How to stitch: Split stitch

I think split stitch looks like a mini chain stitch. So I thought it would be a good one to follow on from the chain stitch tutorial. Below you can see split stitch on the left, chain stitch (using the same thread) on the right:

Image showing 2 lines of stitching - split stitch and chain stitch.

Split stitch has a number of different uses. It can be an outline stitch, a filling stitch or as a foundation for other stitching. I’ll cover the different ways you can use split stitch in a bit. First, let’s dive straight into how it’s stitched.

How to stitch

Start by working a small straight stitch. The exact size depends on how you are using split stitch. My stitches are typically 2-4mm although I go on the shorter side when stitching with 1 strand of stranded cotton.

To start your next stitch, bring your needle up in the middle of your first stitch. So that it is splitting the stitch.

Image showing the needle coming up through the middle of the previous stitch.

Complete your stitch so that it is the same length as your first stitch.

Image showing the needle going down to complete the second split stitch.

Continue stitching in this way. That’s it!

Image showing a line of split stitch being worked.

Stitching tip

Because it’s such a small stitch, split stitch tends to wear out your thread quicker than other stitches. So to keep my stitching pristine, I work with shorter lengths of thread for this stitch, around 25-30cm.

Split stitch as a foundation stitch

I’m most often using split stitch as a foundation for other stitching such as long and short stitch or satin stitch.

There are a couple of reasons to use such foundation stitching. Firstly, it can help you to create a nice smooth edge to your main stitching. Secondly, it raises your stitching up a bit which you can use to help create depth. Here’s an example of a foundation worked for some satin stitch:

Image showing an oval of split stitch.

When you’re using split stitch as a foundation stitch, it’s good to make your stitches as small as you can. This will give you the sturdiest, most secure foundation and makes it easiest to create a smooth edge.

If your stitches are too long, then it doesn’t create such a solid barrier for your needle, which can lead to your stitching looking nibbled.

Image showing 2 examples of using split stitch as a foundation for long and short stitch.

I did a little sampling to show you this, but it’s not come out as pronounced as I’d hoped! If you look closely, you can see that the edge of the stitching on the top example is not quite so smooth as the bottom one. But I guess this shows that I can get away with making my split stitches a little longer 🙂 Although as my next Royal School of Needlework certificate module is silk shading, I’ll wait until after that before relaxing too much!

I don’t normally use a magnifier when I’m stitching, but I often do for split stitch as it helps me to keep my stitches nice and small.

Split stitch for fine details

As it’s such a small stitch, split stitch is great to use when you want to create some really fine details. For example I’ve seen it used to help define an eye or other facial features. If you want the finest line you can create, this is probably the stitch to use!

I’m not sure I’d have the patience to use it as a filling stitch. But I’ve seen some lovely examples of it being used for hair in tapestry shading portraits. Such as here and here.

Then, if you really want to talk about patience, you’ve got to admire the medieval embroiderers responsible for opus anglicanum. The most highly prized embroidery of the time. It featured a lot of goldwork as well as subjects stitched mostly in split stitch. The spirals of stitching for people’s cheeks show that these embroiderers were looking for ways to bring dimension to their work.

The Victoria & Albert museum had an exhibition on this a few years ago that I sadly didn’t manage to see. However they still have a great exhibition page on their website that allows you to take a closer look at some of the amazing pieces. I found it fascinating to watch their short video of a modern embroiderer demonstrating the medieval techniques.

Maybe I’ll get around to trying this kind of embroidery someday… Do you think you have the patience for it?

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2 thoughts on “How to stitch: Split stitch

    1. I’m glad you liked the V&A info Michelle, I can get totally lost and absorbed in things like that! Very happy to hear that you enjoy the newsletter, thank you! 😀

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