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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10 Hand Embroidery Stitches You Should Know


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Today, I’m going to go out on a limb and offer a list of the 10 hand embroidery stitches that I think every beginner (and beyond) should learn.

I get the question often: I’m just getting into hand embroidery. What stitches should I learn first?

There are hundreds and hundreds of embroidery stitches out there, so answering that question can be somewhat difficult.

After giving it some thought, I’ve narrowed my recommendations down to 10 stitches that every embroiderer should know and that the beginner can aim to learn, that will provide the stitcher with a good foundation for future growth and plenty of entertainment and versatility.

10 Hand Embroidery Stitches to Know

Here’s my list of 10 stitches you should know. Examine it, and let me know what you think! What would you add to it and eliminate from it, if you had to come up with ten (and only ten) stitches for a similar list?

10 Hand Embroidery Stitches to Know

1. Running Stitch – This is a very basic stitch. The beginner, regardless of age, can conquer it. Running stitch is the foundation of other stitching techniques and a good place to start.

2. Back Stitch – Another stitch that beginners at any age can learn easily, backstitch is also the foundation of many other embroidery stitches and an integral part of many embroidery techniques.

3. Split Stitch – Slightly more difficult than the previous stitches, split stitch can be used in myriad ways in embroidery, from shaded fillings to fine lines to padding under other stitches.

4. Stem Stitch – You shouldn’t be surprised that I’m including this one! It’s my favorite stitch, for both its beauty and its versatility. It creates neat lines, fine or heavy, and it can be used very effectively for fillings.

5. Chain Stitch – Another foundation stitch for many other stitches, the chain stitch can be used for lines and fillings, and it is an integral part of many embroidery techniques.

6. Detached Chain Stitch – It’s the ideal stitch for simple petals and leaves!

7. French Knot – It’s the ideal stitch for small, textured knots and dots. (The Colonial Knot makes a good substitution.)

8. Buttonhole Stitch – Another foundation stitch, the buttonhole stitch is employed in many different embroidery techniques. It’s useful for fillings, for decorative lines, for edging, and in many other applications.

9. Satin Stitch – The queen of solid filling stitches, satin stitch should be in every embroiderer’s repertoire.

10. Long & Short Stitch – While long & short stitch may seem like an advanced stitching technique, it really is a very forgiving stitch and quite easy in its basic form. It can be used to fill large and small spaces with solid color or with shades of color. It is most effectively used for needle painting. It’s one of those stitches that the beginner will never regret conquering.

I think those ten stitches would give any embroiderer a good foundation and even a good stand-alone repertoire that would provide years and years of pleasurable stitching.

Any additions and subtractions? What stitches do you think should be on such a list and why? Just remember, the magic number is 10, so if you add a stitch to the list, you have to take one off! I’m all ears – join the conversation below!


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(56) Comments

  1. That’s about the extent of my embroidery stitches, except for split stitch and long and short stitch. I prefer French Knots over Colonial Knots. To add to that, I have done Seed Stitch, Fishbone Stitch, and Double Herringbone Stitch.
    I don’t think I’d add and subtract anything from your list, Mrs. Corbet. It seems just right for beginners like me. And it’s amazing all the things that can be done with just those ten beginner stitches! Sometimes the simplest, easiest, embroidery stitches turn out to be the perfect touch to one’s project!

    Sarah 😀

  2. Mary. You will be gratified to know that these ten stitches are exactly the ones that I tell beginners they should learn. Perhaps I would put Satin stitch before Buttonhole stitch but that is the only difference between your list and mine. I have been teaching embroidery for about 20 years now and it is so good that you and I agree wholeheartedly on this. Once students know these ten stitches away they can go on almost anything. Grace.

  3. Dear Mary

    I think the above 10 stitches you have chosen covers the basics for beginners of hand embroidery and all the above stitches are relatively easy to learn if you follow your How to videos which are very easy to follow, also I found your samplers such as the long and short stitch and the lettering series very instructional and very useful because they cover not only the basics but so many stitches. I especially liked your how to video on the bullion rose which is a more advanced video but easy to follow as a beginner. I attempted all the stitches as a beginner in your how to videos although not alway sucessfully but through trial and error I eventually was able to achieve most of them with success, I even completed goldwork projects as a beginner by following your instructions on various projects you showed on Needle and Thread. So thanks for all your hard work in sharing your experiences, photographs and tips and techniques on hand embroidery with us.

