Embroidery is the embellishment of the fabric in beautiful designs with the help of a needle and thread. The history of this art dates back to antiquity. Even Egyptian mummies were wrapped in embroidered garments. All through, embroidery has been used to embellish almost everything, from the smallest handkerchief to the most sumptuous state regalia. All types of garments, furnishings such as bed sheet and table cloth, as well as decorations such as wall hangings and throne canopies, have been embroidered to give them a rich look. Even trappings of horses, elephants, bullock carts and camels were embroidered.

This art is practiced on all kinds of pliable animals, which can be pierced with a needle like linen, cotton, wool, silk and leather. Gold, silver, silk, cotton and wool threads, animal hair, precious stones, pearls, shells, seeds and enamel have all been used to produce fine masterpieces.

The designs or motifs used for embroidery reflect the cultural traditions and the way of life of the people. In Indian embroidery, may it belong to any part of India, one finds the use of motifs, such as mango (kairi), lotus flower and peacock. The Kairi motif is very popular and is embroidered in all parts with slight variations in its presentation. Embroidery always used to draw inspiration from the surroundings where it was practiced and presentation. Embroidery always used to draw inspiration from the surroundings where it was practiced and therefore it can be seen that Kashmir embroidery has its flora in the form of the chinar leaf, the lily and the saffron flower in full essence. Embroidery of the South depicts a rich heritage of gateways and arches of temples and shrines, figures of deities, mythological animals,  the lotus flower and the tulsi plant along with other birds and animals. The motifs in North India show an Indo-Persian influence.

In today’s time, embroidery is practiced both by hand as well as by machine.


The main embroidery stitches have been discussed in detail.

  • Running Stitch
  • Back Stitch
  • Hemming Stitch
  • Stem Stitch
  • Chain Stitch
  • Feather Stitch
  • Fly Stitch
  • Buttonhole Stitch
  • Blanket Stitch
  • Knot Stitch
  • Satin Stitch
  • Darning Stitch
  • Cross Stitch
  • Herring-bone Stitch
  • Shadow Work
  • Interlacing Stitch
  • Couching Stitch


            Running Stitch is the simplest of all stitches. This stitch is made by passing the needle above and below the fabric at equal distances. This stitch is used as a quilting stitch, as seen in kantha Embroidery. Double running stitch is a various of this, where the stitch is first passed through the fabric similar to the running stitch in one direction. The needle is then brought back to fill in the spaces left empty the first time. The double running stitch looks similar on both the sides. Another variation of the stitch is the diagonal running stitch, in which the stitches are worked diagonally instead of being straight.


            In Back stitch, the needle moves forward the length of two stitches on the back side of the fabric, then moves backward the length of one stitch on the front side of the fabric, and then again moves towards the back side of the fabric. In this type of stitch, though the front side of the fabric shows double running stitch, overlapping stitches are visible on the back side. Therefore, this stitch cannot be used for double sided embroidery.


            Hemming Stitch finds use in finishing the hem of a garment by folding it and securing it with the hemming stitch. In embroidery, the stitch is used to join appliques to the base fabric.


            Stem stitch is a fine outlining stitch, which can be seen as a row of oblique even sized stitches. The needle is first brought to the front side of the fabric, an oblique stitch is made, and the needle is then pushed towards the back side of the cloth. On the back side, the needle moves a short distance before being taken out from the front side, beside the previous stitch. Split stitch is a variation of stem stitch, in which the needle passes through the thread of the previous stitch, splitting the previous stitch.


            Chain stitch resembles the split stem stitch and is used for both outlining and filling areas. It is very popular stitch of Kashmir and Gujarat Embroider. The stitch looks like a loop formed by passing the thread over the point of the needle, as the needle is pushed to the front side from the back side, and securing it by the following stitch.

Its variations exist in the form of open chain stitch and double chain stitch. Open chain stitch is formed by inserting the needle at a slant, making broad open loops. Double cross stitch is made by inserting the needle alternately at the right and left side of the line of loops.


            Feather stitch is made like the open chain stitch with the open loops placed at a slight angle to form a feather like pattern on one side of the row. In double feather stitch, the loops are made on both sides of the row.


            Fly stitch is also a loop stitch, which is worked singly, and each loop is sewn down by a long fastening stitch. The formed stitch resembles the wings of a fly, and is therefore known as fly stitch. Its variations can be made by adjusting the lengths of the loop and the fastening stitch.


