Learn + Master The Long and Short Stitch

This tutorial will show you how to do the long and short stitch. This embroidery stitch is used most frequently to shade and blend colors together in thread painting.

The long and short stitch is an easy and fun embroidery technique to do to add more depth to your work: it’s great to use for filling in shapes and adding fine details. You’ll be creating beautiful gradients of color in no time!

Long and Short Stitch Tutorial

For this example, I am using 1 strand of floss at a time. It’s a lot easier to blend colors together when you use less thread.

Mark a small square on the fabric and grab 2 similar shades of colors before you get started.

long and short stitch step 1

1. Begin making straight stitches starting at the bottom edge and ending in the middle of the shape. Make these stitches long and short in length, making sure each stitch lays neatly next to one another.

step 2 - making rows of long and short stitches

2. Work from one area to the next along the bottom of the shape – i.e. from left to right

step 3 - half of square filled in with one color

3. Continue making long and short stitches until half of the square is filled in.

step 4 - blending a 2nd color using the long and short stitch

4. To blend two colors together, fill in the top half of the square using a darker or lighter shade of the same color. Make long and short stitches that go in the same direction, overlapping them into the first color.

Using Different Amounts Of Thread

long and short stitch using 1 and 2 strands of embroidery floss
Bottom: Long and short stitch using 1 strand of floss Top: Long and short stitch with 2 strands

You can, of course, use as many strands of thread as you’d like when you work this stitch though it will affect the overall appearance of the area you are filling in. I find that I can achieve a more “painterly” look with 2 or 3 strands and a more realistic and smooth look with 1.

Experiment with different amounts depending on what look and feel you’re going for!

Helpful Tips

  • The colors will more easily blend together if you vary the stitch lengths at random. Each long stitch and each short stitch shouldn’t be the exact same length and you don’t need to follow a pattern of long, short, long, short. Your eye can pick out patterns, so mixing up the length of the stitches helps to disguise the color changes.
  • It’s easiest to not skip around: work your stitches from light to dark or dark to light
making colors blend together better by adding an intermediary color

Help! The Colors Aren’t Blending Together Well

First, trying overlapping more of the stitches of one color into the other. You usually need to overlap the stitches more than you think you do. This is one of the most common mistakes I see (and one I personally made) when people first learn this stitch. Don’t be afraid to really overlap them!

If that doesn’t help, it may be that the 2 colors you chose aren’t close enough in value. Select another color that’s in between the 2 colors, stitching long and short stitches over top of where the 2 colors meet.

Filling In Irregular Shapes and Curves

Not every shape needs to be filled in with stitches that run in the exact same direction. The next step is learning how to smoothly fill in irregular shapes and gradually change the stitch direction along curves.

For this next exercise, I drew the shape of a flower petal. This shape is narrow at the base, wide at the edge of the petal, and it has a slight curve to it.

step 1 - marking the stitch direction along a curved, irregular flower petal
  1. Draw some marks in the shape to plan out the stitch direction. We’ll plan to make the stitches so that they run the length of the petal and slightly fan out along the edges.
step 2 - marking color changes along the shape

2. Mark where the color changes should occur. We’ll be using 3 colors and working from dark to light. I marked the color changes so that they followed the contour of the edge of the shape. This will make the color changes appear more natural and give the petal a more 3-dimensional look.

step 3 - long and short stitch along curved, irregular shape

3. Starting with the darkest color, begin making long and short stitches at the base of the petal, following the stitch direction markings. Keep your stitches relatively short so that you can gradually and subtly change the direction of them as you work along the curve.

step 4 - blending a second color

4. Use the next color to fill in the next marked area, overlapping the color into the darker color and fanning the stitches out as the shape gets wider.

step 5 - blending a third color

5. Using the lightest color, fill in the edge of the petal with long and short stitches. The stitches will fan out slightly along the sides but be mostly vertical towards the center.

As you can see, the long and short stitch is a powerful and versatile stitch. You can achieve a super realistic look with it and even stitch things like animal fur and flowers.

And if you found this stitch somewhat challenging, don’t get discouraged…it sometimes takes time to get the hang of it. Keep practicing and trying out different colors!

Long and Short Stitch Patterns

Now that you know the basics, practice your new skills with one of these patterns! All of them mostly use the long and short stitch. Each pattern will walk you through step by step, so they are suitable for all levels.

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