Stem stitch

Stem stitch for hand embroidery is an easy way to follow a line of stitching, and works super well with curves. You might use stem stitch to turn your hand lettering into hand embroidery, to create the base of a simple wreath, or to stitch any number of line drawings or patterns you like!


Photo of yellow, pink, and green lines stitched onto dark blue fabric.
Finished lines of stem stitch following a gentle curve.

In this post, I've provided instruction in written, photo, and video format for how to do stem stitch (feel free to jump to the end, if video tutorials work best for you!).



Step 1: Bring your needle up through your fabric, and then back down any distance you like, making sure to leave a loop.


As always, I recommend keeping your stitches shorter for tighter curves; the curved line I'm stitching here is pretty gentle, so I'll be using somewhat long stitches.



Step 2: While holding your looped floss toward the outside of your curve, bring your needle back up through your fabric as close to your initial stitch as possible, and pull.


In general, stem stitch requires that we keep our "working floss" (which I usually refer to in stem stitch as our "looped floss") below our line of stitching. This is in contrast to outline stitch, in which case we'd hold our loop above our line of stitching. You can read more in depth about the differences between stem and outline stitch in another blog post.


When doing stem stitch, I usually recommend that you keep your looped floss to to the outside of your curve. Personally, I find this to be less confusing as I stitch than worrying about what's up or down as I turn my hoop around to stitch different sections of a project!



Your first stem stitch will look like a single straight stitch with a tail - doesn't look like much, but it's a start!



Step 3: Continue your line of stitching.


To continue your line of stitching, bring your needle back down the same distance as your first stitch.



Again, remember to leave a loop, and to hold that loop so that it's to the outside of your curve.



Bring your needle back up through your fabric, going through the hole you created with your first stem stitch, and pull.



Once you've stitched your second stem stitch, you can see that it's starting to form a rope-like, twisted shape - perfect for following curves!



Step 4: End your line of stitching.


Once you've reached the end of your line of stitching, you'll secure your final stem stitch by bringing your needle through your last hole (versus going up any distance on the fabric).



All done!



Video tutorial for stem stitch



I hope this was useful, and I can't wait to see what you make! If you'd like to share your work with me, you can always tag me on your social media accounts (@hopebroidery on Instagram and Twitter, @hope.broidery on TikTok). If you don't have public social accounts, but still want to share, consider emailing me a few pictures (hope@hopebroidery.com), I would love the chance to tell you how much I love your work!


Happy stitching!