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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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Sewing vs. Stabbing: Two Methods of Stitching

 

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!

Stabbing vs Sewing: Two Methods of Stitching

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:

Sewing method for embroidering a stitch - chain stitch

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 vs Sewing: Two Methods of Stitching

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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(127) Comments

  1. I do both. It depends on what kind of needlework I’m doing, what stitch I’m doing, what kind of thread I’m using, whether I’m working in hand–lots of variables there!

    Essentially, I try both and determine which technique makes the nicest stitch. Both have their place and are good to have mastered!

    Carol S.

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  2. Hi Mary,

    I’m in complete agreement with you on stabbing for all of the reasons you mention. I stab every single stitch I make, with the exception of bullion knots. As a professional needlework designer and teacher, I encourage all of my students to stab as well.

    Thanks for your wonderful daily newsletters!
    Betsy Morgan

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  3. Usually I stab, but with chain stitch I sew. And for many of the same reasons that you mentioned, especially stitch control and tension. I’ve been a lifelong sewist, mainly machine sewing, but with embroidery the stab method works best for me.

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  4. Marie,
    When I started, I sewed my points and I must admit that I continue for some points. But I realized that to sting right into the tissue and then transplanted in the other direction right not wrinkled fabric, yarn stood so much better and was more beautiful embroidery. I find the hardest but best method as well as on fine linen on the wool velvet. Thank you for this point as it is of capital importance.

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  5. Good morning Mary. I stab stitch but then I am like you and use a stand and frame that holds my fabric tight as I can get it. It works much better for me when I can use both hands to make those decorative stitches. It will be interested to see how many stitchers us each method.

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  6. Born a stabber, will die a stabber :). I find that I tend to clench a hoop quite thight when holding it (actually lifting my shoulder), so I perfer to use a stand or slate frame set up. I also find that my body posture is better that way.

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  7. hi Mary, really new to your website, i just joined…but already i have seen stitches that are new to me, including your question of are you a sew style or a stab style, i assumed all do what i do…i had not realised there was another method

    i am a stab embroiderer … from the UK, sticking to what i know best 🙂

    eve xx

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  8. I always stab my stitches. It’s how I learned, and is just easier for me. I always work with my fabric stretched tightly in a hoop, and using the stab method reduces fabric distortion and puckering in the finished piece of embroidery. I have tried using the sewing method on different occasions, but my stitches are never as neatly placed, even, and plump when I sew the stitch compared to when I stab the stitch.

    For me, the stab method works the best!

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  9. I usually sew my stitches,but I just watched your bouillon video and was amazed attempt how even your stitches were. I usually also stitch in hand that is until I have to use a laying tool or need to do a stitch requiring both hands. Yours seems the better method, which I am going to try.

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  10. I stab, even though I don’t always have both hands free to work (unless my hoop/frame is supported on my knees or a table), but you don’t need both hands as the needle is rarely pushed all the way through the fabric on one go.

    I sew only for sewing. =)

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  11. Dear Mary

    This is an interesting post to stab or sew that is the question? personally I’m a stab stitcher, one of the reasons for this is because I find it easier to control the stitch and by stabbing I can place my stitch correctly. Equally as I normally frame up my work and my fabric is drum tight I find it easier to stab stitch. I also find it easier to follow the instructions on new stitches by using the to stab stitch as I feel more in control. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us on the different types of stitching very interesting post.

    Regards Anita Simmance

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  12. Mary, I agree with you. Once you are practiced with the stab method and working with a floor stand or frame you will never want to go back to the sewing method ( unless you are doing something small and in hand). It is much more efficient and consistent in results .

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  13. oh I stab. I stab. I stab. I stab. I stab.
    I stab whenever possible 😀
    there are some types of stitching that I take the sewing way, especially when fixing the edges of small pieces of fabric that don’t require machine zig zagging.. but from what I’ve learnt about my way of working, I’m a stabber. I love the neatness, I love to swiftly move my right hand above and below the frame, I find the thread hardly stresses out from the process and I can get good use of almost all its length.
    and to be honest, stitching is a pleasure, and I like to take the time to do it the way I like it. I may not be as super duper fast as other stitchers but I’ve got to love each and every stitch I make 🙂
    thanks for the lovely, always on point post, Mary. your Alphabet will be my birthday present and carrot until the trimming of my WIP list is over 😀

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  14. Stabbing does seem to be less stressful on the thread, perhaps doe to the angle the thread is drawn trough the space???
    I use both but I feel that stabbing produces a better end result.

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  15. I stab. I think I started that way because I learned from diagrams and watching videos–the stab method felt like it gave me much more control because I can manipulate the thread with my left hand, if needed, to exactly where I need it to be to make a successful stitch. I am much more precise with stabbing than sewing (which sounds very wrong ^_^).

    Also, most of my embroidery is on terry cloth baby bibs (in a hoop, no stabilizer needed in my opinion) and the terry cloth likes to snag up. I find with the stab method I can tease my threads through the springy terry cloth loops with minimal puckering or snags. It’s been trial and error, but I rarely have problems anymore with sewing on terry cloth.

    I have been meaning to invest in a stand to make bigger projects easier (my poor left hand gets tired/crampy if the hoop is above a certain size, though I do find that sometimes I can use my, ahem, chest to assist in propping up a 12-inch hoop). Haven’t yet, but I’m thinking I may start with something like the sit-upon hoop stand.