    Regards Anita Simmance

  4. I love the list. My addition would be the Fly/Feather Stitch as I’ve used it in nearly every project of late. Continuously stitched simulates a pine bough or sprig. I love it.

  5. Hi there from England, my favourite stitch has to be cross-stitch, I have been ill for quite a while and my stitching has been neglected but I have started to do a few cards and bookmarks and am really enjoying reading your blog. Love Prudence

  6. Dear Mary, Great list, I have nothing to add or subtract. I did a large needlepoint project with lots of new (to me) stitches recently and decided to take a brief sabbatical from complex. I used a Mano di Fata iron-on transfer to some linen and am using stem stitch in floche. It’s like the simple embroidery I learned at my mother’s knee but getting the stem stitch just right, smooth and even is a challenge. Also, I am working on a little quilt with Sunbonnet Sue designs for raw-edge applique. Again getting the buttonhole/blanket stitch edge even and smooth — another challenge. We shouldn’t call these stitches easy! Best, Charlotte

  7. I like your choices. Actually the very first embroidery stitch I learned was the long and short. I had knitted with my Grandmother and sewn clothes with my Mother, but never tried to embroider with my Father until I saw a crewel kit of a row of Irises. The only stitch used was long and short. No one told me it was hard, so I loved it, and forty plus years later it is still my favorite stitch.

  8. An excellent list. About the only change I can think of is to make #4 Stem/Outline.

    There are many more stitches, but I’d agree that by the time someone has learned to do these stitches well, they’re ready to take on a lot more.

  9. Hi Mary, first may I say that this is the most informative website I have found on embroidery. You are so generous in showing people how to embroider and how to start off. I’m now fifty something and a month ago decided to give it a go. I didn’t know where to start, or how to start. Then I found needlenthread! Most of my questions answered. I was wondering which stitches would be good to begin with and you have just answered my question. I am currently doing the short and long tutorial you have put together. I love that stitch and the split stitch though with a single strand of thread it’s not easy to see without a magnifier! So far not too bad but looking forward to learning more about this wonderful pastime. Thank you again for your excellent and generous advice. Mike UK.

    1. Hi, Mike! I’m glad you’re enjoying Needle ‘n Thread and learning a lot! I agree – split stitch with one strand is much easier to do with a magnifier, that’s for sure!

  10. I didn’t know the Detached Chain Stitch was also called a Lazy Daisy Stitch. I learned something new today. 🙂

  11. A very good list for free surface embroidery. I’d be tempted to add feather stitch too (I’d have to drop split stitch as it can so often be replaced with chain in a finer thread if it’s called for). But as a lover of counted thread work, I can see a lot of my most useful basic stitches are missing: cross, holbein, four-sided stitch and hem stitch, and counted satin stitch (which is not the same thing as the surface kind) just for starters – I’d need those in the list, and I’d want woven bars, tent, eyelets…. I’d need another ten stitches at least!

  12. Mary
    I think you have come up with the perfect list .I have been teaching my 7 old and 5 yr old granddaughters to stitch. We started with the running stitch which the younger one quickly turned into a seed stitch. Symmetry is not her long suit and she may never master the running stitch but I’m sure that one day she may teach me new stitches or at least new combinations of stitches.

  13. I think it is a very good list but I would substitute cross stitch for split stitch. I managed embroidery without split stitch for about sixty years, and I think today many people love counted cross stitch and it can introduce them to the idea of counted stitches (blackwork, hardanger, pulled and drawn thread work for instance)

  14. Mary, Your videos are always so easy to understand. Do you currently have hemstitch in your archives? I’m struggling with it even though I’ve done it before! Many thanks.

  15. Thanks for going out on a limb! I’ve just started stitching and going to your site to try stitches. Good to have list of things to practice. Had started with stem, running, chain. Also tried some more difficult stitches and realised “not yet!”
    So now I can happily practise with the rest of the list, perhaps for years . . .

  16. Great list Mary! I need to master long and short stitch as for some reason I find this difficult. I get it if I’m doing a square area as in your video tutorial but have difficulty in applying it in a free-form area, such as a leaf or a heart. Reading through this list I see that my stitch repertoire isn’t as limited as I thought! I’d first master all these stitches before offering any suggestions as to what to add or subtract from this beginners list.

  17. Now I really must master long and short stitch! I’d rather do cable plait stitch than long and short stitch. I think it’s not the mechanics of it, it’s the discerning eye required to thread paint with it that scares me off.
    I also think fly stitch and bullion stitch are handy. When I was a beginner, it was very satisfying to be able to pop a few billion roses on a face washer to make a gift.
    Great list!

