Straight stitching


Most embroiderers, myself included, have at least one book on their shelves called something like 101 Embroidery Stitches.  This is a bit like having all those programmes on an automatic washing machine: 80% of them are superfluous.  Most of my work uses a very small number of stitches: running, seeding, back stitch (whipped and otherwise), fly, herringbone, colonial knots.  But for a project that I have been doing for the last couple of weeks I decided that I would branch out a bit and try something new.

I wanted to do something with the lines and striations on some beach pebbles:


I was also influenced by the spiky vegetation around the beach where I found the stones:

I wondered about lacing some herringbone or cretan stitch but in the end reached for the magnificent and ancient Constance Howard’s Book of Embroidery Stitches.  This is a real oldie but goody, black and white throughout but magnificently clear:


It is now quite expensive on Amazon and the like, but there may well be copies in second-hand book shops and, if so, they really worth snapping up, particularly if, like me, you love seventies embroidery.  Plus Constance Howard apparently used food colouring to dye her hair, which makes her a style guru as well.

All that aside, I decided, unsurprisingly, to have a go at thorn stitch.  It is as prickly as its name suggests, but it is also really easy to do and you can use it in a lot of ways.  The basic stitch is:


This is basically an asymmetric cross stitch over a base thread, which makes it very good for couching.


This is a page from my sketchbook showing how I got to this point.  I had a go at it and found that I really enjoyed doing it.  Here are some dark photos of the end results (I experimented with a different form of lighting which didn’t really work):


This is the basic stitch done in a fine perlé cotton.


This is a thicker thread, but still a basic version of the stitch.  But then I decided to do some couching of a dyed knitting tape which I knotted randomly.  The couched knot approach is a brilliantly simple way to get a lot of texture into something, and this variation really did give me something organic:


I also used a mix of threads for the couching, some perlé and then some ordinary sewing thread.  After I had completed the pieces (which I will put up separately), I was so entranced by the possibilities of the stitch that I made a little sampler:


I really enjoyed threading the beads onto the couched thread and then arranging and anchoring them with the thorn stitch over the top.  It’s a bit hard to make out but the sample second from the left has a wrapped or whipped couching thread, which also worked well.  The beads are from a charity shop necklace I took to pieces.

I used some other stitches to get a spiky effect.  I love fly stitch because it is easy and really versatile:



It gives a softer effect, though, as it is a loop stitch not a stab stitch:


Nice here in a very fine perlé thread.

And I used the stitch I learned at the Mandy Pattullo workshop that I went to, fern stitch, which is also pretty spiky:


I have used this in other projects:


In this project I used it as a border:


I started this project on a brilliant weekend with Sue Barnes at Shore Cottage Studio in Heswall.  I cannot recommend it highly enough and will post about it separately.




9 thoughts on “Straight stitching

  1. I really enjoyed this article Ann. Got me thinking! Reminded me of a day I spent many years ago with Louis Watson doing fly stitch! Great! Thanks Pat

  2. Beautiful natural inspiration (look like Pembrokeshire pebbles, have similar arranged in my garden) and beautiful follow-up work. Have you got to the V&A ecclesiastical embroidery exhib yet? A real visual treat with some amazing garments, with remarkable colour preservation.

  3. This is an excellent post, so clear about the stitches, and they are so effective. I can’t do herringbone or fly stitch but
    maybe could try this one ( my limits are running and chain stitches, but you can do a lot with them!)

    1. Thanks for this. I agree – almost everything I do is a variation on straight stitches. I think you could master thorn stitch though. And fern. Both pretty much straight stitches too. Thanks for commenting.

  4. Dear Ann
    As always, a lovely post that I enjoyed reading. I love the way you have used the stitches for organic texture.
    I can confirm that Constance Howard’s hair was a beautiful emerald green. I met her when she was external examiner for my BEd in Textile and Design at Cardiff University! She was lovely, very generous in her advice, and encouraging. I recently met Diana Springal, who is very lovely too, and she confirmed that Constance was using food dye, because the colour would rub off on pillow slips!
    All the best
    Ulrike xx

    1. How brilliant. She seems to have been such a character. I like the idea that she accidentally got the dye in her hair the first time and went on from there. I wold love to meet up again. Is there anything on in Oxford we could meet up to see?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s