How do you do herringbone stitch?

You will definitely find a use for herringbone stitch in your hand embroidery projects.

You can use it to form a pretty border, to hold up a hem on a garment, to embellish the seams on a crazy quilt block, or on the reverse of a fine fabric so that the delicate, coloured stitching shows through.

Let's start with learning how you can create the basic straight row, then we'll look at all its different variations later on.

But first, why is it called herringbone stitch? It got this name from its resemblance to the bones of the herring fish, apparently. I guess whoever first called it that was not that hot on fish anatomy! You might have heard it called plaited stitch or catch stitch.

How to work herringbone stitch

Work this stitch from left to right along your row.

I love the ease and flexibility of this stitch, making it suitable both as a counted stitch and for more freestyle interpretation. 

For my first example below, I used 28 count evenweave so you can see more easily how I created the stitch. While practicing on non-evenweave fabrics you may like to draw two parallel lines which will form the top and bottom of your row. 


Working in a hoop

Completed row of herringbone

I used DMC Perle cotton number 5 for this sample and an embroidery hoop to keep the fabric flat. 

Please note that the number of fabric threads you work over can differ from mine. I wanted to make the stitches big enough for you to see easily in my demonstration.

Bring the needle up at the bottom of your first stitch, or in this case, the bottom of the next stitch in sequence. 

Count over six threads to the right and then six up. This is where you will reinsert your needle. 

Work a small backstitch by bringing the needle back through the fabric, two threads to the left of where it went down.  

Count eight holes to the right of the last used stitch along the bottom of your row of herringbone stitches and take the needle to the back. 

The stitch itself will cover six fabric threads. This brings us back to where we began in the first photograph above. 

The photograph below shows the completed row of herringbone stitch. 

Working in the hand

For the sample below I used a thread from my needlework basket which is equivalent to a Perle 8 cotton, a crewel needle and white 300 thread count embroidery fabric.  

You may find it quicker to work this stitch without a hoop. However, you will need to ensure that you do not pull your thread too tightly, otherwise you can end up with puckered fabric.

I enlarged the photographs here. As you are stitching, you will not see the individual fabric threads as you did in the previous example, so there is no need to count them.

Step 1

As before, bring the needle up at the left of your row. Now you will take a short straight stitch above and to the right, with your needle facing back the way you have come.

Insert your needle, and without pulling it all the way through, push the point back through to the surface a little further along. Then pull the needle through the fabric carefully, guiding the thread so it doesn't knot or tangle.

Step 2

Keeping the needle facing from right to left, take a similarly sized stitch along the bottom of your row, trying to keep it level with your previous stitch.

This is where those penciled lines can help when you are first learning the stitch.

Step 3

Repeat the first step by taking your little bite of fabric on the needle along the top edge of your row. 

Try to ensure that the angle of this stitch matches that of the first diagonal stitch you worked.

Step 4

Continue along your row in the same manner, taking little stitches first at the top and then the bottom, keeping your angles and the size of your short stitches consistent. 

Remember to keep your tension even so that the fabric lays nice and smooth.

Closed herringbone stitch

Closed herringbone from the front
Shadow embroidery

Now look at the back of your sample row, notice how most of the thread is on the front of your work. All that shows on the back are two rows of horizontal straight stitches.

If you have worked on a fine, see-through cloth you may see the diagonal stitches faintly showing through from the right side.

This is the basis of the Shadow Work technique, although in this case, you would work the stitches close together as in the photographs above. This forms a denser "fill" between the top and bottom lines. The lines will resemble backstitch, more than running stitch.


Tied and laced herringbone

You can decorate a single row of this stitch by using another colour or weight of thread.

The photo shows an upright cross worked where the first three stitches intersect. I took the needle through the fabric here.

For the rest of the row, I laced the floss through the diagonal stitches by slipping the needle under the stitches without taking it through the fabric. Alternate the position of your needle, so it point towards the top of your work as it goes under one diagonal, and to the bottom for the next.

Double herringbone

The next photo shows a crazy quilt block where I worked a second row of herringbone between the first row, using a different coloured thread. I also added detached chain stitches to decorate the seam further.

You could get even fancier by adding fly stitch "leaves" to make these into little flowers.

Triple herringbone

Triple herringbone

If you like double herringbone, why not try triple? Here I used three different threads to work rows of herringbone stitch along a crazy quilt seam. I started with a pale turquoise stranded cotton, then a hand dyed Perle 8 and I completed it with an ecru Perle 12 thread. Your line can grow wider or narrower. It doesn't have to stay exactly the same size throughout. 


Combining herringbone with other stitches

You can decorate the basic herringbone stitch with other stitches for an attractive effect. I often use this method of combining stitches for rows or borders when embellishing crazy quilt seams. 

Here I used the sample stitched at the top of this page and added three straight stitches at the centre top of each horizontal stitch. I used a hand-dyed Perle thread for these additional stitches.

You can take this further and add even more stitches to the mix. In the next photograph I used blue Perle cotton to work a group of four French knots at the end of the straight stitch stems I made in the last step above. 

I think they look a little like hydrangeas in the spring, don't you? Instead of French knots you could use detached chain stitches to create a daisy-like flower. You could also make the leaves with a detached chain. 

Each time I use herringbone stitch in a design or along a crazy quilt seam from now on, I will take a photograph and add it to this page.


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