Filling in the Lines: Using Line Stitches for Embroidered Fillings

If you’ve ever browsed through a stitch dictionary, you’ve probably noticed that embroidery stitches are often arranged according to the job they do.

Line stitches, for example, are stitches that work up in lines — and this is where you’ll find stitches like backstitch, stem stitch, split stitch and chain stitch.

Filling stitches fill up spaces. Here’s where you’ll find satin stitch and long and short stitch, lattice fillings and the like. Back in September, Craftsy member Kristen Valencia wrote an article on “5 Need-to-Know Embroidery Filling Stitches,” showing how to fill with satin stitch, padded satin stitch, French knots, seed stitch and long and short stitch.

There’s no hard and fast rule that says that line stitches can’t be used as filling stitches, too — and sometimes, a line stitch is the best option for filling up a design area.

Today, let’s look at how line stitches can be used to fill spaces on an embroidery project.


Filling with stem stitch

Stem stitch is normally used to create lines, delicate or bold, in embroidery. But it can also be effectively used to fill a space. Not only can you fill a space on an embroidery design with solid color using stem stitch, but you can easily shade with stem stitch as well.

First, let’s talk about filling a space.

To work a stem stitch filling, start by outlining the space you want to fill with stem stitch. Then, working close to the outline, simply work more lines inside the space until it is full!

For an irregular shape, by the time you reach the center, you might have to manipulate your stitches and lines a little bit to get the whole space full, but in the end, the stitches will all blend together to give a solid fill.


You can shade in a filled area with stem stitch, too. If your floss comes in a gradual range of shades, achieving a shaded filling is simple! Just switch to a different shade for subsequent lines of filling.


If you want a more gradually filled shape – like the vines above – especially if your floss does not come in gradually-shaded colors, you can still achieve this with the stem stitch and other line stitches.

Let’s consider filling with three shades of green, and call them A, B, and C, with A being the darkest shade and C being the lightest.

Using two strands of A in the needle, work the stem stitch where you want your darkest shade. The, switch to one strand of A and one strand of B, and stitch a transitional area that blends A and B together. Then switch to two strands of B and work some lines of stem stitch, and then transition from B to C by stitching a line or two with one strand of B and one strand of C in the needle. Finally, switch to two strands of C, the lightest shade, in the needle and work the lightest areas.

Filling with chain stitch

Chain stitch can be effectively used as a filling stitch, too.


Approach chain stitch the same way you would approach stem stitch: begin on the outside of the shape by working the chain stitch along the design line.

Beginning on the outside of the shape is important. Doing so will give you a sharp, neat outline and will set the shape.

Then, work subsequent lines of chain stitch, inside the shape, following the original outline.

As the shape fills and you reach the center, you may have to get creative in the way your lines fill the shape, but in the end, you’ll end up with a solid fill.

The bird above was filled with chain stitch using a variegated embroidery thread. But you can also achieve a shaded effect with chain stitch filling.


A shaded filling with a chain stitch is best achieved by choosing floss that comes in gradual shades.

Chain stitch does not blend together like stem stitch does, so instead, rely on the shade of the floss to achieve a shaded effect with chain stitch.

Filling with split stitch

Split stitch is yet another line stitch that works well as a filling.

With split stitch, fill from the outside in, just as you would with stem stitch or chain stitch. This will give you a precise outer line on your design area.


Be careful, though! Make sure you’re working the actual split stitch (coming up and splitting each stitch from below) rather than the split backstitch (which splits each stitch from the top). Split stitch uses a relatively small amount of floss and the build up of stitches on the back is negligible. But split backstitch uses almost twice as much floss, and the stitches on the back of the work build up thick.

You can shade with split stitch as well, relying either on the shades of floss to provide the changes in shade, or by using the A-AB-B-BC-C method of gradual shading discussed under stem stitch above.

However, if you gradually shade with split stitch, you’ll achieve a better looking split stitch by working with odd-numbered strands of thread in the needle, rather than even. That is, use three strands instead of two. Why? Because when you use two strands of floss with split stitch, the needle is likely to split right between the two strands, separating them and creating a small gap in the stitch. If you use three strands, it’s easier to split the bunch without leaving a gap.

So those are three line stitches that can be effectively used as filling stitches! They’re easy stitches to learn, they work up quickly, and they look great as fillings.

But don’t be limited to just these three line stitches for fillings! Think of your own favorite line stitches and see how you can apply the same concepts above to turn them into filling stitches, too! You can even try textured line stitches, like the coral stitch or the Portuguese knotted stem stitch – they’d make a great textured filling!

Any suggestions for other line stitches that would make great fillings? I’d love to hear about your experiences and ideas – feel free to chime in below!

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