Indian Embroidery Stitches

Indian Embroidery Stitches

The Indian embroidery stitches belongs to no special caste, community or sex. The art is hereditary like so many other skills in India. It is passed down from father to son or from mother to daughter. Indian embroidery uses many different stitches as well as variations of the basic stitches.

Indian Running Stitch

This is the simplest of all stitches. The needle runs for equal distances over and under the ground material. This is the stitch used for quilting in India. A variation is the double running stitch in which a preliminary row of running stitch is worked and the needle runs again filling in the spaces left empty the first time.

The value of the double running stitch is that it looks exactly alike on both sides of the cloth. Worked in close rows to fill a surface it is known as double darning. A variation is the zig-zag running stitch which is like the double running stitch, only the stitches are slanting instead of being straight. Running Embroidery stitches are also used in Kantha Embroidery of Bengal.

Couched and laid work

In this, threads, cords or decorative materials such as gold and silver wire are laid upon the surface of the fabric and stitched down with sewing thread. Usually this thread matches the color of the threads laid down so that it is almost invisible on the finished embroidery. Sometimes, however, the couching is done with different colors so that the stitches, themselves, are decorative in color. Outlines are made by laying single threads or groups of threads. Where filling is required the threads are laid side by side covering the whole area to be embroidered. The couching is done with plain stitches or stitches arranged in a decorative pattern. For raised work a foundation of soft thick cotton thread is worked. After the foundation padding is stitched the threads of the final embroidery are laid over it. These are usually couched only at the edges of the motifs but sometimes the couching stitches are used within the motif also, passing both through the padding and the material. The technique is particularly suitable for gold and silver embroidery. A marvelous effect of light and shade was created in European embroidery from 1400 A.D. onwards by using couching stitches very close together to hide the gold thread and then spacing them widely to allow the metal to shine through.

Darning stitch

It is used for mending torn fabric by rows of stitchery which remake the woven texture of the fabric. For embroidery the darning stitch is a type of running stitch which is worked over the fabric in various ways to form a pattern.

Hem stitch

This is used to finish the hems of handkerchiefs, table clothes, etc. The threads of the ground fabric are drawn out parallel to the edge and the stitchery is pulled tightly to form a lace-like pattern. It is also used to make open work pattern on the ground fabric.


In plain sewing this stitch is used for fastening a hem. In embroidery it is used for attaching various pieces to the ground fabric in applique work.

Apart from these stitches which are used all over the world there are certain variations used in Indian folk embroidery. For instance, small mirrors used in western Indian embroidered are attached with a central loop through which a ring of stitches are interlaced. A variation of this is one used for making flowers in which the central part of the stitch is worked into the cloth instead of around a loop. This is sometimes described as a ‘radiating stitch.

Shadow work

This is achieved by doing the embroidery on what will eventually be the wrong side of the work. Transparent fabrics such as muslin and organdy are used for this work. The design appears on the right side of the material as an opaque shadow with very fine stitches showing around the edges where the needle has been inserted. In another variation, the motifs are embroidered in applique work applied underneath the cloth appearing as a shadow on the surface. In India such work is a feature of the chikan embroidery.

Feather stitch

Feather is worked in a manner similar to the open chain stitch but here the open loops of the chain are placed at a slight angle to form a feather-like pattern at one side of the row. In double feather stitch the loops are worked on each side of the row. Other variations are achieved by adjusting the angle of the loops, by placing the stitches diagonally or by leaving the free end of the loop longer.

Buttonhole stitch

Buttonhole Stitch is a right angled loop stitch which got its name from being used in Europe to finish buttonholes.

Blanket stitch

Blanket stitch is similar to buttonhole stitch, being used to finish the edges of blankets. This stitch can also be used as fillers or for finishing scalloped or other fancy cut edges. It can also be made to outline circles on the surface of the cloth.

Cross stitch

Cross Stitch consists of an oblique stitch crossed at the centre by another oblique stitch of equal size. If the oblique stitch is not crossed by another it is known as petit point. Cross stitch came into popularity in Europe only in the 16th century but from then on it became the most popular stitch for covers, wall-hangings and embroidered furniture. In India it is much used for folk embroidery. It can be used singly or in an infinite variety of patterns.

