Mary Corbet

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I learned to embroider when I was a kid, when everyone was really into cross stitch (remember the '80s?). Eventually, I migrated to surface embroidery, teaching myself with whatever I could get my hands on...read more

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Basic Embroidery Stitches: Detached Stitches & Knots


Your repertoire of basic embroidery stitches would not be complete without a few detached stitches (stitches that stand alone) and some knots. While line, chain, and filling stitches are probably more frequently used in “free style” embroidery, the individual stitches have their definite uses. So here are a few of them…

Detached Chain – aka “lazy daisy” stitch: This stitch is great for little accent flower petals and leaves. It can also be used as an outline stitch, when stitches in a line with regular spaces between the stitches. As a very loose or light filling, you could work lines of detached chains in a kind of alternating “brick” pattern.
Direction: Bring your needle and thread through at A. Take the needle back down at A, but don’t pull the thread through – instead, encourage the tip of the needle up at B (this space between A and B determines the length of your stitch), and wrap the working thread underneath the needle, as shown in the diagram. Pull your thread through from a forward angle, so that the loop is snug against the “throat” of your thread. Now, take your needle down at C, which is just outside the loop, and bring it up at D, which is the beginning point of your next stitch. You can either encourage the needle up at D without having pulled the thread all the way through, or you can pull your thread through completely when going down at C, and then bring the needle back up at D.

Here’s a sample of “lazy daisy” stitch, with a French knot center. Inside the detached chains that form the petals of the flower, a straight stitch has been worked in a lighter color, just to give some “depth.”

French knot: Perhaps this is the most “common” knot used in surface embroidery. It’s uses range from the single center of a little flower (above) to a dense, textured filling. (See a great sample of textured filling here). Outlining shapes with French knots can add a nice stippling effect to your embroidery. In short, you can do heaps of things with this stitch! Vary the type and weight of thread for more texture and for interesting effects.
Direction: Bring your needle and thread up at A, which should be the point where you want the center of the knot located. Holding the working thread in your left hand, wrap it around your needle twice. Don’t let go of the thread! Keeping a bit of tension on the thread, take the tip of your needle back through at A. If you are using a hoop, you can hold the hoop and your working thread in your left hand – holding the thread between your forefinger and thumb, and using the rest of your fingers to balance the hoop. (If you’re using a frame that is mounted on a stand, this stitch is a lot easier!) Anyway, you want to take your needle down again at A, but you do not want to loosen the tension on your thread. You aren’t pulling too tight, but just enough to keep those coils in place next to the fabric as you pull your needle and thread through them. Use the tension on the working thread to manipulate the coils a bit. You want to keep them next to the fabric, and taut, without choking the thread as it passes through. You can also move the working thread so that your knot is better-positioned. Pull your thread all the way through the coils, releasing it from your left hand as you approach the end of the thread. This particular diagram on the top left shows your needle coming up for the next knot – and this is well and fine if you are working in a row of evenly spaced knots. However, I prefer to take my needle and thread straight down through the fabric, and then come up for the next stitch.

Fly Stitch: This stitch can be used as individual stitches for accents and for loose filling. It can also be worked in horizontal or vertical rows, as an edging (in crazy quilting, sampers, and whatnot). Below, you can see an example of it used in a horizontal row.
Direction: Bring your thread through and A, and back down at B, without pulling it tight – keep it loose and a little bit “looped.” Your placement of the needle at B will determine the width of the space between the two tops of the resulting V or Y shape. Come up at C, which is inside the tip of the V, and go down at D, anchoring the tip of the V shape. If you’re continuing in a horizontal row, you can enter with your needle at D, and encourage it up again right next to B, to start a new stitch.

Here, you can see the fly stitch worked in a horizontal row. The stitches are rather wide, and the anchoring thread is tiny, so the whole effect creates a zigzag pattern. This is worked in two strands of DMC on cotton twill.


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