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  16. I enjoy reading your posts! They are always informative and helpful. Before discovering your site, years ago, I pretty much used the sewing method. That was the way my Grandmother taught me a few basic stitches. For many years, I just did not do embroidery, after I picked it up I began exploring. Thinking that there has to be more to this than a few stitches. I have learned so much from watching your videos, reading posts and linking to links. I now mainly use the stab method. I have found that it is easier to keep the stitches the same length and width. The thread tangles less and it is much easier to know where the next stitch will be, especially if using more than one thread color at a time in a project. Thanks for everything you share. Have a great day!

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  17. Right now I’m working on a simple design on the corner of a white tea towel project, that I’m using stem stitch for 95% of it. It’s nothing fancy: it’s meant to dry dishes and be thrown in the washing machine and dryer regularly. I have a hoop in my bag with the project, but so far haven’t used it on this project.

    I learned stem stitch as a kid and it feels more natural to me to do it in hand instead of in hoop. I’m enjoying making it and will definitely enjoy using it. For other projects that have a different purpose I would probably use a hoop – but haven’t worked on anything that fancy yet. 🙂

    (Another confession: I use knots on the back of my work most of the time for this project. I’m paranoid about the stitches coming out with all the abuse it will receive and would rather have a slightly messy back of the project than the stitches coming out)

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  18. If I am working in a frame stab is the only way to go. If0 working on a medveal costume it looks like the originals more if the sewing method is used. Also easier to embroider outdoors at events without a frame.

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  19. I stab stitch for cross-stitch and other counted work as I find it gives me a “cleaner stitch”, that is I can ensure I go through the hole and not the thread. Otherwise I sew in the way I was taught too many years ago to count.
    Irene

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  20. I use your way it is what i learned since i was a child and i found it work best for me. Most time one hand is on top and other is below and it go fast too.

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  21. Hi Mary,

    Your post about stab or sew thrilled me today! I’m a taut-in-a-hoop-on-a-stand embroiderer, and I always stab stitch. For years, as I would demonstrate a stitch to a group, there was usually a gasp from someone ‘shocked’ that I used such a ‘school girl’ method as a professional.

    I adore stab stitching utilizing both hands, one above and one below. I can stitch very fast, not having to switch my dominant hand back and forth, the fabric is never warped by a pushing finger or needs heavy cleaning or blocking.

    My class lesson texts show the stab method, and as you point out, that takes more illustrations; but I believe in this method and I’m willing to take the extra time.

    Far from it being a ‘school girl way’, I personally find it to be cleaner, easier on fabric and thread, more precise and much faster.

    So, thanks for championing the stab method! Now excuse me while I go ‘stab’ my way through some crazy quilt stitches for my Greater Pacific Region Virtual Workshop! Best Regards, Sara Zander

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  22. I stab, as instructed by my Grandmother, who taught me to embroider when I was 8. Since I retired and joined an embroidery group, I noticed other ladies sewing. I did try but 60 years of habit takes a lot of breaking.

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  23. I used to sew my stitches but, as you mention in this article, I think the thread gets more worn from the drag against the fabric. Since I have been stitching by the stab method, I find I have better control over the lay of the thread, the tension, etc.

    I have also learned that when stitching the stab method, pulling the needle and thread through to the underside, then bringing the needle HEAD back up through the next hole. This eliminates the need to “turn” the needle point upwards. I find this also helps eliminate accidentally splitting my thread with the needle, getting thread tangled, etc. on the underside.

    My 2 cents for the day.
    Thanks for all your embroidery info.

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  24. When I was young I mainly uses the sewing method as I recall. Now, with having made my little floor stand that clamps to my hoop I use the stab method, also because of having my fabric much tighter in the hoop as well. I also sometimes have double layers of fabric as well.

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  25. Mary, thank you so much for your stab/sew explanation! I always thought I was a sophomoric stabber! I study the beautiful sew diagrams, attempt the new stitch, and then continue in stab method. I do this because my stitches look nicer. I have always been a bit embarrassed by this, believing that I should get a lovely result using the diagram as drawn. Clearly, I need your e-book! I am under the impression that your e-book will not work on iPad. I have chosen not to upgrade my antiquated computer, so my iPad and I spend lovely creative hours on the sofa in front of the coffee table covered in projects. Would you mind leaving a note regarding your e-book? Thank you so much for your wonderful posts…each one enlightening.

    Karen in Washington State

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  26. thank you for addressing my questions about stab verses sewing. I have never used a hoop, and always sew. lately I have hooped the fabric and used the stab method. The stab method is very awkward for me, and I can’t seem to stitch a straight line. although Imhave no means to use one hand on the top and the other on the bottom, I have decided I prefer the sewing method. I do pay more attention to my accuracy after seeing your work, and reset stitches that are not good enough.
    You are an inspiration to so many of us. thanks for your hard work.
    Linda

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  27. I am most certainly a stabber!! Like you, my projects tend to be taut on a frame, and if I try the sew method, my fabric gets really worn out!

