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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16 Filling Stitches for Embroidery


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Whether you’ve just begun your embroidery journey, or whether you’re a seasoned stitcher, you’ve probably asked yourself, “What stitch should I use to fill this area?” at some point.

To help you answer that question, I’ve rounded up 16 different filling techniques that can be effectively used in embroidery, with links to articles and tutorials.

16 Filling Stitches for Hand Embroidery

Satin Stitch

Satin stitch is the queen of filling stitches. It’s gorgeous and versatile, but really only suitable for smaller areas that need filling.

You’ll find numerous tips to help you perfect your satin stitch here.

Stem Stitch Filling

Stem stitch is best known as a line stitch, but it also makes a great filling stitch.

You’ll find an article full of tips on stem stitch filling here, and a how-to video for stem stitch here.

Chain Stitch Filling & Tambour Embroidery

Another stitch more often associated with lines, chain stitch makes a terrific filling!

You can work chain stitch as a filling in the traditional manner of working chain stitch, filling the area by working rows close together.

These articles on tambour embroidery will show you what chain stitch looks like when worked as a filling. If you feel particularly adventurous, you might invest in a tambour needle to speed up the process of filling areas with chain stitch.

Split Stitch Filling

Another line stitch, split stitch also works as a filling stitch. Medieval stitchers knew this well, and they perfected the method of filling embroidered figures with split stitch, in a technique that’s known as Opus Anglicanum.

Just as with any line stitch, to fill with split stitch, work the rows next to each other until the area is filled. This article demonstrates what split stitch looks like, filling a circle, and it also demonstrates the different between split stitch and split backstitch.

Long & Short Stitch

If you want to fill a large area either in solid color or in subtle shading, you can’t beat long & short stitch for a filling technique!

Beginners might be intimidated by the technique – it’s often listed as an “advanced” technique in embroidery books – but in fact, long & short stitch is a Very Forgiving Stitch! It’s definitely worth learning!

You can find a complete series of long & short stitch lessons here, including videos to help you along.

Detached Buttonhole

Not all filling stitches need to be perfectly flat and smooth. Detached buttonhole stitch makes a nice textured filling that’s worth learning. It works well with leaves, robes, large shapes, small shapes.

Trellis Stitch

Trellis stitch is another detached filling stitch with a bit of texture to it.

Lattice Work & Laid Work

Oh, lattice stitches make wonderful fillings! They can be wildly patterned and intricate, or rather subtle and simple, depending on colors chosen and the approach.

The lattice sampler layout guide is a great way to learn a variety of lattice filling stitches in a sampler format.

You can also find a variety of lattice filling tutorials here on Needle ‘n Thread, in the Stitch Fun index.

Bokhara Couching & Romanian Couching

Bokhara couching and Romanian couching are worth learning. They’re nice techniques for filling small and large areas. One is a little more textured than the other, but they both have a little texture to them and can develop a patterned look to the filling.

Seed Stitch

Never underestimate simplicity!

Seed stitch is one of the easiest stitches to learn, as it’s just a matter of taking small straight stitches, but it can be very effective for creating a lighter filling in a large space. You can even shade it.

You can find tips on seed stitch here, where I used it on the Secret Garden project.

This article on adding texture with seed stitch has a few tips in it, too.

And there’s a very outdated (hoping to update it this summer!) how-to video for seed stitch here.

Pattern Darning and Cloud Stitch

In this article, you’ll find some examples of pattern darning and of cloud stitch, but of which can be used for filling spaces.

Cloud stitch is a kind of reversed lattice stitch, where the tacking stitches are stitched first, and then threads are run underneath the tacking stitches.

Pattern darning is using a series of running stitches in a particular layout, to fill an area.

Woven Filling

Woven filling works well in small to medium spaces, especially when you want to fill something that should look woven.

Couched Fillings

Couching has been used for filling large areas for centuries.

