STEM STITCH | How to Stem Stitch Embroidery

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Stem stitch is a simple, basic embroidery stitch but has the potential to add outlines to your work and to write creative messages. Once you learn how to do stem stitch, you can use it for samplers, a humble bookmark, and of course flower and plant stems! Look at the interesting effect you can create using a variegated color of embroidery floss.

How to do Stem StitchPinStem StitchEmbroidery


How to Stem Stitch Embroidery – SUPPLIESHow to Stem Stitch Embroidery- InstructionsStep 1 – MarkingStep 2 – Starter StitchStep 3 – First StitchStep 4 – RepeatStem Stitch VariationsStem Stitch Vs Outline StitchStem Stitch vs BackstitchStem Stitch LettersStem Stitch – In ConclusionMORE EMBROIDERY STITCHES

How to Stem Stitch Embroidery – SUPPLIES

Stem stitch embroidery is best done in a hoop to hold the fabric tight. That way you can produce really small overlapping stitches.

Use embroidery floss in solid or variegated colors in 6 strands. You can use less strands for really fine work but this stitch normally looks better in a chunkier thread so you can see the rope-like twisting effect. If you are having trouble getting the thicker strands through your needle, use a needle threader to help. They are cheap and really effective.

If you are new to embroidery, read my article on how to embroider before you start to learn the basics.

How to Stem Stitch Embroidery- Instructions

Stem stitch is often used for an outline stitch or for plant stems. I`m showing you with really large stitches to show the details but once you have practiced this stitch, try making the smallest stitches possible so you have a continuous and tight rope effect.

I worked the stitch from left to right but if you are left-handed it might work better in the reverse. Do what feels comfortable to you.

Before you start learning how to stem stitch, thread your needle with a single thread.

Step 1 – Marking

Mark out your stem stitching line by transferring your design to the fabric. Use a removable fabric pen or tailors chalk. A really easy way to transfer designs is to put your paper on a window and then put the fabric on top. The light will allow you to see the design underneath to easily trace over it. Low tech but it works beautifully!

how to do stem stitch embroideryhow to do stem stitch embroideryPinStem Stitch – Step 1

Step 2 – Starter Stitch

Start with your needle and thread coming up from the back of the design at 1. You can start either with a knot or a long tail of thread which you will work in at the back after you have finished.

step 1 - stem stitchstep 1 - stem stitchPinStem Stitch – Step 2

Step 3 – First Stitch

Insert your needle down into point two. Return to the right side of the fabric half-way between points one and two.  This is point three.

step 2 - stem stitchstep 2 - stem stitchPinStem Stitch – Step 3

IMPORTANT: Make sure your thread loops below your needle. You can see this more clearly below – the thread at point 3 sits above 1 and 2.

Rember to do this for each stitch so you get a consistent look to your stitches.

step 2 - stem stitchstep 2 - stem stitchPinStem Stitch – Step 3

Step 4 – Repeat

 Repeat the process, going back to the underside of the fabric at point 4 and coming up at 5.

IMPORTANT: Notice that 5 is just above point 2. (It is not the same hole)

Continue in this way as you follow the marked line in your pattern.

step 4 - stem stitchstep 4 - stem stitchPinStem Stitch – Step 4

Remember always that the needle comes out above the other stitches to create the continuous line and the effect of a stem.

step 4 - stem stitchstep 4 - stem stitchPinStem Stitch – Step 4

Stem Stitch Variations

Stem stitch can look quite different depending on whether you work with the floss tightly or loosely as well as how much you overlap the stitches. Small amounts of overlap will result in a thinner line that looks similar to backstitch. Larger amounts of overlap gives your stem stitch a thicker more roper-like look.

Curves are best done with smaller stitches to make it look smooth and rounded. Save your larger stitches for straight sections of the design.

Stem Stitch Vs Outline Stitch

These two stitches are almost the same and are used in similar situations. What varies is where the thread sits when you are stitching. In stem stitch, the thread is always underneath whereas in outline stitch the thread sits above the stitches you are working on. This produces stitches with different angles.

Stem Stitch vs Backstitch

The easiest stitch to replace a stem stitch is the backstitch. This stitch can also be used for stems and flowers but takes a little less time. The drawback is that the stem produced is not quite as thick so you may need to do 2 rows.


Stem Stitch Letters

Stem stitch embroidery can be used to create beautiful letters and monograms. Its thick twisted rope look is best used for medium to larger-sized letters. Read all about embroidery letters for more.

Stem Stitch – In Conclusion

Stem stitch is a great beginner stitch, but can also add value to intricate designs.  One of the wonderful qualities of stem stitch is its ability to be a writing tool and spell out messages and capture memories on your treasured embroidery creations.

stem stitch completedstem stitch completedPinStem Stitch Close Up

The above stitches are quite large to show you the technique. Look at how the stem stitch looks when the stitches are small and curved at an angle. The stitches start to look twisted like a rope.

stem stitchstem stitchPinStem Stitch


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