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  28. Actually, I use both methods depending on the embroidery technique. I do a lot of canvaswork stitching. The canvas is always on a frame and always anchored, either to the table or a floor frame holder. If I am not laying threads then I use the method of my left hand on top and right hand under and the stitching goes quickly. If I am doing cross stitch “in hand” I use the sewing method but if I have my cross stitch piece on a frame then it is stab method. I almost never do Hardanger on a frame and I use the sewing method almost entirely. Pulled thread work can be either way, again depending on whether I put it on a frame. I think that cross stitch done with the stab method is much neater and more precise than the sewing method. Bottom line–if the work is on a frame then I use the stab method but if I am working in hand then I use the sewing method. I really have no problems switching back and forth–either way works. JoyceAnne

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  29. I sew. That’s the way I was taught. That’s the way my mother and grandmother did it. Oc course, there are sometimes when one just has to stab a stitch.

    I frequently attach fabric to a roller frame loosely, so I can sew the fabric. I mainly do cros stitch nowdays, but I used to do crewel embroidery and plan to pick it up again.

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  30. I stab. I taught myself embroidery, and the sewing method was more natural since my mother sewed (and well!) and used a lot of hand sewn couture techniques, but sewing didn’t work very well with the embroidery fabric and the hoop.

    I did think for the longest time I just didn’t know the trick…and since no one in my family did fine work as they called it, I had no one to talk to about it.

    Score one of the internet!

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  31. I almost always use the sewing method. I work with the embroidery in-hand except if I’m making satin stitches. (I don’t think I’ve used a hoop for more than a decade now.) The sewing method just feels more natural to me, and more efficient. I’m pretty good at keeping my tension even. Of course there are lots of types of embroidery that I just admire but don’t do myself, that I’m sure I’d need to hoop.

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  32. I do both, it depends on the stitch…but I default to sewing whenever possible. I use a flexi hoop so it’s literally drum tight yet sewing is faster, and more importantly for me, it’s more ergonomic for my hands.

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  33. I stab stitch when using a frame and with needlpoint but with cross stitching that isn’t on a scroll frame I like to sew. I use a 5 inch hoop but keep the tension a bit looser. It’s faster and I can use my thumb of my left hand that is holding the hoop to smooth out the threads and keep them from twisting.
    I went to using a hoop and sewing with most cross stitching because I injured my shoulder 10 years ago from stab stitching and moving my right arm back and forth! Everything healed, but I’m a lot more aware of ergonomics now. I’ve been stitching for 38 years so aging is playing a role too!

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  34. I do both. I was taught to stab counted cross stitch and counted work often counting with the point of the needle, but to sew with the needle on top for preprinted surface embroidery or thread painting. When I mix the two, I can see where my stitches are not always aligned and it makes sense about your choices for certain stitches. I’m off to hand hem another quilt binding, so today I am definitely sewing.

    35
  35. Another interesting article, thank you so much, Mary.

    Looks like most commentors are natural stabbers.

    I’m much happier sewing and find it more enjoyable and I think I get a more even result, especially with backstitch and chain stitch, BUT now that I’m embroidering in a hoop I find it impossible to sew and have the fabric taut in the hoop, so I have to stab – like it or not.

    Maybe it’s my technique at fault, but I find it awkward to place the needle accurately when coming from under the hoop to the surface (IYSWIM). Sometimes I’m pricking the fabric half a dozen times or more until I find the right spot. It doesn’t really matter, but it’s just a bit frustrating. Does that get easier with experience, or is it me?

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    1. Hi, Cheryl – it comes much easier with practice. Sometimes, it’s good just to do it, as an exercise, with a long line of stitches. The more you do it, the easier it becomes!

  36. I am also a stab stitcher. Like you and many of the others who have commented, I feel it gives me more control, less wear on the thread, and a better finished product. It was a bit awkward and slow at first to use my left hand, but as I trained myself, it came more easily. Now, it feels odd not to use both hands for stitching.

    Thanks for all the information you provide. I have been wanting to try Brazilian Dimensional Embroidery and found threadsinbloom.com here on your site today. I’ve ordered some of her patterns and some thread and am anxious to get my hands on them and get to stitching. Thanks for a really great website!

    Dara in West Virginia

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  37. I mainly use the sew method even in the hoop. But when I do use the stab method – my left hand is always underneath (I am right handed).

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  38. I just happened to be doing some embroidery in a hoop on a stand when i stopped for a break to read today’s tips. So i was able to try your two handed method of stab stitching using the dominant hand under and other hand over. What a revelation for me since i never thought of doing it that way. I use both methods depending on the stitch but i do find the stab method works better with hoop and stand.
    Thank you!

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  39. That’s always a topic that gets embroiderers going. I was raised as a pure stabber, preached stabbing as the Only True Way of Working, and I do always stab when I am using a frame or hoop. But these days, when I am working loop and chain based stitches in the hand I usually sew (or as I call it, ‘stitch’). And I will sew other stitches too, if the path of the needle suits that rather than stabbing. It depends a lot on the flexibility of the fabric and thread, and whether puckering is likely to be a problem. Even with hand work I stab when it is necessary or simply more convenient, but I’m no longer a dyed-in-the-wool stabber. My younger self would be quite horrified – it’s a good job that she doesn’t know what I get up to!

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  40. When I was young, we were taught embroidery with the sewing method (just after WWII). Due to a very busy life I stopped stitching, but now that I am retired I took it up again and I always stab my stitches. The result is nicer and moreover it is easier for me, thanks to a standing loop.
    Thank you for your interesting messages. They are the first I read when I open my mailbox.
    Rita S.

