A Guide to the Railroading Cross Stitch Technique

Cross-stitch pattern and needle
Photo by Cathy Scola / Getty Images
  • 01 of 08

    What is Railroading?

    Photo © Connie G. Barwick, licensed to The Spruce

    When you learn a new stitch, it can be confusing. The names can be a bit over the top. Take for example a Railroad Stitch. What is a Railroad Stitch? Railroading is a term used by stitchers to describe a specific stitching technique. When using this techniques, the floss is smoothed down with a laying tool or tapestry needles and floss strands lay side-by-side - like the rails of a railroad track. In the image above, the half stitch on the left has not been smoothed. The stitch on the right was smoothed with a tapestry needle. The twist of the floss in the left stitch is evident. The strands are not flat against the fabric.

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  • 02 of 08

    Why Should I Railroad?

    Photo © Connie G. Barwick, licensed to The Spruce

    While this is not a flashy type of stitch it is very useful. It will help your work look more together and professional. So why use the Railroad technique? Railroading produces smoother stitches, so the final project will look neater. Smoother stitches means better floss coverage as well so less floss will be required for stitching projects.It will also help your floss from becoming knotted. 

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  • 03 of 08

    How to Railroad Cross Stitch

    Photo © Connie G. Barwick, licensed to the Spruce

    You now know why you should use a Railroad Stitch, let's see how you actually do it. After you stitch each half stitch, use your tapestry needle to smooth the stitches as shown. You may also use a larger sized tapestry needle or a tool specifically designed to smooth stitches known as a laying tool. A larger tapestry needle will get you used to using this technique. 

    If you are stitching with two strands of floss, you may also place your needle between the strands of floss before drawing the floss down.This may seem a bit confusing but look at the picture for more explanation.  This will help the strands of floss to lay side-by-side instead of twisting.

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  • 04 of 08

    Practice Makes Perfect - Make Railroading a Habit

    Photo © Connie G. Barwick, licensed to the Spruce

    Don't give up learning this stitch. It can seem a bit difficult when you start. At first, using railroading to smooth cross stitches may seem a little tedious, but with practice it will become a habit. It will be a part of your everyday stitching and you will see how much better your work looks.Make sure you look at pieces before you did the stitch and after to see the difference. Once you do, you will want to keep up this stitch for every project. 

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  • 05 of 08

    Smooth Top Stitches Only If You Choose

    Photo © Connie G. Barwick, licensed to the Spruce

    You may choose to only railroad the top half of the cross stitch. You will sacrifice floss coverage for the lower half stitches, but the project will look better. If you are trying to save floss do not just do the top. If floss use or coverage is not a problem, then just do the top. It is completely up to you.

    If you are going to the trouble of railroading any of the stitches, it may be best to do them all. The project will be the neatest. (You may even want to railroad the back of a project if it is a small stitched piece such as a bookmark where the back may be seen.) If you do all stitches this way, you will have more practice at perfecting the stitch and it will become easier and second nature to you. 

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  • 06 of 08

    Watch Cross Stitch Tension

    Photo © Connie G. Barwick, licensed to the Spruce

    After you smooth the stitch, you may want to pull it a little tighter if needed. When you try railroading, remember to watch your stitch tension. It is easy to focus on a new technique so much that you forget basic stitching skills. Don't pull the stitch too tight or leave it too loose - it needs to be just right.

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  • 07 of 08

    Use the Stab Method for Railroading

    Photo © Connie G. Barwick, licensed to the Spruce

    For best results with Railroading, try using the Stab Method. The stab method involves moving the hand back and forth from the front of the fabric to the back of the fabric. The needle is "stabbed" into the front of the fabric, left there, and then pulled through from the other side. 

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  • 08 of 08

    Suggested Railroading Practice Patterns

    Photo © Connie G. Barwick, licensed to the Spruce

    The best way to learn how to railroad  is to practice.Try out the stitch and technique first and then incorporate it into your next cross stitch project.