I often get asked, "What stitch should I use for this... ?" Sometimes I'm asked about a specific design and other times I'm asked about what stitch to used based on the material. I find this to be a really hard question to answer because there are a lot of variables. What are you stitching on? What will the embroidery be used for? What kind of textures do you want to create within the embroidery? All of these elements factor into what stitches you should use and when.
I use a variety of different stitches to create textures and patterns within my work. Sometimes I want a rugged mountain while other times I want a textural field. I might want a fluffy insect body and other times I want the section to have blended colors. In all of these instances, I would use a different stitch to fill in a space and create a different texture.
Here are 9 of my go-to hand embroidery stitches for filling in spaces, step-by-step instructions, and examples.
1. Satin stitch
The satin stitch is a good filler stitch for small and medium areas. This stitch creates a smooth, flat appearance that completely covers the fabric.
Here's how to make the satin stitch:
Bring your needle up from the back of the fabric to the front along the bottom portion of the section being filled.
Then make a straight stitch across the space and bring the needle back down through the fabric on the opposite side of the shape. This creates a long straight stitch.
Now make another stitch next to this one. Bring your needle back up through the fabric right next to the start of the stitch.
Continuing to fill in the space.
Stitches should be close together, like they’re hugging, to avoid gaps and evenly fill the area.
2. Back stitch
The back stitch creates a solid line made of short, connected stitches. This stitch is very versatile and is great for outlining and filling in sections. When I use the back stitch to fill in sections, I offset my rows like a brick wall. This creates a more cohesive fill and doesn't draw attention to where the stitches connect.
Here's how to make the back stitch:
Begin by pulling the needle and thread up through the fabric from the back of the fabric to the front about ¼ an inch away from the start of the line to be stitched.
Then, bring the needle back down at the end of the line, filling in the short space.
From underneath the fabric, space the needle out the length of your desired stitch (~1/4 inch or less) and pull the needle up through the fabric.
Then bring the needle back down through the fabric at the end of the previous stitch.
3. Seed stitch
The seed stitch is a great way to add texture and fill in a space. With this stitch, you can leave space between the stitches to have the fabric show through, or overlap the stitches for a dense textural fill.
Here's how to make the seed stitch:
Start by bringing your needle through your fabric, from the back to the front.
Make a small stitch by going back down the fabric and pulling your needle out the back of the fabric.
Next, bring your needle and thread a short distance away from the end of the stitch and make another short stitch in a different direction.
Continue making short stitches in different directions to fill in your desired space.
To add even more texture, you can overlap your stitches.
4. Long and short satin stitch
The long and short satin stitch is a great stitch to fill in large areas and blend colors. This stitch isn't as smooth as the traditional satin stitch, however, I think it's better for filling in large areas because the thread doesn't pop away from the fabric like a long satin stitch would.
Here's how to make the long and short satin stitch:
Use your needle and thread and create one satin stitch.
Then bring the needle up again next to the start of the first stitch.
Now make a stitch that is either shorter or longer than the previous stitch. Keep the stitches close to one another, like they're hugging.
Continue doing this to fill in a row of the space to be filled.
In the next row, bring the needle up away from the end of the previous stitch.
Then bring the needle down through the top of the first long and short satin stitch. This stitch should slightly overlap at the ends to create a smooth blend.
Continue filling in the space and blending the stitches. Larger spaces may require more rows of long and short satin stitches to fill the shape.
5. Reverse chain stitch
The reverse chain stitch creates a looped line, like chain links. When used to fill a section, the reverse chain stitch reminds me of a cozy sweater.
Here's how to make the reverse chain stitch:
Start by bringing your needle through your fabric, from the back to the front, and make a short back stitch.
Next, bring your needle and thread up through the fabric a short distance away from the end of the back stitch.
Now pass the needle underneath the back stitch.
Pull the needle and thread all the way through and bring your needle back down where you started your stitch, making a small chain link.
Leave another space and bring the needle back up through the fabric.
To create the next chain link, slide the needle underneath both strands of the previous link and bring the needle back down through the fabric in the same spot, closing the link.
Repeat adding chain links for entire length of line.
6. French knots
French knots are small round stitches that are raised from the fabric. They're great for adding details to sections as well as filling in spaces to texture. When I fill spaces with French knots, I like to vary the sizes of the knots to create a popcorn-like texture.
Here's how to make the French knot:
Hold your needle in your dominant hand and use your other hand to wrap the thread taught around your needle two or three times. The more you wrap the thread, the bigger your knot will be.
Keeping the thread taught, pass the needle back through your fabric next to where you previously came up through the fabric.
Make sure the thread is tightly wrapped around the needle and flush with the fabric.
Then pull tightly until the thread is knotted on the front.
7. Couching stitch
Couching is a two-handed stitch that is similar to applique, because the stitching is done primarily on the surface of the embroidery. Similar to the back stitch, couching is great for outlining and filling sections.
Here's how to make the couching stitch:
To start the couching stitch, bring the needle up from the back of your fabric at the starting point of the line.
Unthread the needle, keeping the thread loose and do not end it. This is the laid thread.
With a second needle and thread, tack down the main thread with small stitches. 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.
Knot the tacking thread on the back of the fabric, then re-thread the laid thread on the needle. Bring the needle back down through the fabric and knot the thread.
8. Weave stitch
The weave/woven/basket weave stitch creates a woven texture, similar to a basket or weaving.
Here's how to make the weave stitch:
Start by bringing the needle up from the back to the front of the fabric.
Make a long, horizontal, straight stitch from one side of the shape to the other.
Continue adding straight stitches that are slightly spaced apart to fill in the space.. Leave at least a stitches width between each row.
After all of the space is filled with horizontal lines, start weaving.
Bring the needle up from the back to the front next to the bottom corner of the horizontal lines. Using the eye of the needle, weave vertically with the needle (under, over, under, over) until reaching the opposite side of the horizontal lines.
Pull the thread completely through the stitching so that it’s taught and bring the needle back down through the fabric.
Repeat going the opposite direction. Make sure to weave with the stitches as opposite from the previous row.
Continue until the space is entirely filled.
9. Bullion knots
The bullion knot is a long thin knot. A single bullion knot looks almost like a worm, where are many in a space can create a textural fill that sits away from the fabric..
Here's how to make the bullion knot:
Bring your needle up through the fabric where you want the bullion knot to start.
Then bring your needle back down through the fabric and slide the needle back up through the fabric next to where you first brought the needle down through the fabric. This length will determine how long the bullion knot is.
Wrap the thread coming out of the fabric around the pointed end of the needle.
Make sure the wraps are taught around the needle.
Pinch the wrap and gently pull the needle so that the wrap slides along the thread.
With the wrapped thread off the needle, gently pull the thread coming out of the fabric so that the wrapped thread (the knot) is in line with the point where the thread is coming out of the fabric.
Finally, bring the needle back down through the fabric where you brought the needle down in step 2, to secure the bullion knot in place.
Curious about more hand embroidery stitches? Be sure to order a copy of my book How to Embroider Texture and Pattern! Featuring 20 projects and 30+ stitches, you'll love creating these vibrant landscape patterns filled with texture and playful stitches.
I hope you find these stitches and examples helpful for your next embroidery project! I can't wait to see how you use them. -Melissa