Whitework Tutorial II – Stem & Long-Short Stitch

As the internet will let me down here for at least another week here, I have decided not to leave you all hanging anymore and get back to blogging now. It is about time I share with you the long-promised embroidery tutorial, detailing the new stitches I used to embroider the reticule for the “Yellow” challenge. The two “new” stitches are the stem stitch and the long-short stitch. I used them in addition to the back and satin stitches introduced in the Whitework Primer.

When you look at the reticule again, you will find stem stitching on the veins of the leaves, the yellow seed pods and, as the name suggests, on the stems. The long-short stitch I used to fill and shade the small flower petals at the top.

Initially, the shading was not part of the plan, but then I took the embroidery on a journey to Sweden with me. Then, on a little shopping tour, I ran into a crafts store called “Panduro Hobby”. There I found many shades of shiny DMC floss and could not resist buying some skeins in lighter shades of pink and purple… And now you can see the outcome of that little splurge on the finished piece. ;) Anyway, here is a brief photo walk-through of the two stitches starting with a little background on the uses and historical usage.


Stem Stitch

The stem stitch is one of the most common whitework stitches. It has been around in period embroidery (Regency as well as the later eras) and is still in use today. If you take a look at the “White Embroidery” chapter in Thérèse de Dilmont’s Edwardian “Encyclopedia of Needlework”, you will find two types of stem stitch. Here, the “modern” version I am showing you today was called the “sloping stem stitch”.

Sloping Stem Stitch from “The Encyclopedia of Needlework”.

What makes stem stitching so popular is its very variable usability. It can be used for decorative outline, but is also a quick and neat fill-stitch, if used in tightly spaced rows or columns. Another nice property of the stem stitch is that it takes tight curves very well. Hence it can also sometimes be found in stitched cursive monograms on handkerchiefs or undergarments.

Finished line of stem stitching.

As you can see here, a finished line of stem stitches looks a bit like a woven rope. I also like to compare it to the underside of a back-stitch. So, if you turn over the loom to peek at it, you will find a very similar structure. When doing the stitch it also sort of imitates the motions happening when doing a reverse back-stitch of sorts. Okay, maybe that sounds a little complicated, but you will see that it is actually pretty straightforward once you got into it. Here are the four easy steps it takes:

Step 1: Take a stitch forward.

First, thread you needle with floss or purl yarn. Come up on the front of your fabric and take a stitch forward. Come out at the back but do not pull the stitch through entirely, yet.

Step 2: Come up in the middle.

Next, you come back up in the middle of the little loop you just created. Now you can pull it all the way through.

Step 3: Take another stitch forward.

Now take another stitch forward, just like you did in the first step.

Step 4: Come up at the end of the previous stitch.

When you come back up this time, take your needle towards the end point of the previous stitch. Repeat the last two steps for the remainder of your stitching. If you like you can also choose to come up in the middle of the loop again, just like before. It is another way of doing the stitch and entirely up to you. I prefer poking through at the end of the previous stitch and only come up in the middle once, to secure the very first stitch of the line. It is the only way to keep it from unpicking itself, just as it would with the back stitch.



Long-Short Stitch

As opposed to the versatile stem stitch, the long-short, or long-and-short, stitch is purely a fill stitch,. And, admittedly, I am not quite sure if it has ever been used for period whitework. Yet it is a nice, fuss-free way to add some shading to your embroidery that adds a nice, shaggy texture to your work, counter-balancing the very smooth satin stitches. Yes, shaggy… even though the long-short stitch is actually a variation of basic satin stitching. This also makes it useful for filling embroidered birds with ruffled feathers.

Finished long-short stitch.

In the sample you can see how that comes to be. Basically, it has to do with the lineup of short horizontal stitches. Here you can also see why one should not use purl yarn for this stitch like I did. Since it is thicker than floss, it is harder to space the stitching evenly and this will make the outcome look a bit crooked. So please, be smarter than me and use a few strands of floss instead. ;) But, all in all, the long-short stitch is easier than the stem stitch. And here is how you do it:

Step 1: Take a horizontal stitch.

To start, come up at the front and take a horizontal stitch backward from where your needle is.

Step 2: Alternate short and long stitches.

Start your second stitch right on top, or below, the first one. It should either be longer or shorter than your first one. Continue your first column, alternating the long and short stitches as you go.

Step 2 1/2: Finish the first column.

Once the first column is finished, you are also done with making long and short stitches. For the next columns to follow, you will simply continue the pattern you just started, using horizontal stitches of the same length. This will automatically continue the alternating pattern you just started.

Step 3: Continue the pattern with even stitches.

You can continue the long-short stitch with the same thread and work the next column back down to the starting point. But, if you are shading, you can continue with a different color thread. Then you will begin the new column right next to the very first stitch you took earlier.

And that was it already. I hope this tutorial had been useful to extend your, historical and modern, stitch repertoire a little. As my own embroidery learning curve continues, I will try and add more new stitches to the collection. Below I have also included two useful sources and links to accompany you on your embroidery journey in the meantime.

For now, I will return to sewing a few new items for the Regency wardrobe. As it is, there probably will be no second dress this year because my first pair of short stays has sort of handed in its notice and I will have to make a new pair first. I think this one will get a busk and proper steel boning for more durability. But, as fall is rushing in here now, it is time to get comfy and cozy. And so, the shenanigans will continue with a few comfy and cozy Regency garments for the long, cold evenings and the even longer Sunday mornings spent lounging in bed. Please stay tuned as the journey continues.

Warmly, Nessa



Useful links:

Needle N Thread : On this page you will find tips and video tutorials for nearly every classic and modern embroidery stitch, explained by Mary Corbett who has a huge wealth of embroidery knowledge and experience. Her video on the stem stitch also shows you a sewing method to speed up the stitching.

”The Encyclopedia of Needlework”: This 1900s publication by Thérèse de Dilmont has a whole lot of useful advice on period needlework stitches and techniques. This link will take you to the chapter on whitework, but the rest of the book is just as readable.




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