Hemstitch Tips & Techniques

Have you mastered counted cross-stitch and are looking for your next challenge? Hemstitching might be the answer. This drawn threadwork technique—which creates decorative openings in the fabric—was originally developed to use on the hems of bed, table, and clothing linens. In counted cross-stitch, it’s done on evenweave fabric or linen and often used in band samplers and Hardanger pieces. The technique can be a little tricky, but if you take it in small stages, use a fabric you can see clearly, and work in a good light, you’ll be well on your way to mastering it.

Before You Begin

Prepare your fabric carefully, ironing out any creases and checking for faults or marks. If you intend to frame your piece, make sure to leave an adequate margin around the stitching. Fold your fabric in half lengthwise, press, and mark the fold with a line of basting stitches (which will be removed when the work is completed).


Withdrawing Threads

Carefully snip one horizontal fabric thread at the margin of the band. Unravel it across the band to the other side, where you cut another adjacent fabric thread and unravel in the opposite direction. You will now have a ladder in the fabric and two fabric “whiskers,” one at either edge (Image 1). Working in pairs, reweave these threads as follows: Lift the fabric thread carefully and you will see the cut end of the other whisker. Unravel this thread toward the edge of the fabric. Use a needle to weave the point in and out of the fabric threads (Image 2). Slip the loose fabric thread into the eye of the needle and pull gently. Give the fabric a pull across the grain of the linen and the thread will settle into position. When done satisfactorily, you cannot tell where the linen threads have gone (Image 3).


This simple stitch secures and decorates the “hem” created after removing and re-weaving the horizontal threads. Remove and re-weave four fabric threads and hemstitch. The stitch most commonly bundles two vertical fabric threads but can be used for larger bundles as well.

Ladder Hemstitch 

The simplest type of decorative hemstitch band, this stitch works well if you desire to weave ribbon through the stitching. Remove and re-weave four fabric threads (cut the horizontal threads and re-weave them as shown), then work two rows of hemstitch as shown in the diagram. The vertical threads that remain form a ladder pattern. This variation is formed in a similar manner to the zigzag hemstitch, but the decorative stitches are not offset by one thread.

Zigzag Hemstitch 

This type of hem​stitch will leave alternating diagonal vertical threads, creating a zigzag effect. Remove and re-weave four fabric threads (cut the horizontal threads and re-weave them as shown). Work one row of hemstitch, then work the second row, offsetting the stitches by one fabric thread.

Somersault Hemstitch

This hemstitch gives its bundles of thread a twisted look. Remove and re-weave four fabric threads (cut the horizontal threads and re-weave them as shown). At the center of the removed threads, bring the needle down over four vertical threads and back up, following the diagram, before pulling taut.


Diamond Hemstitch

To work diamond hemstitches, you need two withdrawn bands as seen in the diagrams. Withdraw threads on either side of a solid fabric area and then work the hemstitch in two journeys. The stitches will form diamond shapes on the front of the work and, if pulled firmly, will create small holes in the solid fabric area. The trick to remember with this stitch is that it is formed on the front of the fabric, so if you find yourself with the needle on the back, something is wrong.