For every stitch known to the modern embroiderer, there are opposing viewpoints as to how to execute them.  It takes a wide variety of experience to understand that while no approach is necessarily wrong, it may not necessarily lead to success.  Sometimes just believing in something is enough to make someone try harder. In the end, that is what matters.

The biggest hurdle an early intermediate stitcher has to overcome is satin stitch. This stitch is often the barrier to growth. What it takes is practice. For some this will mean a long period with less than ideal results, for others, it seems to come more quickly. Too many stitchers have little background in a wide variety of skill, and then can’t understand why, when they try satin stitch, they are stumped.

If you lack experience with needle and thread, the easiest way to begin to learn your ultimate goal of smooth satin stitching is to start with closed blanket stitch, then venture to fishbone. When you can do these well, you can do satin stitch well.

Advice is often given to edge the motif with stem, split, or chain stitch prior to satin stitching. That is a technique used in padded work and shaded embroideries. It isn’t necessary or correct in all situations. For an inexperienced stitcher, this technique often isn’t any more effective. If the outline stitches are too large or too loose, the satin stitches pull them out of position. Also, if the outline stitching used isn’t exactly on the line of stitching, the edge still won’t be smooth. And for the very inexperienced, you are still left with the dilemma: “Where do I put my needle?”

True satin stitching looks the same on both sides. There is another type which saves thread, but that is used for a different type of embroidery and for larger motifs. For more information, please see the essay on Laid Work.

In truth, embroidery is a patient endeavor, executed with love and care. Especially today, when it is not so often done for utility but rather as a way to give of ourselves in a creative way. So, to get the results you eventually seek, you will have to be patient with yourself and simply practice.

If you can’t maintain a smooth outline with fishbone and closed blanket, your satin stitching won’t look any better. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try it, but don’t expect competent results. Once you are getting fairly proficient with these two stepping-stone stitches, you should try satin stitching on a one-half inch square, a small rectangle, and a small circle on muslin. You should also use just one strand of

floss and a size 10 crewel (embroidery) or sharp needle. Another stratagem of inexperienced stitchers is trying to hurry up the project, so they use several strands of floss.  Without a laying tool of some sort, the result is lumps and twisted threads.    (See Part Two)

Why muslin for practice? Because it is cheap and because it is fine enough to see what you are doing and what you need to do. Satin stitching on it with one strand of floss works perfectly because you will be able to use every space between threads of the ground for perfect coverage.

The following are the first steps to take:

When tracing your practice motifs, make certain you trace them precisely. If you waver your tracing pen the slightest, the satin stitching will wobble right along with it. With experience, you’ll be able to fix this as you stitch. In the beginning, if you draw a less than perfect line, but the stitched edge follows it exactly and smoothly, pat yourself on the back.

You always need a hoop or frame of some sort. Make several trial motifs on muslin and mount them. The fabric needn’t be drum tight, but should be taut enough that it won’t pucker with the tension required for smooth satin stitch. You do not need to mount small, padded motifs which are worked over the index finger. However, that is advanced work and mentioned here for the remote likelihood someone has heard of this method. Very tiny motifs can be satin stitched in hand if the stitcher is dexterous enough to be able to stretch the cloth with one hand. But this isn’t sensible for a novice stitcher who hasn’t mastered smooth satin stitching. Learn to do it well, then venture forth with other techniques.

Do not attempt to satin stitch large objects. The result will be sloppy, loose threads. About five-eighths inch (15 mm) is maximum. If the needle isn’t long enough to use the sewing method (in/out in one motion), with plenty of needle still visible (see first graphic) then it is too large to satin stitch. Other stitches can be employed in these circumstances, such as Romanian couching, plumaria stitch, and encroaching satin stitch.

Learning Blanket Stitch      Blanket stitch is a forgiving stitch, because the loop hides a less than perfect edge. In the meantime, you are gaining control and learning where the needle needs to go in and out. In addition, you will have a lovely raised edge. Most importantly, you are training yourself for the ultimate skill which is needlelace. In its basic form, needlelace is blanket stitch. In lace making, this stitch is referred to as tulle stitch or Brussels net.


Start at the center tip of the leaf shape. Affix thread and bring to the outside edge. Keeping it under the needle, make a stitch as shown.

Make sure your stitching is snug. Don’t be afraid to tug a little. On loosely woven fabrics, such as the one illustrated, the ground threads will open up a bit. When washed and pressed, the fabric will snug up again. If you pull too hard, the fabric will pucker.

Go slowly. Only experience will teach you how to correctly tension the thread. The only way to learn is to do it. If your threads are too loose and out of shape, pull slightly more next time. If the ground threads are pulled apart, leaving huge holes; or if your fabric puckers up, loosen your tension the next time.


The graphic at left is the finished leaf, with closed blanket on the left side, and open blanket (stitches variously spaced) on the opposite side. This gives a nice effect for leaves, creating shading and texture without a lot of fuss. Notice how the blanket stitch outlines the edge of the leaf shape.

Closed blanket stitch is a premium stitch used in old Hedebo, Schwalm, Mountmellick, and many crewel works.  Don’t thumb your nose at it. Doing it well means you are an accomplished stitcher. It should be your first line of creative tricks in hand embroidery.

Learning Fishbone Stitch     Another stitch as background experience toward smooth satin stitching is fishbone. Often used for leaves, this is a great stitch to gain skill in seeing how to angle the needle to get the thread right where you want it

and create smooth edges. Because we all have a dominant left or right brain, one side of the stitch will be more difficult to control. So the practice of this stitch is a great way to train your brain and muscles to better coordinate.



Affix the thread with running stitches and come up at the tip. Make a straight stitch a small ways down the central vein.

Come out to the left as shown.

You can go to the right, rather than left as shown. This is just the way I, personally, start this stitch. There is no difference. You will tend to go to the side that is easiest for you to control, or, simply out of habit.

Don’t fret about the size of this first, central stitch. Every stitcher has a “signature” way of doing fishbone. You will eventually settle in on your special way to produce this stitch. Different shapes will also demand a different approach. Only experience with actual stitching time will teach you. Sometimes even experience isn’t enough, and you will rip out a motif and start fresh with a new approach. That happens to the best of embroiderers. Ripping out isn’t a sign of novice status.


Make a straight stitch down a thread away from the first stitch.

Bring needle out at the right as shown.

Continue in this manner – going left, right, left, right – until the leaf is filled.

You may have to use the central hole more than once. You may have to adjust the angle. On very fine grounds, you may find you will make one stitch one thread to the right of your last stitch (at the center vein).

Or, with very thick threads, you may skip a ground thread. There are no “rules”. The object is learning to control the stitch on either side of a central line.


A finished leaf worked in fishbone stitch.

Many stitchers like to run stem stitch up the central vein once the fishbone is complete. This not only pronounces that vein, but hides any slight imperfections in your stitching — not because you made a mistake, but because of the choices you made for the outside edge and angle of stitches.

There are several methods for working fishbone stitch. This is the easiest.

One trick to create texture is to angle one side differently than the other. This creates a different play of light from one side of the leaf to the other.

If you’ve read this far and are determined to practice, I’ve done my job as a teacher. If you are also determined to just start off with satin stitching, then the following Part Two may be helpful.