What Is an Embroidery Stitch?

Mary Ellen Popolo

Embroidery is a beautiful craft in which a needle and special threads are used to create stitched embellishments on fabrics, either by hand or by machine. The stitches are collectively referred to as embroidery stitches, and there is no one specific embroidery stitch. The term is used generically to refer to any of the different stitches used in embroidery. Some of the most common embroidery stitches are chain stitches, cross stitches, back stitches, and satin stitches. A few different types of knot stitches can also be classified as embroidery stitches, such as the French knot, the double knot, and the cable chain knot.

Embroidery machines are capable of reproducing preset embroidery stitches.
Embroidery machines are capable of reproducing preset embroidery stitches.

Decorative accents on items such as tablecloths, clothing, pillows, and purses can be created with embroidery. Other times, embroidery can be done on fabric to create or enhance an image, sometimes using a combination of several different stitches to create beautiful scenes and pictures. Often, embroidery is used to add a monogram or logo to items such as jackets or hats. Embroidery is done with a special type of thread, called embroidery floss, which is available in just about every color and in several different textures.

Embroidery is the craft of creating decorative patterns with thread.
Embroidery is the craft of creating decorative patterns with thread.

Each embroidery stitch is created by a different technique of inserting the threaded needle in and out of the fabric, and each type of embroidery stitch has a different look when completed. For instance, cross stitches are made by forming a series of the letter "X," usually in large groups of closely grouped stitches, while a satin stitch is created by using a sewing-like motion to place several threads close together, for designs like monograms or flowers. The simpler stitches, such as the chain stitch and the back stitch, are easy enough for a beginner to master without much practice. Other stitches, such as the French knot, buttonhole stitch, or feather stitch are a bit more complicated but can be learned with a little bit of patience and practice.

A punch needle can be used for some types of hand-made embroidery.
A punch needle can be used for some types of hand-made embroidery.

An embroidery machine takes all of the guess-work out of embroidery and can embroider items in a fraction of the time it would take to hand-embroider them. Machines can reproduce a selected embroidery stitch to add accents to items and are often used when several items are going to be embroidered with the same design, such as hats for a baseball team. Modern embroidery machines look like sewing machines and operate basically the same way. Many can also do sewing as well as embroidery.

Embroidery is often used to decorate quilts and linens.
Embroidery is often used to decorate quilts and linens.
Kasuti is a type of embroidery that involves elaborate patterns.
Kasuti is a type of embroidery that involves elaborate patterns.

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Discussion Comments


@sunnySkys - I don't see the harm in using a machine's embroidery library to enhance your clothes. I mean, why not? If you have access to the technology, you should use it. It's much faster and probably neater than doing it by hand!

I know people used to have no choice but to hand embroider though. I've seen a lot of amazing samples of embroidery in museums, and I'm almost amazed that someone did all of that by hand. I imagine many of the things I've seen probably took hours and hours of work.


@strawCake - That sounds cool. I've cross-stitched before, but I don't know if I'm skilled enough to put embroidery on something I'm actually planning to wear! However, I have been wanting to branch out and look at some different embroidery stitches instructions. So maybe one day!

Either that or I could look into using a machine to embroider some designs on my clothes. My sewing machine actually has a setting to do some simple embroidery. I've never tried it out though! It almost seems like using a machine to embroider kind of defeats the purpose of making something yourself.


My mom knows how to sew and embroider. When she was younger, she used to make a lot of her own clothes and then embellish them with embroidery designs. She still has a pair of jeans she made in the 1970's. She embroidered a dove on one of the pockets!

I believe she used the satin stitch for most of the body of the dove and a French knot stitch for the eye. In my opinion, the jeans look like she bought them that way. They don't look homemade at all!


I first bought embroidery floss when learning to make friendship bracelets. It involved using six strings of floss in various colors and making a series of knots along each one.

