Outline Stitch Embroidery – Easy Method for Beginners

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An outline stitch is always an essential part of any embroidered project. Outlining gives a secure definition to the plan or structure of a body of work, and an outline in embroidery has the same purpose. The outline stitch may look close to a stem stitch, but when you test the stitch on a sample, you will see a distinct difference between these two stitches.

Outline Stitch EmbroideryPinOutline Stitch Embroidery


Outline Stitch Embroidery TutorialHow to Do the Outline Stitch – InstructionsTips for Sewing Outline StitchSewing a Curve with Outline StitchUsing Outline Stitch as a Filling StitchOutline Stitch vs Stem StitchWhen to Stitch – Before or After Filling?Uses of Outline StitchAlternatives to Outline StitchesOutline Stitch Embroidery – In ConclusionMore Embroidery Stitches

Outline Stitch Embroidery Tutorial

The outline stitch is a basic embroidery stitch that can be used for stems and curved lines as well as borders as it has a rope-like appearance that is perfect for your projects. It can be used alone or for outlining other stitches such as satin stitch to create sharp clear borders. Start with a test run of the stitch to get a feel for the basic steps. Then you will feel ready to use the stitch on a piece of embroidery.

How to Do the Outline Stitch – Instructions

Step 1 – Marking

Draw a line with a marking pen and mark four points equal distance apart.Label them 1 3 2 4.  (Note the numbers are not in order. Follow these points carefully several times to get used to the stitch before eliminating the need to label.)Secure the thread at the back and bring the needle up through point (1).

Outline Stitch Embroidery - Starting Outline Stitch Embroidery - Starting PinOutline Stitch Embroidery – Starting

Step 2 – First Stitch

Then take the needle into point (2) and come up at (3). (The working thread should be below the needle.)

Notes about point (3):

Note that point (3) is slightly under the straight line between (1) and (2).Point (3) should be halfway between points (1) and (2). The careful marking of the points will ensure the accuracy of your stitches when you are learning how to do outline stitch.

Outline Stitch Embroidery - First StitchOutline Stitch Embroidery - First StitchPinOutline Stitch Embroidery – First Stitch

TIP: Draw what you have done on a piece of paper if this sounds confusing. The stitch point (2) will be at the bottom of the previous stitch line. 

Outline Stitch Embroidery - First StitchOutline Stitch Embroidery - First StitchPinOutline Stitch Embroidery – First Stitch

Step 3 – Second Stitch

Take the needle to go from point (2) to point (4).  Note point (4) should be equal distance to that between point (2) and point (3). 

Outline Stitch Embroidery - Second StitchOutline Stitch Embroidery - Second StitchPinOutline Stitch Embroidery – Second Stitch

Step 4 – Repeat

Now you have a pattern of four steps to follow and to continue until your outline is complete. After completing the outline stitch, the reverse side of the fabric will look like a back stitch. 


Once you have mastered the steps of outline stitch, you can do away with the 1-4 labeled points. The tension and regularity of the stitch are important to get smooth lines. 


Tips for Sewing Outline Stitch

Sewing a Curve with Outline Stitch

Use smaller stitches when working around curves to get a smooth flowing look.

Using Outline Stitch as a Filling Stitch

Although traditionally used for outlines, this stitch can also be used in dense rows as a filling stitch. Sew the stitch as close as possible to fill larger areas.

Outline Stitch vs Stem Stitch

You may be thinking at this point that this stitch is the same as stem stitch.  The two are very similar but not the same. They both create a twisted line of stitches, but the direction of the twist in the line of stitching is different. 

For outline stitch, the working thread falls below the needle. For stem stitch, the working thread is above the needle. It is a personal choice whether you use a stem stitch outline or an outline stitch. Try both stitches on a sampler, and you will have a clearer idea of the difference in the twist.

When to Stitch – Before or After Filling?

There has been an ongoing debate in sewing circles about starting with an outline first vs filling in the design and then adding the outline stitch to finish off the pattern. There is no hard and fast rule to this question. Generally speaking, the outline defines the edges of the design and gives you an area to work within. 

The outline stitch used at the end of the project helps tidy up the design and complete the shape or form. The choice is really up to personal preference and the complexity of the design. The outline stitch may also be the actual design, with no other types of stitches being used. However, finishing off with a line that fits around the edge just adds the finishing touch to a piece of work.


Uses of Outline Stitch

Outline stitch has other uses apart from outlining a feature in a design. The outline stitch can be used as a filler stitch. When this stitch is worked in rows close together, it forms a thick band of stitches capable of filling in an area to create a solid block of color. This is a great way to paint a picture with a needle and thread.

Alternatives to Outline Stitches

There are other outlining types of stitches, and these could be a better choice for your project, but the outline stitch with its simple design always stands out.

Look at these stitches as alternatives to outline stitch:

BackstitchWhipped backstitchStem stitchChain stitchRunning stitchSplit stitch

backstitchbackstitchPinBackstitchembroidery basicsembroidery basicsPinRunning StitchPinStem Stitchsplit stitchsplit stitchPinSplit Stitch

They all create what is known as line stitches. The size of the stitches and the thickness of the thread will alter the size and structure of the stitch. When you are looking for a dramatic outline choose a thicker thread than the general embroidery thread used in your design. 

Outline Stitch Embroidery – In Conclusion

The beauty of a line stitch or outline stitch is its ability to `draw` on the fabric and guide the filler stitches into place. Artistic workmanship does not have to be limited to pen and paper, brushes, and paint. Try a new canvas with needle and thread and fabric. There are many different craft opportunities and creative gifts to personalize using outline stitch embroidery.  

More Embroidery Stitches

BackstitchBlanket StitchButtonhole StitchChain StitchChevron StitchCouching StitchCross StitchDouble Herringbone StitchHow to EmbroiderFaggoting EmbroideryFeather StitchFern StitchFishbone StitchFly StitchFrench KnotsHand Embroidery StitchesHerringbone StitchLazy DaisyRunning StitchSashiko EmbroiderySatin StitchSeed Stitch Embroidery (Rice Stitch)Stem StitchStraight StitchWeb Stitch | Embroidery TutorialWhip StitchOutline StitchWhipped Backstitch

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