How to Embroider Leaves – 9 Ways For All Shapes And Sizes

Leaves are some of the most popular things to embroider, and for good reason. Embroidery is a beautiful medium to use for making botanical and floral motifs because of the large variety of embroidery stitches that emulate them well. There are so many possibilities and variations of stitches you can use! In this post, I’ll share with you some creative ideas for how to embroider leaves.

an assortment of embroidered leaves with text overlay that says "how to embroider leaves"

How To Embroider Leaves

Before we get started, be sure to grab my free printable PDF that has all of the leaf designs so you can stitch along and learn them!

Satin Stitch

A very simple yet satisfying way to embroider leaves is with the satin stitch, which is essentially a series of straight stitches that are made next to one another to cover an area. When people refer to a “leaf embroidery stitch”, this is usually what they mean!

satin stitch leaf step 1
  1. Start at the very tip of the leaf and make a small straight stitch in the center.
satin stitch leaf step 2

2. Come up with your needle and thread along the marked edge directly to the right of the center stitch.

satin stitch leaf step 3

3. Make another straight stitch that ends along the center line just below the center stitch.

satin stitch leaf step 4

4. Continue making these stitches running at a slight diagonal, starting along the marked edge and ending along the center line. It’s helpful to avoid pulling these stitches super tight; I find that the stitches lay more neatly with a little less tension.

satin stitch leaf step 5

5. Fill in the entire right side of the leaf.

satin stitch leaf step 6

6. Then repeat for the left side, making stitches that run at the opposite diagonal. The bottom of each stitch should end along the marked line, touching the stitches on the opposite side but not overlapping into them. You’ll start to see a neat seam line form in the middle of the shape.

satin stitch leaf

Quick tip: This stitch is best used to fill in smaller areas. Carrying the thread over too large of an area can make it difficult to keep your stitches neat. I suggest using the long and short stitch for larger leaves, which you’ll learn about later on in this post.

Fishbone Leaf

The fishbone stitch is great to use to embroider a leaf because it creates a subtle line down the center that resembles the veins in a leaf. It’s worked very similarly to the satin stitch, except the stitches cross over one another, which gives it a bit more dimension.

fishbone leaf step 1
  1. Start with a small straight stitch at the tip of the leaf.
fishbone leaf step 2

2. Come up to the right side of the stitch and then back down slightly to the left of the center line. The bottom of the stitch should be level with the bottom of the center stitch so that they overlap one another.

fishbone leaf step 3

3. Repeat this on the left side, this time crossing over slightly to the right of the center line.

fishbone leaf step 4

4. Continue making these stitches, alternating sides as you fill in the shape.

embroidered leaf using the fishbone stitch

Fly Stitch

The fly stitch can be used in 2 different ways: stacked closely together or spaced out to form smaller leaves and stems.

Fly Stitch Leaf

fly stitch leaf step 1
  1. Make a single straight stitch along the tip of the leaf.
fly stitch leaf step 2

2. Come up along the edge of the leaf to the left of the center stitch. Insert your needle down directly to the right of the center stitch. Come back out to the front of the fabric along the center line over your working thread.

fly stitch leaf step 3

3. Pull the thread through. The working thread will now be above the stitch you just made. Make a small anchor stitch over top of it.

fly stitch leaf

4. Repeat steps 2 and 3 until you have filled in the leaf.

For Small Leaves And Stems

fly stitch stem step 1
  1. Come up directly beside the marked line. Then place your needle to the right of the marked line at the same level. Come up along the center marked line slightly below the first 2 points.
fly stitch stem step 2

2. Pull the thread through. Instead of making a small anchor stitch, make a longer stitch along the center line.

fly stitch stem step 3

3. Make another stitch directly below the last stitch. The bottom of the stitch should end directly below the first stitch along the center line.

fly stitch stem

4. Continue working these stitches along the marked line the desired length.

Long and Short Stitch

The long and short stitch is used to blend colors together and is the primary stitch used for thread painting. For leaves, you can use as little as 2 different shades of a color or more if you want a more gradual blend of colors. In this example, I’ll be using 3 on a leaf that is a longer shape.

