I think burden stitch is a lovely stitch for filling large or small areas of your embroidery. It creates a good texture and can be stitched in different ways to mix it up and create different effects.
I’ve always found the name a bit funny though. I guess my mind goes to the context of “don’t be a burden”!
However, from looking up where the name burden stitch comes from, it seems it was renamed in the 19th century after an embroiderer, Elizabeth Burden.
Elizabeth was William Morris’ sister in law and worked in his embroidery department. She also taught at the Royal School of Needlework in the 1870s which is where she popularised the stitch. So I’m guessing she was at the forefront of embroidery at the time and would be an interesting person to learn more about.
Anyway, now I’ve reassured myself about the name, let’s get into how to stitch it!
How to stitch
Start by stitching rows of long, parallel stitches across the full width of your shape.
Your stitches should be a consistent distance apart. When working with crewel wool, mine are usually around 3-5mm apart.
Starting in the centre of your shape, work a vertical stitch by coming up from under a long stitch, crossing over a long stitch, then going down just under the next long stitch.
Work your second stitch next to your first stitch, but offset by one row of your long stitches. So you start by coming up from under the long stitch that your first stitch crosses over.
Keep working stitches in this staggered way to fill your shape.
Burden Stitch Tips
I find it easiest to keep all my stitches parallel and aligned if I start in the middle and work out. I do this for both the long foundation stitches and the smaller securing stitches.
When you’re working your smaller securing stitches, angle your needle as you bring it up and down through the fabric so that you’re working under your long stitches but not stitching through them.
Your small stitches can be worked right next to each other so that your fabric is completely covered. Or you can leave a little space between them for a less solid finish.
Using burden stitch around a curve
If you’re filling an area that curves slightly, you could make you burden stitches curve with your shape.
To do this, your foundation stitches will need to smoothly sweep around your shape rather than all being parallel. Then work your smaller stitches to always be at right angles with your long stitches.
I did this in the owl wings of my Royal School of Needlework Jacobean crewelwork piece.
By working my burden stitches close together, the changing angles of my stitches appear to flow smoothly.
I’d probably only use burden stitch around a thin-ish curving shape like the owl’s wings. If your shape is too wide or it curves too sharply, then your stitches on the inside curve will be much smaller than on the outside curve.
Burden stitch variations
As mentioned, your stitches can be close together for a solid filling. Or they can be further apart, allowing some of the fabric to show through.
You can also create different textural effects by working double burden stitches. Or even triple etc.
I think this exaggerates the basket weave look, so good to do if that’s the texture you’re going for.
You can also get creative with colour!
I like to use different shades or colours for the long stitches and the shorter stitches as I think this emphasises the texture in a pleasing way. Even just a slight variation in the shade between these stitches can give your embroidery more depth.
Plus, with the way the stitches intersect each other, if you change colours between rows, you’ll get a bit of blending making for a smoother transition.
You can also use different colours within rows to create more complex shading or to create a pattern or design. Kind of like an elongated cross stitch grid.
So, what do you think of burden stitch? What would you use it for?
I think it’s a really nice looking stitch and I like the variation possibilities. So for me, it’s definitely not a burden! 😀
Stay in the loop
Wanna keep in touch?
Get my latest tips, tutorials, inspiration, projects and musings on why embroidery is good for you delivered straight to your inbox each week!