How do you embroider? Do you sew your stitches, or do you stab your stitches?
Today, I want to chat a bit about these two methods of embroidering a stitch. Chances are, you habitually gravitate towards one method or the other when you stitch.
Both methods have their merits! Let’s look at the differences between these two methods of stitching, and then I’ll tell you which one I habitually use and why. I hope you’ll chime in with your preferences!
Sewing the Embroidery Stitch
Chances are, you’re very familiar with the sewing method of embroidering a stitch.
If you’ve ever perused any stitch dictionaries – old or new – you’ve seen diagrams, drawings, or photos that demonstrate embroidery stitches worked in the sewing method.
They look essentially like this:
The needle, which is on the top of the fabric, scoops up a bit of the fabric while the working thread is configured around the needle. When the needle is pulled through, the stitch is formed.
Stitch diagrams such as these make perfect sense for print. When they are clearly drawn, they demonstrate everything you need to know about the arrangement of the thread and the needle in order for the stitch to form correctly, and they do it in a condensed space.
The drawing above doesn’t require any further information, really, if you want to know how to make a chain stitch.
While it leaves out how the line of chain stitches begins, you can deduce that from the picture. The stitch that’s being formed in the diagram tells you how the first stitch in that line was formed.
And although it leaves out the anchor stitch at the end of the line, this can easily be supplied by instructive text. It’s also a point that common sense might dictate. When you come to the end of the line, something has to hold that last loop down.
Hey, maybe I’ll just put a tiny stitch over the top of it. Yep, that worked.
The sewing method of embroidering a stitch is efficient and quick. Your dominant hand, which is doing all the work, is rarely obliged to pass to the back of the hoop. Your less dominant hand can hold your hoop.
Stabbing the Embroidery Stitch
The stab method of embroidering a stitch involves just what the name implies: stabbing the fabric with the needle, taking the needle and thread (or most of the thread) through to the back of the fabric, and bringing it back through to the front again.
You don’t often see the stab method demonstrated in stitch dictionaries, but it does show up now and then. It really depends on the author’s approach to stitching and on the particular stitch. Some stitches just work better with the stab method.
In all but one of the step-by-step photo instructions for the stitches in my e-book, Stitch Sampler Alphabet, I demonstrate the stitches using the stab method, rather than the sewing method.
It takes up a lot more space, but at the same time, very few nuances of the stitch are left to guessing. When a stitch is demonstrated in the stab method, every movement, every point of change in the relationship between the needle and thread is shown.
Because the stab method requires the stitching hand to pass from the front to the back of the hoop or frame repeatedly, it is often considered an inefficient way to stitch, compared to the sewing method.
But for embroiderers who stitch with their fabric drum-taut in a hoop or a frame, the stab method is often the easier method of stitching. It ensures that the ground fabric is not disturbed (you don’t have to push on the needle from the back, to get it to scoop the fabric up), it’s less stressful for the thread, and it’s easier to gauge the finished size, shape, and tension of the individual stitch.
Overall, stab stitching when you use a hoop or a frame generally results in more consistent stitches that are plump and attractive and that sit on the fabric correctly, and it almost always results in a neater fabric surface.
There are exceptions, of course – embroiderers who have been sewing their stitches all their lives attest to the perfection that can be achieved with the sewing method, too.
Efficient Stab Stitching
Probably the greatest argument against stab stitching is the apparent lack of efficiency, since the working hand is constantly passing back and forth from one side of the hoop or frame to the other.
If speed and efficiency are your concern, greater efficiency can be achieved (in both types of stitching, actually!) by having two hands free to stitch. This accomplished by using a stand, table, or other kind of device to hold your hoop or frame while you stitch, so that one hand is not occupied in holding your work.
If you’ve ever watched a professional embroiderer stitch while sitting at a frame, you might notice that one hand is below the frame and the other is above it while stitching.
For two handed stitching at a frame, the dominant hand is usually the hand below the frame, because it takes more skill to find your stitch place when you can’t see what’s going on below the frame. The less dominant hand is above the frame. It receives the needle when it’s pushed up through the fabric, and then it sends the needle and thread back down to the dominant hand. This greatly increases the efficiency of the stab method of stitching.
Why I Stab instead of Sew
Before I say anything else, I want to clarify that I’m speaking from my own experience, and I’m talking about my own preferences. I’m not implying that one type of stitching is inferior to the other, or that anyone who stitches one way and not the other is an inferior stitcher – not at all!
In any case, it’s always a good idea to be aware that there is often more than one method of accomplishing a task, and exploring options can help improve your stitching outcomes or might improve the pleasure you derive from stitching.
I stab stitch for the following reasons:
1. I work in a hoop or frame with my fabric drum-taut. It is much easier on the fingers and on the ground fabric to use the stab method when the fabric is framed up tight!
2. My work is always on a stand or a similar device, so that I have two hands free while I stitch. I use both hands to stitch – sometimes with one above and one below the fabric, or sometimes, with both above the fabric so that I can control the thread better (for example, when I need to use a laying tool.)
3. My stitches always seem to look better when they are stabbed, compared to when they are sewn. They sit on the fabric differently (they don’t pull into it from the side), and they are generally livelier and plumper looking.
4. I can keep my stitch tension more consistent, which leads to a nicer finish overall. I rarely experience puckers in my finished stitching, and part of that, I contribute to stabbing my stitches instead of sewing them.
5. I noticed that my thread does not wear as quickly when stabbing stitches, compared to sewing them. This is perhaps due to the angle at which the thread enters the fabric following the needle, or maybe due to the double dose of friction on the thread as it passes through the scooped up fabric in such a small space? I don’t know, but it seems to me that my threads last longer when they are stabbed rather than sewn.
6. If you’re working through more than one layer of fabric, it’s much easier to stab!
7. It’s a habit – it’s just easier for me to stab my stitches rather than sew them, because that’s the way I’ve done it for years.
Some stitches, by the way, that prove to be difficult for beginners when they are following typical “sewing” diagrams, work better for them when they are shown how to work the stitch stabbed. An example: the bullion knot! If you’ve ever had trouble with bullion knots, try using the stab method (which is demonstrated in my bullion knot video) rather than the sewing method.
On the other hand, some stitches – like the coral stitch – are much easier to figure out sewn, rather than stabbed. But once you understand the mechanics of the stitch, it’s easy to adapt it to the stab method.
What About YOU?!
Do you stab or do you sew? Which method do you gravitate towards and why? Do you have any advice for other stitchers, that will help them get used to one method or the other, if they’re having trouble? I don’t know which is more common – sewing or stabbing stitches – but it will be interesting to see how everyone weighs in on the question!
If you’d like chime in, leave a comment below!
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