A few tips before we get started:

  • Try to vary your stitches quite a bit; you don’t want to simply alternate “long, short, long, short”. Switching up the lengths of the stitches will help to blend the colors together better.
  • Use 1 strand of floss – it’s way easier to blend colors together.
  • When you are blending colors together, you’ll achieve a nicer blend if you go up through the stitches instead of down. I have no idea why it works, but it does!
  • Finally, don’t be shy about generously overlapping the stitches.
long and short stitch step 1
  1. Choose 3 shades of a similar color. For this example, I used DMC colors 832, 833, and 834.
long and short stitch step 1

2. Start at the bottom of the shape using the darkest color. Begin filling in the bottom 1/3 of the shape with vertical stitches that vary in length.

long and short stitch step 2

3. Switch to the next color, which will be the medium shade. Begin making long and short stitches, overlapping them into the darker color to blend them. Fill in another 1/3 of the shape.

long and short stitch step 3

4. Finally, fill in the top 1/3 of the shape with long and short stitches using the lightest color. Again, make sure you overlap these stitches into the medium color to blend the colors together nicely.

Once you’ve mastered the basics, check out this post that will show you a more advanced way to shade a leaf.

Closed Herringbone Stitch

This stitch is another one that adds a lot of dimension to your embroidery when you use it!

closed herringbone step 1
  1. Start with a small straight stitch at the tip of the leaf.
closed herringbone step 2

2. Come up to the right side of the stitch and then back down all the way to the left edge of the shape. The bottom of the stitch should be level with the bottom of the center stitch so that they overlap one another. (seems kind of similar to the fishbone, doesn’t it?)

closed herringbone step 3

3. Repeat this on the left side, ending the stitch along the right edge.

closed herringbone step 4

4. Continue making stitches, alternating sides as you fill in the shape.

closed herringbone leaf

How to Embroider a Leaf Vein

Many of the stitches in this tutorial naturally create a seam that resembles the center vein of a leaf, but another way you can stitch them is by using the split stitch.

embroidering leaf veins step 1
  1. This method works best when you fill in the leaf with satin stitches or long and short stitches. For this example, I filled the leaf in with satin stitches.
embroidering leaf veins step 2

2. Make a line of split stitches down the center of the leaf using a contrasting color. The split stitch is made by making a single straight stitch and then coming up through the center of the stitch. Then make another straight stitch, and repeat.

embroidering leaf veins step 3

3. Then make diagonal split stitches along the leaf in the direction the veins of a leaf naturally run.

Embroidering Tiny Leaves and Vines

Tiny leaves can be achieved with satin stitches or detached chain stitches. We’ve already covered how to do a satin stitch leaf, so now let’s go over how you can use detached chain stitches.

Detached Chain Stitch

detached chain stitch step 1
  1. Come up through the fabric at the base of the leaf. Then bring your needle back down through the same hole.
detached chain stitch step 2

2. Carefully pull the working thread, leaving a small loop on the surface of the fabric. Bring your needle and thread up at the top of the shape, placing the tip of the needle through the loop.

detached chain stitch step 3

3. A small loop will form on the surface of the fabric. Secure with a small anchor stitch at the top of the stitch.

detached chain stitch step 4

4. This stitch looks fine the way it is but let’s fill it in a little bit more.

detached chain stitch step 5

5. Add a single straight stitch directly down the center of the stitch.

small embroidered leaf using the detached chain stitch

small embroidered leaves

Finish the stems with a stem stitch, and you’ve got yourself a small branch of leaves.

Feather Stitch

Another way you can make embroidery resemble small leaves or vines is with the feather stitch. It’s helpful to draw two to three lines that will serve as a guide to work these stitches.

feather stitch step 1
  1. Make a stitch along the top of the left line. Then come back down at the top of the center line.
feather stitch step 2

2. Place your needle slightly below the 2 stitches directly in the center. The working thread should be below the needle.

feather stitch step 3

3. Pull the thread through. A stitch in the shape of a “u” should form. Place your needle directly in the center of second and third line at the same level as the last stitch you made.

feather stitch step 4

4. Come up along the center line below and in between the last 2 stitches. Make sure your working thread remains below the needle. Pull the thread through to form the next stitch.

feather stitch step 5

5. Repeat this process along the 3rd marked line.

feather stitch step 6

6. Then work your way back in the opposite direction.

feather stitch vine

More Tutorials

wirework leaf
raised leaf stitch

If you enjoyed this tutorial, you’ll definitely want to check how to use stumpwork embroidery techniques to create leaves. Learn how to make a wirework leaf and a raised leaf.

Also, you may enjoy some of my other tutorials for embroidering trees and flowers. And while you’re at it, grab some of the free plant patterns that are available.

Leaf Embroidery Patterns

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