Pulled Thread Work Tutorial     

  Pulled Thread Work Free Lesson 

  Pulled Thread Stitches - Pulled Thread Embroidery Stitches

 © 2009 Lorelei Terry Halley       You may copy this for personal use, not for  commercial use.   Copying to another website is specifically prohibited. 


   Site Map     Pulled Thread Work      The White Sampler    Pulled Thread Tutorial 2    Pulled Thread Stitches    Pulled Thread Gallery   

  Squared Edging Stitch     

Pulled Thread Sampler:

Working a sampler is a good way to start using this technique and style of embroidery.  There are over 70 stitches, but you don't need to learn them all at once.  I've selected one or two pulled thread stitches from each of the 10 families of stitches, the stitches that are easiest to count or most basic.  I have then used these stitches to create a set of small coasters or mats that you can give as gifts.  They could also be made into pincushions, sachets or tree or window ornaments.   The first 4 mats use all the stitches on the sampler here below, and only those stitches.  The mat diagrams, and other suggestions for small learning projects, are on the  Pulled Thread Tutorial 2 page.  That page also has several ideas for bookmarks.

     Pulled Thread Work Sampler

For those who prefer not to commit to a whole sampler, I suggest making bookmarks using just a few stitches.  See  Pulled Thread Tutorial 2   Another option would be to choose one of the small mats, and then work only the sampler rows which contain the stitches used in that mat.  This would give you a place to practice stitches before using them.

The photo below is a basic sampler I suggest for a beginner to practice on. It is not a hang-on-the-wall type of sampler, but a record for the stitcher's own use, so you can really see what happens with the particular stitch. My sampler is 17" long inside the stitched borders and 9 1/4" wideand is worked on 21 threads per inch fabric.  On fabric of a higher thread count, you could make a smaller sampler and still have room to practice the stitches.  I propose to make this into 10 rows, with each row having 3 columns. Each row will be one of the most basic stitches from the 10 families of pulled stitches. The left column will be the stitch worked as a single row worked horizontally. The center column will be the same stitch worked as a solid mass or filling stitch. The right hand column will be for those stitches that can be worked diagonally or that have diagonal variants. I find it helpful when I am choosing a stitch for a project  to have a visual record of which stitches work best horizontally and which diagonally.  And those stitches which can be worked both ways often look very different in their horizontal and diagonal variants.  The dimensions don't have to be exactly what I have chosen. But each cell should be at least 1"x 2" (3x5cm) or a little larger.

The fabric I used is 21 threads per inch. I used a 20/2 linen to do the pulled stitches and pearl cotton #5 for the cell boundary stitches. All stitching is done with a blunt pointed needle as counted thread stitches.  For the pulled stitches the needle should slide between the fabric thread, not pierce them.  For the outlining stitches on this sampler, I also recommend blunt pointed needles (although for a curvilinear design, a sharp needle for the outline would probably be best.)  You don't need to do the outline stitching for the whole sampler.  Just do enough to outline the cells you will be working with at present.

The stitches I've used in this sampler are the simplest and easiest to count of the stitches in their respective stitch families. Nearly all of them have many many variants, and some of those show the most striking effects. Small differences in spacing can make an enormous difference in how the stitch looks. I especially recommend McNeill whose book has many variants, and whose stitch diagrams and photos are clear.

My descriptions of how to work the stitches is based on my customary practices.  I do realize that embroidery is not done always in the same way in different traditions.  For instance, some work every stitch with the needle pointing away from the embroiderer, and some point the needle towards oneself.  I work with the needle pointing towards myself.  I also work using a sewing motion, not a stabbing motion.   And I am right handed.  My descriptions of stitch directions and where to start and what direction to move in assume a right handed sewing motion.  But you don't have to work using my methods; work however you are most comfortable.  My methods and stitch direction will give you the easiest most comfortable way of moving your hands, if you happen to work the same way I do.

Outline stitches:                       bkmk

In the diagrams below each line on the graph paper represents 1 thread of the fabric.

