The Creative Corner · Vintage Needlework

Embroidery Lesson: Outline stitches to fill

What do you do if you have an outline of something and you want to fill it with color? You could use another fabric and appliqué the center. You could use a satin stitch and embroider the center. Or you could use variations of the versatile outline stitches from the last lesson to fill your design. This third embroidery lesson shows you how to use outline stitches to fill your embroidery design.

Embroidered ship on the water. An owl sits on the prow, and embroidered waves swirl below the ship.
This ship uses outline stitches to fill the design.

This ship became the center of a cushion. The entire project was embroidered with outline stitch variations. These stitches are incredibly useful, yet little used today. The outline stitches give this piece wonderful texture and interest. Best of all, the stitches are easy to do and you can use them for any size project.

You will need

Like all the embroidery projects, for today’s embroidery lesson on outline stitches to fill, you will need

  • an embroidery needle with an eye large enough for your thread
  • six-strand embroidery floss for practice
  • an embroidery hoop to hold your fabric taught

Take a running stitch… and whip it

Embroidered running stitch that has another thread wound through it. Use this outline stitch to fill a large area. Text: Overcast running stitch.

Here you see a whipped or overcast running stitch. First you follow the line with the running stitch. Then you stitch a second line, starting at the beginning. Instead of going through the fabric you overcast, or whip, the running stitches. Always place the overcast stitches in the same direction so that the design stays consistent. You can make this in one color, or use two contrasting colors for increased interest.

Slanted snailtrail stitch

Snailtrail embroidery stitch made with the needle entering the fabric at a sharp angle. Use this outline stitch to fill a large area of embroidery. Text: Slanted snailtrail.

In the last lesson you learned how to make a snailtrail stitch by passing the needle perpendicular to the design line. This time the needle passes through the fabric at a deep slant or angle, like you see in the illustration. When the needle follows the direction of the line instead of working at a right angle to it (as you did in Lesson 2), you see a very different effect from the stitch.

Backstitched chain stitch

Embroidery illustration of a line of chain stitch. Over the top of the chains a needle passes a second time making back stitches at each loop join. Use this outline stitch to fill a large area. Text: Chain stitch with backstitch.

In this version of the chain stitch, you take a small back stitch over the chain. Using a different color is most effective. You might try this with either a different weight of thread for the backstitch, or the same thread in the same color, and see how you like it. To make this, complete the row of chain stitch as normal, and then go over the embroidery a second time with small backstitches.

Darning stitch

illustration of long running stitches that fill an area. Perfect outline stitch to fill a large embroidered area. Text: Darning stitch.

This stitch is easy and quick. You take long stitches that cover the embroidered area and combine them with short underneath stitches. As you go, alternate so that the new row’s stitches always span the last row’s space between stitches. If your stitches were further apart it would look like a brick wall. Worked closely, the stitches have a satin-like effect. Keep your stitches even as you work for the best overall effect.

Try it yourself

Grab some fabric and thread and give these stitches a try. Most of us don’t even think about using anything but a satin stitch, or maybe a long and short stitch, to fill areas like embroidered flowers, leaves, and figures. Using outline stitches to fill embroidered spaces opens up a whole new world of texture, color, and possibility. Best of all, these are easy and relatively quick stitches.

Next time I’ll give you the pattern for the Ship of Dreams above, and you can make it yourself with the stitches you learned. Drop me a note and let me know how you liked these stitches! I look forward to hearing from you.