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If you’ve ever picked up a needle and thread to sew on a button or mend a tear, you already know the foundations of embroidery. But embroidery can be elevated beyond those basics to a beautiful, elaborate art form by using a variety of different stitches. Read on to learn more about 19 of the most indispensable embroidery stitches, including what they look like and how to stitch them yourself.

19 Types of Embroidery Stitches

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Get creative with a combination of embroidery stitches.

Different types of embroidery stitches create very different effects on your fabric, so it’s ideal to learn more than just a couple of basic stitches. While some of them may look complicated, you’ll find that once you get comfortable with a needle and thread, the more advanced stitches don’t seem so hard. 

Below, we’re sharing a variety of stitches that you can practice and incorporate into your projects. If you find it easier to learn visually, check out one of these video tutorials.

Jazz Up Old Photos

Embroidery on Photographs With 10 Simple Stitches

1. Back Stitch

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Back stitch.

The back stitch is a foundational stitch that’s best for outlines. The idea is to have no spaces between the stitches on the canvas. Make one stitch, push the needle up through the fabric for the second stitch, and then stitch backward to fill in the white space between the first and second stitches. 

2. Satin Stitch

flower
The petals are examples of satin stitch.

Embroidery floss tends to be glossy with a smooth satin finish. Satin stitch is the name for straight stitches placed side-by-side to give a satin-like surface texture on your canvas. 

3. Stem Stitch / Outline Stitch

how to stitch
Stem stitch and outline stitch.

The stem stitch and the outline stitch are essentially the same, but the stitches twist in different directions. If you keep the floss above the stitches, it’s called an outline stitch, whereas if you keep the floss below the stitches, it’s called a stem stitch. See how it’s done in this class.

4. Chain Stitch

ginko leaf made out of embroidery
Chain stitch

Chain stitch is a line of stitches that look like, well, a chain. It’s quite simple and creates a textured surface. Learn how to do chain stitch in this class

5. Buttonhole Stitch

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The white flower here uses buttonhole stitch.

In embroidery, the buttonhole stitch doesn’t have to be used for literal buttonholes. It’s made by catching part of the stitch up with the needle, carrying the floss over a fraction of an inch, and reinserting the needle. It’s easier than it sounds! See how to do buttonhole stitch in this intermediate class.

6. Couching Stitch

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A curved couching stitch.

Couching is creating one long stitch and then putting a series of smaller stitches over the top to anchor it down. It works for straight or curved lines.

7. Coral Stitch

coral
Source: instagram
Coral stitch.

Coral stitch is similar to couching stitch but a bit trickier. Instead of creating one line that you then anchor down with small stitches, coral stitch anchors the line down as you go along.

8. Bullion Stitch

flowers
The pink portions are examples of bullion stitch.

Bullion stitch is a textured stitch that’s formed by pushing the needle up through the back of the fabric and winding the floss around the needle a few times before inserting the needle back down through the fabric. Check out how to do bullion stitch here.

9. Pistil Stitch

a stitch
Pistil stitch.

The pistil stitch is formed in a similar way to the bullion stitch. Insert the needle from back to front and wind the floss around the needle once or twice. Instead of reinserting the needle next to where it came up through the fabric, reinsert it further away so you end up with a long, straight stitch with a small knot at one end. 

10. Turkey Stitch

girl drinking coffee
The pom pom on the hat uses turkey stitch. 

Skillshare embroidery instructor Amanda Neely says that turkey stitch is her favorite stitch. Also called ghiordes knots, Turkey stitches create a kind of pile that emerges out of the surface of the fabric: think of the pile of a shaggy rug. Learn how to make turkey stitch in Neely’s class.

11. Braid Stitch

a braid stitch
Source: wikimedia
Braid stitch.

Braid stitch is also called cable plait stitch, or a gordian knot. The end result looks somewhat like a braid. This intricate stitch is best for intermediate embroiderers and above.

12. Palestrina Stitch

stitches
Source: wikimedia
The darker sections of this example are palestrina stitch.

Palestrina stitch creates a knotted textured line. It’s formed by stitching a small diagonal stitch and then threading the needle through that stitch first from top to bottom on the left, then from top to bottom on the right, and repeating. See more about how to do it here.

13. Scroll Stitch

scroll stitch
Source: wikimedia
Scroll stitch.

Think of an old-fashioned paper scroll with curled ends. That’s kind of how scroll stitch looks. It’s a pretty stitch, great for floral or ocean patterns, and not too difficult for intermediate embroiderers. 

14. Oyster Stitch

flower
Source: instagram
The red and blue “petals” in the center use oyster stitch.

Oyster stitch looks more complicated than it is. If you can do chain stitch, then you can probably do oyster stitch, which is similar but forms petal-like knots rather than long chains.

15. Portuguese Knotted Stem Stitch

portugese stitch
Source: instagram
Portuguese knotted stem stitch.

The Portuguese knotted stem stitch combines aspects of the regular stem stitch and knotted stitches. It’s easy enough to do if you’ve already perfected those simpler stitches.

16. Buttonhole Bar Stitch

buttonhole stitch
Source: instagram
Buttonhole bar stitch. 

The buttonhole bar stitch is more advanced than the regular buttonhole stitch. It’s formed by doing a series of blanket stitches over a foundational bar of a few straight stitches that protrudes from the surface of the fabric. Confused? It is advanced, but it’s easier to follow if you see it being done.

17. Knotted Chain Stitch

knotted chain stitch
Source: instagram
Knotted chain stitch.

Another advanced stitch, knotted chain stitch combines aspects of the simple chain stitch and embroidery knots.

18. Knotted Diamond Stitch

Knotted diamond stitch.
Source: instagram
Knotted diamond stitch.

Resembling the spine of a handmade book, the knotted diamond stitch is decorative and great for borders or even more abstract works of embroidery.

19. Knotted Pearl Stitch

flowers in grass embroidery drawing
Source: instagram
The purple flowers in the center are knotted pearl stitch.

When stitched neatly and tightly, knotted pearl stitch can resemble a line of pearls (if you squint!). You pass the needle over and under the working thread to form little knots. It’s easier done right-to-left than vice versa, but once you’ve mastered the technique you can reverse the logic to do it the other way.

Embroider Your World

Armed with this encyclopedia of embroidery knowledge, you’ll be ready to stitch a vast array of beautiful, interesting, or quirky subjects. While you might associate embroidery with old-fashioned tablecloths or napkins, contemporary embroidery artists are pushing the boundaries of this traditional art form and showing how your grandma’s favorite pastime can also be fresh and modern. Have fun experimenting!

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