Cross Stitch Techniques: What is Couching?

How to add flare to your cross stiching pattern with couching

Couching. Graphic © Connie G. Barwick, licensed to, Inc.

Do you have a project that needs a little extra zing? Want to take your cross stitch to the next level? Why not try the stitching technique of Couching. Just what is couching? Is it complicated? Will it work for any project? Let's take a closer looks that this unique cross stitch process. 

To truly get what couching is, let's break down the definition. First, we will discuss what is not couching. Couching is not sitting on the couch cross stitching. It is a little more fancy and detailed than that. 

Now that we have what couching is not, let's discuss what it is and how to do it. Couching is used on some advanced Cross Stitch patterns. It is a type of stitch. When couching a strand of floss, ribbon, or cording, the fiber is laid on top of the fabric and tacked down with tiny stitches. Think of it as tacking down the fabric with little stitches. It will add dimension to your project.

Couching was used in tapestries starting in the year 1020. It has a very long history, but unfortunately in commercial tapestries, the technique is not used as much as it was before. It has also been called Laid Work because the floss is laid down and stitched over. 

Couching is a good technique to use for fragile fibers, especially metallics. Couching also allows stitchers to create curves and circles in a Cross Stitch design. Metallic cross stitch floss is very difficult to work with but couching allows you to get the effect you want with very little effort. It may seem very confusing but once you have the technique down, it is very simple to do and offers a beautiful effect. 

Just going by the definition alone, it can be a bit complicated as to what exactly couching should look like. Let's take a look at the diagram to the right, the thick yellow line represents the floss, ribbon, or cording to be couched. The small blue lines represent the tiny stitches used to hold it in place. Basically the thinner blue stitch is holding the thicker yellow floss in place. It is almost like a fake blanket stitch to hold floss in place. 

The couching may be done with a coordinating or contrasting color of floss, depending on the look desired. It is especially a desirable technique when working with metallics or other fragile floss. If you use contrasting floss, you will get a shadowing effect. If you use the same colors, you will get a nice stump work effect. Whichever you choose, you will love the way the project turns out. 

If you are still confused; there are many examples, tutorials and techniques from around the internet. 

Mary Corbet's example of Couching includes pictures and variants of the style. She uses contrasting floss so you can see each step and how the final project should look. She has written an entire blog post about Couching . If you are still confused you can watch her YouTube video on the stitch. This is a wonderful step by step tutorial and video. If you are more of a hands-on person, these videos are for you. 

Stitch School offers up their lesson on couching. They demonstrate a step by step tutorial on the stitch.  You will notice that they also use contrasting thread to show what the stitch should end up looking like. The examples she shows are absolutely beautiful. Check out her work and the tutorial on her website.

The last tutorial on Couching is from The Craftinomicon. Although her tutorial does not use contrasting colors as examples, she does show how the piece will look with floss of the same color.This is a good idea so you can see both way to do this stitch. This tutorial is perfect for those who have somewhat of an idea of how to do this process but still needs a little bit of help understanding, It may be a bit advanced for the novice, but it is still very good to see how a final project should look.  For those of you who are concerned with the way the back of a project looks, she shows you that also. You can see the tutorial on her website

Couching is a great way to add flare to a simple cross stitch.Give this historical technique a try for your next project.