After I had made my fill of bracelets, I started experimenting with embroidery stitching. I always have been artistic, and I managed to stitch some pretty cool designs on some decorative pillow cases.

I also did some stitching on my purse made of canvas. I sketched out the design on paper first, and then I just went for it. I was surprised at how well it turned out.


@shell4life – I know what you mean. I love blouses that have been embellished with embroidery. You'll hardly ever catch me in a solid color blouse, unless it has embroidery stitches in a color that matches the material!

I wear a lot of scoop-neck shirts, and most of them have embroidered flowers or abstract designs around the neckline. Some of them have embroidered cuffs, and most of the stitching is done in a complimentary color.

I do have one purple quarter-length sleeve shirt with matching purple stitching along the neckline. Big purple roses line the scoop-neck, and they make this shirt look dressier than it otherwise would.


I love to buy jeans with embroidery on the hems and pockets. It just adds something special, and I can choose my top to match the thread, making what I'm wearing look more like an outfit and less like just a top and jeans.

I have a pair of flare-leg jeans with embroidered flowers and vines on the bottom six inches of the material. The flowers are bright yellow and red, and the stitching details the petals and centers.

The leaves and the twisting vines are olive green. These are my favorite jeans.

I also have a pair of capris with embroidery on an added piece of material. The manufacturer sewed a four-inch strip of navy blue silk onto the bottom of the hem and embroidered a swirly design onto it with gold thread.


My neighbor taught me how to cross stitch when I was about ten years old. I absolutely loved it.

At first, it was mentally challenging. I was always good at solving puzzles, and this qualified as one.

My neighbor taught me to stitch a row in one direction before coming back to cross my X's. She did say that some people prefer to make the X's as they go, but I preferred her method.

My first cross stitch project was a picture of a cat napping on a pillow. A lot of the cross stitch patterns available were old-fashioned, homey images like this one, but I didn't mind.


@julies - I wouldn't have the patience to do embroidery either. I think the look of machine embroidery stitches always looks professional though.

Our church ordered fleece jackets with the name of our church machine embroidered on the front. We were able to choose from different colors of jackets, but the embroidery was the same color.

The machine embroidered name was a nice way to add a special touch. There is also an online site that has a large embroidery library for machine patterns.

One of my friends has a machine and is always adding embroidery to her clothes or on an item to give as a gift. Once she gave me some towels that had a monogrammed letter on each one that she embroidered with her machine.


One of my college roommates was one of those crafty persons who loved to embroider. Even as busy as we were in school, she still found time to do this and found it very relaxing.

She taught me some of the embroidery stitches for beginners and I even finished a few small projects. This just wasn't for me though. I don't have the patience it takes to do this.

You could tell I didn't ever perfect this skill as the back of my pieces always looked terrible. I remember being told once that the back should look as neat and tidy as the front.

The back of my roommates projects always looked like they were supposed to. If you turned mine over there were loose pieces of embroidery floss in places they shouldn't have been.

I was much more relaxed picking up a good book than I was an embroidery hoop with a needle and floss.


The only embroidery I have ever done has been using the cross stitch with a few French knots from time to time.

It is amazing how one small 'X' embroidery stitch pattern can create so many beautiful designs. I learned out to embroider from my grandma.

She used to add colorful patterns to pillowcases and tea towels. She gave many new brides a set of tea towels with an embroidered pattern for each day of the week on it.

Even though I enjoyed learning how to do this, I have not picked this up for many years. I keep all of my supplies in a bag, but am so busy that I don't take the time to sit down and complete anything.


One of my favorite ways to embroidery is to use ribbon embroidery stitches. I use a combination of floss and ribbon to make some beautiful patterns and designs.

When working with ribbon, you can use many of the same hand embroidery stitches. The ribbon adds more texture and can also create a very feminine, romantic look.

There is also a specific ribbon stitch I use when I am making petals or leaves for flowers. I also like to use ribbon embroidery for embellishments on bags or purses. There is no end to the colors you have to choose from.

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