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: Chain Stitches


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If you’ve got the line stitches down, and want to move on to some more variations, chain-type stitches may fill the bill.

The chain stitch is a fairly old stitch. It was commonly used in the Middle Ages to define lines and to fill spaces. A variation – the split stitch – was used to define and shade delicate faces and hands.

Chain Stitch: This is a great stitch for lines and curves. It can be delicate or heavy depending on the thread you use. There are lots of variations on chain stitch: it can be whipped, it can be twisted, it can be doubled, it can be “checkered,” and on and on. Once you know the basic stitch, experiment! It’s a very versatile stitch. Chain stitch can be worked from top to bottom or bottom to top – it doesn’t really matter – but as a right-hander, when considering horizontal direction, I prefer working from right to left with it. Left-handers may find that left to right is easier.
Direction: To begin, bring the needle and thread through the fabric. Take the needle back down at the same spot you emerged, and then encourage it up again a short distance away (the length of the stitch). Make sure the working thread is under the needle as you pull it and the thread through the fabric. Pull firmly enough to take the loop of the thread to the “throat” of the working thread, but not so firmly that your stitch stretches too straight and your working thread gets pulled backwards! It’s best if you pull the thread through going forwards. On subsequent stitches, you take your needle back down into the loop you just created, and encourage it up a stitch-length later. NOTE: Don’t take your needle down outside the loop, as you would for a detached chain! Take it down inside the loop! (For the longest time, I worked this stitch taking the needle down outside the loop, and it just never looked right. I wonder why??!)

Split Stitch: Split stitch ends up looking a little like a chain stitch, only it’s a little finer because you’re splitting a single thread. This stitch was commonly used for delicate shading on faces and hands. It also makes a good outline for delicate curves and lines. You can fill an area by working split stitches in lines close to each other, changing the shade of your thread to create a painted effect.
Direction: For left-handers, work right to left; for right-handers, left to right. Bring the thread out of the fabric at A. Take the needle back into the fabric close to A, pointing backwards towards A, and as you encourage the needle back up, split the working thread. This is worked in the same manner as outline stitch or back stitch, but when you come up, you take the needle through the working thread.

Wheat Stitch: This stitch is worked from top to bottom as shown, or from left to right, or from right to left. It can be used for edges and oulines, especially effective in crazy quilting techniques and such. It obviously makes great stalks of wheat. If I use it for wheat, I usually finish the very top of a line of stitches with a straight stitch to complete the look of the “wheat.”
Direction: Bring the needle and thread out at A, which is slightly off the line you are working. Make an angled straight stitch, by taking it down on the line. Bring the needle back up at B, and make another straight stitch opposite to A, meeting at the line (as shown in the diagram). Bring the needle up on the line below the “V” created by the straight stitches, and then pass through the base of the straight stitches, and back down where you just brought the needle up. Go up at C, and make an angled straight stitch to the base of the loop you just formed, taking the needle and thread to the back of your fabric, up at D, and forming the last straight stitch. Now, as you continue down the line, keep looping the thread through the straight stitches, as shown in the diagram.



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(7) Comments


    1. Hi, Helen –

      If you follow the link in the top menu, where it says “How To Videos,” you’ll land at the video page. They’re all there! The videos are the same ones, but the menu has changed to a visual menu, so you can see what the stitches look like.

      Hope that helps!

  2. Hi Mary,
    Between your video tutorials and your written
    instructions, I think anyone could learn to do
    most embroidery stitches. You have given a
    wonderful gift to the world. Thank you. Thank
    you. Thank you.
    Anna Brown

  3. My dearly loved late sister, who was a member of the Embroiders Guild and did some prize winning work, bequeathed me all her silks. For the past years I have looked guiltily at them. At last retired I decided I must attempt something. I discovered your website through Google and it gave me the courage to try. I am starting small and nowhere at my sister’s standard, but I am getting there and brings me closer to her.

  4. it’s so very difficult for me to do on first because i had no experience at all…. but if i follow the direction.. it makes me very good on making it …. it’s great!!!!!

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