Outlining with running stitch: a tutorial

I just realized it's been exactly a month since my last post, a very busy month behind the scenes but a very quiet one for the blog. Quietness can be a wonderful thing though! Especially when you make something with it, like a bit of embroidery.


Bewitching Botanicals napBewitching Botanicals motif with running stitch outline


I wanted to share with you how I made the running stitch outline for the small napkin I mentioned in my last post. You've seen both the front and the back of the embroidery, and now I will show you how to do the stitching itself. Running stitch for embroidery is so elegant in its simplicity. It's used for Sashiko, and you can play around with double running stitch to achieve the look of backstitch but without the bulk on the back of your embroidery. The variation I'm using here is based on Chinese embroidery, and looks almost like couching. For the napkin I used a design from the Bewitching Botanicals pattern set, for this sample I'll use a single lily shape, also from Bewitching Botanicals. (You can find a similar design in the free Hungarian Sampler embroidery pattern and series (download the PDF here), and you can read detailed step-by-step instructions for how to create the traditional Hungarian embroidery here and here.) First, transfer the design to fabric. I'm using a piece of Brussels Washer in Natural by Robert Kaufman, a linen-rayon blend, the same fabric I used for the napkin. I like the rustic look of the linen and the stability it provides for embroidery, while the rayon gives it a nice hand and drape. The Hungarian Sampler series begins with a couple of simple embroidery transfer methods to help you get started if you are new to embroidery or working with PDF embroidery patterns. For my thread I chose DMC's #5 perle cotton, which has a nice thickness to it that really brings out the "rustic couching" look of this stitch.


sample with perle #5 cotton


This thread's mercerized sheen also contrasts nicely with the rougher look of the linen. For the small sample below I'm using color #915 (I'll list the colors for the full napkin project at the end of this post). Start by bringing your needle up at the bottom of one of the curves. Leave a tail of about 2 inches (5 cm) at the back of the embroidery, we'll be weaving this in later to secure the thread.






Take a tiny pinch of the fabric about 1/8" (2-3mm) down the line from where you started, sliding your needle under just one, maybe two threads, no more.




Pull the thread through, pulling gently and not tightening the thread completely to keep the fabric from puckering.




Repeat with another tiny (1-2 thread) pinch of fabric another 1/8" (2-3mm) down the design line, and so on. If you catch more threads here and there - it's not a big deal: this is folklore embroidery, we are not looking for absolute perfection! I love the natural look that shows the tiny imperfections inherent to the work of living hands. When you get close to a sharp corner, make sure that the thread you slide the needle under is right at the tip of the corner.




When you want to finish your stitching on a particular unit, like a continuous shape, plunge the thread down while you still have a few inches of it left, one thread away from where the stitching began if you are finishing the design (again to keep the look of the running stitch intact).




To start stitching again, bring your needle back up one thread away from the stitching line, again to keep the look of the running stitch intact.




When you get to the end of a line like one of spirals on either side of the lily, you'll need to work your way back down the spiral to continue stitching the design. To do this, plunge the thread to the back of the embroidery.




Then, work the thread under the tiny stitches to take it to the point where you'll pick up stitching the design.






You can see why it's important to leave the stitches slightly loose: working the thread through the back of the embroidery would otherwise pucker up your fabric. Take the thread back to the front of the embroidery, one thread away from where the spiral spirals out to keep the look of the running stitch throughout the design.




Now continue on with the running stitches as before. To finish your thread, plunge it to the bottom of the embroidery, one or two threads away from the other stitches, as before.




Then work it into the tiny back stitches the same way we did on the back of the spiral. Finally, snip off the excess close to the fabric.




Do the same with the tail at the beginning of your thread, working it into the tiny stitches on the back and snipping off the excess close to the fabric.




Look! Isn't it pretty?




I stitched the napkin exactly the same way, using one full motif from the Bewitching Botanicals set .




Here are the colors I used - all DMC perle cotton #5: green #368, peach #353, magenta #915, gold #783, blue #517.

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