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Thorn stitch

Thorn stitch main image

Thorn stitch is a decorative form of couching where a long thread is held down by an off-centred cross.  It is often used to depict thorny stems or ferns, hence its name. Any type of embroidery thread can be used to work this stitch: both couched and couching elements can be worked with a single thread or you could use a different type/colour of thread for the pairs of crossing stitches.  Our example has been worked with the thorns crossing the stem; some authors curve the end of the thorn around the stem to give a more naturalistic appearance (see the image at the end of the page from a 1900 publication by Penelope).

N.B. this is a different version of thorn stitch from Thorn stitch (Mountmellick).

Thorn stitch is generously sponsored by Diana Springall


In the example below, a simple straight line is used. If you need to cover a curved design line, lay the first long stitch loosely along the line to be embroidered.


Bring the needle up and work a long straight stitch. Then bring the needle up near the end of the first long stitch.


Work a pair of diagonal stitches so that they cross over the first long stitch.


Bring the needle up again to begin the next diagonal stitch.


Work a diagonal stitch, crossing over the first long stitch.


continue working pairs of diagonal stitches as required.


The pairs of diagonal stitches create the ‘thorns’ at each side of the long stitch.

Thorn stitch

Structure of stitch

Embroidery Techniques

Related Stitches


  • S. F. A. Caulfeild, Blanche C. Saward, The Dictionary of Needlework (1882) , p.195
  • Mrs Archibald Christie, Samplers and Stitches (1921) , p.19–20
  • Mary Thomas’s Dictionary of Embroidery Stitches (1934) , p.198
  • Jennifer Campbell, Ann-Marie Bakewell, Guide to Embroidery Stitches (2004) , p.108
  • Sarah Whittle, The Needlecraft Stitch Directory (2012) , p.107
  • Penelope, Jacobean crewel work and traditional designs (1900) , p.6

Examples of Thorn stitch

Thorn stitch diagram

The diagram is from Jacobean embroidery and traditional designs, published by Penelope in 1900.