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  41. Felicitarte por tus articulos, todos los días espero el correo para leer el último post.
    Yo para bordar siempre uso el aro con un soporte para tener las dos manos libres me gusta porque se ve mas área de trabajo, se puede controlar fácilmente la tensión del hilo y los tipos de puntadas, no tengo una mano claramente dominante desde niña usaba una mano u otra, también me gusta improvisar e inventarme el bordado según voy haciendo para ello es importante poder visualizar el conjunto.
    Un saludo y gracias compartir tu conocimiento.

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  42. I use both methods, depending on what I’m stitching. When I work in hand – which is most of the time – I generally use the sewing method. I do a lot of Hardanger and it seems to go better that way.

    I’ve just started trying other techniques – just did my first stumpwork & goldwork pieces, for example – and they were worked on stretcher bars or in hoops. On those pieces I tended to use the stab method most of the time, because that’s what the teacher was using. It seemed to me the only way to stitch and maintain the tightness of the fabric in the hoop.

    When I cross stitch, it can go either way. If I’m in a hurry, I’ll probably use the sewing method unless I’m filling in a tight space and need to insert stitches between existing stitches. But I’ve noticed that the stitches look better when I use the stab method – the threads lay more neatly – so if I’ve got the time and I’m using a hoop, I’ll probably stab.

    Mary in MN

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  43. I’ve been a stab stitcher for years. I used to stitch “in hand”, but found that the hand that held my frame got sooo tired and cramped that it limited the amount of time I could stitch. When the Élan lap stand came into my life, I switched to stab stitching. With my “smart” hand on the bottom and the “stupid” hand on top, I find I can stitch much faster and have better control of the tension of my floss.

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  44. While I do the bulk of my embroidery via the stab method, I do agree there a few times that the sewing method helps. I too use a hoop stand, and most of the time, a hand on top and a hand underneath.

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  45. I stab ! Definitively, I stab. I cannot embroider by another method. This is the best way to get the right stitches. Even for drawn thread work.
    But I know a woman who does GORGEOUS embroidery (she is a teacher, and was mine some years ago) who sews her stitches, Whitework and drawn threads. She works quickly and wonderfully ! For me, no, I cannot.

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  46. I use either one, depending on my fabric and what I’m doing. I don’t do little technical pictures that require tautness or hoops very often. Usually, I freehand my design after a little thought about what I’m “saying” with the image or design. I use embroidery as an embellishment on clothing, as accents on art quilts, or on felt art pieces. Needless too to I rarely use a lot of satin stitches!

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  47. I have been a stab stitcher since I first started to embroider back in the ’70’s. I believe it is easier on the fingers and gives the stitcher much greater control. Stitches are usually plumper.

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  48. I do primarily counted cross stitch, where the stab method is highly recommended (as other posters have noted). Thanks for this tip — I thought that most embroidery stitches were suppose to be sewn, not stabbed, based on stitch diagrams. Relief! I find that I have better control of tension and especially *spacing* when I stab-stitch.

    50
  49. I’m an absolute beginner and haven’t accumulated very many tools, so I’ve been working with one of those cheap-o plastic hoops that doesn’t really allow me to get the fabric drum tight. As a result, I usually use the sewing method when practicing stitches, since the fabric is constantly loosening up. However, right now I’m doing a practice sampler on a piece of Aida that is so stiff I have to use the stab method. The sampler has coral stitch, and you’re absolutely right — I could not for the life of me figure out how to stab stitch it using the diagram in my beginner’s book, since the diagram demonstrates it using the sewing method. I checked out your video tutorial for coral stitch, and even though you use the sewing method there, for some reason it just all made sense after watching your video; I was able to use the stab method with no problem. At any rate, I think it’s time for me to invest in a better hoop! Then I’ll probably use to the stab method.

    Thanks for such an interesting post, loaded with lots of useful information for a beginner like me.

    51
  50. I stab most of my stitching! I use Evertite frames and a Millennium frame. When doing white work I usually stab what I can in a hoop then take it out of the hoop and sew any remaining stitches such as needleweaving in my hand.

    52
  51. As a child I learned to embroider using a sewing method–that was in the 1940’s. As an adult I soon learned to use the stab method and like the results better. However, I do a lot hardanger embroidery and for that I work in hand and use a sewing motion. I have not tried Hardanger in a hoop or frame–Enjoy reading your daily posts–they are always interesting. Thanks for sharing.
    jeanie

    53
  52. I do both. When I cross stitch I use a hoop and the stabbing method for all the reasons you state. Better looking stitch – tension is controlled.

    However when I do hardanger I don’t use a hoop and use the sewing method.

    54
  53. I’m generally a stabber, but some stitches do better with the sewing method. I like tight-as-a-drum fabric, so stabbing works best for me.

    55
  54. I do both, depending on what type of needlework I’m doing. With crewel and surface embroidery, I do a lot of sewing stitches, with counted cross stitch and needlepoint, I do more stabbing. But I combine techniques depending on the space I have to work in (how much embroidery is already done near where I’m stitching), the type of fabric (Aida seems to require stabbing, for example) and the type of thread.

