- New Demos

Getting Started
- Basic Sewing Tech
- Fun With Bias

Body Measurement
- What & Where to Measure

Pattern Development
- Basic Pattern Drafting
- Basic Pattern Development
- The Toile & Mock-Up
- Basic Rectangular Patterns

Sewing Tech
- Gores, Gussets, and Inserts
- Facings
- Cartridge Pleating
- Basic Handsewing Techniques
- Hand Bound Eyelet Holes
- Machine Seams

Trims & Embellishment
- 5 Cross Cultural Embroidery Stitches
- Appliqué Techniques
- Passemaine (hand made trims)
- Trims requiring very little equipment
- Complicated Trims
- Cardweaving
- Buttons
- Making Felt

Western European
- Underwear
- Shirts
- Farthingales
- Corsets
- Stockings
- Collars and Cuffs
- Partlets
- Gloves
- Hats
- Shoes

Eastern European:

- Shirts
- Pants
- Coats
- Shoes
- Boots
- Hats
- Jewelry

Ancillary Arts
- Fans
- Pouch Hinges, Part 1
- Pouch Hinges, Part 2

Demonstrations>Trims and Embellishment>Five Cross Cultural Embroidery Stitches

Stitches that Work for Every Culture -


Embroidery and most other fiber and needlework arts are believed to originate in Asia and the Middle East. Embroidery and the embellishment of clothing is certainly a time consuming practice which necessitates that there be actual time to do it. For groups of humans living in marginal areas, subsistence would take precedence over leisure activities. For humans living in areas in which subsistence was much easier, there was time to develop the art. Initially, it may have all started as a way to enhance and, at the same time strengthen seams.

In 1964, a Cro-Magnon hunter's fossilized remains were found at a dig in Sungir near Vladimir, Russia, dating to 30,000 B.C. His fur clothing, boots and hat were heavily decorated with hand stitched horizontal rows of ivory beads. This example would seem to indicate that the idea of couching; whether it was bits of something or a cord of some type, has been around for at least as long as embroidery itself.

Chinese bead embroidery in Siberia, dating from between 5000 and 6000 B.C., include elaborately drilled shells stitched with decorative designs onto animal hides. Mosaics of Byzantium, 500 A.D., depict embroidery of clothing with silk thread, precious stones and pearls. It is possible the Chinese thread embroidery from 3500 B.C. was the origin of thread embroidery, as we know it today. Historical documents record the use of embroidery in China as early as 2255 B.C.

Recorded history, sculptures, paintings and vases depicting inhabitants of various ancient civilizations wearing thread embroidered clothing date back over 3,000 years including those found in Greece 400 B.C., and Babylon and Syria, 700 A.D. Archeological excavations in Ur, 1544, revealed high standards of thread embroidery from ancient times such as a pure gold thread embroidered and woven shroud in the tomb of Empress Honorius dating 400 A.D. The gold threads were melted down and weighed 36 pounds in pure metal. By 1500 A.D., embroideries had become more lavish in Europe, as well as other areas of the world. From this period through the 1700's, elaborate thread and bead embroidery gained popularity.

Through out the beginnings and establishment of embroidery as a craft, there has been a set of basic stitches that developed everywhere in the world. Each basic stitch is the basis for an entire family of stitches that share the same characteristics as the mother stitch but are executed in slightly varying ways.

The Secrets of Good Embroidery

There are only three secrets to embroidery success. The first is size. The difference in good embroidery and not so good embroidery is the size of the stitches in relation to the thread being used and the design being worked. The second secret is consistency. Each and every stitch should be the same size as the rest of its fellows. This particular secret is really just a mark of practice and patience. The third secret is a healthy respect for the materials being used. Thin material simply will not support heavy threads. Consider either backing the material or using a smaller thread size.

To Hoop or Not to Hoop

I've done it both ways and have not formed a preference for either method. Both methods require that you be very careful with tension and this also seems to be a mark of experience and patience.

The Big Five

Running Stitch

Running stitch is the simplest and most basic of all stitches and probably the oldest. Running stitch is often the foundation for more complex stitches and it is also used for hand quilting. Included in this family of stitches are: Cross stitch and Couch work. Most often used either by itself, as a foundation or as an outline stitch.

The needle simply "runs" along the material, making stitches of equal length. It can be used for outlining as well.

Back Stitch

Backstitch is also known as point de sable. Backstitch is an old and very adaptable stitch, which can be used as a delicate outline or as a foundation in composite stitches. This stitch follows intricate curves well if the stitches are worked in a small and even manner in order to follow the flow of the curve. Included in this family of stitches are: Stem, Split, and Herringbone. Similar in appearance to Running, it is most often used in the same manner.

Working from right to left, the needle is brought out a short distance from the beginning of the line to be covered. It is inserted again at the beginning of the line, thus taking a step "back", and emerges an equal distance beyond the point where it first started. This stitch can be used for lines and outlines.

