Stem stitch is a simple, basic embroidery stitch but has the potential to add outlines to your work and to write creative messages. Once you learn how to do stem stitch, you can use it for samplers, a humble bookmark, and of course, flower and plant stems! Look at the interesting effect you can create using a variegated color of embroidery floss.
Stem Stitch Embroidery Tutorial
What is Stem Stitch?
Stem stitch, which is also called a crewel stitch, or stalk stitch) is an embroidery stitch often used for an outline stitch or for plant stems and leaves. It can be used for straight or gently curved lines.
If you are new to embroidery, read my article on how to embroider before you start to learn the basics.
Stem stitch embroidery is best done in an embroidery hoop to hold the fabric tight. That way you can produce really small overlapping stitches.
Use embroidery floss in solid or variegated colors in 6 strands. You can use fewer strands for really fine work, but this stitch normally looks better in a chunkier thread, so you can see the rope-like twisting effect.
If you are having trouble getting the thicker strands through your needle, use a needle threader to help. They are cheap and really effective.
How to Stem Stitch Embroidery Pattern - Step-by-Step Instructions
I'm showing you really large stitches to show the details, but once you have practiced this stitch, try making the smallest stitches possible, so you have a continuous and tight, rope-like effect.
I worked the embroidery stem stitch from left to right, but if you are left-handed, it might work better in the reverse. Do what feels comfortable to you.
Before you start learning how to stem stitch, thread your needle with a single thread.
Step 1 - Marking
Mark out your stem or vines stitching line by transferring your design to the fabric. Use a removable fabric pen or tailor's chalk.
A really easy way to transfer embroidery designs is to put your paper on a window and then put the fabric on top. The light will allow you to see the design underneath to easily trace over it. Low tech, but it works beautifully!
Step 2 - Starting the Stem Stitch
Start with your needle and thread coming up from the back of the design at (1). You can start either with a knot or a long tail of thread which you will work in at the back after you have finished.
Step 3 - First Stem Stitch
Insert your needle down into point (2). Return to the right side of the fabric halfway between points (1) and (2). This is point (3).
IMPORTANT: Make sure your thread loops below your needle. You can see this more clearly below - the thread at point 3 sits above 1 and 2.
Rember to do this for each stitch so you get a consistent look to your stitches.
Step 4 - Repeat for More Stem Stitches
Repeat the process, going back to the underside of the fabric at point (4) and coming up at (5). Continue in this way as you follow the marked line in your pattern.
IMPORTANT: Notice that (5) is just above point (2). It is not the same hole.
Remember always that the needle comes out above the other stitches to create the continuous line and the effect of a stem.
Stem Stitch Variations
Stem stitches can look quite different depending on whether you work with the floss tightly or loosely, as well as how much you overlap the stitches.
Small amounts of overlap will result in a thinner line that looks similar to a backstitch. Larger amounts of overlap give your stem stitch a thicker, more rope-like look.
Curves are best done with smaller stitches to make them look smooth and rounded. Save your larger stitches for straight sections of the design.
Stem Stitch Vs Outline Stitch
These two stitches are almost the same and are used in similar situations. What varies is where the thread sits when you are stitching. In stem stitch, the thread is always underneath, whereas in outline stitch, the thread sits above the stitches you are working on. This produces stitches with different angles.
Stem Stitch vs Backstitch
The easiest stitch to replace a stem stitch is the backstitch. This stitch can also be used for stems and flowers but takes a little less time. The drawback is that the stem produced is not quite as thick, so you may need to do 2 rows.
Stem Stitch Letters
Stem stitch embroidery can be used to create beautiful letters and monograms. Its thick twisted rope look is best used for medium to larger-sized letters. Read all about embroidery letters for more.
Stem Stitch - In Conclusion
Stem stitch is a great beginner stitch, but it can also add value to intricate designs. One of the wonderful qualities of stem stitch is its ability to be a writing tool and spell out messages and capture memories on your treasured embroidery creations.
The above stitches are quite large to show you the technique. Look at how the stem stitch looks when the stitches are small and curved at an angle. The stitches start to look twisted like a rope.
MORE EMBROIDERY STITCHES
- Blanket Stitch
- Buttonhole Stitch
- Chain Stitch
- Chevron Stitch
- Couching Stitch
- Cross Stitch
- Double Herringbone Stitch
- How to Embroider
- Faggoting Embroidery
- Feather Stitch
- Fern Stitch
- Fishbone Stitch
- Fly Stitch
- French Knots
- Hand Embroidery Stitches
- Herringbone Stitch
- Lazy Daisy
- Running Stitch
- Sashiko Embroidery
- Satin Stitch
- Seed Stitch Embroidery (Rice Stitch)
- Stem Stitch
- Straight Stitch
- Web Stitch | Embroidery Tutorial
- Whip Stitch
- Embroidery Hoop
- Hand Sewing Needle
- Embroidery Floss
- Start with your needle and thread coming up from the back of the design at (1). Insert your needle down into point (2). Return to the right side of the fabric halfway between points (1) and (2). This is point (3).
- IMPORTANT: Make sure your thread loops below your needle.
- Repeat the process, going back to the underside of the fabric at point (4) and coming up at (5).
- Repeat for more stem stitches.