    57
  55. I prefer the stab method because I have arthritis in my thumb joints. Holding on to the frame with my left hand does not hurt but holding on to the fabric does hurt. I also feel that my stitches are more even using the stab method.
    Your discussion was interesting and something I’ve never heard before. Using the stab method was born of necessity so I’m happy that it is acceptable.

    58
  56. Over years of stitching I use the stab stitch method for the same reasons you mentioned. I have found that my stitches look neater and prettier that way. I sometimes use the scoop method when I’m stitching without a frame traveling.

    59
  57. Ooh, you have me thinking now! I think I generally sew, I like speed and efficiency. If I want something super neat then I stab stitch. I also prefer to stab stitch when hand quilting although I also try to sew when quilting at times, as I think that is the ‘proper ‘ way and I would like to get neater at that method. X

    60
  58. I stab some and I sew some. . Lattice and satin and needle painting require a taut fabric but many others can be held tight enough in the hand. I have an adjustable stand and a sit upon one but as I am very short (and probably getting shorter) comfortable and supportive seating to use with a stand is rare.
    Although I’ve been stitching over 50 years, I am learning lots Since following you.

    61
  59. I stab some stitches and some I do in hand. Also varies by technique. I have an adjustable stand but as I’m very short I find it is difficult for me to find comfortable seating to match. Chairs are too high and deep so I have to perch on the edge and sofas are too deep so it is hard to curl up with a stand.

    62
  60. I do love your blog and look forward to reading it, but my favorite form of embroidery, traditional Japanese silk work, where the non-dominant hand is held below the frame, and the dominant hand above. It is probably because the top hand has to both place the stitch and stroke it with the tekobari.

    I stitch some surface and most cross stitch, Madiera, black work, cut work, and hardanger in hand using the sewing method. That is how I learned to stitch.
    But for stumpwork, canvas embroidery, pulled thread, larger surface embroideries, and of course traditional Japanese silk work, I use frames, held by stands, and stitch with the stab method.

    63
  61. I always read the professional used the stab method since a frame was always use and it was faster. Thusly I taught myself the stab method. Happy stitching

    64
  62. I always stab. Unlike most, my non-dominant hand is the one on the bottom, but whatever works. I also use a slate frame and workstand, but have been known to curl up like a contortionist with the frame perched on my knees. Now that I’m older that’s less of an option.

    65
  63. When I was doing mostly needlepoint and counted cross stitch with a hoop on a frame I used the stab method. However, most of what I do now is surface embroidery and I can’t seem to master the stab method. Thanks for the good article.

    66
  64. i used to surface sew but now am a convert to stab stitching. I. My results seem to be smoother and neater.

    67
  65. I use the stab method almost all the time but I have a serious problem when stabbing a stem stitch — I am not able to keep from splitting the stitch from underneath. For this reason, I almost always remove my work from the frame and do my stem stitch in hand. I’d love to have a tip for preventing the thread splitting!

    68
    1. When I’m doing stem stitch, I leave a bit of a loop on top of the fabric when I go down so I come up into a clear space; I then tighten the loop.

      I think this was one of Mary’s suggestions.

  66. Mary…I stab, stab, stab! I learned to embroider when I was about 9 years old and a “girl scout.” The scout leaders — who were teaching us 5 or 6 basic stitches and “how to embroider” stuff so we could earn a “merit badge” — were all “stabbers”…so I learned to “stab, stab, stab”! And, yes, I did earn that Girl Scout Embroidery badge many, many, many years ago! That is what started me on being a life long stitcher! “Yeah” to being a Girl Scout!

    69
  67. I stab, and am glad to learn I’m not showing my lack of knowledge because I just don’t know any other way. I’ve mainly done cross stitch.

    70
  68. Hi Mary,
    Since I rediscovered embroidery two years ago I have pondered this stab/sewing question and have come up with a good plan—-whatever works, do it. Lately I have been working on thread painting and use the stab method so I guess I can say that is my preference for the time being. Thank you for discussing this important topic and giving us some tips and tricks.

    71
  69. Hi Mary
    I have always sewn my stitches while holding my fabric in my hands because that is the way I was taught.However, since I started following your articles here on needle and thread a few years ago, I have begun using a hoop or frame on a stand.
    As I have enjoyed doing embroidery for around 50 years I thought it would be a bit difficult to change but was surprised by how quickly I settled into the “new method”. I now stab my stitches all of the time as I have a bit of arthritis in my thumbs and find this the most comfortable method.

    72
  70. It depends on what kind of embroidery I am doing. I tend to do more cross-stitch (and so stabbing) than free-hand embroidery, but when I do it in a standing frame I still have the working hand moving from the front to the back. I use the other hand to keep the thread out of the way when trying to find the next hole. I don’t remember if, in the past, I have sewn the thread into the next stitch or not, but it has become a habit.

    73
  71. Hi Mary,
    I am an amateur embroiderer and I learned using the sewing method. I didn’t even know about the stab method till about a year ago. I find the stab method does give me more even stitches and I use it most often now.

    74
  72. Hi Mary,
    i’m a beginner and i just want to say i’m truly glad i found your page (although sometimes i need help from the great google translator…).
    Now for instance i don’t have to feel guilty because sometimes i find the diagram quite impossible.
    You are really very generous to share all this with us.
    Thank you!

