6 Stumpwork Techniques That'll Bring Your Hand Embroidery to Life


When you see a dimensional, almost lifelike embroidery project that pops off the hoop, you're looking at a specific — and pretty darn gorgeous — technique. Known as stumpwork, this form of embroidery rises off the fabric surface by building on stitches or creating three-dimensional components.

And while it may look tough, with a bit of practice stumpwork is actually fairly easy to do. Professional fiber artist Di van Niekerk gives us the ins and outs on how to execute some of the most popular techniques.

1. Stitch Padding

The satin stitch is a well-known fill stitch in the embroidery world, but doing it over quilt batting, foam or even other stitches , gives a design, like a leaf, some extra lift. To do it, simply cut some batting to the leaf size, then stab stitch it to the fabric around the outside edge. Split the leaf down the center, and add satin stitching on each half to cover the batting. Voilà! You've got yourself some stitch padding in the flesh.

2. Appliqué Stumpwork

If an element in your design doesn't need a ton of lift off the fabric, turn that element into an appliqué. In a separate hoop from your main project, outline the shape of your object with angled buttonhole stitches . Then fill in the shape with long and short stitches , changing thread colors every few rows to create shading.

Cut out the shape closely along the outline, being careful not to cut into the stitches. (You can add an anti-fray product if you'd like.)

Stab stitch the shapes to the lower levels of your embroidery project.

3. French Knot Stumpwork

French knots are a popular embroidery technique for making flowers , whether you use them as tiny buds in between petals or in big clusters like in these hydrangeas. To recreate the latter, first add French knots to a small circle of embroidery fabric.

Place a row of running stitches around the outside diameter of the hydrangeas, then pull to gather them into a ball. Stitch so they stay secure. Tack the hydrangea ball onto your embroidery project.

4. Wire Slips

Wire is the foundation for many three-dimensional stumpwork creations , including leaves, petals and wings. Start by shaping a wire (#22 up to #30) around the outline of your object. Tack the wire to the fabric using stab stitches.

Use the buttonhole stitch to go around the wire shape, attaching it to the fabric. Then use a fill stitch to cover the area inside the wire. Carefully cut out the shape, clipping close to the edge of your stitches without cutting into them.

Poke the wire of your object through the fabric of your embroidery project and secure it to the back.

5. Stumpwork Stems

Dimensional stems can be created by stitching the backstitch with silk ribbon along the stem line, then wrapping ribbon around the stem-stitched ribbon with a whipped backstitch to encase it.

6. Stem Stitch Monogram

You can use the stem stitch to weave your stitching so that it builds up on the fabric. This is very useful for creating monograms and shapes that stand out from the background.

Start by creating regularly spaced straight stitches , then wrap your floss around each bar, staying on top of the fabric. When you get to the last bar, bring your thread to the back of your fabric and back up again near the first bar. Start again, working from left to right across the bars, and continue working until the bars are completely covered with stitches.

Photos via Di van Niekerk

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6 Stumpwork Techniques That'll Bring Your Hand Embroidery to Life