The 4 Best Embroidery Stitches For Outlining

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Here are the 4 best embroidery stitches for outlining that are easy to learn and have a neat and clean appearance. All four of these stitches are ideal for outlining shapes or for stitching words and letters.

Back Stitch

back stitch diagram

The back stitch is one of the most simple and commonly used embroidery outline stitches for outlines. It creates a smooth, even line, and it is easy to use for straight or curved lines. The basic back stitch is the foundation for many other decorative stitches in the back stitch family that you can also use to outline shapes with.


  • single or double threaded back stitch
  • Pekinese stitch
  • whipped back stitch

Learn some of these variations of the back stitch.

Tips for making smooth, even stitches

  • Focus on making the length of each stitch the same when working this stitch.
  • When working around curves, this stitch will appear smoother when the stitch length is shorter.
  • Use more or less strands of 6 strand cotton floss to control the thickness of this stitch
  • This stitch works well and looks great when worked with Pearl cotton (2-ply twisted) thread.

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Stem Stitch

how to do the stem stitch step by step

The stem stitch is another great embroidery stitch to use for outlines. It has a twisted rope-like appearance, and it’s great to use in decorative borders or (as the name references) for flower stems. It can be a bit trickier to stitch around curves, but when stitched attentively and with care, it can make beautiful outlines.

Stem Stitch Tips

  • Mark the fabric and make sure that your stitches follow the outline closely so that the stitches lay nicely.
  • Avoid making stem stitches too long. (Longer stitches will appear jagged on curved lines.)
  • This stitch looks great with stranded cotton floss, but it looks even more like a rope when used with Pearl cotton thread.

Split Stitch

how to do the split stitch step by step

The split stitch has a slightly thicker appearance than the stem stitch or back stitch. It is worked similarly to a stem stitch, except the needle emerges through the thread, splitting each stitch.

Tips For The Split Stitch

  • Works best to use divisible, stranded cotton floss.
  • Use an even number of strands for a more even looking stitch.
  • Shorten the length of the stitches around curves for a smoother appearance.

Chain Stitch

embroidery stitches for outlining - how to do the chain stitch

Last but not least, the chain stitch is one of my favorite embroidery stitches for outlining shapes and letters.

As the name implies, this stitch’s appearance looks similar to chain links. The stitches are looped and they are worked in rows. Similar to the back stitch, the basic chain stitch is the base for several different variations of stitches.


  • threaded chain stitch
  • zigzag chain stitch
  • twisted chain stitch
  • square chain stitch
  • cable chain stitch
  • heavy chain stitch
  • coral stitch

You can check out some of these variations of the chain stitch here.


  • For finer lines and lettering, it is easiest to use 2-3 strands of stranded floss.
  • Keep the stitches short and even as you work this stitch
  • Work this stitch in the same direction for a neater appearance. It can be obvious when rows of chain stitches are worked in the opposite direction of one another
  • Always insert the needle back into the hole where the thread is surfacing to form a neat, closed “chain link”.

Learn Even More

How To Embroider Straight Lines

Outline or Fill First?

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