    75
  73. I sew and what will probably make you shake your head…I hate using a hoop. My mom taught me to use a loop but it just seems to get in my way. I am not a master sewer and embroider to relax. I have been able to sew without making the embroider too loose or too tight. My mom passed away last year but I always think of her and how she took the time to show me how to embroider.

    76
  74. I stab stitch. Most of my sewing, embroidery etc is done on landscape art quilts and I do the embellishment on the fabric the stabilizer and the muslin. Sometime the stabilizer is a little tough to get through so stabbing is the only way. After the batting and backing are added I may ad a few stitches to the top and then I definitely stab!

    77
  75. Depends on what I am stitching. I can even sew x stitch when I get going. With stabbing I think the thread gets more of a chance to unwind. I love all, so whatever suits and takes the mood at the time.
    Cheers.

    78
  76. I’m more of a stab stitcher because I keep my embroidery taut in a frame and like the way the stitches look than sewing with a soft background. I do, on occasion and for some stitches,I sew which seems to be faster. But, stab stitching, in my mind makes a neater and near perfect stitch and I like to hear the needle and thread as it’s put in the cloth and the thread pulled through. A lovely tactile sound that has always been in my life.

    79
  77. Mary, I, too, am a Stabber. I use the Millennium frame on the Necessaire stand and Stabbing works best and looks better, IMHO. I am opposite of you, tho’, I keep my dominant hand on top and my non-dominant under my frame.

    80
  78. Both. I’m largely self-taught and sewing seemed a more natural action, but I converted to stabbing for counted work, including when I’m working in-hand. I stab when I’m using a hoop, whatever stitch I’m using, but I still find stemstitch and chain stitch much easier to sew and so I prefer to work these in-hand.

    81
  79. When I cross stitch, I work in-hand usually and sew. However, I always railroad my threads. When I do Hardanger, if it is a small piece I work in hand and sew. Larger pieces I frame up and stab. You are right about the fiber staying nice longer. Surface embroidery, I usually sew unless there are special or composite stitches. Pulled and drawn work are always framed up and stab stitched.

    82
  80. Firstly, let me thank you from the bottom of my heart for using “taut” instead of “taught”. I have lost count of the number of times I have seen the latter where it should have been the former – often in books and magazines too and that is where I would most like to see it corrected.

    Secondly, I tend to use both stabbing and sewing but oddly, in comparison with you, I can’t make bullions by stabbing, I have to sew them. Other stitches are better if stabbed, eg, back stitch, split stitch and satin stitch.

    83
  81. I’m primarily a stabber. I like the control I have in laying the stitch with more precision. But sometimes I sew because the stitch really requires it really, like the buttonhole. I sew that stitch, not stab, because when you get a rhythm going, you get stitches that lay so well together. But with almost all other stitches, I stab…including coral knots….

    84
  82. I forgot to say I hoop or use in a frame or scroll bars ALL the time. I prefer my working surface drum-tight most of the time, although there are times that require varying degrees of slack, like with Hardanger for the cutting, weaving/wrapping and fillings–you have to have slack. But for the klosters, motifs and other top-stitching, tight and flat is my preference.

    85
  83. I grew up trying to follow the diagrams and got very frustrated at how my projects turned out; it was difficult to do some stitches and generally I didn’t care for how my stitches looked. Then a couple years ago, a friend turned me on to stabbing, which I used to think was not as efficient, but the improved results are worth it. Plus once I got the hang of it, my speed increased. She also recommended lining my pieces to reduce pucker and shadowing.

    86
  84. I sew, simply because I’ve learnt embroidery from instruction books. Having read about your stab method I am going to have a try!

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  85. I do both (or either). On a frame, I stab, two-handed; in-hand I sew. I mostly work in-hand, doing a lot of cross-stitch. Up to now my skills with other embroidery stitches have been minimal and the results annoyingly imperfect. Now I’m thinking “Try frame-and-stab for the fancy stitches” – it might be the answer I need. THANKS Mary, for your constant inspiration and gems!

    88
  86. Thanks so much for sharing so much with us!! I am a self taught stitcher, mostly quilting and appliqué. I recently started embroidering more and more! I always thought that stabbing was considered to be done by beginners and felt vaguely ashamed of using it so often!! So glad to hear its not!!! I do use both though, depends on the stitch, if its hoop or hand and most if all the state of my not so flexible hands on the day!

    89
  87. I used to sew, but when I did a course with the Royal School of Needlework they recommended stabbing, and I’ve been stabbing ever since. (Only fabrics, I hasten to add!) Like you, I think my stitches look better when I stab.

    I used to do canvas work with my non-dominant hand underneath; now I’m trying to use my dominant hand underneath as it seems more logical, but it somehow doesn’t quite “feel right”. I shall persevere though.

    Elata in post 24 seems to be using aida as she mentions coming up through the fabric with the eye end of the needle. Here in the UK we can buy twin-ended tapestry needles. The eye is in the middle of the needle, and is used in the way Elata describes. I wonder if they are available at a place near Elata, and if she would find them useful?

    As always, thank you so much for your wonderful newsletters – they give me so much pleasure and so much useful advice.

    90
  88. Well Mary I have to say for the most of it, I am a stabber. BUT for doing portraits and colour blending I prefer sewing, as I aim for a smooth transition to melding shades without a definite line. For sharp and crisp you have to have a stab. In the end if you get the result you want then whatever and however doesn’t really matter. Thanks Mary as always.

