stem stitch

Every now and then I intend to post a stitch guide here. These are not intended as “how to” guides, more as reflections of my own techniques and experience.

My experience? I’ve been doing historical embroidery for over a quarter of a century, and I’ve probably made every stupid mistake there is to make (This makes me very wise – not!), and I’ve never been one for courses and formal instruction as I quite like making my own mistakes.

There’s no real order to which I will do these guides, either, they will just be reflections of whatever I’m currently mucking around with.

So, stem stitch. I tend to classify this as a backstitch variation, along with split stitch, because if you are doing either of these stitches for historical purposes they should look like upside down backstitch. Like backstitch I work stem without a frame – in fact I don’t use a frame very often at all, and hoops never (I hate them and will not be swayed, they are the devils work). If you can hold reasonable tension doing ordinary backstitch there’s no reason to burden yourself, or slow your work down, with unnecessary equipment that has no impact on the end result. Some techniques, like couching, need a frame, many don’t.

This is the back of my split stitch – it should be almost impossible to tell the back of split stitch from the front of back stitch (I feel as if I’m typing new tongue twisters)

And this is the front of the same bit – sorry its not the straightest seam

I tend to make my stitch no more than about 3mm, sometimes less if the piece is very detailed. It’s especially important to make stitches smaller on curves.

Speaking of curves, it can make a big difference whether you pass the thread above or below the stitch if you are making a tight curve. With the circle on the left the thread has been passed below the stitch – to the inside of the circle – and as you can see this creates a more uneven edge to the circle than the one on the right, which has passed above the stitch – to the outside of the circle. I think passing to the outside is neater and prettier as I don’t like to see the workings of the stitch in the finished piece.

If I need to make a very tight corner in this technique I find it’s best to make the tiniest stitch possible, right at the very corner.

Keeping it nice and sharp.

A lot of historical embroidery uses stem as a filler, which I love, but again the result is dependant uopn whether you pass the stitch above or below the needles.

This bar was done with four rows of stem, all passed below

And this one was done with the same four bars, but alternating above and below, which gives an interesting cable knit effect

Personally, for something like the mammen embroideries I’d try and keep all the stitches in the same direction, as I prefer the smooth look of the first. I’ve never found anything analysing the stitch direction of the original, but if anyone could point me at something of that ilk I’d be most grateful.

And here’s one I made earlier

Thanks to Gareth for taking macro photos for me. Btw, they were 30/2 silk, as is the collar

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~ by opusanglicanum on May 31, 2011.

2 Responses to “stem stitch”

  1. Thanks for the handy tip about circles 🙂

    I write the same way. Not as ‘tutes’ but as “how I did this, and what I experienced”. Which is not always good, but inevitably educational! *grin*

    • circles are always so hard, but I think small oens are easier to do. once they get over a certain size theres all that anxiety about whether or not the ends will meet up – soo nervewracking!

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