How to do Stem Stitch

Learn all the embroidery stitches you'll need with our stitch library series! In this post, we show you how to sew stem stitch, then use your new skills to embroider a plain top!


This neat, precise stitch is perfect for embroidering lines and finer details. Read on for our step by step guide. To stitch a number like we’ve done above, print out a number (in a nice font) on your computer then trace onto fabric using a sharp pencil or an erasable pen before you begin stitching around the outline.

Stitching & instructions by Zoe Patching, as featured in issue 9 of Simply Sewing magazine.


Step 1

Make your first stitch. Bring the needle out through the fabric on your traced line at A, and back down on the line at B. This will create a loop on the surface, which you need to lay and hold over to the right of your traced line on the fabric.

How to do stem stitch step 1

Step 2

Keep hold of the loop on the right so it stays out of the way whilst you make the next stitch. Bring your needle up through the fabric at C, on the traced line and in the centre of your first stitch, and take  the thread to the left of your stitch. 

How to do stem stitch step 2

Step 3

Pull the thread through completely to finish your first stem stitch. It’s best to pull it slowly and gently so that the stitch lies flat on the fabric without puckering or distorting it. This will also keep the thread strands together.


Step 4

To make your next stitch, push your needle in above the end of your first stitch, again on the traced line. It should be the same length as your first stitch. Keep the loop on the right, and bring the needle up at D at the end of your first stitch. 


How to use stem stitch to embellish a plain top

Use neat stem stitch to sew motifs on to plain T-shirts! In this example we’ve stitched a child’s birthday age onto a special birthday tee!

How to embroider a top

It sometimes seems like kids just can’t wait to grow up, so they’ll love proudly wearing their age on their T-shirt! Plain tees can be bought cheaply and easily, so this is a great last-minute gift idea for a birthday boy or girl. Simply find a font you like, print out the letters and numbers, and trace them onto the T-shirt to stitch over. We used satin stitch to fill in the lettering, and stem stitch (using the tutorial above) for the outlines, which gives a neat finish. The only problem is, they’ll expect one for every birthday!