  18. A great list. One simple stitch that I really like is herringbone, particularly closely worked. It’s great for filling small leaves that are a little too large for detached chainand where the ground fabric or design doesn’t lend itself to satin stitch. What would I drop to keep it to 10? Probably either split or long-and-short because they are less suited to the types of designs I tend to work. (I’d also cheat and argue that fly, cretan and feather are all just rearranged buttonhole!)

  19. I think you are right these stitches are used alot and they part of every other stitch with out anyone realizing it

  20. Hi Mary, I was putting the last stitches into a crazy quilting wall hanging last night. Jumping in boots and all I stepped out up the void with stab stitches, on an angle and not connected. So easy but also so challenging in it’s free form. I’m going to use it more.

  21. Thank you, Mary. I owe what I’ve learned about my new love of crewel embroidery to your how-to videos! Whenever I need a new stitch, I consult you first. You always provide short,clear instruction Recently it was the rope stitch (can’t get mine to lay as nicely as yours).

  22. Mary, I love your 10 suggestions for beginning stitches but I would add granito and fly stitch. I mostly teach embroidery on fine fabrics (as opposed to crewel) and seldom use short and long stitch. The granito is wonderful to use as flower petals and dots that are larger than French knots. Some of my students think it is difficult but with a little practice, it is a very simple stitch.
    I use the fly stitch to embellish almost all rosebud type flowers.
    Thank you for your commitment to embroidery and the wonderful education you make available to everyone. I enjoy reading your posts every day!
    Happy Stitching, Karen Johnson

  23. mary, you have a great yop 10 list, but 4 me i learned the fly stitch b4 the long & short. maybe thats why i have a difficult time with it. but the more i stitch it the better i get. slowly but surely

  24. Thank you very much Mary for showing us all the basic steps in embroidery. I’m going to go and get some aida today so I can start practising my stitches to improve on my techniques.

  25. Pretty good list, Mary, but I would take out long and short which to me is simply satin stitch in a different form rather than a new stitch. Actually feather stitch and cretan stitch are really only buttonhole stitch at different angles so we don’t really need to add them. And stem and outline are essentially the same stitch with a minor variation. Fly stitch is so close to detached chain that it isn’t really a different stitch either. However, I think herringbone would be a good addition, it is a very useful stitch and there are others, eg, chevron, that are based on it.

    Some embroidery stitch books arrange the stitches in ‘families’, eg, straight stitches which includes straight stitch, running and back stitches etc. This is a very good idea as it gives the learner a good basis for forming stitches.

  26. Okay, Mary, here goes! I was doing running stitch at age 3. At around 5 I was feather-stitching! To my little-girl mind, running stitch was just this dumb stitch you used to hold things together. Feather stitch you used to decorate them — a baby doll flannel coat, for example. And I simply did the feather stitch — not stopped by considerations of angle or spacing. I still have that little “saque” and find it lovely.

  27. My very first stitch was “punto quadro” – four-sided square – followed by stem, a super-fat satin and long and short.

    Jolly dainty list, Mary and I like the running stitch in pole position. It trains one’s fingers and eye to work in harmony.

    Thanks again for your time.

  28. Hello Mary,
    This is an excellent list! I have learned all these stitches and you are right, they provide a wonderful repertoire for an embroiderer. I find myself using them all the time. I would like to add the fishbone stitch since I love to use it as a filling stitch – it is great for filling in leaves – but I wouldn’t want to remove any one of these 10 so I will stick with your list!

  29. Dear Mary, I love this website and the 1st 10 stitches. Don’t change any of the first 10. We all can increase our own list which I am doing for a total of 15.I am adding Fly, Bullion, Herringbone, feather, and fishbone. And of course I am learning all from your Needle n Thread. I have been seeing your name (Corbet) all over. Our Governor is running for election in PA.

  30. Greetings,

    Just a note to let you know that I truly appreciate all your hard work. I cannot imagine not being able to access all the information you so generously offer us.

    Thank you

  31. I was interested to read your list of the first things to learn. I have just started my 8yr old granddaughter on sewing on plasticard and large hole Aida. I have found the process extremely difficult to judge as to how ready she is to move on. As chain stitch is not easy on 10 hole canvas I moved to tent stitch which she is mastering slowly. I did notice that she finds changing direction i.e. sewing from left to right then right to left difficult and we ended up just taking the thread back to the left side to do the next row. BUT I am so pleased with her

  32. Hi Mary

    I would consider chain and detached chain stitches as the same so I would substitute fly stitch which can be a filling stitch, used on its own or in a spaced cluster.