The stitches used so far:
  top horizontal is Danish knot stitch
  1st horizontal row is Hungarian chain stitch
  Left border vertical row is chain stitch
  center left vertical is coral knot over 2 threads, space 2 threads
  center right vertical is Danish knot
  right border vertical is coral knot over 2 threads, spaced 3 threads

Danish knot stitch

Start the Danish knot stitch in the upper left hand corner and work from the top down. The first stitch is a stitch going diagonally from upper left to lower right, about 2 threads x 2 threads. Think of 2 parallel vertical lines. The needle always comes out on the left line and goes into the fabric on the right line. It comes out to begin the 2nd phase on the left line. Then you take the needle on top of the diagonal stitch and slip it down underneath that stitch without catching the fabric. The needle then goes into the fabric on the right line and comes out on the left line. Then repeat. My diagram shows 2 slightly different ways of counting fabric threads to space the stitches. The difference is how close together you want the little knotty lumps to be. Fangel Winckler show some spaced and some close together. So I infer that it is the stitcher's choice.

Hungarian chain stitch

Hungarian chain stitch is started in 4 movements, similar to broad  chain or heavy chain but involves some weaving over the 3rd stitch and under the 2nd.  In the 2nd movement slide the needle behind the vertical stitch without piercing the fabricand make a small upside down chain stitch.  In the 3rd movement also, do not pierce the fabric just slide the needle behind the vertical thread and make a longer upside down chain stitch.  In the 4th movement slide the needle on top of the 3rd movement (the large stitch), but behind the 2nd movement (the small stitch).  Do not pierce the fabric in either case.


 Palestrina knot stitch

In the 2nd movement, slip the needle behind the diagonal stitch, without piercing the fabric.  In the 3rd movement also, do not pierce the fabric.

 See the bottom of this web page for online resources for stitch diagrams and instructions.

I have included a diagram of the Danish knot stitch because the only book I've found it in is Fangel, Winckler et al. The other stitches marking the boundaries on the sampler are common embroidery stitches described in many books.  As to the actual pulled stitches: start where the * is, use an away waste knot and plan to weave the end behind the stitches afterwards. The dotted lines represent the thread path on the wrong side of the fabric. This is important!! It is not the stitches which are the focus of attention in pulled thread work, but the holes that the stitches make. The thread path on the wrong side is part of what shapes those holes. So don't fudge, think it through and make the wrong side just as exact as the right side. The only place you fudge is sometimes at the end of a row, because sometimes the 2nd row begins where the 1st ended.


pulled thread sampler Sampler rows 1 & 2

Row 1 Wave Stitch  
pulled thread stitches On the yellow sampler the upper left hand cell, the lower line is wave stitch (I think the easiest to learn and count). Wave stitch is worked from right to left. The line stitch above it is reverse wave stitch. Reverse wave stitch is worked from left to right. Several pulled thread stitches have a reverse version which looks quite different from the standard version.

  Wave stitch: work from right to left.  Probably the easiest pulled thread stitch
Reverse wave stitch: from left to right. 

Center top cell is wave stitch worked as a solid filling.

Wave stitch does not work diagonally. There are many variants which all look different, but in this sampler I'm trying to stick to just the most basic and easiest stitches.  Reverse wave, when worked with space between the rows, produces an embossed or ridged effect.  Pebble, another wave variant also makes a puffy line when a few threads are left unworked between rows.
Row 2 Four Sided Stitch               bkmk
pulled thread stitches 4 sided stitch: work from right to left.  One of the most useful pulled thread stitches.
Left cell 2nd row is 4 sided stitch. 4 sided stitch is worked from right to left. Also some authors show 4 sided with the first stitch worked from top to bottom, not bottom to top. But I like it this way. Four sided stitch is usually worked over 4 threads but can be worked over 3 threads. Center cell is 4 sided worked as a solid filling.

