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Split stitch

  • Kensington outline stitch

This is a form of back stitch, with the needle splitting the centre of the previous stitch rather than coming up in the same hole.  This results in what looks like a mini chain stitch.

The earliest notable use of split stitch is within Opus Anglicanum where it was used extensively as a filling stitch to provide fine details such as faces.  It was used in a similar manner in 14th century Byzantine embroidery. 
It continued to be used in traditions across the world: in late/post Medieval Icelandic (especially ecclesiastical) embroidery, split stitch was one of a small group of prominent stitches; in China during the Ming dynasty it was used to create precise lines; 17th century floral Icelandic embroidery used to decorate garments was predominantly worked in split stitch; 19th century Arts and Crafts embroidery used split stitch as filling stitch for flesh.

Split stitch is generously sponsored by Margaret Dalling

Method

1

Bring the needle up at the start of the design line.

2

Decide on the length of your stitch and take the needle down through the fabric, on the line at the desired length. Pull the thread through to the underside.

3

Push the needle up through the fabric in the centre of your first stitch, splitting the thread with the needle on the way to the surface.

4

Each stitch should be equal in length to the first stitch but halfway back along the previous stitch. Continue along the painted line.

5

Pull the thread through to finish the second stitch. Start the third stitch at the end of the first, halfway along the second.

6

Finish the third stitch in the same way as before.

7

Continue to work along the design to the end.

Split stitch

Structure of stitch

Related Stitches

Identifying Split stitch

Occasionally used as an outline stitch, but more often used as a foundation stitch hidden under solid filling stitches such as Long & Short or Satin stitch to gain a smooth edge. A split stitch should split the stitch from the underside and from the surface looks like a fine miniature chain stitch. From the reverse the stitches will look like a small back stitch.

References

  • Letitia Higgin, RSN Handbook of Embroidery (1880) , p.22–3
  • S. F. A. Caulfield, Blanche C. Saward, The Dictionary of Needlework (1882) , p.194
  • Mrs Archibald Christie, Samplers and Stitches (1921) , p.50
  • Mary Thomas, Mary Thomas’s Dictionary of Embroidery Stitches (1934) , p.15
  • W.G. Paulson Townsend, Louisa F. Pesel, Walter Crane, Embroidery or the Craft of the Needle (1907) , p.p.246, plate 57 fig.2
  • Clare Browne, English Medieval Embroidery - Opus Anglicanum (2016) , p.15
  • Kathrin Colburn. (2006) 'A Double-Headed Eagle Embroidery: Analysis and Conservation', Metropolitan Museum Journal pp.65-73. Available at: https://www.jstor.org/stable/20320661
  • Elsa E. Gudjonsson. (1982) 'Traditional Icelandic Embroidery', Reykjavik Icelandic Review. Available at: https://www.scribd.com/doc/50608406/Traditional-Icelandic-Embroidery
  • Schuyler Cammann. (1962) 'Embroidery Techniques in Old China', Archives of the Chinese Art Society of America pp.16-40. Available at: https://www.jstor.org/stable/20067040
  • Willem Vogelsang, 'Embroideries from Iceland', TRC Leiden (2017). Available at: https://www.trc-leiden.nl/trc-needles/regional-traditions/europe-and-north-america/embroideries/embroideries-from-iceland (Accessed: 26 August 2021)
  • W.G. Paulson Townsend, Louisa F. Pesel, Walter Crane, Embroidery or the Craft of the Needle (1907) , p.123

Examples of Split stitch from the RSN Collection