Stem stitch - embroidery how-to, quick video, and step by step guide

What is the stem stitch and how do I use it?

The stem stitch is a traditional outline stitch in hand embroidery. It has a twisted look, which gives this stitch a flowing texture, different than that of the backstitch or split stitch. It is often used for stems in simple embroidery flowers. In the Stitching Raccoon Sampler, the stem stitch is used for the leaves and stem of the tulip flower.

Stem stitch in the Stitching Raccoon Sampler

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Stem stitch diagram

Below is what a typical diagram for the stem stitch may look like in an embroidery pattern or on other how-to pages. 

Stem stitch diagram

See the stem stitch in action:

Follow along with this quick video to see how each step of the stem stitch comes together.

Step-by-step instructions

Now, let's walk through each step in the stem stitch together.

Step 1: To begin, bring your needle up at your starting point, then back down about a stitch and a half length away. Do not pull the embroidery floss all the way through yet.

Image of stitching the stem stitch
Image of stitching the stem stitch

Step 2: Now, bring the needle back up halfway between the stitch and along the stitch line. The needle should be coming out along the side of the stitch, not through the middle of the strands. Pull the thread tight. 

Image of stitching the stem stitch
Image of stitching the stem stitch

Step 3: Keeping your thread to one side, make another stitch, coming back through the last stitch hole along the line. Pull the thread through. Continue working your way forward in this way, keeping the floss along the same side of the stitch each time.

Image of stitching the stem stitch
Image of stitching the stem stitch

Step 4: To finish, insert your needle down about a stitch length from your last stitch. This should make a seamless final stitch.

Image of stitching the stem stitch

Step 5: To go around a 90-degree corner with the stem stitch, insert your needle down at the corner as if you were finishing the line. Now, on the back side of your embroidery, send your needle through the closest loop to secure the last stitch and then come back up at the corner.

Image of stitching the stem stitch
Image of stitching the stem stitch

Step 6: Continue stitching the other direction repeating the first two steps again. To finish, insert your needle down about a stitch length from your last stitch. This should make a seamless final stitch.

Image of stitching the stem stitch
Image of stitching the stem stitch

Save it for later

Want to remember how to do the stem stitch? Pin the image below to Pinterest as a quick reference for later!

Stem stitch diagram for Pinterest

Give it a try, you can do it!

Now it's your turn to grab a needle, some embroidery floss, and give it a go! Practice the stem stitch, along with other basic embroidery stitches, in the Stitching Raccoon Sampler. Get the embroidery pattern for FREE by signing up below!

Image of finished Stitching Raccoon Sampler

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