Herringbone stitch

Herringbong Stitch is a variation of the cross stitch, the cross being made at the top and bottom of the row instead of in the middle. This can be used as the basis of a wide variety of interlaced stitches or may be decorated by couching the crosses. Variations can be achieved by spacing the stitches closely; by working two rows of the stitch over each other so that they intersect in different ways to form a variety of patterns of greater or lesser intricacy. On the back of the cloth the stitches form parallel rows giving the appearance of back stitch. Close herringbone stitch is sometimes worked on the back of the material so that the parallel lines lie on the surface and the crossed stitches lie underneath. This is known as crossed back stitch.

Interlacing stitch

This is done on the base of double herringbone stitch in which two rows of herringbone stitch are worked over each other so that they intersect. For better interlacing, when the first row is being worked, after each step taken at the top of the row the needle is slipped under the previous stitch instead of over it, but after each stitch taken at the bottom of the row, the thread passes over the previous stitch in the normal way. When working the second row of herringbone, after each stitch taken at the bottom of the row, the needle is taken under the adjoining stitch of the first row, but after each stitch taken at the top of the row, the thread passes over the adjoining stitch in the usual way. The thread for final interlacing is begun along the upper half of the foundation row, threading the interlacing stitches through the surface threads of the foundation row without penetrating into the fabric. When the upper half of the pattern is completed, the interlacing is done along the lower half of the foundation row a perfect sequence of interlacing being maintained throughout.

Back stitch in India

Back Stitch is like double running stitch except that it shows overlapping stitches at the back and so cannot be used for double-sided embroidery. In this stitch the needle moves backward the length of one stitch passes down through the cloth, moves forward the length of two stitches and is brought up through the cloth again.

Stem stitch

Stem Stitch is a fine outlining stitch which appears on the front of the work as a row of oblique even-sized stitches. The needle passes up through the cloth, moves forward the length of one stitch and then, moving down through the cloth, moves back for a shorter distance and passes up through the cloth again beside the previous stitch.


Split Stitch resembles the stem stitch except that the needle actually passes through the thread of the previous stitch splitting it.

Chain stitch

Chain Stitch is a loop stitch in which the thread is passed over the point of the needle as it emerges from the bottom of the cloth, to form a loop which is secured by the following stitch. This bears a strong resemblance to the split stitch and can, like it and stem stitch, be used for outline or inner drawing or arranged in parallel lines and spirals, can also be used for filling a surface. Many variations of the stitch are possible. These are open chain stitch, made by inserting the needle at a slant thus forming broad open loops and the double chain stitch which is made by inserting the needle alternately at the right and left of the line of loops. The popularity of chain stitch seems to have been universal.In India the stitch was very popular and it was Indian embroidery exported to Europe which revived interest in the stitch in the 17th and 18th century.

Satin stitch

Satin Stitch consists of parallel or radiating stitches worked closely together to completely cover the ground material both at the front and the back. This stitch, used in various lengths and colors, can produce subtle shading giving the work an impression of depth. The effect achieved could be likened to painting. A variation of the satin stitch is what has been described as ‘a filling stitch with ridged edge.’ In this the outer edges of the stitch are finished with looped ridges worked in the same way as the buttonhole stitch.

Brick stitch

Brick Stitch is a variation of satin stitch, being a closely worked filling stitch named for the brick-like appearance it creates.

Fly stitch

Fly Stitch is a looped stitched worked singly, each loop Ling sewn down by a long fastening stitch. The stitch, named r its resemblance to the wings of the fly, can be varied by adjusting the lengths of the loops and the fastening stitch. It can also be worked in rows to form different patterns.

Long and short stitch

Long and Short stitch is a filling stitch in which long and short stitches are worked alternately so that the longer stitches the spaces left by the short ones.

Knot stitch

Know Stitch is achieved by winding of the thread around the tip of the needle to form a decorative knot which is then stitched down. It is used in European as well as Chinese and Japanese embroidery and has been adopted in India from both sources.


The people engaged in the craft may belong to such different castes as ahirs (cowherds), Kunbis (cultivators),  mochis (cobblers). It is done by Hindus and Muslims, by men and women, boys and girls. Tribals, like the Lamanis and Banjaras, have also contributed work of a high order to the general kaleidoscope of Indian embroidery. Like painting it is not the special preserve of any one group of people, but is open to anyone with enough skill and imagination to gain expertise in it. Really good embroidery is like painting which, though demanding a certain framework of discipline, allows the artist an enormous degree of freedom for the expression of his genius. This is the reason why the two arts have been often treated on an equal plane and embroidery is referred to as ‘painting with the needle.