    91
  89. I’ve noticed the thread wears more quickly with the sewing method and I definitely gravitate towards the stab technique. Since I got a work-stand I have found this a very efficient stitching method with most of my embroidery. A few pulled thread stitches might be an exception, but otherwise it’s all about the stab! 🙂

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  90. Thank you for this! I now know why I see some slight puckering in the stem stitch area on a crewel embroidery piece I’m working on. Wish I had started it after reading this! I also got Phillipa Turnbull’s DVD recently and she stabs as well (and very quickly!). Also, do you hand quilt and if so do you stab or sew through the 3 layers?

    93
  91. Hi Mary,
    Love the discussion on this topic! I’m mainly a stabber, but for a reason I haven’t seen mentioned in other comments (forgive me if I missed it in my scanning)—I’m left handed. When I was learning to stitch my teachers & most instructions were diagramed for right handers, so I stabbed &/or turned my fabric to adapt. With time & experience I’ve learned to sew some of the stitches left-handed– such as 4-sided & buttonhole, but still stab most of the time.
    Mary, I love that your stitch videos are done the stabbing method, so it’s easy to follow no matter what your dominant hand! I’ve referred to them many times. (Yvette Stanton’s embroidery book for left-handers is also a great help)
    Thanks again for such a great & interesting website!

    Julie H.

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  92. This is sure to get a lot of comments! It is funny, actually, because my experience seems the exact opposite of yours. I started out as a stabber, but my embroidery improved significantly when I changed to sewing.

    I started out by working cross stitch on a frame, and stabbing is still best for that. And I credit my cross stitch experience for teaching me how to manage the thread, thread tension and fabric. So I had that foundation when I started embroidery. The main challenge for me with embroidery is stitch size and placement, and that is much easier to do with sewing, when you can see the beginning and end of the stitch on the needle, before you pull the thread through. Also, some of the more complicated stitches seem a lot more logical when you sew them.

    Of course I still choose the most logical method for the project and/or stitch. It is nice to have a range of experience to draw on, so that is probably the final conclusion on the subject!

    96
  93. Morning, Mary,

    I’m a ‘sew’ unless the stitch requires the ‘stab.’ (And to all you other ‘sew’ workers out there: Don’t lurk–comment and be counted!)

    97
  94. I am a self taught stabber. I could never get the hang of sewing stitches from books. I too was somewhat ashamed of my style until I read this post. I usually cross stitch and love working in hand but since my projects got bigger, frames were necessary. I also stitch dominate hand (right) on top but thought it was because I do so many things left handed. There are a lot of “lefties” and “ambies” in the family. And I am sure the markings on glass measuring cups are put on the wrong side. 🙂

    98
  95. I use whichever is best at the moment. In-hand surface embroidery is usually sewn method, on a frame or hoop, or counted embroidery are usually stabbed. With both methods, there are times I just can’t get the needle in just the right spot from the back side and will switch methods.

    99
  96. I started out as a sewer. I liked the gentle motion, and never had any real tension problems. I worked in hand. Then, my arthritis began demanding that I use some sort of a frame or hoop. Once I began using those, I found that sewing just didn’t work well. I am now a stabber, and find that I have absolutely no tension problems. I am a faster stitcher because I use both hands. Unfortunately, some stitches still require that I take the piece out of the frame and do some hand embroidery — for instance, I can’t make a chain stitch or a fly stitch in a frame.

    100
  97. Thanks for the article Mary.

    I’m a stabber. That’s how I taught myself. I couldn’t figure out the stitches any other way and still have all the control that you mentioned.

    102
  98. I am a stabber for the reasons of better control, better precision and better tension. With stabbing I can see exactly what I’m doing.

    I’ve had problems in the past unravelling stitch diagrams that show the sewing method but once I have so I can do the stitch method, it’s clear in my head.

    105
  99. Honestly I use both, My Paternal Grandmother “P” from Arizona, very practical and a finisher of projects and taught me with stabbing, She almost attacked the fabric and it always came out lush and perfect. My Maternal Grandmother “K” from CA was impressed I had learned one summer while visiting, “That other Woman” Yet she was unhappy I had learned to stab the fabric. It was her duty to teach me fine stitch sewing method. Grandmother “K” never finished a Project, not once. I am happy to have both skills.

    106
  100. I sew! No doubt about it I sew every thing. My mom and my great aunt taught me to embroider when I was about 6. Neither one of the showed me anything other than sewing each stitch…this was over 60 years ago. I use a good German hoop but I like them small. I have a 4 inch round or a 6 X 3.5 oval which are my favorites. These are small enough that I can use one hand to manage the needle and the other hand holds the hoop with some of my fingers helping guide the needle. My fabric is just slightly slack. I have a hoop on a lap stand and another that attaches to the table. I’m not as comfortable with either of these as it is not as easy to use my left hand to guide the needle. Old habits! I love your articles. Keep them coming. Thanks, Maryann

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  101. I’m a stabber for the same reasons you are.
    Interestingly my Mother was a sewer and she much preferred to hand hold her work (in fact she claimed she hated hoops). She was quite impatient though, always looking for the quickest way to do something (which stood her in good stead as a professional machine sewer doing piecework). She was a good hand sewer too, very quick and very even in her stitching.