Right hand 2nd row cell is 4 sided worked diagonally over 2 threads, diagonally over 4 threads, and worked in diagonal rows over 4 threads.
Diagonal 4 sided worked over 2 threads
Diagonal 4 sided worked over 4 threads

4 sided worked in diagon


Sampler rows 3 & 4
Row 3 Satin Stitch Satin: everybody knows how, the diagram shows just one version and is for the spacing on the 1st beginner's piece.  There are dozens and dozens of variants of satin stitch which are used in pulled thread work.                bkmk
Row 3 right hand cell is step stitch.

The horizontal boundary stitch between rows 3 and 4 is Palestrina knot. I've also used it further down, between rows 6 & 7.  See below. 

Row 4 Back Stitch                 bkmk
Row 4 is ringed back stitch in the left and center cell, and square back stitch in the right hand cell. In the ringed back stitch diagram the pink stitches are the 1st outgoing row and the green stitches are the return row. Dotted lines represent the thread path on the reverse side.

 ringed back   

Square back stitch

 In working square back stitch it is important to follow the stitch diagram: work in a zigzag diagonal row. This causes the hole between stitch 6 and 7 to become quite large. The result is that the corner hole of each square is larger than the other holes. And when this stitch is worked in a large block, that variance from small holes to large holes is visually very interesting.

You now also have photographs of all the stitches (except the edge stitch), and diagrams for them, that were used in the purple piece called pulled thread beginner's piece #1.

   Sampler Rows 5 & 6
Row 5 Faggot Stitch                          bkmk
faggot stitch, changing rows Row 5 center is faggot stitch. The right hand cell has 1 row of faggot stitch, then 2 rows of reverse faggot back to back, then 1 row of reverse faggot.

Faggot can be thought of as wave stitch on the diagonal.

   reverse faggot, also called diagonal cable                                               bkmk
Row 6 Greek Cross             bkmk
   Greek cross stitch   1 Greek cross  stitch

  Each Greek cross stitch has 4 movements.

  In the 2nd diagram the blue lines are the threads that lay on the front of the cloth.  The orange lines show the thread path on the wrong side.

   Greek cross row, dense variant

    Row 6 center is Greek cross arranged in what I call the dense array (as many stitches as possible in the space, there are other less dense variations).  In this variant each Greek cross stitch shares its holes with its neighbors. 

    The right hand cell of row 6 has one row of Greek cross worked over 6 threads (each leg is 3 threads), and one row worked over 8 threads. Some authors of my various booklets say that you can move horizontally from one stitch to another or diagonally. I have found that moving from upper right to lower left gives the best pull and the largest holes.

    Greek cross 2 rows, dense variant. 


   Pulled Thread Sampler Rows 7 & 8
Row 7 Upright Cross.                         bkmk
upright cross stitch
Upright cross is always a diagonal stitch, worked from lower right to upper left. It is worked in two journeys: on the upward journey from lower right to upper left all the vertical bars are made first, then on the 2nd journey, from upper left to lower right, you come back down working all the horizontal bars of each cross, without turning the work, and using the same holes as on the first journey.

The center section has each stitch worked over 6 threads. It can be worked over 4, 6, or 8 threads. Spacing is important, and differences in the spacing of rows causes differences in the fabric distortions.

  Upright cross worked over 6 threads

Ridge or diagonal raised band

The right hand cell has two rows spaced 3 threads apart See the diagram left. The fabric threads between the rows of upright crosses is where the interest is. This effect is achieved whenever the 2 rows are spaced half the length of the stitch itself.

Diagonal raised band, ridge stitch
   Two rows of upright cross spaced as in right hand cell.

That is followed by a single row over 6 threads, and then by a single row over 4 threads.

This stitch makes a prominent diagonal ridge, hence one of its names. I think the ridge effect is more pronounced when there is some space between the rows rather than when they are snugged together.

   Upright cross over 4 threads.

