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Stem, Outline and Wheat Stitch

Stem, Outline and Wheat Stitches

The Stem and Outline stitches are often background stitches in smocking. Simple to do, they don't often take center stage, but instead are usually used to complement other smocking stitches. The two stitches are mirror images of each other, and the difference between the two stitches is solely whether the thread is kept above or below the needle.

Bring the thread to the front and get into starting position. (See this tutorial that explains how to start.)

Getting into position

Move one pleat to the right (or left if you are left-handed), and take a stitch, keeping the thread always below the needle for the stem stitch.

Forming the Stem Stitch

The needle always remains parallel to the pleating threads as the stitch is taken. The slight slant that the stitch forms is due to the next stitch pushing the previous stitch out of the way.

Finished Stem Stitch

the outline stitch is formed in the exact same way except the thread is always kept above the needle.

Stitching the outline stitch

Here is the finished outline stitch.

Finished Outline Stitch

The thread often gets twisted in stitching both outline and stem stitches, so stop often, take the eye of the needle down to the fabric, and straighten out the thread.

The wheat stitch is a combination of the stem and outline stitches butted up next to each other, and it is here that outline and stem get to shine. I find it easiest to stitch the bottom stem stitch first and then stitch the outline stitch right next to it.

Stitching the Wheat Stitch

The base fabric should show in the middle. Here is the finished Wheat Stitch.

finished Wheat Stitch

It is possible to stitch the stem, outline and wheat stitches going in either direction. The stitches will have a different slant depending on the direction stitched. Make sure to check the smocking graph carefully to see which direction is used. Stitching the wheat stitch in the wrong direction is often a reason that people don't pass the apprentice level of the Artisan program of SAGA and need to resubmit. Traditionally smocking stitches are stitched from the left to the right, and the outline and stem stitches are also stitched this way. If you are left handed, turn the work upside down and stitch from the right to the left so the slant matches the smocking graph.

Happy Smocking!

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