How-To: Satin Stitch for Hand Embroidery

by Jenny Hart

How do I solidly fill in a shape? And how long can I make my stitches? And what if they don't look nice around the edges and I cry?  Whoa now. You can fill up a shape with stitches any number of ways (concentric split stitches, random straight stitches, fill it with French knots), but a satin stitch is a good method to know. (Doesn't have to actually be worked in or on satin, fyi.) 

Satin stitching can require some finesse, but don't let that stop you. Let's not get too hung up on it looking perfect, okay? Okay...
How to Satin Stitch Step 1
Step 1: Let's say you have a space on your pattern you want to fill in. Like this.

Step 2: Start by bringing your needle up from behind your hoop, along the pattern line.

TIP: I think it's easier to start in the middle of the shape and work outward toward each end. Imagine if this were a circle: spanning the diameter first is much easier than trying to start at the outer edge.


How to Satin Stitch Step 2

Step 3: Re-insert your needle directly across from your last exit point. You'll be making stitches that span all the way across the shape. See where I'm going with this?

Step 4:
 Pull the floss all the way through, and there you have your first stitch in the process! Okay, now pay close attention to this next, important step:

How to Satin Stitch Step 4

Step 5: Start your next stitch across from, but not next to, the end of your last stitch. You'll do this every time. Don't try to make your next stitch come up right beside the end of the last one -there won't be enough fabric in between, and you'll have a little gap of fabric peeking through each stitch, when we want them as close to side-by-side as possible. 

Step 6: "1" is where you first came up, "2" is where you went back down, "3" is where you'll come up again next, "4" is where you go back down again...and repeat. Your next stitch will always start across from the end of the last one. This also means that the back of your fabric will look the same as the front!

How to Satin Stitch Step 4

Step 7:
 Then have at it! Stitch toward one end, getting smaller and smaller...yes, it can get tricky. Especially around the bend. Don't give up!

Step 8:
 Finish the other half! It will probably look really terrible to you, because you've been looking intensely at it, inches away from your nose. Stop looking at it. Set it down, forget about it, and then pick it up again later. I bet you will be surprised by how nice it looks!

Working this way (doing the shape half-and-half) is just a personal preference of mine. You can instead start your first stitch at either end with the smallest point. I discovered that I get neater results if I work this way. 

Wanna see what it can really look like? 

vintage linen and pattern from my collection

Don't let this fine example scare you away! It's one of the loveliest examples of satin stitching I've found. If you look closely, they've alternated short stitches with longer stitches in the areas that are really narrow. (The word "his" measures just a little over 2" wide, btw.)

How long can I make my stitches? Well, that depends on what you're making. Will it be worn? What's the snag factor? Will it hang on the wall, or go on a three-year-old's overalls? How long you dare to make your satin stitches is a choice you must make on your own, little stitcher. (I usually don't make any longer than an inch, if you must know.)

What about uneven edges? If you really don't like the way your edges look (too jaggy?) then you can go outline the whole thing in a split stitch or back stitch (or French knots) to cover up your uneven edges (and make it really pop -especially if you use another color). 

But, I bet it doesn't look as bad as you think it does. xo Jenny

 Still need to learn some more basic stitches?

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Text, photos, illustrated diagrams and instructions by Jenny Hart ♥ © 2002 - 2019 Sublime Stitching ®. All Rights Reserved. No part of this tutorial may be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission from the author.