How to stitch: Fly stitch

How would you categorise fly stitch? I’ve used it to create a decorative line. As a filling stitch. Also as a stand alone, detached stitch. So I guess you could say it’s pretty versatile!

As well as all that, changing the angles and spacing of your stitches can create different effects. So one row of fly stitch could look quite different to another. Plenty of possibilities!

Let’s start with the stitching basics, then have fun with some examples…

How to stitch

Start by bringing your needle up on one side and taking it down on the other side, as if you’re making a horizontal stitch. But leave a loop of thread on the front of your work.

Bring your needle back up in the centre and a little way down. While holding your loop below where your needle is coming back up.

Needle coming up with a loose loop of thread going around and underneath it.

Pull your thread all the way through, so that you’ve created a V shape.

Take your needle down to complete a vertical stitch that holds your V in place.

If you’re working detached fly stitch, that’s it!

Needle coming up to the right side of a completed fly stitch.

If you’re working a row of fly stitch, bring your needle back up to one side and down to the other, leaving a loop on the front.

As before, work a vertical stitch to create and secure a V with your thread loop. Start this vertical stitch where your previous stitch ended. So you end up with a continuous line of stitches down the centre.

Needle coming up from the same hole as the previous fly stitch was finished, to start the 2nd securing stitch.

Keep stitching in this way to fill your shape or complete your line.

A completed line of fly stitch in blue crewel wool.

Fly stitch tips

As with any stitch that’s formed by with a loose loop of thread on the front of my work, I like to pull my thread through in two stages to minimise the wear on my thread. First, I pull the spare loop thread to the back of my work. Then I finish pulling all of the thread to the front.

Fly stitch tends to look best if you can keep the angle of your stitches and the length of your securing stitches consistent. To do this, you’ll need to keep the space between your stitches the same as the length of your securing stitches.

Diagram showing that the space between stitches is the same length as the vertical securing stitches.

This gets a bit trickier when you’re stitching a shape that curves. If I’m struggling with this, I’ll poke my needle above my fabric and angle it down to the end of my previous stitch to check if the angle looks right.

Sometimes you want to fill a shape that is more square than the stitch pattern. In this case, you can simply use some partial fly stitches and some straight stitches to fill your shape.

A long rectangle filled with fly stitch. At the top and bottom are some partial stitches to completely fill the shape.

Open vs closed fly stitch and other variations

Fly stitch is one of those stitches that can be stitched open (some fabric is visible between your stitches) or closed (no fabric is visible).

For the closed version, your securing stitch needs to be small, to just cover the thread. This creates a stitch that looks like a V.

For the open version, your securing stitch is longer. Creating a stitch that looks like a Y. The longer the securing stitch, the more open your stitching will be.

Here’s a little sampling to demonstrate:

A central line of fly stitch, stitched to be open at the top and closed at the bottom. Around it are 4 detached fly stitches.

Another way to vary the look of your fly stitch is to change the angle of your V (or Y).

As I mentioned in the tips, your stitching will tend to look best if you keep your angle consistent. However you might want to deliberately change it for certain effects.

I had fun experimenting with angle changes in these samples:

Top - a line of fly stitch where the angle starts acute and ends shallow. Bottom - a line of fly stitch where the angle starts shallow and ends acute.

Fly stitch in use

Going back to it’s regular form… Fly stitch makes a good filling for petals and leaves and can give the effect of veins running down a leaf. I stitched it slightly open for these leaves in my Jacobean crewelwork piece.

3 small leaves filled with fly stitch. Stitched with yellow and green crewel wools.

I think the shape of the stitch also lends itself well to feathers. As in the tail of my hummingbird design.

3 tail feathers stitched in closed fly stitch with purple and turquoise crewel wools.

The detached version reminds me of the little Vs you might draw in the sky of a landscape to represent birds in the distance. I think they’d also work well as a securing stitch for laid work. Perhaps to add some feather like texture.

What have you used fly stitch for? Has this tutorial given you any new ideas to try?

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