On a current project, I’m embroidering some satin stitched red berry thingamabobs. I have no idea of they are accurately depicted as far as Mother Nature is concerned, but, in bright red, they go well with the spray of evergreen and pine cones around them. I had a little misadventure with some satin stitching, so I wanted to show you the problem and the solution.
First, the problem: The berries are not huge, but they’re a decent size at their widest point (perhaps three quarters of an inch on the larger ones, at most). Satin stitch is not meant to be used on very wide spaces – I’d say an inch to an inch and a half should be the longest span of satin stitch, and even that might be a bit too much, depending on the thread and what you do underneath the stitching.
Here are the berries in question, relatively close-up. I’m not so keen on those darker centers, but since they aren’t the issue, let’s just ignore them for now!
So far, three berries are fully satin stitched. The top left is outlined and padding stitches have been worked perpendicular to the direction of the top satin stitched layer that will be worked next.
The arrows point to the berries in question, which, from far away, don’t look so bad.
But, when you get really close to the one on the lower right, you can see here some ridges in the stitching. Not too attractive. Besides being ridged, the stitches seem a bit loose. On the berry to the left of this, you can also see a bit of ridging in the satin stitching.
This berry, however, is fine. And it has the longest length satin stitching. Longer lenghts of satin stitch are usually the cause for ridging in stitches – because the stitches are longer, the tension cannot be maintained as well, especially if the fabric loosens in the hoop. And once the fabric is out of the hoop, with long satin stitching, you really risk your stitches flopping apart altogether.
So how is that solved? What’s the difference between the two berries on the bottom where ridging is evident and the longer berry on the top, where the stitches lie perfectly smoothly?
The difference is in the padding. For most satin stitching, at least one layer of padding is essential, especially if the stitch is half an inch or longer (using regular floss). The more space the stitch needs to cover, the thicker the padding should be. The padding not only provides lift underneath the satin stitch, but it also provides friction for the satin stitching threads and a stable base for them to rest on.
In the lower two berries, I used one strand of floss for the split stitch outline underneath the satin stitching, and one strand of padding, worked inside the split stitch outline, perpendicular to the satin stitched layer.
One strand on the padding was not enough; it was a weak, skimpy foundation for the satin stitches.
On the top berry, I switched to two strands for the padding stitches, and the increase in density underneath the satin stitches helped them lie better and filled the space in undereath, so that, once the tension is removed (that is, the hoop is taken off), the satin stitching will still look terrific. On the other berries, the satin stitches will shift, because they aren’t well padded.
On very small areas of satin stitching, like the light green pod in the midst of these evergreen needles, little or no padding is required. In fact, I did outline the little pod, and I worked a scant filling with one strand of floss longwise down the pod, then satin stitched over it. But on a tiny space like that, I could’ve gotten away with not filling it at all.
Another tip on the satin stitching: use one strand of floss. Yes, it takes longer, but the secret to nice satin stitch is zero ridges – a perfectly smooth surface. If you use two or more strands of floss, they’ll twist on each other and then won’t lie perfectly flat, parallel to each other. You could use a laying tool, which would help smooth two or more strands out, but even then, you get a slight bunching in the hole where the threads emerge. Satin stitch generally just looks better when one strand of floss is used.
Many stitchers are intimidated by satin stitch. “I can’t get mine to look smooth.” “My edges are messy.” I hear this a lot! It’s not a difficult stitch; generally, it’s just a matter of practice while following a few tips:
1. Stitch the outline of the area you are satin stitching in split stitch. Why split stitch and not backstitch? Read this article comparing split stitch to backstitch, and you’ll see! When you stitch your satin stitch, take your satin stitches just over the split stitch line. This split stitch line will help keep your edges straight, and will barely lift the satin stitch up off the fabric. Don’t angle your needle back under the split stitch line before going back into the fabric. Just go straight down into the fabric just on the other side of the split stitch line.
2. Pad your satin stitches at least lightly. Work the padding stitches perpendicular to the direction of the top layer of satin stitches. If you are doing two layers of padding, stitch the first layer in the same direction as your satin stitch, stitch the second layer perpendicular to the first, and then your final layer (the satin stitch) will be perpendicular to the second layer of padding.
3. Use more padding layers or thicker thread for padding (or even felt, depending on what you’re embroidering!) for larger spaces of satin stitch. When you pad the area, you don’t have to take the thread all the way across the back – you can come up right next to where you went down in the fabric. However, when you do your satin stitching, the satin stitch should carry all the way across the back of the area you’re covering, in order to keep the correct tension on the thread.
4. Use only one strand of floss for the final satin stitching layer. Make sure you carry your thread across the back of the area you’re covering.
I hope these tips come in handy for you. Satin stitch is worth practicing! It really is a beautiful stitch!