Stem Stitch // Hand Embroidery Stitches

Stem Stitch // Hand Embroidery Stitches

A curved, red line of embroidery floss, demonstrating a stem stitch
A curved, red line of embroidery floss, demonstrating a stem stitch.



Stem Stitch
aka: Crewel Stitch, Rope Stitch, Stalk Stitch




Looped Solid-line


basic crewelwork ribbonwork surface


Leaf Veins Outline Stems

Watch this video on YouTube.


Stem Stitch ranks among the simplest stitches, often among the first taught to beginners. Interestingly, embroidery work is frequently referred to as Crewel Work, even though the actual Crewel Stitch (Stem Stitch) is not as commonly used in it. This discrepancy can lead to confusion regarding whether Crewel Work exclusively involves the Crewel Stitch (Stem Stitch).

The stem stitch entails consecutive straight stitches, where each stitch emerges beside the preceding one, creating a cord-like line, whether curved or straight.


When sewing a stem stitch on tight curves, shorten the length of each stitch to ensure a smooth curved appearance of the stitch line.

Step 1
Push the needle up through the fabric at the base of your stitching area. Pull the thread through to the surface.
Step 2
Decide on the stitch length and take the needle down through the fabric at that point.
Step 3
Pull the thread through the fabric leaving a loop on the surface of the fabric.
Step 4
Hold the loop out of the way to the right as you bring the needle up to the surface halfway between the stitch length.
Step 5
Leave the needle in the fabric while you tighten the slack on the loop against your needle.
Step 6
Pull the needle up through the fabric and make another looped stitch, equal in length to the first.
Step 7
Repeat step four, bringing the needle up halfway again between the stitch length.
Step 8
Again, leave the needle in the fabric while you tighten the slack on the loop against your needle.
Step 9
Repeat to the end of the line, each stitch should be equal in length and begin halfway along the previous stitch.


Evidence of Stem stitch has been uncovered in ancient Egyptian and Peruvian grave artifacts dating back to the 14th century BC and between 600 and 200 BC, respectively. Subsequent excavations at sites such as Kellis in Egypt (1st-5th centuries AD) and Mammen in Denmark (970 AD) further attest to the historical use of Stem stitch. In Peru, Chancay open weave darning utilized a lengthy Stem stitch to adorn gauze fabric with an open weave.

Throughout history, Stem stitch has appeared in various cultural and historical contexts. It adorned the Bayeux Tapestry in the 11th century, featured in Icelandic ecclesiastical works around the 15th century, and found its place in 17th century English Jacobean embroidery. By the 18th century, Stem stitch was utilized in diverse settings, including on Mandarin squares in China, as a primary stitch in Candlewick embroidery in the USA, and in shadow work. Its usage extended into the following century, employed in whitework and Broderie Anglaise embroidery, as well as by William Morris in his recreation of 17th century embroidery. Stem stitch was also utilized in Kashmir to outline motifs and found more general usage in locations such as Chinai in India and Meknes in Morocco.


Here are some projects you can complete that include this stitch!

Reference: RSN Stitchbank

Whipped Back Stitch // Hand Embroidery Stitches
French Knot // Hand Embroidery Stitches

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Hi, I'm Kate 👋

About the author

In a previous life (AKA: pre-kids), I was a web des/dev & photographer who loved to dabble in numerous arts and crafts. Now, I'm a cross-stitch & embroidery pattern designer and full-time mum to Charlie & Alex, with adult-diagnosed ADHD. Closet nerd, self-proclaimed hermit and professional procrastinator. I have a secret crush on modern architecture, brush calligraphy, sweets, pretty nails and pastel colours.

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