If you turn over your work at this point, you will notice that the back of the backstitch looks like stem stitch. If you want your backstitches to look good both back and front, I find it easier to do a stem stitch and let the backside of the stem stitch function as the front side of the backstitch.

Back stitch as described above. Stem stitch: beginning. Stem stitch: Always keep the thread to one side or the other of the needle. Stem stitch: This stitch looks like cording and is popular for outlining.

Satin Stitch or Fill Stitch

Satin stitch is also known as damask stitch. One of the oldest embroidery stitches to be found, satin stitch is worked on traditional embroideries in practically every country. Included in this family of stitches are: Couched Satin or Bokhara work, also known as laid work as well as Long and Short Stitch. Most often used as a fill stitch.

Although it appears to be simple, it is actually a bit difficult to work. The basic stitch consists of carrying the thread across the space to be filled and returning underneath the material to the starting point again. The whole art lies in making the stitches lie evenly and closely together and preserving a neat firm edge to the shape which is being filled. The longer the stitch, the more it will catch on things so it is best to either break up large spaces to be filled into smaller spaces or to use techniques such as Bokhara work (where the stitch is couched down either with itself or with a second thread).

Chain Stitch

Chain stitch is also known as tambour stitch and point de chainette. Chain stitch is one of the oldest of the decorative stitches and is the basis of a large group of stitches. Its use has a long history and is widespread throughout the world. It is believed to have originated in Persia and India. Included in this family of stitches are: Basque, Feather, and Wheatear (which is actually a cross between Chain and Buttonhole). Used for any number of techniques such as fill, outline and by itself. The most widely used stitch. Members of this family as well as the closely related Buttonhole family are most often used for seam strengthening and embellishment.

Three stitches are shown below. The regular chain stitch, the open chain stitch and a "Viking" variant of chain stitch:

Chain stitch 1: the thread is brought out at the top of the line and held down and to the left. The needle is then inserted in the spot where the thread first emerged and brought out again a short distance away. Chain stitch 2: The thread is then drawn through over the loop of working thread. If working without a hoop, it's best to pull the thread parallel with the fabric rather than away. Chain stitch 3: the process of loops and stitches is repeated over and over. For corners, tack the last thread in line down with a plain stitch and then begin the next line with a new chain stitch in the same space. Open chain stitch 1: The thread is brought out and the needle reinserted a little distance away from the emerging thread. Open chain stitch 2: The loop is caught with the emerging thread as with regular chain but the loop is open due to the distance between start and finish. Open chain stitch 3: the thread is then reinserted in the same spot as the first part of the loop and another open loop is made.
Open chain stitch 4: The thread is inserted in the same spot as the last emerging thread and another open loop is made. Open chain stitch 5: a succession of open loops are made. This stitch requires a looser tension than regular chain stitch. "Viking" chain 1: a small tacking stitch is made at the beginning and the thread emerges down and a little to the left of the first stitch. "Viking" chain 2: the thread is then inserted through the tacking stitch and crossed over itself and the needle inserted to emerge just under the first part of the loop. "Viking" chain 3: one more loop like the first is made in the tacking stitch. "Viking" chain 4: the third loop is made by inserting the needle under the first two loops, brining it through as for the first two loops and crossing it over...
"Viking" chain 5: the needle is then reinserted in preparation for the next loop stitch. "Viking" chain 6: the needle is always inserted under the two loops above the stitch being made. "Viking" chain 7: this particular stitch gives a nice, raised and corded affect. For more information, click here.      


Buttonhole stitch is often used as an edging stitch and is the basis for a large group of stitches. Included in this family of stitches are: Barb and Cretan as well as Shisha. Also used as a fill stitch and as a couching stitch. Very closely related to Chain.

Buttonhole stitch 1: The thread emerges on the lower line and the needle is inserted and brought out again as shown. Buttonhole stitch 2: The thread is then pulled through over the working thread.

Projects Using These Stitches -

Click on the thumbnail for a larger view.

Appliquéd Celtic dogs using chain, open chain and buttonhole stitches. Embroidered fleur-de-lys using stem and satin stitches. The back of the embroidery can be seen on the right side of the picture. Embroidered fleur-de-lys using a modified Bokhara stitch, satin and stem stitches. Click here for a look at the back of the embroidery.
Appliquéd Scythian stag using button hole, stem, chain and back stitches. Embroidered Elizabethan smock using chain, stem and satin stitches.

Appliquéd pouch motif using chain, open chain and buttonhole stitches.

Cuffs for an Eastern European shirt using chain, stem and running stitches.    

Combination of embroidery and applique on a recreated 15th century coin or salt bag. Embroidery and applique close-up.
Central Asian items are almost invariably decorated, usually with tribal emblems. Back of tent bag. Bags such as this were used for storage of personal items.


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