Stem stitch hand embroidery tutorial

Stem stitch

The Stem stitch forms a rope-like line and is one of the basic hand embroidery stitches.

This stitch is widely used in modern surface embroidery as it is decorative and versatile. This stitch is handy for outlines, curves, waves, or tiny circles. Also, the stem stitch works well as an outline for the satin stitch. Besides that, you can use it for filling too. 

Stem stitches can be worked both in the sewing and stabbing methods.

Other names of the Stem stitch

Sometimes the stem stitch is also called crewel stitch or Stalk stitch. Also, Outline stitch and Stem stitch are two names that we often use interchangeably. These two stitches look very similar, but they aren’t the same thing. 

The main difference – is the position of the working thread while making the embroidery. As you work Outline stitch from left to right, always keep the working yarn above the stitching line. And when you embroider a Stem stitch from left to right, keep the working thread under the stitching line.

The other difference that you may notice – is the direction in which the “rope” of the stitch is twisted. For this reason, sometimes it’s better to use Stem stitch and sometimes – Outline stitch. If you are unsure which stitch will make a more beautiful curve and is more suitable for your design – try to make the same curved line with both and see which one you like more.

Applications of Stem stitch in hand embroidery

This universal stitch is used in Whitework, Redwork, Stumpwork, Crewel embroidery, and other types of hand embroidery. In modern surface embroidery, we use it for:

  • Outlines
  • Lettering
  • Filling

Variations of the Stem stitch:

Video tutorial

Watch a video tutorial below and learn how to embroider stem stitch.

What’s next?

In case you need more guidance, sign up for my hand embroidery online course – “The top 10 hand embroidery stitches to learn“. This course is totally free and teaches all the stitches from the list of the best embroidery stitches. Besides that, a free pdf embroidery pattern download is included in the course.

Looking for some other stitch? Head to the Stitches and Techniques part of this blog and choose the stitch you want to learn!

N.B. Some of the links may take you to the EasyToMake designs blog. This is my older hand embroidery blog. While I’m dedicating all of my energy to the Practical Embroidery blog, the previous version still has a lot of great content!

Related projects

Would you like to learn this stitch while practicing? Then, check out the projects below and create something beautiful today!

Planet Saturn hand embroidery with stem stitch

Planet Saturn – hand embroidery pdf pattern and instructions for beginners

Planet Saturn hand embroidery pdf pattern is a great embroidery project for beginners. A simple hand embroidery design with a motive of the planet Saturn would perfectly suit the jeans or trousers’ back pocket. Also, you can embroider this design on a t-shirt, tote bag, or a string backpack, make a banner, or frame it in a hoop and decorate your children’s room.

The bright colors of this embroidery pattern will look great both on the dark and light-colored fabric.

Embroidery pdf pattern of Pink modern flower

Great embroidery pdf pattern of simple minimalist flower embroidery to decorate your home or clothes.

A combination of bright pink colors of the design will make it stand out on dark and light-colored fabrics.

Simple design and basic embroidery stitches involved make this flower embroidery design approachable even for hand embroidery beginners. Besides, this pattern comes with fully guided instructions.

Pink modern flower embroidery in a hoop

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