How to Work a Running Stitch

Running Stitch Diagram

Mollie Johanson

Overview
  • Total Time: 3 hrs
  • Skill Level: Beginner

The running stitch is one of the most basic embroidery and sewing stitches and is usually the first stitch learned by the beginners. Because it's so easy, you might think that running stitch is not suitable for many embroidery projects, but you'd be surprised. There are so many ways that you can change it up! It can be used along straight or curved lines to outline a shape. Work it in rows of stitches within such a shape, and you've used it as a fill. Or turn it to a practical purpose, and use it to assemble a finished embroidery project. It even works well for top-stitching something by hand, giving it a charming edging. 

Running stitch is also the primary stitch used for darning stitches. The stitches can be worked in a variety of patterns to repair rips and tears, and are perfect for using embroidery as a form of visible mending.

Notes

The instructions below are for working from right to left 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

Running stitch is one of the easiest stitches to learn, and because of its simplicity there are endless ways to vary it. The stitches are made by taking the needle up and down through the fabric at regular (or irregular!) intervals.

  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 and the space between them.

    To begin, bring the needle up through the back of the fabric to the front at the right end of the line to be worked (point 1).

    • Take the needle down from front to back a stitch length from the first point to complete a single stitch (point 2).
    • Bring the needle up again from back to front a space length from the end of the previous stitch.

    Continue stitching in the same manner, spacing the stitches at regular intervals and keeping the stitches uniform in size, until you reach the end of your line.

    Tip

    If you prefer, you can also weave the needle in and out of the fabric using the sewing method, loading several evenly spaced stitches onto the needle, pulling the needle through the fabric in one motion.

    Running Stitch Diagram
    Mollie Johanson
  3. Working the Stitch as a Fill

    Try staggering the stitches on consecutive lines within a confined area for a brick-like effect.

    • Work one line as above. To begin the next line, bring the needle up in line with the end of the stitch in the first line. Continue working stitches where there are spaces in the previous line and leaving spaces where there are stitches.

    Tip

    For a striped effect, keep the stitches and spaces aligned from row to row.

    Filling an Area With Running Stitch
    Mollie Johanson
  4. Varying Stitch and Space Length

    Once you master making stitches and spaces the same length, trying varying their lengths. Try alternating uniform stitch and space lines with lines of irregular stitches.

    Running Stitch Examples
    Mollie Johanson

More Examples and Ideas for Use

Variations of the embroidery version of this stitch include the whipped (or wrapped) running stitch, laced running stitch and others. One way to turn running stitch into something that doesn't even look like running stitch is to work it as a double-running stitch. This method allows you to use different colors or weights of thread for a whole new look.

If you've seen sashiko embroidery, you've seen some of the exciting ways of using running stitch. If you're feeling adventurous, try working all of the outlines with running stitch on a simple pattern. You'll end up with a project that looks similar to many sashiko designs!

And any time you want to take a simple stitch and dress it up, try working it in combination with other stitches. Learn to work this stitch with ease and then look for all the ways you can use it in your embroidery for a sweet and simple finish!