a corner hole but slightly to the right of where the first stitch began then is pushed through slightly to the right of where the first stitch ended. The result is a line of stitches that touch and form a stem.

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