How to Work Split Stitch in Embroidery

Split Stitch Diagram
Mollie Johanson
Overview
  • Total Time: 3 hrs
  • Skill Level: Beginner

Split stitch is a basic embroidery stitch that is easy to learn and versatile to use. It's perfect for any pattern that involves outlining, but you can also embroider closely-packed lines of it for fill stitching. In split stitch stitching, one end of the stitch splits the thread of the stitch before it. It helps if your chosen thread is a thick, soft strand, or if you use more than one strand, preferably an even number of strands. Using different strand thicknesses will change the look of your finished result, so experiment to see how they compare. Standard embroidery floss works well when making split stitches; some twisted threads, such as Perle cotton, are harder to work with for split stitch.

There are several ways you can work split stitch. Each method produces a subtly different effect as well as being worked slightly differently. Try them all and see which you like best, and which might work best for your project.

Notes

Practice on a small square of cotton or other fabric of your choice, using needles of type and size appropriate to the fabric. The instructions below are for working from left to right and describe how to make stitches using the stabbing method. As you stitch, move your stitching hand from the back of the fabric to the front of the work as needed.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Embroidery hoop sized for practice cloth
  • Embroidery needle, size between 1 and 5
  • Small sharp scissors
  • Pencil or water soluble pen
  • Ruler

Materials

  • Small square of cotton fabric for practicing
  • Six-strand embroidery floss

Instructions

A split stitch is similar to a backstitch, but the needle comes to the surface within the previous stitch and splits the thread used to make the stitch.

  1. Getting Ready

    If you are still learning to stitch, go ahead and mark your fabric with a few practice lines. Use a ruler and a water-soluble pen or a pencil.

    Place the fabric in the hoop. Cut a 12 to ​14-inch length of six-strand embroidery floss and thread it through the embroidery needle. Knot the other end.

  2. Working the Stitch as a Line

    Decide how long to make your stitches.

    To begin, bring the needle up from the back of the fabric at the left end of the line to be worked. Take it down through the fabric to the right, making a single stitch .

    1. Bring the needle up through the first stitch (point 1), splitting the fibers. Make sure the needle passes through at least one strand of thread or embroidery floss instead of between the threads to produce a smooth split stitch.
    2. Take the needle down again, completing the stitch (point 2).

    Continue stitching in the same manner, spacing the stitches at regular intervals and splitting the stitch in step 1, until you reach the end point of your line. To complete the last stitch, work step 1 and bring the needle down into the end of the same stitch.

    Tip

    Change the working method slightly for a split stitch that looks a lot like chain stitch. Instead of splitting the fibers with the needle, bring the needle through between the threads. This version works best with an even number of strands, with the needle brought up right in the middle.

    Split Stitch Diagram
    Mollie Johanson / The Spruce

     

    Split Stitch Example
    Mollie Johanson / The Spruce
  3. Working the Stitch as Fill

    This stitch is usually used to make lines, but it can also be used as a fill stitch. To do this, outline an area with a split stitch or another outlining stitch. Working from the outline and moving inward, stitch parallel rows of the split stitch spaced such that they nearly touch. If you want a more open fill, make the rows a little farther apart. You can also try alternating the colors for a striped fill or the number of strands for texture contrast.

  4. The Split Backstitch Alternative

    There is an alternative way to work a split stitch, and that is to work it like a back stitch. If you prefer the sewing method of embroidery, you may prefer to make your split stitches this way.

    To begin, bring the needle up through the back of the fabric slightly to the right of where the stitching will begin. Insert the needle at the point where the stitching should begin; without pulling the needle and thread all the way through the fabric, bring the needle up where the right end of the second stitch will be.

    • Take the needle down through the first stitch, making sure to split the fibers; bring the needle up to the right of the stitch, where the next stitch will end.

    Continue stitching in the same manner, spacing the stitches at regular intervals, until you reach the end point of your line. Some people find this to be easier and more accurate for even stitches. With this method, the point where the needle goes through the previous stitch is indented a little.