    I love your site and look forward to the email each day.


  33. I think I would add the fly stitch as a basic. It is easy to learn and it is one that I always use when doing simple embroidery. Thanks for a great site.

  34. Id include the bullion stitch purely because you can use it in so many ways. A little rose bud is less daunting than a full blown rose.

  35. Can I obtain your left handed beginners book from your site. a friend ,just a beginner is having learning from a righted teacher. I would like to help her out.thanks for any information you can pass on to me.

    1. Hi,Alta – that book is actually Yvette Stanton’s book. If you live in Australia, you can order it directly through her website, Vetty Creations. If you’re in the US, Nordic Needle carries it.

  36. I am learning sooo much from you mam
    Thanks for your videos available.
    We are getting so much ideas from you.
    You are my inspiration.
    Once again thanks.

  37. Hello Mary. Homework done and I feel confident to start Stitching again after all these years. Reading your blog took me back to “home economics class”(that’s how it was called in high school) lol and I must say that you have started that fire that once burned for more when I first started Stitching. Now I can start with a simple towel project from Peacework .

    Once again, thank you.


  38. In the taped segment you actually showed the blanket stitch–most often shown for edging blankets (and the host of other variations). There is another stitch, very like the blanket: the buttonhole stitch. They are often used interchangeably, but shouldn’t be. The buttonhole stitch was used for buttonholes; there was an extra ‘loop’ which reinforced where the threads got reinforced as the garment with hand stitched buttonholes was worn.

    I cannot remember exactly how it was done, but very similarly to blanket. They look the same –almost.


    1. Hi, Carolyn – you’re right! They are different stitches, technically, but in most instructional books today, the terms blanket stitch and buttonhole stitch are used interchangeably for the stitch without that extra little loop. Now, when a distinction is made, it’s usually by calling the “proper” buttonhole stitch the “tailor’s buttonhole.” The buttonhole stitch as we most commonly use it today (the blanket stitch – although the blanket stitch is always spaced far apart and worked on the edge of something) is the stitch without the extra loop found in the tailor’s buttonhole. Because that’s the common usage, I refer to it as buttonhole stitch – that’s what people know it as, and that’s how people look it up. Tailor’s buttonhole is not too commonly used anymore, unfortunately. It makes a neat stitch, but the buttonhole stitch I’m referring to has many, many more variations and it’s used much more widely. Thanks for your comment!

  39. Thank you so much for all your advice, help and time on articles. They have been a great help and enjoyment.

  40. Hi,
    I would like to add herringbone stitch in place of split stitch. It can be used to fill up petals, leaves or broad stems. It is also a basic form to several other stitches.

  41. Straight stitch. (But everybody seems to leave this one out.) I guess at least one crossed stitch (you’ve got loops, knots and straights, but not crossed) and at least one combination stitch. (If you know how to whip running stitch, you almost double your effective stitch repertoire, because many of the others can be treated the same way.) For crossed, I’d go herringbone, but that’s probably just me.

  42. I just found your blog and know that I will be spending a lot of time on it. I used to embroidery years and years ago and just stopped doing it . I’m out of practice so will be brushing up on it , I want some hoops and a stand , have everything else I need – the hoops and stands will be purchased later. Your embroidery is ABSOLUTELY STUNNING ! Looking forward to creating stunning things with you , have a fantastic week.

  43. Yesterday I was working with French knots in a Brazilian embroidery project. I have never attempted this type of embroidery or this very slippery thread. I had trouble with keeping the tension on the thread and couldn’t get the knot to stay small and neat. Invariably, the back of the work had a tiny bit of loose thread where I brought it up to begin the stitch, even though I was keeping tension on it. It was as if the wraps of the knot slipped back behind the work as I was pulling the thread back to the back to complete the stitch! I hope this is making sense… I would love to know how to stop that from happening. I have been going back to the back side of the work and pulling that bit up and tacking it before moving to the next knot. It works, but surely there is a way to do this without that issue.

    1. Hi, Kim – When you take the needle and thread to the back of the fabric after wrapping the needle, make sure you’re not going in the same hole that the working thread initially came out of. Pull through, then I’d probably bring my needle and thread up for the next French knot, and take a tiny tacking stitch where the next French knot will be, to “hold” the previous tension. So you’d just make a tiny little stitch right where you plan to stitch the next knot, and then start the next French knot over that stitch. That will hold the tension on the slippery thread.

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