How to stitch: Laid work

Laid work and couching are very closely linked. I’ve seen laid work described as a type of couching and I’ve also seen couching described as a type of laid work. I’m not sure which way around is technically correct! In any case, in this tutorial, I’m going to focus on laid work that creates a solid filling of long stitches.

I really enjoy using laid work in my embroidery designs. It’s become one of my default ways of filling a large area with stitching. Especially as it’s relatively quick to do so!

I usually can’t help but add in some shading and colour blending. I’ll show you some examples of that later. First let’s cover the basic stitch.

How to stitch

Before you begin, decide the direction of your stitches. Due to the length of your stitches in laid work, you’ll need to keep all your stitches parallel across your shape. If that really doesn’t work, then you could also break your shape up to create a “seam” where your stitch direction changes.

Starting in the middle or longest of your shape, make your first stitch so it covers the full length (or width) of your shape.

A long stitch worked in the middle of a 4 sided shape.

For your second stitch, bring your needle up just to the side of where you finished your first stitch. So that you’ll be creating a short stitch on the back of your work.

Needle coming up very close to the end of the previous stitch.

Complete this stitch so that it runs parallel to and next to your first stitch.

Keep working your stitches in this way to fill your shape. Make sure you’re always creating a short stitch on the back of your work. Rather than a long stitch on the back as you do for satin stitch.

Shape filled with long parallel stitches. The first layer of laid work.

Your shape is now filled but since your stitches could be very long, your stitching is not very secure. Your stitches may even look like they are lifting above the fabric.

So your stitching now needs to be secured with another round of stitching.

Securing with lines of couching

A common way to do this is with lines of couching. This creates what is known as Bayeux stitch – it was used extensively in the Bayeux Tapestry (which is actually an embroidery not a tapestry!).

You can use the same colour thread or a different colour for your lines of couching. It all depends on the effect you want to create. I’ve used a different shade to make it easier to see in the photos.

We’ll be working with two lengths of thread at the same time.

Bring up your couching thread to one side of your laid work stitches. Note, this should be where the side of your shape is meant to be, which might require you to move your stitches in a bit. As you can see in the previous photo, my stitches had ballooned out a bit.

If I’m working straight, parallel rows I like to start in the middle of my shape and work out.

A horizontal line of couching being worked over the top of vertical long, parallel stitches.

Lay your couching thread across your shape and secure it in place with small stitches as per normal couching.

Keep working rows of couching until all of your laid stitches are secure.

To get the best finish, keep your couched lines a consistent distance apart and think about the alignment of your securing stitches. I like to work mine in a brick pattern.

Completed laid work, secured with rows of couching, also known as Bayeux stitch.

Laid work tips

It can be helpful to draw some straight lines on your fabric to indicate the direction you want your laid work stitches to run. I find this can be especially helpful if my fabric doesn’t have an easily visible grain for me to follow or if my stitch direction doesn’t align with the fabric grain.

This is one of the few stitches for which I’ll use a length of thread that’s longer than my finger to elbow measurement. Because the stitches are so long, your thread doesn’t pass through your fabric so often and so gets less worn.

To help check where to bring up my needle for my next stitch on a slanting or curved edge, I poke my needle through and lay it along my fabric. This lets me see if my spacing will be correct.

Needle coming out of the fabric so that it is lying along the fabric paralled to existing stitches to check the spacing for the next stitch.

Then to check where to take my needle down, I hold my thread across my fabric. You can even pierce through your thread to take your needle down into the fabric at just the right spot.

Needle going down through both thread and fabric to ensure the stitch end point is correct.

When working your securing stitches, make sure that you’re always stitching through one of your laid work stitches. If your securing stitches fall in between your stitches, then you’ll start to see little gaps in your stitching.

Working securing stitches by ensuring the needle always pierces one of the first layer stitches.

Get creative with laid work

While rows of couching is quite a common way to secure your laid work, there are lots of other possible options!

Your couching doesn’t have to be straight lines. In my Royal School of Needlework piece, I couched curved lines to create the feel of veins in my leaf.

A curved leaf with shaded laid work secured by two curved lines of couching.

Working trellis stitch to secure your laid work is another popular choice. I did this over the ice in my penguins bauble piece.

Ice worked in shaded laid work with trellis stitch worked over the top to secure it.

In my wolf design I wanted to try something different so I used lines of double feather stitch to create the feel of cracks forming in the ice.

Ice worked in shaded blue laid work, secured by lines of double feather stitch.

You could probably use any other stitch or even a combination of stitches. As long as the long stitches underneath get secured you’re good.

The sky’s the limit for all the different effects you could create in your embroidery, so have fun experimenting!

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2 thoughts on “How to stitch: Laid work

  1. Great info! Loved seeing the pieces you made use of the laidwork and couching. Will have to try it. Thanks!🥰🥰

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