Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Stitch Chat

Have you ever used Split Stitch as a filling stitch? If you are familiar with split stitch, you might think it sounds like a slightly crazy suggestion especially when stitching with a single strand of silk but trust me, at times it makes perfect sense.
I have been using split stitch all afternoon to fill the narrow, curly shapes on the Blue Bird's shoulder and it reminded me of just how versatile a stitch it is. It is a fabulous stitch for that purpose and surprisingly not slow as one might think.

In contemporary embroidery, you might occasionally find split stitch used as a filling stitch in crewel work, but most often it is used only as a supporting stitch to outline shapes that will later be covered with another stitch, such as satin stitch or long and short stitch. However using split stitch for fillings is not a new idea. In medieval Europe the technique was widely used in both ecclesiastical and secular embroideries. In opus anglicanum, figures embroidered  entirely in split stitch with colourful silks, often with the most wonderful shading, stood against a background of solid gold.

Detail of the Cope of Pius II, embroidered in opus anglicanum in the early 
fourteenth century and donated to Pope Piccolomini at Pienza Cathedral in 1462.

Split Stitch

If you are new to split stitch, it is super simple to do:
1. Start with a small stitch at the end of the line. Bring the needle to the front, splitting the small stitch a short distance from the end. 
Take the needle to the back along the line to form a stitch the same length as the first.
2. Continue along the line, splitting each stitch as bring the needle to the front - it is not a tricky as it may sound.
2a. Wrong side. On the back of the work you will have a line of tiny stitches.

3. Corners. To turn a corner, work the last stitch just past the corner point. Bring the thread to the front, splitting the last stitch as before. Then continue along the adjacent side.
4. Curves. Adjust the length of the stitches around the curves; the tighter the curve, the shorter the stitch. This is where split stitch is really perfect. 
Split stitch filling
5. Stitch along one edge of the shape. At the edge, simply return in the opposite direction, keeping hte rows close together.
5a. Continue back and forth until the shape is filled.
If you want to watch a video tutorial, you can find a really good one on Neelde'N Thread.

I am really happy with the way these stitches worked for this part of the bird (and yes, this photo was taken upside down because that was how I was sitting at the frame at the time). 

 I am even more happy to be reminded just what can be done with this humble little stitch. What I particularly like about it here is how the result from a distance looks almost as if it is painted on. I hope you will try it too, like me, you might just be pleasantly surprised.

Happy Stitching,
Anna x


  1. This piece is stunning. I can tell that you are having a lot of fun stitching it.

    I like the slight change in texture and sheen of the stem stitch compared to the satin stitch. I think it is very interesting to use the same thread throughout but alter the texture by stitching in different ways.

    1. Hi Coral,

      I can't quite take credit for the idea using the many different textures, that came from Nicola. I do it in my crewelwork and will certainly be taking it with me into other types of stitching.

  2. Thank you so much for this tip; I had never considered using split stitch when embroidering with only one thread. It looks lovely on your bird and I am eager to try it on my own piece now. Thanks.

    1. Great to hear you can use the idea in your own stitching. Anna

  3. WOW Anna - this is really beautiful! I haven't done much embroidering since I was younger but I am still very drawn to it when I see it. Your thread colors are so bright and vibrant. Just love it!

    1. Thanks heaps Lori Ann, when I first started stitching seriously much of my work was rather toned down, but for the past couple of years I have been rediscovering brighter, happier shades and loving it.
      PS love the Picasso quote on your blog :-)

  4. Hi Ann, great post. I use split stitch in my crewel work for filling large areas. How do you avoid over crowding the rows of stitching? Or is it ok for it to be snug?

    1. Hi Alice. I like the rows to sit 'relaxed' side by side. The trick (especially when stitching with wool) is to allow a tiny space between the completed row and the one you are doing - just enough for that yarn to rest into. Hope that makes sense. Happy stitching Anna