    108
  102. Greetings!

    What great information! I have always thought that the “sew” method was a more professional technique. However, I have begun to “stab” even when not using a hoop. It seems as though I am able to control stitch length better when stabbing.

    Like many others, I will probably continue to do both depending upon the project. Your information has made me feel better about using the “stab” method!

    Thank you for sharing your creative talents with us!!

    Best wishes both personally and professionally,
    Mary Jean

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  103. I stab when I do counted cross stitch and sew when I embroider. But having read the article I am eager to try stab to embroider. I was taught to sew to embroider, never though to stab. A new trick for an old dog like me to try.

    110
  104. Hi,
    I got the frames you use here in florida and they are great! I do have a question.
    After so many uses you bound to end with many holes on the sides and then it is hard to make it stay put. How do you deal with it?
    By the way the store in miami is on answering machine and they do not get back to you. Tried at all hours of the day left phone numbers to reach me and so far nada. A bit upsetting since I have a special project and need to order more then one frame and few other things. I guess it is 2 questions. Do you have and idea other then snail write to them?
    I have to admit the frames saved me on few projects that came out much better then on my hoops!

    112
    1. Hi, Ruth – you can use the same holes for quite a while without any effect on the tension. I’ve been using the same frames for some ten years now, for many projects, and they’re still going strong! You can find the frames through other shops online, too. Needle in a Haystack has them. They have a very good turn around time when placing orders online.

  105. Well,well lol
    how I knew someone would bring this up
    I have been cheating to get a cross stitch quilt done
    I had put it away so many times and decided to get it done this year
    I stabbed and stabbed for so long but this time I sewed fast
    I have just a few more flowers and bugs to get done but , finally I can see the light from the forest lol
    but, filled with guilt because I sewed .

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  106. I used to sew, but one day, many years ago, someone showed me the benefits of stabbing. I’ve never returned to sewing. I agree with all the arguments for, but the two key advantages for me are that [1] I always use a mounted frame and thus use both hands, front and back for a neater outcome; [2] I break needles far less often using the stabbing method.
    The breaking needle phenomenon is a real pain, always near the bottom of the eye, but I recently shifted to a French needle brand, and matters have improved out of sight, especially given it also has a fractionally larger eye for ease of threading threading.

    114
  107. Hi Mary. For many years (really since I started reading your blogs and looking at other sites), I never bothered with a hoop or frame because it was too hard to hold it with one hand all the time. Now, through the Royal College of Needlework and other sites, I was able to order table hoops and sit-upon hoops and now my hands are free! I just finished a large panel from the Bayeux Tapestry and without having a slate frame which a) I can’t afford, b) I don’t know how to set up, and c) I have no room for, I was using a 10″ sit-upon hoop. Phillipa Turnbull from the Crewel Work Company suggested using plastic wrap between the fabric and the hoop, so I did that and it works really well. I did most of the stitching by moving my right hand back and forth between the top and bottom of the fabric but this got really tiring. I notice you said the dominant hand is usually underneath with the less dominant on top. I am seriously right handed, so it should be underneath but my left hand is so, well, un-dominant that I don’t trust it to pull up and place the next stitch. I mean, it can pull up but in the Bayeux stitch, you have to put all these little picots in and my left hand just doesn’t have that kind of control. So either my right does all the work or the left is relegated to the donkey work underneath.

    115
  108. Hi Mary,

    I am a stab stitcher – because you are! I learnt most of my stitches off your instructional videos (huge thankyou) and so the apprentice follows the master!

    Cherilynne

    116
  109. Ah! At last!! A very clear explanation of and reasons for the two styles. As a relatively new embroiderer, I have asked before and received quite unsatisfactory answers. Turns out, i knew all along, but it is nice to have one’s thinking confirmed. Thank you!! And i am a stabber using a 6 inch hoop at the moment ( i do have a ‘sit-on’ frame) with which i can sometimes manage to use with the hand below as well as one above technique. Clever me! LOL!!!!

    117
  110. I do both, stab when it’s in a stand or frame and sew when I’m just holding the fabric taut with my hand. It helps that I’m fairly ambidextrous so I keep one hand below the frame.

    118
  111. Hi Mary! I just wanted to say thank you for posting this blog on stabbing vs sewing. It’s good to know that you do the stabbing method also! Now I know that I am doing the method correctly. YAY!

    119
  112. Always a stabber. I can’t get my stitches to look pretty with sewing, no matter how many times I’ve tried. Thanks for this and every article, Mary.

    120
  113. Thank you for posting this! I stab most of the time, for about the same reasons you mentioned. I learned sewing method from my mother and switched when I found all the embroidery stuff on the internet.

    I can do the one hand above, one hand below method and love it, but I rarely find the time and space to work with a stand, I just stitch on the go wherever I happen to be. I even stab when I work in hand or on non-traditional materials because it reduces puckering and makes clean stitches.

    The only times I sew is when I do Kantha style work or other quilting where the puckering effect created by sewing is actually a desired feature of the design. And sometimes when I have to do lots and lots of plain chain stitch because I find it a bit annoying to stab.

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  114. Honey, I stab! I started out as a self taught cross stitcher. (In 1970 something!) I was an early bloomer. I continue that motion today. Love your site! jwt

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