Row 8 Double Back Stitch.                           bkmk
  All the variants of this stitch make puffy cushion like spots on the cloth. I chose these variants because cushion is the easiest to understand and count. I chose square double back because the pronounced diagonal row of square puffs is visually very interesting.

The left cell has one row of plain double back, and one row of cushion. 

 Plain double back stitch

  Cushion stitch

The center cell has 3 rows of cushion snugged in its usual spacing.

   Square double back stitch

The right hand cell has square double back.

This one is difficult to understand the first time you try it. It moves most naturally from lower right to upper left. Think of the square first as a pair of horizontal lines.  You start by working the bottom and top horizontal lines of the square. After stitch leg #6 you rotate the work 90 degrees counterclockwise and go to stitch leg 7. Work the stitch legs in order according to the numbers. The transition from the 1st square to the 2nd is shown as the transition from stitch leg 12 of the 1st square to leg 1 of the 2nd. It is important to follow this sequence exactly. I found this explained in Fangel Winckler. There is another sequence that can be used but it pulls the squares into parallelograms, not squares. 


pulled thread stitches   Sampler Rows 9 & 10
Row 9 Three Sided Stitch                      bkmk

This stitch works both horizontally and diagonally, although the horizontal version is far more common. The left cell has the stitch horizontal, worked from right to left, according to the diagram left (although it can be worked left to right). Each leg is worked over twice. Once you learn the sequence, you will find it very rhythmic and relaxing. The center section uses the same diagram, but has the rows snugged together so that row 2 uses the holes of row 1 and so forth.

 3 Sided Stitch



The right hand cell has one row of diagonal 3 sided stitch. It is worked from upper right to lower left.

   Diagonal 3 Sided Stitch
Row 10 Eyelets                    bkmk
The left cell has eyelets worked in a square of 4x4 fabric threads. You can work a row in two journeys: the top half of each eyelet on the outward journey, and the bottom half on the return journey. It is easier to move from eyelet to eyelet if you do work in two journeys. In the left hand cell I used ordinary sewing thread in a color which exactly matches the cloth. Being very thin it allowed me to created maximum size holes, and the stitching itself virtually disappears. This is what should happen in pulled thread: the stitches should be invisible and the holes should be all you see.  In working eyelets always come up on the outer perimeter of the eyelet and go down in the center, pulling when you have just come up.  This makes the central hole more prominent.
  The center cell has some clumped as solid fillings. The right hand cell has diagonal lines. The left is over 4 threads. The diagonal eyelets each occupy 10 fabric threads.

The only thing remaining now is the edge finish.

The Edge Finish - Squared Edging Stitch                            *

The yellow sampler has squared edging stitch as its edge finish. This is also the edge I used on my pulled thread beginner's piece #1 (ptb1), the small purple square. The first row is worked far enough from the fabric edge for the edge to be folded over (I should have left more than I did.) This edge is described both in McNeil and in Fangel Winckler.

  front side of sampler   back side of sampler

1st row, work right to left

folded-fabric-edge   After the first row is completed all around, fold the fabric exactly on the line of the edge stitch, and work a 2nd row through both layers of fabric, with that 2nd row of stitching using the holes from the first row. 


 This shows the 2nd row from the right side, worked over folded fabric   back side, 2nd row begun


2nd row over folded fabric

3rd row, front       3rd row, back

A third row can be worked inside the last one. Being insecure, I feel safer doing that 3rd row. Fabric threads which extend beyond the stitching can be cut off. This edge seems to be considered acceptable for table linens, and certainly for a sampler. But McNeil shows several other more elegant and time consuming methods. Four sided stitch and three sided stitch can be used in the same way.


Some online sources for diagrams of some embroidery stitches:  She gives a list of several stitch sources online.

Other online lessons:


  Pulled Thread Work    The White Sampler      Site Map    Pulled Thread Tutorial 2    Pulled Thread Stitches    

© Lorelei Halley 2009
  You may copy this for personal use, not for  commercial use.   Copying to another website is specifically prohibited. 

 If you need help, contact me at        revised September 30, 2018