Blanket Stitch - for more than bed covers

Working in the hand - using a hoop - whipping

Basket of flowers worked in blanket stitchFig 1 - Blanket stitch flowers

Blanket stitch is the name embroiderers give to a variation of buttonhole stitch.  When we leave a larger gap between the stitches, the stitch we call it blanket stitch. Originally stitches around the edges of blankets gave a practical finish. The good news is this stitch is much more versatile than you may first think.

I used it for the larger flowers and leaves in the basket and for the shell on my little hermit crab below. I think you will agree that the end results differ. Read on to see other ways of using this basic stitch and how to expand upon it.

Embroidered hermit crab that uses buttonhole stitch for the shellFig 2 - cute hermit crab

You can use buttonhole and blanket stitches in both freestyle and counted thread projects. You can even use them to create the fabric itself, as in needlelace

Check out my hardanger bookmark to see how I made the edges neat without folding over the fabric and creating bulk. 

Another needlework technique that uses buttonhole stitch is cutwork, where the stitching creates joins across cut areas of fabric. 

So are you ready to learn how to do it?

You can choose whether to work with or without an embroidery hoop. Which option you go for will depend to a certain extent on your tension.

Working in the hand is quicker but more likely to pucker the fabric if you pull too tightly.

Blanket stitch instructions

Working in the hand

Photo guide for blanket stitch - step 1Fig 3 - working in the hand
  • Decide how high (or long) you want your stitches.
  • You may like to use a disappearing ink pen to mark dots, or two lines, to ensure all your stitches end up the same length and distance apart as I have done in the photos, but it is not essential.
  • Bring your needle to the front side where you wish to start. We will call this point A. 
  • Take the needle back down at the first dot on the top row, but don't pull it all the way through. 
  • Bring the needle point back up at the next dot along the bottom row. 
  • Tuck the thread under the point and then pull the needle through the fabric.
  • Repeat until you reach the end of your row.
Example of blanket stitch worked in the handFig 4 - blanket stitch worked in hand

Figure 4 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. I made life even more difficult for myself by using a slippery, shiny, rayon thread when stitching this sample.

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

Example of blanket stitch worked in a hoop - step 1Fig 5 - working in a hoop step 1

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

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

You will need to use the stab stitch method, which is a little slower.

Example of blanket stitch worked in a hoop - step 2Fig 6 - working in a hoop step 2
  • 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 loose loop. 
  • 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.
  • 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.
Example of blanket stitch worked in a hoop - step 3Fig 7 - working in a hoop step 3

Fig 8 shows the resulting row of stitches, which has better tension throughout.

Blanket stitch example, stitched in a hoopFig 8 - blanket stitch worked in a hoop

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

Whipped blanket stitch

Photo of blanket stitch, whipped with a second threadFig 9 - 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. 

This technique is really simple.  

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.

Buttonhole stitch used to create the effect of ferns

The photograph above 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 it's own name - barb stitch.

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

Vary your stitches

Buttonhole stitch variationsFig 10 - variations on the basic stitch

Of course, not all your blanket stitches HAVE to be the same length. 

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 buttonhole or blanket stitch in your embroidery projects.

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