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Specialty Stitches

The following are some tips for working with specialty stitches. Always practice unfamiliar stitches on a fabric swatch before adding them to your piece. If a design contains specialty stitches, diagrams should be included in the stitching instructions. Don't be intimidated! Most specialty stitches are quite easy to master: simply follow the numbered diagrams. Don't be discouraged if your first attempts look a bit lop-sided...it will take a bit of practice to get them right. The tips below should help smooth out any rough spots. But...Beware! specialty stitches can be addicting!

Specialty stitches (sometimes called sampler stitches or palette stitches) have very different qualities from basic cross stitch. I use them in my designs for their contrasting textures and unique shapes - a pleasant foil for all those uniform little "x"s! An added benefit for the stitcher is the variation they add to the stitching process itself.

  • When adding specialty stitches to a design, use the designer-recommended number of floss strands for the fabric count you are using. If coverage is not to your liking, feel free to change the number of strands used. If you are stitching on a fabric count that is different from the designer's model (usually photographed for the cover), you will need to experiment with the number of strands until coverage is pleasing to you.

  • When cross-stitching, it is important, in order to achieve a uniform surface appearance, to keep floss strands from twisting. For beautiful specialty stitches, this is an absolute necessity! The floss strands must lay as flat as possible. The effect of specialty stitches such as satin stitch, and eyelets can be ruined by twisted floss strands. There are several ways to keep floss twisting to a minimum:

    1. Slightly moisten individual floss strands and allow them to dry before use. This tames the fuzz of the cotton fibers and removes any kinks, allowing for a smoother stitched appearance.

    2. Use the technique called railroading while stitching.

    3. Use a laying tool while stitching.

    4. Allow your needle to "fall" and untwist periodically while stitching.

  • Always be sure to study the chart carefully: placing specialty stitches can be a little tricky. Sometimes, due to editing errors, the stitch diagrams included in the directions do not always match exactly what is called for on the chart. For example: The chart may show that you will need to stitch several different sizes of eyelet stitches, but there may be only one eyelet diagram included in the instructions. In this case, you will need to use the diagram as a reference only: as instruction on how to do the stitch, not necessarily as the exact size stitch you will use. In situations with omitted diagrams, always be sure to read the chart carefully: it will tell you exactly where to place a specialty stitch.

If you would like to learn more about specialty stitches for counted work I recommend "A Notebook of Sampler Stitches" (Books 1 & 2) by Eileen Bennett. These are small spiral bound notebooks which contain a wealth of specialty stitches, background information, and nice, clear diagrams. Another fabulous reference book is "The Proper Stitch" by Darleen O'Steen: a unique spiral-bound hardback gem that contains not only tons of specialty stitches, but also two gorgeous samplers incorporating all the those stitches.

Visit these sites for specialty stitches and stitch diagrams:

Some very cool animated diagrams!

Johanna's Needlework Stitches

Sharon B's Dictionary ofStitches for Embroidery


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