This is the first in a series of stitch tutorial posts I’ll be creating. As well as walking you through how to create each stitch, I’ll include tips that I’ve learnt along the way for easy and beautiful stitching. My first tutorial had to be stem stitch. It’s so versatile that I often think of it as my “if in doubt” stitch!
Stem stitch is commonly used for outlines since it creates a pleasing and flowing line. You can also use it as a filling stitch by working rows of it side by side.
Stem stitch vs Outline stitch
Did you know that the way your stitches slant affect what this stitch is called? If your stitches slant bottom left to top right, that’s stem stitch. If they slant the other way, that’s technically known as outline stitch.
Unless your stitching is going to be assessed I wouldn’t worry too much about this!
Although your stitching will tend to look better if you’re consistent. So I think it’s good to be aware of the difference.
You might sometimes deliberately choose to include both in your stitching. For example, if you work them next to each other, you can get a nice chevron or plaited effect.
How to stitch
So, how do you stitch stem stitch?
Start to work your first stitch like a normal straight stitch, but don’t pull the thread all the way through. Instead, keep a loop of your thread on the front of your stitching and hold this to the side.
Bring your needle up halfway along your stitch and then pull the thread through to complete your first stitch.
TIP: I like to pull the loop on the front through to the back before pulling the thread all the way through as this minimises strain on my thread.
Take your needle down half a stitch length along from the end of your first stitch. You want this stitch to be the same length as your first stitch. Again, leave a loop of your thread on the front of your work.
Hold your loop to the same side as you did previously. Then bring your needle up where your first stitch finished.
Pull your thread all the way through to complete your second stitch. Continue stitching in this way.
How to ensure your stem stitches always slant the same way
To ensure that I’m always stitching stem stitch when I intend to, I tell myself to ‘follow the compass’ as I’m stitching.
What do I mean by that??
Basically, I think of the direction that I’m stitching in as north. If I follow the compass, then the next direction around is east. So that’s the side that I need to have my loop.
I like to think in this way, as it’s just one thing I need to remember to get my stitch slant correct. It works no matter what direction I’m stitching in – around winding curves and even if I turn my work upside down!
Do you think “follow the compass” will help you to stitch stem stitch consistently?
I’m working on more stitch tutorials that I’ll be adding soon. So let me know if there are any particular stitches you’d like me to cover! You can find all the tutorials here.
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