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7 Ways to Hand Embroider Leaves

Updated: Feb 1, 2023



I often get asked,

"What stitch would you use to make __________?"


That's a tricky question to answer! With embroidery it really depends. It depends on the design. It depends on the textures you want to create. It can depend on the fabric being used. And it can depend on the intended use of the embroidered item. There are so many factors that play into how you choose and stitch to use in a pattern. And each embroiderer has their own personal preference on how they like to stitch and what stitches they like to use.


Additionally, there are SO MANY different embroidery stitches that the possibilities are almost endless!


In a previous post I shared 10 Hand Embroidery Stitches to Create Beautiful Flowers. To add to the possible stitches to use for different patterns, I'm adding leaves.


Try these 7 hand embroidery stitch suggestions the next time you need to embroider leaves in a design.


Satin Stitch

The satin stitch is a great filling stitch. It provides a flat, solid block of color. For this leaf example, I stitch one half of the leaf at an angle and then stitches the other side at the opposing angle.


Here's how to create the satin stitch:

Bring your needle up from the back of the fabric to the front. Then down to the opposite side, creating a long straight stitch. Bring your needle back up through the fabric right next to the start of your last stitch and repeat, continuing to fill in the space. Stitches should be close together, like they’re hugging to avoid gaps and evenly fill the area.


Leaf Stitch

The leaf stitch's name pretty much gives away that this stitch is for leaves. This stitch slightly overlaps along the center line of the leaf, giving the illusion of the leaf growing radially from the base.


Here's how to create the leaf stitch:

To start, bring the needle up through the back of the fabric to the front at the top point of the leaf. Then go back down through the fabric one stitch length away along the middle line of the leaf. Next, bring the needle back up through the fabric along the outer edge of the leaf to the right of the first stitch. Then bring the needle back down slightly below the last stitch along the middle line. Repeat on the opposite side by bringing the needle up from the back to the front along the left outer edge of the leaf. Then bring the needle back down slightly below the last stitch along the middle line. Repeat until the leaf is completely filled in.


Detached Chain Stitch

The detached chain stitch resembles a loop or flower petal and can be done as a single stand alone chain or in multiples. For this example, I split the leaf vertically, then used the middle line as a guide for where to start the base of my detached chain stitches. My stitches started at the middle base of the leaf and were created diagonally towards the outer edge of the leaf, filling one side of the leaf at a time.


Here's how to create the detached chain stitch:

To start, bring your threaded needle from the back of your fabric to the front. Hold your thread off to the side and bring your needle back down through the fabric in almost the same place you just came up. Gently pull your thread until you have a small loop formed on the front of your piece. Next bring your needle up from the back of the fabric to the front, going through your loop. Wherever you bring your needle back up will be where the top of the chain will be formed. Be sure your loop isn’t twisted, otherwise the loop will also be twisted. Then gently pull your thread through so that a small loop is formed on the front of your fabric. To secure the detached chain stitch, bring your needle down, back through the fabric at the top of the loop, on the other side of the looped thread. This creates a single detached chain stitch.


Buttonhole Stitch

The buttonhole stitch can be used to create a fan-like shape or fill in a space. With the buttonhole stitch, there is space between the stitches for the fabric to show through. It can be used on its own or over the top of a filled in area to create additional detail.


Here's how to create the buttonhole stitch:

Start at the point you would like the inside of the buttonhole design to begin. Hold the thread off to the side of the fabric and bring the needle back down in the same hole. This should make a loop of thread on the front of the fabric. Next bring your needle up through the loop of thread on the front of the fabric, where you would like to outer edge of the buttonhole to be. Hold the thread off to the side again and bring the needle back down through the fabric at the bottom point of the buttonhole. If you are creating an arc, this will be in the same place as the previous inner stitch. If you are filling in a shape, this will be slightly further along the inner edge of the shape. Continue adding segments of the buttonhole until reaching the desired shape/size. To end the buttonhole stitch, bring the needle back down through the fabric just to the right of the top of the last thread loop.


Couching Stitch

Couching is a two-handed stitch that is done primarily on the surface of the embroidery. I like to use two colors of thread for couching, because it makes the stitches easier to see and also adds another pop of color within the leaf.


Here's how to create the couching stitch:

To start the couching stitch, bring the needle up from the back of your fabric at the starting point. Keep the thread loose and do not end it. With a second needle and thread, tack down the main thread with small stitches, following the shape. Come up from one side of the main thread and down on the other side. Repeat the tacking stitches until the main thread is firmly attached. Then bring the main thread to the back of the fabric to knot it, followed by the tacking thread.


Close Fly Stitch

The fly stitch has many variations. They all have some sort of stitch that looks like a Y or a V. For this leaf, I started by splitting the leaf vertically. Then I began the stitch at the top of the shape and made my fly stitches close together, working down the center line.


Here's how to create the close fly stitch:

Start by bringing the needle up through the fabric at the top point of the close fly fill section. Make a straight stitch about 1/3 of the way down the center of the section that is being filled. Next, bring the needle up through the fabric to the left of the top of the straight stitch. Hold the thread towards the bottom of the straight stitch and bring the needle back down next to the top right of the straight stitch. Gently pull the thread so that it creates an open loop on the front of the fabric. Then bring the needle up at the base of the straight stitch and inside the loop of thread. Gently tug so that the thread loop becomes flush with the fabric. Bring the needle back down through the fabric on the outer edge of the V, tacking it in place with a short straight stitch. Continue adding V’s next to one another until the section is filled.


Closed Raised Herringbone Stitch

This stitch creates a full and chunky leaf. There is more body towards the center and base of this leaf because the thread overlaps itself.


Here's how to create the closed raised herringbone stitch:

Start by making a short straight stitch into the base of the leaf shape. Next, bring the needle up at the opposite end from the straight stitch, at the top point of the leaf. Then slide the needle underneath the straight stitch. Next, bring the needle back down through the fabric next to the point where it came out of the top of the leaf. Continue this to fill in the leaf shape. Bring the needle up next to the previous stitch, along the outer edge of the leaf, slide the needle underneath the straight stitch, then bring the needle back down on the other side’s outer edge of the leaf.


Have with these stitches the next time you need to embroider leaves!


For more embroidery stitches and patterns, be sure to check out the MCreativeJ shop or join Melissa for a hands-on workshop.

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