- Crewel stitch
- South Kensington stitch
- Arrow stitch
- Rope stitch
- Stalk stitch
- Outline stitch
Stem stitch uses repeated straight stitches with each stitch coming up beside the previous stitch to form a rope-like line, curved or straight.
Evidence of Stem stitch has been found in both Egyptian and Peruvian grave artefacts from 14th century BC and between 600 and 200BC, respectively. Later excavations at Kellis in Egypt (1st-5th centuries AD) and Mammen in Denmark (970AD) also show the use of Stem stitch. From a slightly later period in Peru, Chancay open weave darning used a long Stem stitch to embellish an open weave gauze fabric.
It was used in the Bayeux Tapestry (11th century), in Icelandic ecclesiastical works from approximately the 15th century and in 17th century English Jacobean work. In the 18th century it was being used in China on Mandarin squares, in the USA as one of the main stitches in Candlewick embroidery, and within shadow work. By the following century it was being used in whitework (for muslin embroidery at the start of the century and then later for Broderie Anglaise), by William Morris in his re-creation of 17th century embroidery, and in Kashmir to outline motifs. More generally it was used in Chinai (on the coast of India), and in Meknes, Morocco.
Push the needle up through the fabric at the base of your stitching area. Pull the thread through to the surface.
Decide on the stitch length and take the needle down through the fabric at that point.
Pull the thread through the fabric leaving a loop on the surface of the fabric.
Hold the loop out of the way to the right as you bring the needle up to the surface halfway between the stitch length
Leave the needle in the fabric while you tighten the slack on the loop against your needle.
Pull the needle up through the fabric and make another looped stitch, equal in length to the first.
Repeat step four, bringing the needle up halfway again between the stitch length
Again, leave the needle in the fabric while you tighten the slack on the loop against your needle.
Structure of stitch
Stem stitch is similar to split stitch but instead of splitting the previous stitch, the stitch comes up beside it and continues in this way to form a continuous curved or straight line, giving a rope-like effect.
Stem stitch is used for fine straight or curved lines and, as the name suggests, it is often used for foliage and stems.
When stem stitch is used in crewelwork it is often used for stems of flowers and foliage.
Identifying Stem stitch
During the working, the thread must be kept to the same side of the needle to produce the characteristic twist of the stem, either to the left or to the right as suits the purpose. Each twist of the Stem stitch should lie in the direction of bottom left to top right for Stem Stitch or bottom right to top left if working Outline stitch.
S. F. A. Caulfield, Blanche C. Saward, The Dictionary of Needlework (1882) , p.180
Letitia Higgin, RSN Handbook of Embroidery (1880) , p.19–22
Letitia Higgin, RSN Handbook of Embroidery (1880) , p.51
Mrs Archibald Christie, Samplers and Stitches (1921) , p.7
Mary Thomas, Mary Thomas’s Dictionary of Embroidery Stitches (1934) , p.14
W.G. Paulson Townsend, Louisa F. Pesel, Walter Crane, Embroidery or the Craft of the Needle (1907) , p.p.245, plate 57 fig.1
Santina M. Levey, Discovering Embroidery of the 19th Century (1971) , p.10, p,11
Sheila Paine, Embroidered Textiles - Traditional Patterns from Five Continents (1990) , p.56, 64
Jennifer Campbell, Ann-Marie Bakewell, Guide to Embroidery Stitches (2004) , p.29, p.30
Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood, 'Tutankhamun and Decorative Needlework (Egypt)', TRC Leiden (2017). Available at: https://www.trc-leiden.nl/trc-needles/regional-traditions/middle-east-and-north-africa/ancient-middle-east-and-north-africa/tutankhamun-and-decorative-needlework-egypt (Accessed: 26 August 2021)
Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood, René Lugtigheid, 'Kellis Embroideries (Egypt)', TRC Leiden (2017). Available at: https://www.trc-leiden.nl/trc-needles/regional-traditions/middle-east-and-north-africa/ancient-middle-east-and-north-africa/kellis-embroideries-egypt (Accessed: 26 August 2021)
Willem Vogelsang, 'Mammen Embroideries', TRC Leiden (2017). Available at: https://www.trc-leiden.nl/trc-needles/individual-textiles-and-textile-types/fragments-and-panels/mammen-embroideries (Accessed: 26 August 2021)
Elsa E. Gudjonsson. (1982) 'Traditional Icelandic Embroidery', Reykjavik Icelandic Review. Available at: https://www.scribd.com/doc/50608406/Traditional-Icelandic-Embroidery
Lisa M. Klein. (2001) 'Early modern English embroideries: contexts and techniques', Bulletin of the Detroit Institute of Arts pp.38-41. Available at: https://www.jstor.org/stable/23182820
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
Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood, 'Kashmir embroidery', TRC Leiden (2017). Available at: https://trcleiden.nl/trc-needles/regional-traditions/indian-subcontinent/kashmir-embroidery (Accessed: 20 August 2012)
Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood, 'Chinai Work', TRC Leiden (2017). Available at: https://www.trc-leiden.nl/trc-needles/regional-traditions/indian-subcontinent/chinai-work (Accessed: 25 August 2021)
Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood, 'Meknes Embroidery (Morocco)', TRC Leiden (2017). Available at: https://www.trc-leiden.nl/trc-needles/regional-traditions/middle-east-and-north-africa/pre-modern-middle-east-and-north-africa/meknes-embroidery-morocco (Accessed: 26 August 2021)