Split Stitch

by Lady Rosamond de Montfort

Split Stitch is a simple yet effective stitch, which was widely used in medieval embroidery.

It can be very fine work done with just a single strand of silk (as in the example on the left), or worked in wool for a faster, yet still very effective result.

Split stitch can be used as an outline or “fill in” stitch.

At first glance, split stitch can look quite similar to chain stitch, but the method of working is quite different from chain stitch.

It is much more closely related to backstitch and stem stitch, in that you use a forwards and backwards movement to make the stitch, splitting the working thread with the point of the needle each time it comes through the fabric.

Single Step Method:

To begin, bring your thread up through the fabric, then:

  1. Take a small back stitch through the fabric, also passing the needle through the thread, splitting the working thread. Then pull your thread through the split.
  2. Repeat, curving the line to match your design.

Two Step Method:

To begin, make a small stitch, then:

  1. Bring the needle up about one third back from the end of the stitch, splitting the stitch with your needle, and then pull your thread through the split.
  2. Insert the needle into the fabric a short distance away and pull through to the back.
  3. Repeat, curving the line to match your design.



  1. Split stitch tends to pucker the fabric, so it is advisable to always use a hoop or frame and keep your fabric very well tensioned.
  2. The single step method is more likely to pucker the fabric than the two step method.
  3. If using two strands of stranded cotton, try not to come up between the individual threads. Instead, use a sharp needle and purposely split the threads, otherwise it does not look quite “right”.
  4. Take smaller stitches when going around curves.