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How to sew STEM STITCH & 3 beautiful variations

Learn how to embroider a stem stitch and its 3 variations Portuguese knotted stem stitch, Whipped stem stitch and cable stitch
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What is a Stem Stitch?

Stem stitch is a basic hand sewing/embroidery stitch known by names like Crewel stitch, stalk stitch, and South Kensington stitch.

 It is a great outline stitch that can be used to sew outlines of all embroidery designs, for sewing stems in your floral designs, and also works in outlining very tight curves easily and prettily..

A stem stitch is a basic outline stitch that everyone who embroiders must have used at least once. I remember learning this as the first stitch in my school embroidery class. It is the easiest of all embroidery stitches. 

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Keep the thread to the left as you make the stitches

The main considerations when sewing this stitch are

  • Keep the stitches even and small always; Tension should also be the same throughout.
  • As you sew, keep the thread down (below the needle) to the left of the needle – Always!
  • Make sure all of your stitches are of the same length.
  • Make sure your thread always lays to the same side on all of your stitches.
  • Always come up in the same hole as the previous stitch.
  • Keep the thread to the outside of the curve when working on a curve.
  • When working an area start each row from the same side.

The instruction given here assumes that you are working from left to right. The finished stem stitching line will look like a thin line from the front, and it will look like back stitches on the wrong side of the fabric. This stitch is used to embroider borders, delicate fabrics, and baby clothes.

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Embroidery floss or perle cotton thread

Use Perle cotton thread for a strong-looking stem stitch. The normal embroidery floss gives a softer-looking stem stitch..

The effect of the stem stitch also depends on the number of strands you are using for making each stitch.

HOW TO DO STEM STITCH

Step 1.

Thread your needle with 2 strands of embroidery floss. Knot the thread at the end.

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Step 2.

Bring up the needle from the back of the cloth with the knot anchored at the back at the start of the stitching line.

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Step 3.

Take the needle down a stitch (1-2). Then bring up the needle almost halfway back  (2-3 ) (with thread kept down on the left side of the needle).

The picture shows the sequence of stitches. Please note that the stitches are all made strictly on the stitching line.

Step 4.

Repeat the stitches, bringing up the needle always on the right side of the previous stitch.

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Portuguese knotted stem stitch

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The portuguese knotted stem stitch is a beautiful variation of stem stitch. The stitch looks like a rope when stitched with a thick embroidery thread. It is a very popular choice as an outlining stitch. It thickens the stem stitch with cute little knot like projections. 

When making this, remember that if you take smaller stitches, you will get a thicker line of stitches. Also, if you have a thicker thread, you will get a thicker line.  

How to do Portuguese Knotted stem stitch

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Step 1.
Start stitching one stem stitch upwards.

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Step 2.

Make two whipping stitches over this stitch.

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These will look like small knots.
Be careful not to pierce fabric when doing the whip stitches
Step 3.
Continue doing the stitches. After the first stitch, do the whipping stitches over two stitches.

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Whipped stem stitch

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Whipped stem stitch is a variation of stem stitch, which is used when you need a thicker line. This is one of my favorite outline stitches.
It is very easy to do and looks beautiful, especially when the whip stitches are done in a contrasting colored thread.

How to do whipped stem stitch

Step 1.
Do a single line of stem stitch

Step 2
Thread a tapestry needle ( or any blunt needle ) with a same color thread or a different colored thread.

Step 3
Make whip stitches over the stem stitching line.

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Ensure that the needle does not pierce the fabric at any time when doing the whip stitches. You have to go over and under the stem stitch.

Stem stitch Vs. Outline stitch

An outline stitch looks almost similar to the stem stitch – except for one small difference. The way the thread is kept when you take the straight stitch is different with the outline stitch – it is kept on the right side.

You can read about the outline stitch here.

Cable stitch

Cable stitch is a combination of stem and outline stitches; The stem stitch and outline stitch are used alternately in the design. It can also be called a double-stem stitch.

The sequence of stitching the Cable stitch is as in the diagram. Ensure that all the stitches do not deviate from the stitching line. 

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Related posts : Other basic embroidery stitches – Cross stitch; Back stitch; chain stitch embroidery designs images

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Author: Sarina Tariq
Hi, I love sewing, fabric, fashion, embroidery, doing easy DIY projects and then writing about them. Hope you have fun learning from sewguide as much as I do. If you find any mistakes here, please point it out in the comments.
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