The Stem Stitch


The stem stitch is one of the easiest you can do. It is versatile and has been used for centuries. You can make a stem (or a line) very fast and cover a lot of ground in no time. I use it for making stems, obviously, but also for little petals, like lavender, to make a line (straight or curving) to create a frame around a word or a motif, etc.

I am currently adding embroidery to my Hearts in Stitches quilt. After I made the quilting with my wonderful Janome, I took a look at the quilt and decided that I would do three vertical and curving lines. One on the left, one on the right and one between the two columns made of hearts. With the stem stitch. So I went to work, with a cup of tea and a few cookies…

It came to my mind that some of you might like to know the basics of how to do this stitch. So I made a tutorial explaining how to do it (see below the pictures). You can find a printable version on my web site, in French and in English, with drawings. I hope it will be useful to you.


My Attitude About Embroidery: I will not tell you what is the right or the wrong way of doing stitches. I am not an expert embroider and do not pretend to be a master in this trade. I make embroidery for the pleasure of doing it, the gesture of passing a needle through fiber and seeing a motif taking form gradually. I am not seeking perfection and never expect it from others. My only wish is that you can also enjoy stitching! ☺


I like to work this stitch from left to right (I am right handed). I usually work with two strands of thread, but more than two can be used for a ticker result. First, I draw the motif I wish to stitch with a pencil (a straight or curving line). Then, I make the smallest possible knot at one end of the thread. I am now ready to start.

Note: if I do not want the knot to show on the back, embroidering an already quilted quilt, for example, I use the hand-quilting method to start and finish the thread. With the stem stitch, we do not stitch directly on the line but over it, from one side of it to the other. We cover the line with the thread, diagonally.

  1. Insert the needle into the fabric, from the back and slightly over the left tip of your drawn line (number 1 on the schema A, in the pdf version you can find here) and bring it out of the front. Pull on the thread (toward the ceiling, or the sky if you are lucky enough to be sitting outside) all the way through, until the knot stops you.
  2. Insert the needle into the fabric, from the front to the back, at number 2 (schema A) and, in the same movement, bring the tip of the needle out (from the back to the front) at number 3. Then pull the needle out of the fabric and pull on the thread.
  3. Insert the needle into the fabric, from the front to the back, at number 4 (schema A) and, in the same movement, bring the tip of the needle out (from the back to the front) at number 5. Then pull the needle out of the fabric and pull on the thread.
  4. Repeat until you almost reach the end of your drawn line (number 11 on schema B, below). Insert the needle at number 12, all the way from the front to the back and pull on the thread from the back. You can secure the loose end of your thread by going through the threads on the back, without punching the fabric with the needle. Cut the thread. Voilà!



12 thoughts on “The Stem Stitch

    • Thank you for the compliment! In my top menu, there’s a tab with the name “Community”. This is where I put all the buttons for the link parties I recommend and where I link some of my posts. Those I think are worth a weekly visit. There’s so many talented bloggers, so many creative projects to discover!

    • Quilting around embroidery can be somewhat bothersome. That’s where the idea came from. Doing the embroidery after the quilting makes everything more pleasurable. Thank you!

  1. France thank you so much for this fine tutorial. I only dabble in simple embroidery and this will help me so much. I love your instructions and your attitude about it – your sharing is fantastic. Thank you, thank you!

  2. Embroidery by hand is something so intimidating to me, but I used to say that about free motion quilting… Thanks for the lesson. I would love to try some lavender somewhere using a stem stitch.

    • Lavender is an easy motif to start with. You only do a few stem stitches in a row and you don’t have to be precise to obtain beautiful petals. I’ll soon post a tutorial about the chain stitch, the one I use for the stems of lavender. In my pictures above, the lavender stitched on jeans are on a bag I use during the summers and the lavender on the green background are stitched on a piece of cotton, which I sew on a card with my sewing machine to make a birthday card.
      P.S. I wish I could do free motion quilting as you did on your Flirt Panel. That is what is so intimidating to me!

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