A Guide to the Railroading Cross Stitch Technique

Cross-stitch pattern and needle
Photo by Cathy Scola / Getty Images
Overview
  • Skill Level: Beginner

What is a Railroad Stitch? Railroad stitching is not so much a stitch as it is a term used to describe a specific stitching technique. Railroading smooths the floss of your stitches so that their strands lay side-by-side, like the rails of a railroad track. The strands of stitches made without this technique may twist around each other, with one strand hiding behind another. Railroad stitching ensures the strands are flat against the fabric.

It does take a little more time to execute, but the smoother stitches mean better floss coverage and can help keep strands (like those fun metallic ones) from getting knotted. And your work looks more consistently professional to boot. Give it a try, practice a little, and see what you think of the results. Make sure you look at pieces before you did the stitch and after to see the difference. Once you do, you will want to continue using this technique for every project.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Tapestry needle, size 24
  • Embroidery hoop sized for practice cloth
  • Small sharp scissors
  • Second larger tapestry needle for railroading

Materials

  • 11-ct Aida fabric for practicing
  • Six-strand embroidery floss

Instructions

  1. Basic Railroad Technique

    Hoop the fabric. Cut a 12-inch length of floss and separate out two strands. Thread them through your tapestry needle. Make your first cross stitch as you usually do, for comparison.

    • Bring the needle up through a square to begin the first half of the next stitch, then take it down to make the second half.
    • Use the tip of the larger tapestry needle to separate the strands such that they lie side by side.

    You may use a larger tapestry needle, or a tool specifically designed to smooth stitches known as a laying tool.

    • Make the second half of the stitch; use the tip of the larger tapestry to railroad it.

    Compare the two stitches.

    Photo © Connie G. Barwick, licensed to the Spruce
  2. Stab Method

    For best results use 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.

    Photo © Connie G. Barwick, licensed to the Spruce
  3. Practice

    Work a few more stitches, then try railroading as you stitch.

    • Bring the needle up to begin half a stitch. Use the tip of your needle to separate the strands, continuing the motion to take the needle down to finish the half stitch.

    It may seem a little tedious, but with practice it will become a habit and you will get faster. It will be a part of your everyday stitching and you will see how much better your work looks.

    Photo © Connie G. Barwick, licensed to the Spruce
  4. Tension

    When you try railroading, remember to watch your stitch tension. After you smooth the stitch, you may want to pull it a little tighter. It is easy to focus on a new technique so much that you forget basic stitching skills.

    Photo © Connie G. Barwick, licensed to the Spruce
  5. Variation: Smooth Only the Top Stitches

    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 both halves.

    When working a project, choose: either railroad all the stitches, or none of them. Mixing techniques will result in inconsistent stitches, and an inconsistent result.

    Photo © Connie G. Barwick, licensed to the Spruce