The classics of hand embroidery: satin stitch

Today's stitch I consider one of the basics of hand embroidery, as it is the most common one that is used for filling the shapes: satin stitch. It has it's difficulties and peculiarities and achieving the “perfect” smooth look might be tricky. But after a bit of practice, I believe it will surrender to anyone!

Below you will find instructions on how to do satin stitch step by step and get some useful tips for better results :)

How to satin stitch

After you outlined the shape with water-soluble marker (or using any other preferable way of transferring hand embroidery designs), bring the threaded needle up through the fabric at the point A on the edge of the shape. And insert the needle at the point B on the opposite side of the shape.

How to satin stitch

It is recommended to have your starting point somewhere in the middle of the shape and slant your stitches, as it always looks nicer than simple horizontal/vertical lines. Although there can always be exceptions, so it depends on the situation.

If you're using more than one strand of floss when you embroider, then with every stitch make sure that the strands don't get twisted. Otherwise it may spoil the look of your satin stitch as its surface won't be that smooth.

How to satin stitch

Every next stitch should start from the same side where the starting point (point A) lies. You might be tempted to start a new stitch by bringing the needle up in the point next to the B and thus save the thread, but please reconsider that thought! The thing is, it might create a kind of a gap between the stitches which won't look very nice. This concerns the majority of the fabrics. That's why it is better to always start and end your stitches on the opposite sides of the shape.

How to satin stitch

When you complete one half of the shape, you can start with the other half, placing and slanting your stitches parallel to the first one.

How to satin stitch

So, that's how to do satin stitch. This kind of satin stitch can also be called “flat”. When you satin stitch this way, the stitches lie flat and the edge can often looks a little rugged. That's why some stitchers (including myself) prefer to work satin stitch over an outlining.

How to satin stitch

Outlining + satin stitch

The principle is the same, the only difference is that before starting with the satin stitch, you work an outline for the shape, using one of the line stitches. I personally stick to the split stitch for that purpose. But actually, you can use any other that you like – stem stitch or back stitch would be the other most common options.

How to satin stitch

After the outline is ready, work the satin stitch in the same way as stated above. Start in the middle of the shape, and slant your stitches slightly as you work first one half of the shape, and then the other one. 

I like working satin stitch over on outline because it makes the edge of the shape crisper and more defined. Not mentioning the nice dimension :)

How to satin stitch


Mastering satin stitch might be tricky, but I believe that it's certainly worth it! So here are few tips on how to achieve a better look for your satin stitch:

  • Don't be in a hurry. Satin stitch requires all of your attention, so before starting eliminate the “I need to finish it by X o'clock”, “I have only X minutes”, “why is it going so slowly??” etc. Allow yourself to be as slow as needed, it's completely fine!
  • Satin stitch will be slow because you will need to check every single one of your stitches. At least you should ;) Check that the strands don't get twisted, that the tension of stitches is equal throughout the shape, that they all are placed at the same angle.
  • To make it easier to control the strands twisting, you can use laying tools.
  • When the satin stitch is done I like to stroke gently its surface. I might be overthinking it, but it seems like it smoothens the stitches a bit.

Satin stitch grants a nice solid filling and smooth surface and fits a whole variety of shapes. And when you slant your stitches differently in various shapes, you might notice that all of them will have a unique sheen to them ;) All in all, it's a great stitch to have your vocabulary. Although it's not as versatile, as buttonhole, for example, it still remains the everliving “classics” of hand embroidery :)


  1. I have an important question about working satin stitch over an outline. I'm still not clear, because you skip showing this, where exactly you come up in the outline stitch when filling in--is it in the middle of the outline stitch, or just outside it, or just inside it? Thanks so much for your help!!! I just finished a baby quilt for daughter in law, and I really struggled with this issue! I did outlines for all the satin stitches but used backstitch. I like your idea better of the split stitch! Thanks so much!

    1. Hi, Suzanne!

      First, you make an outline of the shape.
      Then, you bring your needle up outside of the outline, somewhere in the middle of the shape.
      Then you start working parallel stitches filling one part of the shape first and then the other one.
      All the parallel stitches start and end outside of the outline.

      Hope I understood your question correctly. Tell me if I got it wrong :)

  2. Hi - Thank you for this article. I'm having trouble with filling an outlined shape. For some reason my stitches going down on the outside of the line are pulling the line slowly out of shape. I'm trying to learn this in order to fill an outline of an elk I'm trying to do for my son's hat, and as it is right now, filling it will totally ruin the shape of the elk. Any advice? Thank you!


    1. Hi, Sarah! What a lovely hat it's going to be!

      Unfortunateky, without seeing the embroidery, it's hard to pinpoint what the reason for that could be. I can think of two:

      -Maybe your background fabric is not drum taut in the hoop/frame?
      -Maybe you pull your thread too tight after making a stitch?

      Both of these factors often cause distortion on outlines of embroidery.

      If none of that helps, you can send me a picture of your work to, hopefully after taking a look it will be easier to "diagnose" it :)

      By the way, there are other types of filling techniques. You could also try filling in with chain stitch or split stitch, for example. Maybe working in lines gradually is more up to your style.

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  5. After you have satin stitched one side, do you cut and knot the thread,and get a new piece? or do you just keep it attached and just move thread to the other side? Also do you need a certain size needle? Thanks.


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