You can see a good example of undersided couching in this article on Opus Anglicanum.

In this article on using silk chenille, I use couching to hold down a furry silk thread. You can also see couching used on silk chenille in this article, underneath the tree.

You’ll also see some good examples of couched fillings using silk gimp in this article.

Burden Stitch

Depending on the approach you take with burden stitch, it can result in an airy shaded filling or a much denser filling. In this article, you’ll see burden stitch at work using silk gimp and gold threads. The gimp couches over the gold thread in rows, to create a staggered filling. Scroll down through the article to find the section on burden stitch.

Cross Stitch

Even though cross stitch isn’t considered a “surface embroidery” stitch, it makes a great solid filling, and it can be used effectively in surface embroidery, too, not just in counted cross stitch. There are other techniques that involve cross stitch as well, such as Assisi embroidery, which involves cross stitch or long armed cross stitch, voided areas, and sometimes blackwork.

These are just a few stitches and techniques that make good fillings for embroidery. I hope you find the list useful!

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(16) Comments

  1. Love it! Thanks so much – this is so useful!
    (hope you server problems cleared up – this post appeared early today.)

  2. Dear Mary

    I have used most of the stitches above except for the Burden stitch which looks interesting I have some gimp and gold thread so I must try it and I haven’t used pattern darning and cloud stitch and your sampler is lovely with the window of flowers another stitch to try. What a great reference for filling stitches I am often undecided when I start project of what stitches to use especially filling stitches and you have answered my dilemmas on which stitches are best for different techniques. Thanks so much for the filling stitch reference very useful for future projects. I hope you have a great weekend. I’m off to Liverpool for 4 days next week and will be visiting Liverpool Cathedral to look at the embroidery gallery can’t wait. See you on Thursday will miss you.

    Regards Anita Simmance

  3. I love these types of articles, it puts all the information at a glance and it’s easy to just bookmark the one page! The use of the silk gimp was especially enlightening because I have only couched it and never once used it as a thread! Thank you Mary, another fine article to bookmark. Well at this point you have your own file due to the many bookmarks..lol

    1. Hi, Eva – I like the link round-ups, too. They’re a much easier way to access articles on one topic. I think I’ll make a list of all the lists, and put it under Tips and Techiques, so it will be easier to find!

    1. Hi, Beth – Any chance you’ve received today’s newsletter by now? It seems to be trickling out….. *sigh*….. Oh, these technical things!

  4. i didn’t receive the mail today either!! I wondered what was going on. Will look forward to when it returns. Diana.

  5. Hi Mary – received this mail OK, but not yesterday’s. I don’t mind, as I usually go to your page to read the comments anyway – they, and your replies, can be very useful. Thanks for another great post!

  6. Hi! I’m a quilter and I’ve been surfing around your site for about a month now, as I’m adding hand embroidery to my quilts. I just joined the newsletter…and this was the first post I saw! It’s fantastic how you gathered all in one place. Of course, I saw the tambour embroidery and fell in love. Anyone know if this will work on quilts? I’m thinking it won’t be able to go over the pieced portion? ):

    1. Hi, Alisa – I think you could go over the pieced portion, as long as it’s stretched in a hoop. The hook is sharp and strong. It might be a little more difficult to do, but I think it would work. This is assuming you mean before the quilt is assembled, etc. I’d probably not do it through batting – it would get messy!

    2. Mary..thanks! (: yeah! And I found someone using perle 8 with their tambour needle….I’m not a ‘small thread’ kind if girl although I’ll give the sulky 12 a try too! Thank you for being a fantastic resource! Now I need a hoop and holder..off to search your site for hoop suggestions….I’m currently embroidering on my lap…won’t work for tambour!

    3. Alisa, I think it’s more common to add the surface embroidery of whatever kind before you do the piecing.

  7. A very useful article. I was looking for stitches to illustrate clouds and this has given me lots od ideas, Thankyou

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