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How To Stem Stitch By Hand

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Stem Stitch is a typical and well-known outline stitch. As the name suggests you use it to outline designs. You can also use it to fill shapes.

how to stem stitch by hand

Stem stitch is always worked with the loop on the right when you stitch up your marked line. When you work from left to right you keep the loop at the bottom and when you work from right to left your keep the loop at the top.

If you keep the loop to the left of your marked line working up, you call the stitch an outline stitch.

Good For

  • Curved shapes
  • Straight lines
  • Filling shapes

Stitch Length

How to stem stitch by hand

I use a stitch length of between 2 and 4 mm depending on the design.

When you stitch around curves or rounded shapes you will need to make the stitch length smaller if you want the stitch line to be smooth. Otherwise you will see some gaping in the stitch line as shown in the image.

The stitches on the right side of the circle are too long and the stitch line shows gaps.

What Embroidery Thread And Needle To Use

You can use any type of embroidery thread for Stem Stitch.

I tend to use crewel/embroidery needle (size 7 to 9) for 2 – 3 strands of embroidery thread.

Stitch Sequence

I tend to work from the bottom. There is nothing to stop you to stitch from left to right or right to left. Do what is most comfortable for you.

While working, I sometimes turn my hoop with the work if it helps with the stitch direction.

Before you get started mark you design and secure your thread with a holding stitch. I have some handy tutorials to show you how to transfer and mark your design as well as how to secure your thread. Click on the highlighted links to click through to the tutorials.

how to stem stitch by hand

Stitch 1 – Bring the needle up through the fabric at the bottom of your marked line. Then pull the embroidery thread through.

how to stem stitch by hand

Stitch 2 – Bring the needle down further up your marked line at your chosen length.

Pull the thread through the fabric but leave a small loop to the right of your design, as seen in the bottom image.

TIP: If you work from left to right leave a little loop at the bottom of your marked line. If you work from right to left leave a small loop at the top of your marked line.

how to stem stitch by hand

Stitch 3 – Hold your loop to the right and push the needle up through the marked line.

Make sure you bring the needle up half way between the first and the second stitch (see picture at the top). Pull the needle and thread all the way through the fabric.

You have now completed the first stitch and started the second.

TIP: If you use a delicate thread like wool, leave your needle between the first and second stitch and tighten the loop first. To do so pull the thread from underneath your work, then push the needle up and pull through the thread.

how to stem stitch by hand

Stitch 4 – You now start repeating your stitches described in stitch 2 and 3 above.

TIP: When using a holding stitch, I tend to pierce the thread of the holding stitch. This helps to secure the thread and makes sure the holding stitches are covered by the surface stitches. I cut the holding knot once I have stitched a couple of surface stitches.

how to stem stitch by hand

Stitch 5 – Similar to stitch 3, you bring the needle up between stitch 4 and 3. This time, however, you bring the needle up right next to stitch 2 so there is no gap between stitches.

Continue stitching until you come to the end of your design.

how to stem stitch by hand

Finally when you come to the end of your design take a final stitch. But this time don’t keep a loop to the right of your design. Instead pull the thread all the way through and tighten the stitch.

You can now secure your thread or move onto stitch the next shape.

How to stem stitch by hand

To complete the leaf in this tutorial, I start the second half of the leaf at the base of the leaf.

To do so bring the needle up at the base of the leaf, slightly angling the needle for a smooth appearance, and follow the steps above.

If you were to stitch the second half of the leaf from the top of the leaf, you would need to stitch an outline stitch, which means you keep the loop to the left of your work. As you change stitch direction it would, otherwise, look as if you have used a stem stitch for one side and an outline stitch for the other side of the leaf.

I hope you found these steps helpful.

If you have a question or comment leave a comment below. I’d love to hear from you!

Happy Stitching!


You might also find the following tutorials useful.

How To Close Your Stem Stitched Circle

How To Split Stitch By Hand

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