            Buttonhole stitch gets its name from the fact that it is used to finish buttonholes. It is a loop stitch made in straight lines. The stitch is also used to create outlining stitch, finish edges or attach appliques.

            The buttonhole stitch is used for attaching mirrors in Gujarat embroidery. A mirror is placed at the required place, and a thread loop is made by winding the thread four to six times. The thread is then placed on the mirror and the buttonhole stitch is worked through this thread loop and the fabric. Flower patterns are also embroidered in a similar fashion.


            Blanket stitch is similar to a buttonhole stitch and is used to finish blanket edges. This stitch is also used in the same way as a buttonhole stitch. The stitch can be worked in straight or diagonal lines.


            The knot stitch is made in a different way by winding the thread around the needle and then pulling out the needle towards the front side to form a knot, which is then stitched down. The longer version of the same stitch is known as the bullion stitch.


            Satin stitch is made by working parallel or radiating stitches close together to completely cover the base fabric on the front and the back side. The stitch when worked in varying lengths and colors produces a shaded effect.

            The long and short satin stitches are variations of this stitch. This is also a kind of filling stitch in which the long and short stitches are worked alternately, the longer stitches filling the spaces left by the shorter ones.


            Darning Stitch is a straight stitch that looks like a running stitch on the front side, but with only small dots visible on the back of the fabric. The needle, after making the stitch on the front, is taken to the back side and is then brought back to the front side close to the previous stitch, making a small stitch at the back. The stitch can be worked vertically, horizontally and diagonally and is the main stitch of phulkari embroidery. This stitch is used to mend torn fabrics by rows of stitches, which construct the woven texture of the fabric.


            To make cross stitch, an oblique stitch is made and crossed by another oblique stitch of equal size, with the two stitches crossing each other in the center. This stitch is used in kasuti embroidery.


            Herring bone stitch is a variation of cross stitch. In this, the cross is made at the top and bottom instead of in the center. On the back of the cloth, the stitch is visible as parallel rows of running stitch. The stitch is widely used in Gujarat Embroidery. The stitches can be worked close together by working two rows of the stitch over each other so that they intersect in different ways to form a variety of patterns of greater or lesser intricacy.  This stitch, known as double herring bone stitch, is used as the basis for a wide variety of interlaced stitches or can even be decorated by couching the crosses.


            In shadow work, the herring bone stitch is worked closely on the back of the fabric and small stitches in parallel lines can be seen on the front of the fabric. This is also known as the crossed back stitch. The stitch is mainly used in chikankari embroidery done on transparent fabrics. It gets its name from the opaque shadows visible on the right side of the fabric.

            In another version of the shadow work, motifs are embroidered in applique work applied underneath the fabric which appears as a shadow on the surface.


Interlacing stitch is done on the base of double herring bone stitch in which two rows of herring bone stitch intersect each other. To enhance the look of the interfacing, the needle with the thread is taken under the previous stitch after making the top row stitch, while making the first row of herring bone stitches. Then, the needle with thread is taken above the previous stitch after making the bottom row stitch. While making the second row of herringbone stitch, the thread is taken under the adjoining stitch of the first row after the bottom row stitch and over the adjoining stitch of the first row after the top row stitch.

            The interfacing thread starts interfacing along the top row of the foundation stitches, threading through the herring bone stitch threads without penetrating the fabric. On completing the interlacing in the top row, the bottom row is interlaced, creating a beautiful interlaced pattern.


            Couching is a stitch in which single or multiple threads, cords, wires and decorative materials are laid on the fabric and held in place by sewing with a thread in diagonal stitches. The stitches can be placed close together or wide apart. The sewing thread can either match the laid material or be different as per the required effect. The couching stitch can be worked on outlines to fill areas by laying the material side by side covering the whole area to be embroidered.

            To achieve a raised effect, a soft and thick cotton thread is laid and secured as the foundation. Then the material for couching is laid and is couched either only at the edges or all through the motif by the stitches passing through the padding and the material.

            To enhance the beauty of the embroidery stitches an embroiderer uses a beautiful material to adorn the fabric. Badla, that is thin metal strips; gajal, that is circular thin wires, sitara that is round metal pieces and salma are attached to the fabric with the help of thread to produce beautiful pieces. In present times, lots of plastic pieces in the form of sequins and artificial and real swarvoski crystals are very much in vogue. Colored beads, colored stones, white pearls and spangles of various shapes and sizes are still used for this purpose.

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