How to do blanket stitch

Blanket stitch and buttonhole are part of the same family of looped stitches. You form them by creating a loop of thread and passing the needle through the loop to create vertical stitches with a ridged bottom edge.

This edge is great for binding the raw edge of your project or along a cut edge within the design. However, it is also useful as a decorative stitch and you can work it in rows, or use it to fill free-form shapes in an embroidery design.

What's the difference between buttonhole and blanket stitch?

I am often asked about the difference between the two stitches. It is really all in the name and the purpose to which stitchers have put them in the past. Guess which was used to bind the edge of blankets? And which was put to use binding the slit through which you fasten a button?

Now, we often use this versatile design element in a less utilitarian manner but as a versatile decorative embroidery stitch.

You can work in rows, or in "the round" as shown by the flowers in the basket in the photo. It is ok for the stitches not to be even. A less than perfect look is more authentic when working surface embroidery.

If, however, you are utilising the stitches in a piece of whitework, your stitches would need to be smaller and much more precise.

You can go completely the other way, and work entirely freestyle as I did with the shell of my hermit crab.

Did you know the stitches can support themselves with no fabric behind them? In cutwork, we employ close blanket stitches to outline the figures and to make lace-like connections across open regions of the embroidery design.

in needlelace, we outline a shape with couched stitches onto a temporary support, the work buttonhole patterns to fill the spaces. We then use the same stitch to cover and sometimes pad the edge.

In this article I will share:

- a tutorial on how to do blanket stitch

- a primer on what threads work well

- an introduction to the "sewing method" or working in the hand

- why I prefer using an embroidery hoop to get better tension

- how to create neat blanket stitch corners

- how to join in a new piece of thread

- and also some variations on the basic stitch

So are you ready to learn more about this simple but versatile basic embroidery stitch? Read on!


Blanket stitch tutorial

You can work this simple stitch with or without an embroidery hoop. I will provide instructions for both methods. Working in the hand is quicker but if if you pull the thread tight you are more likely to pucker the fabric.

How many threads do you use for blanket stitch?

You have a wide choice of thread options to choose from. Why not try out a few in this lesson?

If you are working chunky blanket stitches along the edge of a blanket then you might like to opt for 2 strands of crewel wool in a large tapestry needle.

For a blanket stitch edging around a Hardanger design, you would normally pick a size 5 pearl cotton, which is non-divisible.

If working needlelace you would pick a fine lace-making or tatting thread that will not separate as you stitch.

For surface or crewel embroidery it is entirely up to you. I do prefer to use thicker thread rather than multiple strands of embroidery floss as I feel the stitches are then more defined.

In the first two photographs below I am using a rayon embroidery thread.

How do you do blanket stitch evenly?

You will see in the photographs below, that I have marked the fabric with dots in two parallel lines using a disappearing ink pen to ensure my stitches are the same length and evenly spaced.

If you are stitching a straight row on checked or striped fabrics you can use the pattern itself to help you keep your stitching consistent. Of course you are limited to the size of the strip or check in this instance.

If you are working on evenweave you will work each stitch over the same number of fabric threads which will ensure they are all the same size.

How do I start a blanket stitch?

You can start with an away waste knot, placed to one side of your fabric. You will cut this off and weave it into the back of your work later.

Bring your needle to the front side, where you wish to start. I labeled this point A in the photo. 

Pass the needle back down at the first dot on the top row (B), but don't pull the thread all the way through. 

Bring the needle point back up at the next dot along the bottom row (C). 

Tuck the thread under the point and then pull the needle through the fabric, keeping an even tension, until the upright part of the stitch lays comfortably on the surface. 

As you move along the row, you can pick up a "scoop" of fabric under the needle by inserting it at D and bringing it up at E, ensuring the thread from the previous stitch is under the point of the needle, and then gently pull the needle through. 

Repeat the same process until the end of the row. This is known as the sewing method.

The next photo shows the finished row of blanket stitch.

As you can see, it's tricky to get the tension on each stitch the same with this method of stitching. 

If you pull too tight, then a ridge can form under the row of stitches. So let's look at a way to avoid these issues.

Stitching in a hoop

The video shows how to work blanket stitch and buttonhole stitch on a hoop. 

It is easier to keep the tension even working this way. If possible, secure your hoop in a stand. Then you will have both hands free to manipulate the needle and thread. 

You can then use the stab stitch method, as it won't be possible to push the needle through and bring it back out again in one movement (at least not if you stretch your fabric firmly enough).

Bring your needle up at your starting position.

Take it back down at the top of your blanket stitch, but don't pull the thread all the way through. Instead, leave a big loose loop of thread on the right side of your work. 

Bring your needle back to the front inside this loop, on the next dot in the bottom row. 

Pull the thread through the fabric to "snug up" the stitch without pulling the fabric tight. 

You will probably find it easier to keep the tension even using this method.

Continue in this manner until the end of your row.

Fasten off by just making a small "tie down" stitch outside of the last loop.

The last photo shows the resulting row of stitches, which has better tension throughout.

I used Perle cotton number 8 for this sample. The pen marks will disappear within 24 hours.

How far apart should blanket stitch be?

I have spaced my stitches out in this example, just as they would be on a blanket edge. But if you go back to the flowers at the top of the page, you will see I placed the stitches much closer together there.

How do you blanket stitch around a corner?

The following diagram shows how to work an edging on evenweave fabric using blanket stitch. They illustrate both how to turn corners and how to join in a new piece of thread.

Turning an outside corner

To turn a corner, leave one hole open (indicated with a red square on the illustration) before working the three numbered stitches diagonally. Then miss another hole (marked with a blue square) before continuing until you reach the next turning point.

You'll use the corner hole five times, so be cautious not to tug it too tightly since this will cause a large and unsightly hole.

Turning an inside corner

Take the needle down at E to work a buttonhole stitch around an inside corner (diagram above). Bring it back up over the thread to make a loop at the corner point.

Changing threads in blanket stitch

If you need to change threads before stitching your required section of blanket stitch, don't panic. There is a neat and easy way of doing this.

Leave the old thread to one side and secure the new one through the back of the existing stitches. Bring the new thread through one hole to the right of the last stitch (at point F on the diagram above). Continue stitching.

To complete the join, slip the old thread through the first loop made after the join. Then take the needle down through the fabric at G to fill in the missing upright stitch. Fasten off at the back of the work.

How do you make a decorative blanket stitch?

Whipped blanket stitch

You can fancy up your stitches by whipping the corded bottom edge with another thread. 

You will get a different effect depending on the combination of threads used.

Here I used the same type of thread for the whipping stitches -- perle number 8 -- while choosing a different colour.  

As you take the needle only under the previous stitches and not through the fabric, thread up a blunt needle to make your life easier.

Back to back or barb stitch

The next photograph shows ferns stitched by placing two rows of blanket stitch back-to-back and then whipping the looped edges together down the centre. In fact, this variation even has its own name - barb stitch. 

I used hand-dyed Perle cotton number 8 to decorate this section of a crazy quilt block

How do you do a scalloped blanket stitch?

Of course, not all your blanket stitches HAVE to be the same length. You can create a scalloped effect by varying them along your row of stitches.

You can increase the length over a series of stitches, and then decrease again to form "hills" and "valleys" as in fig 10.

Or you can create alternate long and short stitches. 

You don't even have to work along a straight line! You can create circles (or wheels) by taking the needle down at a central point each time.

Give it a go! I am sure it won't be long before you start including blanket stitch in your embroidery projects.

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